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Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Review: Secret Six #31

Secret Six #31
Gail Simone (w), J. Calafiore (a)

It's been a while since I've read an issue of Secret Six.  I remember loving that first arc that Gail Simone did with Nicola Scott, but then I lost track of the title because my LCS would always seem to sell out of it by the time I made it over.  But I loved it, I did.  It was violent, it was disturbing, it had Batman revealing that he eats burritos sometimes while he's hanging out in the Batmobile.  Probably my favorite thing about it was that, yes, it was funny, but most of the time the funny came from a really dark place that made you feel a little bit uncomfortable about laughing.  "Dark" humor is a very difficult thing to do well, but Gail Simone consistently does humor with such skill.  No surprises there if you remember reading her work on Marvel's Agent X or her You'll All Be Sorry column on Comic Book Resources.  Part of what made the humor of Secret Six work so well is that beneath all of the super villain violence and mayhem was a group of real, damaged individuals under those bloodstained costumes.  Not only that, but in addition to being damaged wrecks of humanity, they were charming.  Month after month I was surprised at how hard I was rooting for this group of murderers.

So here we are a few years later with a mostly familiar group of team members with a couple new additions.  Scandal Savage is still hung up on her dead ex-girlfriend, Bane is still weirdly protective of Scandal, Catman is still an ultraviolent hard-ass, Deadshot still gives an infinitesimal amount of fucks, Ragdoll continues to be the creepy comedy relief, and Jeanette is still one of the toughest ladies in all of comics (although, much to my disappointment there wasn't a lot for her to do in this issue aside from threaten Etrigan, but that's not too bad considering he is a rhyming demon from Hell -- fingers crossed for more Jeanette action next issue).  New to the team, or at least new to me, is King Shark, who looks to be the comic relief of the big and dumb variety, and Black Alice, who I'm guessing is a sort of teen sidekick to the Six.

Fortunately for me, I wasn't entirely lost as this issue deals with the focal point of the first Secret Six arc: The "Get Out of Hell Free" Card.  Once again, the Six are fighting over maybe the most important item in the history of Crime, but this time it's one of their own that turns against them.

[SPOILERS ON, if you're worried about that sort of thing]

So Ragdoll has stolen the card from Scandal, and it has literally dragged the entire team into Hell.  I don't know what's been going on with previous issues, so I don't know if this betrayal is supposed to be a big surprise, but given the history of this team being a bunch of awful super criminals, I'm sure betrayal is not really that big of a surprise.  I mean, way back in that first arc, we had everybody in the Six turning on each other because of that card (which led to one of my favorite moments in comics, when Deadshot tries to make it look like he's murdering everyone, but really he's trying to save them -- long story, so check out that first Secret Six arc), so I can't imagine Ragdoll having taken the card could have come as a big shock to anyone.

What's on display here isn't a big twist of betrayal or the shock of a traitor in the team -- it's the idea of a friend hurting another friend because of a building resentment.  What has been the driving concept with the Six as a team is that despite all of their damages and their flaws and their general capacity for awful, violent things, they have each other's backs.  They're DC's dysfunctional family.  Maybe the most shocking thing about this issue is that Ragdoll has been harboring feelings of resentment about Scandal's hangups over Knockout for the entire time.  Ragdoll knows that Scandal wanted to use the card to get Knockout out of Hell, but his question is why she didn't even think to ask any of her friends in the Six if they wanted to use the card for any of their friends.  The way Ragdoll sees things, Knockout couldn't have meant all that much to Scandal anyway if after her death all she does is replace her with another girl who looks almost exactly like her.  The shock comes from the idea that Ragdoll, a character that Gail Simone used mostly as a creepy comedy relief, has actual feelings, that this hideous monster of a man is emotionally vulnerable (albeit in his own creepy way: in this issue we see that Ragdoll keeps the taxidermied body of his best friend Parademon in his room).  It's the comedy relief finally making a stand and demanding to be acknowledged as an actual person, as something more than everybody's strange buddy, a refusal to be written off, all filtered through a lens of super violence at the gates of Hell.  Again, what makes all this violence palatable and what makes the humor so effective is the heart that beats inside of each of these characters, and their willingness to show it even if it means they have to tear it out of their own chests.