We’ve talked here about our favorite covers on many occasions in the past, but it’s time we showed a little respect to the books that set the stage for the comics on which we were raised and the ones we’ve found in recent years. So buckle up for a bombastic ballyhoo of the best and brightest sequential showcases the swinging sixties saw fit to print. Man, talking like Stan Lee is exhausting. No wonder he’s looked worn out for 50+ years now.
Secret Six #1 , May 1968, Frank Springer
The cover of this debut issue is remarkable in that it’s also the first page of the actual story. I’ve always been fascinated with that notion, it’s not just some pin-up but in fact your first taste of the action. Sure, Secret Six was never one of DC’s hottest comics (certainly not in the Silver Age), but it’ll always have a place in history because of this cover.
I have to admit that I picked out the book I’m reviewing simply because of the penciller. It seems a bit shallow for some reason to buy a comic just for the pretty pictures and I normally go for writing over art, but I fell in love with Dale Eaglesham’s art on Fantastic Four and have been snapping up all of his work from the past decade or so. So I found the first issue of Villains United for a dollar and naturally picked it up. Now, the art was exactly what I was expecting, but the story was so much more than I thought it would be. I knew it was one of four mini-series that DC released in the months before their Infinite Crisis event. At the time, I was sort of unfamiliar with DC stuff so I didn’t pick up any of these books in fear that they’d be over my head. If anyone has that same fear about this series, rest assured that, while you may need to hit up Wikipedia for some idea of who these people are, you can enjoy the story either way.
The basic idea behind this mini-series is that the majority of super-villains have wised up and joined a union. Lex Luthor and some other key ne’er-do-wells from the villainy scene reformed the Secret Society. He had Deathstroke, the world’s deadliest assassin. He had Black Adam, the evil version of Captain Marvel, as muscle. He had the Calculator working out the logistics (and he didn’t wear that goofy outfit). He had Talia Al Ghul for the benefit of her army of trained killer. And lastly, he had the telepathic dwarf Dr. Psycho around to help convince those less eager to come aboard. So they set out to recruit all of the talent in the criminal underworld for their organization, and were met with almost unanimous approval. There’s even a cool little montage of all these villains being approached by representatives of the Society and agreeing to join up. And then they got to Catman. And he said no.
So the Society teaches him a lesson. They don’t attack his body, they decide instead to injure his pride. Literally. They killed the family of lions he’d been living with, and he didn’t care for that one little bit. So, when he was approached for membership in an opposing group of villains, the Secret Six, he was more open to the idea of team work. The Six were a group comprised of various low-level villains being more or less blackmailed into working against the society by a shadowy figure known only as Mockingbird. And they weren’t fucking around… they recruited Catman to replace the Fiddler, who they had executed for poor performance in a recent operation.
So, this ragtag crew of has-beens and never-wases embark upon their mission to terrorize the Secret Society. And you know what? They actually do all right! They hit the Society where it hurts, and it’s not long before they get the attention of Luthor and company. I don’t want to spoil the fun stuff, but suffice it to say that each side has an agent working toward the other’s goal and Mockingbird’s true identity comes as a great shock to the Six, the Society, and the reader. After the grand showdown, the Secret Six (give or take) decide to continue operating as a team without Mockingbird’s leadership, and go freelance to any cause that pays. This leads into their eponymous min-series and subsequent ongoing title, which I’m currently reading whenever I have a free moment.
Gail Simone does a great job of bringing a distinct personality to every character in this book. She brings welcome changes to the preexisting characters, she manages to turn Catman from a joke into a bad-ass who you believe can hold his own against Batman himself. She makes Deathstroke into a sympathetic anti-hero who loves his family by keeping them at arm’s length. She adds a new level to Cheshire’s ruthlessness. And as far as the new characters go, she introduces Scandal, the team’s liaison to Mockingbird, who is herself more than meets the eye. She brought in disturbing comic relief in the form of Ragdoll, the twisted, surgery-addicted, prim contortionist with a heart of gold and his guardian Parademon. A good 45% of of Parademon’s dialogue consists of warning other characters against hurting Ragdoll. And much of what Ragdoll himself says will leave you a bit queasy.
That’s all for now, geeks. I’ll be back soon… once I’ve finished with the Secret Six’s adventures.
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