The New 52’s Secret Six will leave you yearning for the original team to make a comeback.
You know, I’m not the guy who complains about how reboots are worse than the souce material. But the New 52 Secret Six was always a hard pll to swallow. Gail Simone’s original series was special and deceptively subversive, taking a team of DC Comics supervillains and turning them into a hyper-violent family. It was packed with charmingly sociopathic characters and explored topics like sexuality in a mature way that was rare for mainstream comics.
Now DC Comics is resurrecting the series, and has put Gail Simone at the helm, which should be good news. The problem is this first issue really lacks the charm that make the previous Secret Six so much fun. Even the return of classic characters like Catman and Black Alice is only engaging because Secret Six fans know who they are.
As with any first issue, it’s possible Secret Six will need to be judged on its first storyline instead. But right now, Secret Six #1 isn’t giving me a reason to care about the New 52 versions of these characters, and considering everything the classic series achieved, that’s incredibly disappointing.
Secret Six #1
Writer: Gail Simone
Art by: Ken Lashley, Dale Eaglesham (cover)
Publisher: DC Comics
Release Date Dec. 3, 2014
Our first issue opens as Catman is captured by mysterious individuals posing as state troopers. After an impressive fight scene leaving behind some significant collateral damage, Catman wakes up in a sealed room with five other individuals, most of whom appear to be deranged criminals of some sort. Moments later, a sign appears on the wall asking “What is the secret?”, while an announcement threatens that without an answer, one of their number will die.
The problem is, that threat means very little considering how little we know about what’s going on. It doesn’t help that we’re provided so little information about the rebooted New 52 team. Take Catman himself; in the last series, he was a third-rate supervillain who reinvented himself in Africa, had a passion for nature, and struggled to reconcile his villainy with a desire to be a superhero. In other words, he was a rich and compelling character. The New 52 version, on the other hand, is incredibly violent, goes into a rage when in captivity, and threatens to pee on the faces of enemies to mark his territory. Seriously.
The rest of the team doesn’t fare much better. There’s Porcelain, a bank robber who can change the density of objects to make them turn brittle. The Ventriloquist is the New 52’s answer to Ragdoll, thanks to an obsession with her own sickliness. Strix’s only contribution is to hand Catman a post-it reading “I kil peepel”. It’s a funny moment, but ultimately implies her skillset isn’t so different from anybody else in the room.
Black Alice returns seemingly unchanged from the original comics, who can borrow powers from other magical characters. Right now she’s pre-loaded with Zatana’s backwards spells, but her angst factor is through the roof as she spends the issue sulking while claiming she can do anything. I’m not kidding, here’s an actual exchange between Alice and Catman:
Black Alice: I told you to leave me alone.
Catman: We’re going to die, kid.
Black Alice: I don’t care.
And that’s about the extent of what we get to know about her.
The most interesting character appears to have been created for this book: Damon “Big Shot” Wells. A private investigator claiming no one has any reason to kill him, Wells has the ability to swell his body to a superhuman size, granting him additional strength in the process. He also takes it upon himself to introduce Catman to his prison, granting him the most personality (and the best lines) out of anyone else in the book. Of all the mysterious characters introduced, Wells is the only one who seems to have an interesting secret, at least for the moment.
Secrets, of course, are part of the problem for this book. Secret Six is going out of its way to make everything and everyone appear vague, but gives us very few hints at what might be happening. We spend almost the entire time in this coffin-sized room with characters who refuse to open up to each other, and the big reveal on the final page is that a seventh “person” is in the room with them, which doesn’t answer enough to be satisfying.
All that leaves us with is half-defined characters who spend more time vaguely (or overtly) threatening each other than showing off appealing character traits. It also means the hyper-violence, which had a stronger impact because you cared about its characters, means far less and has a weaker effect. I’m sure future issues will flesh these characters out more, but frankly, the last series pulled that off in less time.
On the other hand, Gail Simone is a talented writer who I trust (and hope) can turn these issues around. But one thing is clear: This isn’t the beloved Secret Six we used to know. You’ll have to decide for yourself if that’s something you can handle.
Bottom Line: Secret Six has arrived in the New 52, but it’s not the same team we fell in love with nearly ten years ago. While still a band of sociopaths, they’re not especially pleasant or charming to spend time with, which makes their reappearance disappointing. Even worse, Secret Six spends so much time keeping its plot a secret, it doesn’t spend time answering why we should stick around, save for a few threads that might become interesting in later issues.
Recommended: In a few months, new editions of the classic Secret Six books hit the shelves. Get those instead, then check back to see how the New 52 version is doing.[rating=2]