Saturday, December 06, 2014
The so-so first issue of Secret Six 4.0
then-weekly Action Comics. This was as much a sequel as a reboot, using the same basic concept and some of the same characters. (Also? I found it to be really, really dull, but that's just me.)
The concept next came out of the vault in 2005 for a miniseries entitled Villains United, written by Gail Simone. A chaotic but transformative time for the publisher's shared-universe setting, the book was one of several meant to lead up to Infinite Crisis, each of which was intended to explore a particular genre or aspect of the DC Universe. As the title suggested, Villains United focused on the villains, which were all being organized into some kind of mega-union. A few rebellious ones refused to join—Catman, Deadshot, Cheshire, Ragdoll II, Scandal Savage and an Apokolyptian Paradeon—and ended up working for a mysterious benefactor codenamed Mockingbird, ala the previous incarnations of the group.
That series, which lasted a very respectable 36 issues, was one that—somewhat surprisingly—did not make the cut when DC rebooted it's line post-Flashpoint. While I know the book wasn't a super hot-seller, it sold respectably, and, it turned out, much better than a lot of the first class of New 52 books did. From the outside looking in, I would guess the book's cancellation and failure to relaunch in The NEw 52 had more to do with Simone focusing her energies on writing the new Batgirl (and taking on the herculean task of selling Barbara Gordon as the one and only Batgirl in a new, rebooted universe, after Barbara Gordon had spent over 20 years as Oracle and "Batgirl" became a legacy coename carried by two different characters, both of whom were popular enough to do something Barbara Gordon hadn't been able to do up until that point: sell a Batgirl series).
Well that and the fact that once you excise the back-story and history from all of your characters, it makes telling stories about them sort of difficult. The roster as of Secret Six #36 consisted of Catman, Deadshot, Scandal, Bane, Ragdoll II and Jeanette. Deadshot was to appear in Suicide Squad, Bane and Catman were Batman characters whose origins and natures were likely up in the air as the New 52 hurriedly took shape behind the scenes, Scandal and Ragdoll were similarly questionable given their fathers were both villains (and ones from the Golden Age, whose characters were mostly to be relegated to a new, parallel Earth-2, although ultimately Vandal Savage remained on Earth-New 52, and I believe Ragdoll was introduced sans any mention of his Golden Age villain father). That pretty much just left Jeanette, a banshee that Simone had created for the series. And with a new Suicide Squad featuring its own villain team, perhaps two villain team books seemed redundant.
(I suppose I should also mention 1997 one-shot Secret Six #1, by Chuck Dixon and Tom Grummett? Part of the Dan Jurgens-lead effort in trademark renewal known as the "Tangent" line, it like its fellow one-shots re-purposed several old comics titles along with some still in-use, giving the character names to brand-new characters with little to nothing in common with the originals. For an alternate universe, it proved surprisingly popular, and Tangent characters till pop up now and then...much more often than, say, New Blood characters, created during a concerted effort on the publisher's part to create a new generation of superheroes.)
And that brings us to this week's Secret Six #1, by Simone and the art team of Ken Lashley, Drew Geraci and Jason Wright (Lashley pencils and inks, Geraci also inks and Wright colors). The concept here is, thus far, very different from that of all the previous incarnations, and the only character hold over from Simone's last run is Catman, referred to only by his real name, Thomas Blake.
They attempt to arrest Blake, but he realizes they're not really the government agents they claim to be, an he fights back, apparently using some cat-like super-powers. Not only is he very fast, but he grows claws of some kind at some point (unless he slips them on between panels? They look artificial*). He also loses his shirt and makes an angry cat-face on the title-page.
He awakens in a dark room, looking at the vagina of one of the five people in the room with him. So let's see, 1 + 5 = 6! Yes, this must be the Secret Six!
The room is, the script said, shaped like a coffin, although we're never presented with any visual evidence of this. These other are all Simone creations or co-creations, some of them brand-new, others not so much. These are:
—Black Alice from the pre-Flashpoint DCU, who I believe made her New 52 debut in that godawful DC Universe Vs. The Masters of The Universe miniseries I can't believe actually saw print. She first appeared during Simone's pre-Flashopoint Birds of Prey run, and was one of the villains to join the Six's roster during the pre-Flashpoint Secret Six
—Strix, one of the Court of Owls' Talons, who is pretty Cassandra "Batgirl II" like and who appeared in both Simone's Batgirl and the now-cancelled New 52 Birds of Prey book by...whoever; it wasn't by Simone, I know that
—The Ventriloquist II...well, she'd be Ventriloquist III all together. The New 52, she's The Ventriloquist II; following Arnold Wesker, as Paul Dini and Don Kramer's Peyton Riley doesn't seem to have exited in New 52 continuity. This Ventriloquist is the Simone-created character that looks like the girl from The Ring and whose ventriloquist dummy is actually a fully-articulated, string-less marionette puppet, which looks like the puppet from the Saw movies and has weaponry akin to that of some puppets from The Puppet Master movies. As the premise of this issue might suggest, Simone liked those Saw movies an awful lot.
—Porcelain, an apparently new character who is a thief and whose power is to make hard substances brittle and breaking (good for cracking safes...literally)
—Big Shot, a private eye who can Hulk-out, and, if I was betting money on this, will be the first character to die, as he seems to be the less interesting of the two new ones
Once in the room, Blake meets the other characters and we get a few snippets of characterization, as well as the premise which, true to the book's name, is somewhat mysterious. Who captured all these people? (Well, probably someone called "Mockingbird," but, if so, who is Mockingbird really?) Why? What do they have in common?
First clue? Two locked boxes that a voice commands them to open. One contains six masks, the other a badly mangled corpse. Then a there's a message that appears asking "What Is The Secret?" The Six have five minutes to answer, or one of them dies.
And that's the first issue. Blake makes a discovery about the location of the room, and that would seem to be a bigger deal than the cliffhanger ending, in which The Ventriloquist introduces her puppet to her co-hostages (and, I suppose, to new readers who were fortunate enough to not read Ventriloquist II/III's previous appearances)...
Given the relatively limited page count and the mysterious nature of the premise, the first issue more-or-less has to be little more than a limited introduction to certain surface aspects of the characters and a few clues, which isn't really enough to help a reader decide whether said reader wants to try Secret Six #2 or not. And that alone seems, to me anyway, a good reason to decide not to. Fans of Simone's will likely want to stick around though, and she has enough of 'em to keep the book going for quite a while, I suppose. (If you're really on the fence about the book, or just curious rather than committed to whatever Simone writes, I'd recommend waiting for the first trade paperback collection).
Lashley's art is harder to judge. It's of relatively high quality in design and rendering, but not so hot in story-telling, at least when it comes to revealing visually information that the reader is either told verbally, or meant to imply from the verbal components. So, basically, it fails as good comics art, but it looks really nice, and this art team's all-around quality makes all the pages look pretty great, even if they don't work as they should. For a film metaphor, think of a superb cinematographer working with a poor director, whose film is based on decent if generic genre script.
As a fan of DC's characters, the book failed to interest me in at least two instances. Neither Catman nor Black Alice seem the least bit visually interesting, at least not in this issue. The former doesn't have a Catman costume, of course, and the comic seems to suggest he may be some sort of were-cat rather than a bored, rich jerk who finds a magical cloth he thinks gives him super-luck and decides to dress up like a amalgam of Batman and Catman just to prove he's good enough to play with the super-people of Gotham City. And Black Alice only uses her power, which is to "borrow" the powers of DCU magic-users temporarily, once in this issue, but, when she does so, the visual component of temporarily appearing in a sexy pop-goth version of that magic-users costume isn't employed, so that here she's just a magic-borrower who...borrows magic. That's fine and all, but it's not as interesting looking as a magic-borrower whose clothes change into goth cover versions of various superheroes, you know? (Of course, here she borrows magic from Zatanna who, in The New 52, often just dresses like Black ALice always does in her default mode so maybe a New 52 Black Alice is a lose/lose prospect...?).
Great Snakes and Ladders cover by artist Dale Eaglesham, though.
The weirdest thing about this comic book though? There's an ad for the comic book you're reading in the comic book you're reading!
Or is it just a matter that no one advertises in comic book anymore**, and they have to put something on there, so it might as well be a house ad for the product that the customer has already purchased because otherwise, DC would have to go to the trouble of creating a new house ad for, I don't know, Klarion or collections of Simone's The Movement or something, and that would be too much work.
There's also an advertorial encouraging readers to buy Secret Six #1 that appears in the back of Secret Six #1, which is pretty weird, but more understandable, as DC only does one advertorial per week, and to ask an editor or assistant editor to write a 250 pages about how something is awesome might be too taxing, especially if it's only going to appear in the one book (This advertorial, about how Secret Six #1 is awesome, would appear in the other forty-some "New" "52" books, of course).
*I didn't notice this when I read the book the first time, but when looking more closely for art to scan, I did: Blake is sometimes wearing gloves, and sometimes not. Whether he takes them on and off throughout the issue, or if there are just a lot of coloring mistakes or what is not clear. I just re-read the whole comic just looking at Blake's hands, and I can't tell who—penciler, inker or colorist—is making which mistake in which panel, but the whole glove thing is pretty fucked up.
On page two, Blake has no gloves. Go ahead and look; I scanned the panel above. On page three and four, he has brown gloves on, the fingers of the right glove pointed into claws. On page six—the title page, also scanned above—he appears to have a very light brown glove on his right hand (note the claws), which his left hand is flesh-colored. From page eight on, the entire scene in the mysterious room, he doesn't have gloves on, although there are a few panels where he's clawing at stuff, his fingers having points to them again.
Studying the linework, every panel of his arms does have a horizontal line around where a glove would meet the forearm, but it's not always a solid line, and, after the first action scene, his hands are rarely colored brown. It seems weird he'd be wearing clawed gloves just chilling in a bar being pawed at in that first scene, though. Maybe he put them on in a split-second between talking to the agents and jumping them? And presumably they'd strip him of his claw gloves before sticking him in that room, but he still has claws...?
I can't really make sense of it, but apparently there are a lot of mistakes. Don't make me come over there and edit your damn comics for you, DC! What's that? You're moving to LA? Oh, fuck that—that's too far and I'm afraid of flying. Whatever then. I'll still complain about this shit on the Internet, though.
**No, for real. There are 15 ads in this comic, between the one on the inside front cover and the one on the back; that's a lot of ads for a book containing just 20 pages of comics. The ads are for, in order, an ad for a TV show based on a DC Comics character (the one that's semi-canceled already), and ad for a company selling apparel featuring DC Comics characters, an ad for another TV show based on DC Comics characters, an ad for a card game that looks like it may have actually earned the publisher a few dollars as it is not a house ad of any kind, an ad for another TV show based on DC Comics characters, an ad for the NBA on TNT (also not a house ad? Or does Warner Bros, which owns DC, also own TNT?), a house ad for Secret Six #1, an ad for a DC Comics hardcover collection, an ad for a DC Comics miniseries, an ad for DC Comics one-shot, a two-page ad for one of the comics previously advertised, an advertorial for Secret Six, an ad for the fourth and final live-action TV show based on a DC Comics character that is currently airing, and, finally, an ad for a video game based on DC Comics characters.