Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Secret Six: Review

DC has a long tradition of groups using the name “secret six,” but the most recent limited series may soon become the only team anyone remembers. Back in 2006, the first volume mixed with Villains United teaming Knockout (now dead), Catman, Rag Doll, Deadshot, and others under Scandal Savage, Vandal Savage’s lesbian daughter. But with the addition of a “reformed” Bane, the first two issues of Secret Six have far surpassed that overly busy title by combining the suicide squad’s caper stories with the always interesting character insight super-villain team-ups bring.

The Good: Issue one shot out of the gates with all four elements that make this a fun and interesting read. A freaky, mystery villain, plus actual character development, plus costumed crazies in a gritty, down to earth world, topped off with a decent sense of humor. “Junior” is the monstrous crime-boss who lives in a crate in the male strip-joint’s basement and is seriously messed up. For a character almost completely off-panel his impact is stunning—and the wrap up with him at issue one’s end reveals he’s even more off the chain than you thought! The Six (actually five) get lots of time to talk while going on an impossible mission to break Tarantula out of Alcatraz and fetch “the card,” some cosmic McGuffin that’s got Junior all in a tizzy. Catman, something of the lead, apparently went totally sick-house on some poachers in Africa and is all messed up about it. Scandal is grieving for her very dead girlfriend. Bane is suddenly a moralist mercenary. Rag Doll is the go-to comic relief as the seriously depraved and murderous fop. Deadshot is Deadshot, DC’s merc with a mouth. These extreme players occupy a world of ice-cream and strippers, vomit and skin-heads (for better or for worse); it’s a world with more four-letter words than Bawahhahahahaas! As ridiculous as a bunch of costumed psychos sitting around having birthday cake might be, unmasked and (sort of) human characters work better than a cartoony, legion of doom scene. They might not be super-realistic, but when Deadshot executed the Fiddler for being incompetent in 2006 the book carved out an edge for itself. That being said these characters could be played way too serious, instead the books are peppered with dark humor and one-liners. Black Manta charges them a rental fee to use his sub, Deadshot stops a robbery basically because they were doing it all wrong, and Ragdoll laments the loss of his “tackle.” (Also, they totally snuck in a dirty Catwoman joke). Good banter, and there’s some great pacing, like the reader figuring out what Mammoth’s “watch-thing” is just about the same time as the characters.

The Bad: There is a clash though between “real life” and humor. Issue two has Catman fighting Batman, supposedly to keep him busy, but there’s this whole “Batman ate a burrito” theme that is pretty dumb. 1) Catman you can bring down to earth, leave Batman alone. 2) Catman cannot hold his own with Batman. 3) How does the burrito pay off? Either it’s a joke and more “real life” stuff, or the Burrito is a major plot point, both are terrible results. 4) If you’re a character like Catman and you think you’re destiny to kill Batman, start coffin shopping. Otherwise, sometimes the jokes are too blunt, sometimes the grit is too gritty. Life’s not all vomit, strippers, and verbs ending in linguist. Being edgy is a fine line.

The Ugly: The artwork is pretty good. Feels a little rushed, but in world delayed books who can complain? Batman and Catman fighting in issue two look kind of Men’s Health: the Speedo Edition. With all the dismembering and cursing and daddy-issues, this book ain’t for the kiddies. And frankly, it’s one “Logan touting the Canadian health care system” from losing the magic. Edgy, fun, mildly insightful can all go “poof” when somebody sneaks in a message about Bane’s position on the Death Penalty. The rest is nit-picky. For example, the skin-heads in issue one, why are they skin-heads, how often do you hear about skin-heads on the news? Not nearly as often as you see them in comics. But when a soul-searching Catman is reminded he left an innocent woman at their mercy and leaps back into the store Wolverine-style, you get one little Skin-Head in the panel’s bottom left-side whispering, “Oh, my white Jesus.” I like to think they were skin-heads just for that line, and not some weird aversion to putting Black or Hispanic gangs in comics (Asians are fine apparently with the truckloads Marvel has).

Bottomline: Pulp-Fiction meets Taskforce X, with completely enjoyable dialogue and fun surprises, but you couldn’t live on it.

No comments:

Post a Comment