Expletives aren’t enough to convey how fucking awesome Secret Six is. Gail Simone’s band of villains can now include a trip to Hell and back among their adventures, and the conclusion of “The Darkest House” is an exemplary issue in an already exemplary story arc. The Secret Six are facing down the Secret 666 over Scandal Savage’s beloved (and deceased) girlfriend Knockout, only to discover she’s betrothed to the recently treacherous Ragdoll. They are given an impossible choice: fight the demons and die, or stay and be subjected to endless torture. Simone has a tremendous feel for group dynamics, and the moments-of-truth ring as genuine and valid for the characters as expected.
This issue doesn’t make with the bloodshed as much as the previous, but there is a solid amount of action. The genuine spark comes from the latter half, where the Secret Six are confronted with personal visions of Hell — some are stirring, some are righteously badass and some are hysterical, but all are penetrating and revelatory. The humor in this series cannot be praised enough — it’s much more organic than most team books, and highlights Simone’s talents. Her balance of multiple narrative streams (these visions, Scandal’s living kidnapped girlfriend, and the Six themselves) is masterful and commendable.
J. Calafiore’s pencils and layouts have also been heroic during his run, rendering pages of the Six’s intimate damnation with meticulously plotted sub-panels, but all drawn as part of the main image, without any subdivision. They bleed into one another, grabbing the eye and suggesting motion and temporal kineticism. John Kalisz demonstrates his wonderful palette control, clearly coloring Hell and its atmosphere as differently as he can from the above-ground world, and the Six’s Hells all feature colors that reflect their personalities. This issue also features Catman seeing a lion version of his mom kill and eat his dad, and he’s totally cool with it. It must have been as fun to write as it looks to have been to draw, and it’s simply “pretty awesome.”
There aren’t enough superlative words to encompass my feelings for Secret Six, which is why I resort to hilariously crude language. Simone’s knocking it out of the park every single issue, creating conflicts and resolutions that interplay and entice equally. The final moments in particular are chilling — the dismissive Lady Blaze scoffs at Scandal Savage’s threats, and in turn warns her of yet another impending, impossible choice. Blaze departs with words that could freeze fires — “The only freedom is down here… free from love, responsibility and guilt. You have my sympathy.” Words that leave Savage (and the audience) helpless. Words that shake cores.
Secret Six is a book that needs no further adulation, but will continue to get it.