Thursday, August 18, 2011

So Long, Secret Six (part two)

Picking up from where we left off last time, here's the second half of prime cuts from the recently-canceled Secret Six comic book series. (We'll get back to the headier math/science/literature stuff soon, I swear.) 

10.) The Six Vs. The Society

Long story short: during Villains United (written/released as a component the Countdown to Infinite Crisis crossover pile event), a core group of major DC villains is consolidating virtually every single costumed badguy on the planet into a single organization. A figure named Mockingbird blackmails a crew of six rogue villains into running covert operations against the Society.

In the second issue of Villains United, the Secret Six is ambushed by an arm of the Society in a lovely two page splash that establishes two prevalent recurring motifs we see throughout the series:

(1) Gangs of obscure (and often silly) DC villains throwing down with other obscure (and often silly) DC villains.

(2) The Secret Six finding themselves outnumbered, overpowered, and totally screwed.

Click the image to see a larger version. It's too pretty to be shrunk down or cropped to a 400-pixel width.

9.) Bane Meets Liana

Bane takes his self-assumed role as Scandal's adopted father very seriously. But this is hardly unusual; Bane takes everything very seriously.

Sometime after the death of her teammate/girlfriend Knockout, Scandal begins dating a very nice stripper named Liana (who looks just enough like Knockout to make you wonder if Simone ever had some sort of Jean Grey/Madelyne Pryor plan in mind). During her first vist to the Six's abode, Liana is received at the door by Bane.

Remember that time when you took your high school crush out on a date? Remember when her father came down to size you up and have a few words with you in confidence while your date was still upstairs getting ready?

Imagine how much more frightening and awkward this would be if your date's father was the guy who put Batman in a wheelchair.

Scandal comes downstairs and bails out a very relieved Liana just as Bane presents her with a pen and pad and asks that she make a list of all her previous sexual partners and any known diseases.

Later on, Liana warms up to Bane and sets him up with one of her coworkers. We're treated to scenes of The Man Who Broke the Bat wearing street clothes and taking a peppy young woman to the county fair, and (with a single particularly glaring exception) Simone keeps Bane completely true to character. (This is what is known as "development." Geoff Johns should remember to try it more often.)

8.) Scandal's upbringing

By the time the number of issues in the regular series hits the double digits, we begin to suspect that Scandal might be the only member on the team who's at all okay.Catman likes to get buck naked and hang out with lions on the African savanna for months on end. Bane is a drug addict with a dangerously obsessive personality. Deadshot is a borderline sociopath who shoots people. Jeanette gets turned on when Deadshot shoots people. Ragdoll is Ragdoll. Compared with the outright lunacy of her teammates, Scandal's daddy issues seem pretty tame.

We might think this before we get our one flashback to her childhood. On her ninth birthday, her father brings Scandal outside and threatens to have her mother killed unless she performs a task for him:

Scandal gets beaten by men with sticks for a few minutes. Vandal calls off his goons and presents his daughter with a gift and some fatherly guidance.

7.) "How'm I gonna watch Avatar now?"

I can't deny being a DC Comics geek, but I'm not nearly enough of one to have read anything about King Shark prior to his appearances in the Secret Six volumes. As far as I can tell, he was introduced as a major villain in the first issue of the 1990s Superboy series, and was intended to be:

A. The son of a Hawaiian shark god
B. A major threat
C. Taken seriously

When he begins appearing in Secret Six, he is not taken seriously. He gets stomped by Solomon Grundy. Jeanette beats him up. Ragdoll gouges his eye out.

Simone reinvents King Shark by focusing exclusively on a single aspect of his character: his sharkness. King Shark is a shark. He loves being a shark. In fact, he's so happy about being a shark that nothing ever puts him in a bad mood.

One of the worst things about the timing of Secret Six's cancellation is that we only get two (very small) story-arcs featuring King Shark as an official member of the team. Drag.

6.) The Secret Six Vs. Wonder Woman

The Secret Six is tough, but still pretty low-caliber on the DCU power scale. When an angry Wonder Woman shows up to pick a fight, the team just stands there. They already know they're beaten.

Deadshot tries shooting her, just for the hell of it. Wonder Woman does that bullet-deflecting thing with her bracelets and floors him. Jeanette, the one member of the team with super-strength, tries her luck as well. She does better than Deadshot, but that's not saying much.

Meanwhile, the male members of the team stand at a relatively safe distance and gawk at the catfight in which none of them are even remotely equipped to participate.

(For the record, Batman has never directly beaten Wonder Woman one-on-one, but his plan for dealing with her worked pretty damn well. See: Tower of Babel.)

5.) "This is fucked up, right?"

The bromance between Catman and Deadshot is a lot of fun to read. The reasons why they get along are surprisingly complex, but in a nutshell: Deadshot, the self-loathing assassin, likes having a buddy who still possesses some shred of decency; Catman, who would like to be one of the heroes but is too much of a villain, can relate to Deadshot's killer instinct.

What makes their friendship especially cute is their mutual reluctance to admit how much they enjoy each other's company. Catman sometimes shows it, but Deadshot usually just makes fun of Catman and threatens to shoot him.

There's a very nicely-done moment in the Cats in the Cradle arc when the team arrives on the scene after Catman has taken out the first of the thugs responsible for kidnapping Thomas Blake, Jr.

Deadshot is so shocked that he accidentally slips up and refers to Catman by the affectionate diminutive of his first name -- but then quickly remembers himself in front of his teammates and quickly (and conspicuously) corrects himself. Aww.

4.) The Mad Hatter Vs. The Doom Patrol

Whether because of an editorial mandate or Simone's caprices, the Secret Six squares off against the Doom Patrol (another superhero/superfreak team) in the Six Degrees of Devestation miniseries. I'm a bit more inclined to suspect the hand of the editors, since the meeting between the teams seems a tad shoehorned into the story. But it's not a total waste of time, as it gives the Six's newest member -- Gotham City's own Mad Hatter -- a chance to show his stuff. So far, the Hatter has done nothing but waddle around like a homeless midget and spout Lewis Carroll quotes. He's a late arrival to the fight, but singlehandedly turns the tide by using his Jedi mind tricks to convince the Doom Patrol to kick their own asses.

Did you know the Hatter could do this? I thought he could only control people when they were wearing his hats, but whatever. This is neat too.

3.) "Don't ever fuck with The Wall."

While the two opposing Secret Six teams are trying to kill each other in Skataris, their respective government handlers duke it out in Washington. Katarina Armstrong (a.k.a. Spy Smasher), who controls Bane's team, challenges Amanda Waller (who controls Scandal's team) for her unspoken title of Government Spook Queen.

Armstrong apparently psyches out The Wall and sends her off on a phony trail, then coerces a federal agent into planting bogus evidence implicating Waller of treason in the Pentagon's computer system. Waller suddenly materializes in Armstrong's office, shoots her accomplice in the head, and offers Armstrong some advice.

Man. No wonder Deadshot's scared of her.

2.) The Parademon's Sacrifice

During the team's earliest days as a blackmailed sextet of anti-Society kamikazes, one of its original members was a Parademon. For any non-geeks in attendance, a Parademon is a grunt trooper from the planet Apokolips. 99.9% percent of the time, Parademons don't get to talk, have names, or do much of anything but get their asses stomped by Superman. Having a nameless Parademon appear on a DC superteam is about as strange a thing as a character called "Stormtrooper" playing a major role in some Star Wars Expanded Universe story about the New Sith (or whatever).

The Parademon and Ragdoll shared a special (and very strange) relationship. The Parademon, having been born into slavery on a hellish planet where there's no such thing as laughter, mistakenly takes Ragdoll to be a clown and treats him with the deep, obsequious respect he believes is due to a brilliant artist. Though Ragdoll keeps insisting he isn't a clown, he enjoys the Parademon's company because he doesn't notice or care what a depraved weirdo he is.

During the Six's hopeless final stand against the Society, the Parademon blows himself up to give Ragdoll a (very small) chance at escaping.

Minutes later, Vandal Savage intervenes to have the strike against the Six called off. The Parademon's sacrifice buys the team just enough time to save themselves from getting slaughtered. A grateful Ragdoll kneels beside the dying Parademon.

What a strange and moving comic book moment.

Afterwards, Ragdoll has Parademon's body stuffed and placed in his bedroom. On repeated occasions he refers to it as his best friend and regularly carries out conversations with it. (Very strange, but not quite so moving. Dammit, Ragdoll.)

1.) Bane Vs. Junior

I changed my mind on this one, but let me tell you about my original choice.

Like that of any one-hit wonder, Bane's career as a supervillain is defined by only one thing: he's the guy who beat Batman (once).

That's a hard act to top. In the years following the Knightfall arc, Bane hasn't done much. He's already beaten Batman, so that's off the table. Every other big name superhero he could fight has superpowers; Bane might be smart as Batman and twice as strong, but he wouldn't stand a chance against Superman or the Flash. Usually, he just pops up out of nowhere to break some D-list hero or villain over his knee and blurt out some idiotic one-liner like "I AM BANE. I BREAK PEOPLE." It always fails to impress, and that's probably why DC's editors said "sure, why not?" when Simone asked if she could draft Bane into the Secret Six.

Simone is a smarter and better writer than most of the comic book hacks who have passed Bane back and forth in the years since Knightfall, and realizes that the "Bane is really strong and he beat Batman once" shtick had worn thin ages ago. Thus, the character's finest moment in Secret Six occurs when he's at the mercy of someone else's brutality.

First, a comic book history lesson. In the Knightfall storyline, Bane breaks open Arkham Asylum and arms the inmates. All of a sudden, just about every costumed criminal Batman has ever put away is on the loose and packing heat. Batman runs himself ragged trying to chase them all down and bring them back in. Over the next few weeks, Bane lurks in the background and keeps track of Batman -- observing his movements, watching him fight, learning how he thinks, and deducing his secret identity as Bruce Wayne. At the end of the storyline, Bane confronts an exhausted Batman in his own home, and cripples him after a short and very one-sided fight. It's really the only time that Batman has completely and indisputably lost to one of his enemies.

Knightfall isn't so much about Batman's defeat as about his heroism and superhuman force of will. By pushing Batman to his absolute limit, Bane demonstrates just how far Batman's limits actually are. Bane has to systematically take Batman apart because that's really the only way Batman can be defeated -- and it takes a long time. When Bane appears in the Batcave juiced up on the Venom steroid and ready to fight, Batman hasn't slept in days, has at least a few broken bones, and is probably bleeding internally -- and he still hurls himself at Bane, even though he's barely capable of even throwing a punch. Bane tenderizes him a while, then gets him in a hold and shout something like, "beg for mercy! Scream my name!"

"Go back to hell," says Batman, and passes out. Next comes that immortal splash page.

So: Bane wipes the floor with Batman, but in the process, he shows how much of a bad ass Batman really is.

In Secret Six, Bane demonstrates the profundity of his own mettle by standing on the receiving end of a pile of bricks and a monstrous crime boss with a mean throwing arm.

Junior gets the jump on Bane, subdues him, and drags him to an empty construction site. The rest of the Six have escaped, and they have Junior's "Get Out of Hell Free" card and the woman who stole it with them.

Bane says nothing. Like Batman, he refuses to be beaten, even when completely helpless against his foe.

That was what I was going to name as Secret Six's best moment -- but then I wondered if I mightn't be overthinking it.

1.) Bane Rides a Dinosaur

Yeah, that's right. On the cover of issue #27, Bane rides a fucking Tyrannosaurus. Is an explanation even necessary?

Truly, this is what comic books are all about.

Godspeed, Secret Six.


  1. On moment number 10: Is that a blond guy in green suit with a swastika on it? I'm not in the DC loop so who is that?

  2. Captain Nazi? I would so google that if I wasn't at work right now.