Wednesday, August 3, 2011

The End of the Secret Six

"Good don't last. But messed up, that goes on forever."
-Deadshot, Secret Six #36

Today, the final issue of one of the greatest comic book series of the last five years at least was released. If you haven't been following Secret Six (like you SHOULD be!) it's appeal can be a little hard to describe. Gail Simone's writing style while working on this book tends to be equal parts Joss Whedon & Quentin Tarantino: All of Whedon's clever witicisms and endearing character development combined with Tarantino's sudden, brutal violence and dark sense of humor.

Books like Suicide Squad, Thunderbolts, and Secret Six have in recent years really tapped into the limitless possibilities that come up when the stars of your story are the bad guys. When you read Justice League, Avengers, X-men, etc. you can trust the characters to follow a fairly predictable pattern of behavior. They're not gonna hurt innocent people, and even if they do it'll be an accident and they'll feel really bad about it. They're not gonna sell each other out for personal gain, or try to kill each other over minor conflicts. They have a strict code of superhero etiquette and they're sticking too it. Even in the darker books with brooding "anti-heroes" and such the characters are still essentially good people. Supervillains don't have that problem. You never know what they're gonna do. In any given situation, they're equally as likely to stab their friends in the back as they are to do the "right thing", if not more so.

Of course, such a tactic is a double edged sword, as it's pretty hard to get your audience to care about a bunch of self-serving murderous bastards (This is what you should not do, now let that be a lesson to you). And that's where Secret Six always shined. The protagonists were villains through and through, but they were also people with layers to them. It helped that we weren't dealing with major villains like Lex Luthor or Darkseid, arch-criminals on the top of the heap. These guys were C-listers at best, losers even among the super-villain community. They had friggin' Catman for God's sake. This added an underdog element to the story that went a long way toward getting the audience on their side. It's a lot easier to root for criminals when they're just trying to survive in the world and not plotting genocide or world domination.

But don't underestimate them. These guys could kick serious ass. Gail Simone took Catman, a goofy Z-list Batman villain, and revamped him into DC's answer to Wolverine. And don't forget Bane, also known as "The Man Who Broke the Bat". Scandal Savage may have a undeniably silly name, but she's also a ninja who's dad was Vandal Savage (one of my all-time favorite villains by the by), so I'd keep that to yourself. Deadshot is the world's greatest marksman and another one of my old favorites. Jeannette is a literal banshee who once took down Wonder Woman. And don't wanna know about Ragdoll.

Oh, and as Huntress pointed out in this last issue, they once took out the ENTIRE Secret Society (For those who don't know, they're an army composed of basically every supervillain on the PLANET). So yeah, they're not exactly pushovers.

Anyway, this series has been one of the funniest, most tragic, most involving things I've ever read, and its cancellation is probably the harshest blow the DC reboot has dealt. Fortunately, Gail gave it just about the perfect sendoff. Everything we loved about the series is in this one book. Ragdoll saying something random and creepy yet hilarious? Check. Messed up yet heartfelt emotional moments? Check. Bane acting like Spock trapped in Dwayne Johnson's body? Check. Deadshot & Catman's violent bromance? Check. Scandal's unpredictable love life? Check. Well-laid plans going completely wrong almost immediately? Check. This series has always been about a group of deeply flawed misfits that find a bizarre, unconventional family in each other, people who have been cast out by society and the underworld alike, people who want to do the right thing on some level but constantly fail too, people struggling against impossible odds. Issue #36 caps it all off beautifully.

I really have only one criticism, so spoilers from here on out.

After the Six (well, eight at this point, the number isn't fixed) have their Butch & Sundance last stand against a horde of superheroes, Huntress muses "In the end, we won. Of course we did. We always win. Because we're heroes. Right? It's because we're heroes. Damn us all to Hell." The line implied the heroes were somehow in the wrong here, that there was a better way they could've handled things. Yes, the Six are our protagonists. Yes, we've come to care about them a great deal over the course of the series. And yes, we are saddened to see them fall before the might of superior forces. That does not change the fact that they are, by their own admission, the bad guys. Even then they plotted to hunt down and murder Batman's sidekicks. Sure the odds were overwhelmingly on the heroes side, and it was pretty cool to see some of them sympathize with the Six after seeing the way they genuinely cared about each other, unlike most supervillain teams. But to imply that Huntress & company were somehow wrong to take the Six down? That seems like a step in the wrong direction.

But that's one line in an otherwise great book. It's sad that this series had to be scraped to make way for the the big boys and their new #1's, but is a weird way, it almost compliments the theme of the series. As Catman said: "We're the Secret Six. We're always outmatched. And we never win."

Oh, and next time you make love to someone, make sure to thank them for the use of their nethers.

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