If you’ve ever thought that women shouldn’t write comics, you should go fuck yourself. Gail Simone has been one of the freshest voices in comics in ages, and her Secret Six ongoing is probably the most underrated book DC is publishing. If an epilepsy attack from Geoff Johns’ lanternbating is not on your to-do list, then there are several titles worth your line-drawn $2.99, and Secret Six is among the best of them.
As a recent convert to Secret Six, I’ve got a lot of ground to cover, but this week’s issue is the beginning of a new story arc, “The Darkest House,” and a perfect jumping-on point for all the new readers this book deserves. Simone has been exploring some inventive territory, writing the members of the group as reality TV housemates, which adds welcome levity to the otherwise stark description of “a household of killers living together,” and she strikes a near-perfect balance of humor and seriousness. It begins with a promo video offering the Secret Six’s services, and ends with them in a literal and figurative hell: a shopping mall in Iowa, which doubles as the portal to the underworld.
J. Califiore’s pencils only continue to improve: the layouts and breakdowns are some of the boldest I’ve seen in a while. The scenes involving Scandal Savage’s nightmares boast visceral, branching panels that offend the eye as much as they draw it, which conveys the nature of a nightmare. He draws the these sequences with a sharper, jagged look, making them distinct from the rest of issue, which features an inviting palate. This issue features two story threads — a serial killer stalking Scandal Savage’s current flame, and the Secret Six using a “Get Out of Hell Free” card to bring back Scandal’s dead lover. Simone’s definitely a big “idea” writer, and putting the Secret Six in the middle of where they’re inevitably headed is a fantastic spin. And, while I’m usually not a fan of the metaphysically macabre, Simone’s deft hand makes this story work.
As grim as the plot threads are in this issue, it retains the aforementioned levity that makes this book such a unique read. Even though the squad is going to Hell, it’s located in a mall with such terrible stores as “Exclusively Boy Bands!” and a food court that specializes in British cuisine. The opening promo “video” is also a cute joke, and it features Deadshot’s innate inner diva (which we all saw coming, I’m sure). Simone’s characterization of the group is also one of the more poignant parts of this title — her writing of a fight between Ragdoll and Scandal Savage is interlaced with telling dialogue and brutal bladeplay, their words wounding almost as much as their weapons.