August 24, 2011
It’s not that I didn’t enjoy the previous two volumes in this series, it’s just that they weren’t as good as their hype. That’s why instead of buying them as soon as they came out, I picked up these two volumes for -- wait for it -- half off at Comic-Con. I’m glad I did because Gail Simone’s vision of a barely functional team of supervillains finally starts to click here. Well, hers and John Ostrander’s at any rate.
“Danse Macabre” isn’t quite a proper “Secret Six” story as it is not only part of the “Blackest Night” crossover, but also a quasi-team-up with the members of the Suicide Squad. Appropriately, this arc is co-written with John Ostrander, writer of the best “Star Wars” comics now, but also responsible for building the legend of the Squad back in the 80’s. The plot starts off with the Squad’s replacement for Deadshot failing a mission due to her instinct for self-preservation. This has their leader Amanda Waller angling to get the man himself back on the team. Problem is that while her plan to lure most of the Secret Six to Belle Reeve for a reckoning works, it happens that the Fiddler, now resurrected as a Black Lantern, has his own plans for Deadshot and the rest of the team.
I haven’t read as much of Ostrander’s “Suicide Squad” as I’d have liked (the second collection of his run comes out in the next month or two), but this arc captures the appeal of what I’ve read so far pretty well. Part of the fun of that series was seeing how these sociopathic individuals who were forced to be on a team together would function (sometimes they’d work great together, other times not so much...) and teaming them up with the equally dysfunctional Six is an inspired move. Even though it’s part of of a crossover, Simone and Ostrander do a great job of having each member of their team retain their voice and personality amidst the fighting. Even the out-of-left field revelation about Mockingbird at the end of the volume felt appropriate -- and that’s saying something.
The volume also has two one-off stories: A solo Deadshot tale by Ostrander and Black Alice’s introduction to the team by Simone. Alice’s addition feels forced at first, but once the action starts you’ll see that she fits right in. Deadshot’s story works well too, once you get past the retconning.
“Cats in the Cradle,” though, is one of the most brutal stories I’ve read in the mainstream DC or Marvel Universe -- period. I don’t think that it’s an overstatement to say that the crowning achievement of Simone’s work with these characters has been her transformation of Catman from a joke to a serious badass, and the focus is again on the character as he finds out that some very, very bad men have kidnapped his son. Now he gets this information in a call after the Six have completed a mission and the man is given an ultimatum: Even though his son will eventually die, he’ll get one year of life in a secret location for every member of his team that he kills.
Artist J. Calfiore has done a lot of superhero comics over the years and while he has a reputation for solid, if unspectacular work, he absolutely NAILS the scene where Catman contemplates the kidnappers’ offer. The look of rage and madness on his face is utterly spellbinding in this moment. I won’t say more, but the man then goes on a tear of vengeance that only Frank Castle would approve of. If you’re like me, then you’ll be surprised at the brutality of his methods, but still drawn to his quest to see these people get what they deserve. It’s a very intense ride, to the point where I appreciated the fact that the story that follows, “Predators” a fill-in by Ostrander, is a lightweight take on “The Most Dangerous Game.” Rich nerds bring the Six to their secluded island for a killing sport and wind up having the tables turned on them. It’s an utterly inconsequential tale, but there are enough fun moments -- usually involving Deadshot or Ragman -- that allow it to successfully ease the tension of the previous story.
The final tale, “Unforgivable” is best described as an “Imaginary Story,” or better yet as an “Elseworlds” for those of you who remember them from the 90’s. Here, the cast find themselves re-enacting a Western with Deadshot as the solo gunman, Scandal Savage as the town Sheriff, Bane as her deputy, and the rest of the cast filling out appropriate roles. However, if you’re expecting a by-the-numbers Western story, then you might be pleasantly surprised as things don’t go in the obvious direction. It’s Catman’s words at the end, “Thought... we might be heroes...” that really drive home the point and show you how the team’s fate was unavoidable.
Essential purchases? No. Nasty fun involving characters of very ill repute, yet strong, charismatic personalities? Absolutely. If you’re like me and were wondeirng when this series would kick into high gear, you have your answer with these volumes.