Saturday, 11 June 2011

Secret Six: We hardly knew ye

It's maybe not the most surprising omission from the DC reboot's September titles (that honour probably goes to the JSA - and all the Golden Age characters...) but it's the one that has had the biggest affect on me. Gail Simone's brilliant Secret Six has been cancelled. So allow me to take a moment to eulogise my favourite comic (and, as a long-standing Bat-family fan, that's a big statement for me to make). The Secret Six formed in 2005 in Villains United, a mini-series during Infinite Crisis, and led to a Secret Six limited series in 2006, before finally getting an ongoing in 2008. There have been changes to the team over that time (Knockout, Mad Hatter, Harlequin) but they soon settled on the dream team of Scandal Savage, Catman, Deadshot, Ragdoll, Bane and Jeanette. Like the team themselves, Secret Six was the outsider at DC, out of place alongside black-and-white heroes and villains, but always managing to scrape through and triumph when, by all rights, it should have been cancelled a long time ago. It's hardly family friendly, it repaid the long-term rather than casual reader, and never sold huge numbers. But it was critically acclaimed by anyone who ever picked it up and many comics creators named it as a favourite. It survived beyond its natural shelf-life by sheer talent. It was one of the best books DC was putting out with as passionate a fanbase as any title could ask for.

Secret Six's unlikely survival thus far led fans to hope it would live to fight (and bicker, and kill, and dress up monkeys) another day after Flashpoint. But sadly it was not to be. I understand why. But my initial reaction was still FUCK YOU DC!!

But on reflection, sometimes it's best to have something short and sweet. This way we fans get a perfect contained series, with closure, steered the whole way by Simone. I would have hated to see the Six palmed off on another writer, as I doubt anyone else could acheive Simone's twisted balance of humour, hyper-violence and pathos. No other writer would have even considered giving wacky psycho Ragdoll a heroic moment, rising to his full height and standing up to Deadshot, or of developing an odd father-daughter relationship between Scandal and Bane.

And let's not forget the artists, with especially Nicola Scott and J. Calafiore capturing the characters and the dynamics of the books perfectly. And those covers are works of art. But hey, I'm a writer myself, I can't help but praise them higher than the artist.

Much has been made of what Secret Six did for LGBT fans and female fans. The team leader Scandal, is a lesbian, Ragdoll is a eunuch, Jeanette is a strong enough lady to actually bring down Wonder Woman, Catman is hunkified in a way usually reserved soley for Dick Grayson, and, of course, we can't forget the slash-friendly bromance between Catman and Deadshot.
But it seems wrong to praise the series for its political agenda, because I don't think it had one. It's not populated with LGBT characters - it's populated with good ones. Deadshot was the only character with any real credibility when the series first started. Catman was a joke and Bane was a fairly one-note villain. Simone made them better than they'd ever been. Ever. Which, admittedly, in Catman's case wasn't hard. But who would have guessed that he'd work so well with Deadshot, or that by the time of the Cats in the Cradle arc he'd be an utterly believable bad-ass, someone who, had it not been for defining events in childhood, could have actually been the hero he always wanted to be. His dying line in the brilliantly bonkers Western one-shot was just so perfect, coming as it did directly after the conclusion to Cats in the Cradle.

The new characters have also made an impressive enough impact to, hopefully, survive in the DCU outside of the comic that spawned them. Ragdoll is probably the weirdest character ever to grace the pages of a mainstream comic book (see his musings on slavery/butterflies). Jeanette's reveal as a Banshee was genius. And as for Scandal Savage, the immortal estranged daughter of Vandal Savage, she's probably the best of the bunch. She's come a long way from the emotionally-detached, strait-laced coordinator she was in Villains United. Now Scandal is just as likely to lead with her heart as Catman is, making Jeanette and Bane, of all people, the level-headed team members. The four core members - Scandal, Catman, Deadshot and Ragdoll - are as believable as any fictional family.

I, like many other comic readers, could easily have missed Secret Six altogether. Luckily, someone at my local library is a massive Six fan. My library doesn't have a single Batman trade post-2008, but it somehow has every trade of Secret Six. So, thank you whoever it is that keeps ordering them in - you introduced me to the only team of villains I've ever cheered for, the ultimate DC underdogs, mercenaries with hearts (yes, even Deadshot), funny and dark and tragic. If you haven't read it yet, go out and pick up Villains United or Six Degrees of Devestation. You'll owe me one.

I look forward to seeing how Simone wraps the series up - I'm sure it'll be the perfect ending for the comic that brought me Ragdoll in Wonder Woman's boots and the line "our secret weapon is a hat junkie".

Thanks for the memories, Gail! And fuck you DC. Okay, maybe I'm still working out my anger issues on this one.

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