52 weeks. 52 different writers. 2 trade paperbacks or hardcovers a week. Each week I’ll take a look at a different writer and read two different collected editions from within that person’s repertoire to help in the examination of their work.
Gail Simone was tasked with reviving the Secret Six, a team originally envisioned as a covert ops strike team. When Simone re-imagined the team in light of the DC Comics event “Infinite Crisis”, she completely changed the entire premise of the team, making them a collection of villains with questionable morals who had no real allegiance to anyone other than themselves. It was during Simone’s time with the Secret Six that she also completely changed the way the world saw the villain Catman, elevating him from a pushover into a strong leader. Gail Simone used Secret Six as a platform to introduce new villains whilst also putting over old villains who never really got the love they deserved.
Secret Six Volume 1: Villains United
In the wake of an impending Crisis, the Secret Society Of Super Villains begins to assemble against the heroes of the DC Universe. Brought together by Lex Luthor and a few of his compatriots, the Society tries to draw in villains from all walks of life, extending the offer to seemingly every villain on Earth. When a resilient and drastically different Catman steps out from the pack and rejects the “offer”, he becomes an immediate target and enemy of Luthor. Catman is brought together with Ragdoll, Parademon, Chesire, Scandal, and Deadshot by a mysterious benefactor to combat the Society, forming the Secret Six. Together the six unlikely allies form a distinct bond as they go up against Luthor and his lackies, choosing to straddle the line between hero and villain.
Gail Simone puts together an interesting cast of mostly z-list villains to tell an obtuse superhero story. With a character like Deadshot being the most recognizable member of the team, you would never expect such a quality story to come from a group like the Secret Six. Six characters from all different corners of the DC Universe are thrown together with little regard and end up meshing incredibly well. Within only a few short issues Simone manages to develop friendships, relationships, trust and deceit amongst the team, turning this first volume of Secret Six stories into a collection you just can’t put down. It’s the characters and the handling of their relationships with one another that makes Secret Six a true treat to read. From Parademon to Ragdoll, Catman to Deadshot, Catman to Chesire, or even Scandal to Knockout, there are so many compelling bonds shared between each team member that guarantees you’ll fall in love with at least one dynamic pairing. In using such a varied collection of characters who are nobodies, Simone is granted a ridiculous amount of creative freedom, which she takes in full stride and runs with.
The handling of all the characters present on the team is perhaps the high point of the entire Secret Six series, taking characters you’ve probably never heard of, let alone cared about, and turning them into serious, emotive individuals. Simone’s talent is on full display with these characters all the way throughout but shines its brightest when she is using the character Catman. Catman is a joke of a villain, who is most well-known for being an awful and uninspired knock off of the popular DC hero Batman. A superhero punching bag, Catman was one of many villains who was just a gag for writers to use as comic relief before Simone sunk her fangs into the character during Secret Six. Gone is the pushover character, instead replacing him with a brave and rather charismatic man who seemingly straddles the line between hero and villain, still falling more to the side of the latter instead of the former. Immediately the character becomes one you care about, developing a romantic connection with Chesire and a tight friendship with Deadshot. He is a natural leader, coming off as a less serious Batman instead of the horrendous parody he’s supposed to be.
Catman isn’t where Gail Simone’s character work starts and stops as she does a phenomenal job of characterizing every member of the team as well. With a character like Ragdoll, Simone perfectly encompasses that downright bizarre nature of the twisted contortionist, making the way he acts just as weird as the way he speaks. Chesire is a seductive femme fatal, being as equally dangerous as she is beautiful. The dynamic shared between her and Catman places all the characters in some tough but compelling positions, pushing the story forward in places you wouldn’t expect. With Scandal, a character who initial feels like an Amanda Waller knockoff, Simone does plenty of excellent work as she transitions the character from the realm of boring to interesting across the entire volume. Scandal Savage is the daughter of the DC villain, Vandal Savage, and bares a rather heavy crown as such. As a result, the reader gets a thrilling experience of watching how Scandal copes with the pressures of her family name and shows she has something to fight for beyond being just another set of hips for the roster. Deadshot may be a character who gives Catman a run for his money as one of the most well portrayed characters during Secret Six, being the loveable jerk of the team. For every good thing Deadshot does there is an almost immediate negative consequence, constantly balancing out a man who seems more obsessed about punching his own ticket than he does about completing the mission. Deadshot’s complete lack of regard for his own well-being could be enough to make him interesting but Simone still takes the time to humanize him, providing a personal touch to the character that only makes him even more enjoyable to follow the story along with.
The plot to the entirety of this first volume is interesting, feeling as though it initially kicks off in media res. The Society of Super Villains is already in the midst of establishing itself when the Secret Six are reluctantly brought together, with all of this happening in the wake of the DC crossover event, Infinite Crisis. As a result, some moments of the plot will leave you feeling a little lost if you have no idea who the major players are of that crossover or what that crossover is even about. Even still, Gail Simone uses that crossover as springboard of sorts for the series, never letting it wholly consume the narrative she sets out to tell. The premise and even the plot at times feels like something reminiscent of a plot for books like Suicide Squad or Thunderbolts, bringing together villains from every corner of the DC Universe and making them into a team, even if they don’t appear as such initially. Unsurprisingly, the story only gets better the further you get, as it distances itself from Infinite Crisis and begins to focus in on the characters and their own personal afflictions. Gail Simone manages to pack plenty of solid twists into the series as well, ensuring that you never feel like any one character’s health or safety is guaranteed. In doing such, Simone manages to always leave you on your toes, never knowing where the story is going to sharply veer left and leave you shocked.
Collects: Villains United #1-6, Villains United
Best Character: Deadshot
Best Line Of Dialogue/Caption: “You want to shoot a man before he’s fed, that’s your sideshow.” – Catman
Best Scene/Moment: Catman discusses his culinary prowess with Deadshot – Villains United #2
Best Issue: Villains United #6 – At The End Of All Things. This issue is the conclusion to the first storyline in the collection, “Villains United”, and shows you just how ambitious Simone wants to be with the Secret Six series. This issue shows you that no one is safe with this type of story as Gail Simone shakes up the roster heading into the second storyline after this issue. Over-the-top action, betrayal, drama, intrigue and thrilling character moments, this issue is a punctuating mark to Simone’s early work with the Secret Six, showing you just how much she can do in a short time while also serving to show you only a glimpse of what’s to come.
Why You Should Read It: Gail Simone takes a team of nobodies and makes them into characters that you want to be somebodies. Secret Six could have just been an awful Suicide Squad knockoff but instead becomes the ultimate buddy cop team book about a ragtag group of villains who straddle the line between villainy and righteousness at every turn, doing whatever best serves their agenda at all times. It’s a master class in making you care about characters who, before this series, hardly even registered as a blip on the radar. Secret Six is shocking, hilarious, dramatic and engaging in ways that books about big name heroes or villains just can’t ever be. This is a prime example of why lesser known characters are gold mines in the superhero market, allowing the creators to take creative liberties that oft wouldn’t be afforded to them if they were using a character like Batman or Spider-Man. Trust me when I say this is a DC series that is worth everyone’s time, especially if you’re looking for a break from the big name heroes.