Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Secret Six: Unhinged

Want to know a secret? The best comic book on the market today features no big-name, A-List superheroes. It's not written by Grant Morrison, Warren Ellis or Geoff Johns. And it's pencilled by a fairly obscure artist. The book in question is Secret Six, and if you haven't read any issues of the series, do yourself a favor and pick up the trade paperback collecting the first six issues of the currently ongoing series - Secret Six: Unhinged.

There seem to be a lot of reasons NOT to read Secret Six at first glance. I mean, honestly, who wants to read a book that features D-List Batman villain Catman on a regular basis. Catman? Really? But the bottom line about Secret Six is that writer Gail Simone takes characters no one in the DC universe gives a whit about and makes them engaging, compelling (if not totally likable) human beings. Think of it this way: Alan Moore did the same thing with a previously mishandled property called Swamp Thing, and Neil Gaiman took the Sandman and transformed him/it into an unprecedented literary property. So if they can do it, and make it work, so can Gail Simone.

Don't look for conventional super heroics here. There just ain't any. These aren't lovable, or even in some cases tolerable, characters. Catman was emotionally and physically brutalized by a big game hunting father; Scandal Savage was raised by an immortal demigod bent on world conquest; Bane was addled by the same drug that powered him; Deadshot was, and is, simply a sociopath, and Ragdoll....well, the less said about Ragdoll the better. I don't think I was ready for this new character invented by Simone, and even now I'm not sure my psyche can handle him.

There is some concern that Secret Six may not last much longer as an ongoing series, and I think I'd like to do my own part to help rectify this situation. This is a great book, well worth the time and energy it takes to read it. It challenges the norms of the conventional, melodramatic funny book and it does so in seriously subversive ways. This is comic book writing without a safety net, since there doesn't seem to be any editorial edict against killing off these characters. No one is safe, and if that isn't the beginnings of good storytelling, I don't know what is.

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