Review: The Last Hurrah for the Secret Six

"I am bound for hell.  I will not go there as a comedy." - So speaks Bane.

Andy Hunsakerby Andy Hunsaker

Secret Six #36

So here it is.  The end of the Secret Six, the best book DC had going for it. 

Put out to pasture in favor of The New 52 marketing push, to have its place in the pantheon ostensibly taken by a truly hideous-looking Suicide Squad reboot.

Gail Simone had pulled off an amazing balancing act between comedy and drama, pathos and twisted horror, good guys and bad guys who managed to never truly be either. This will be replaced by Harley Quinn dressed like a Tim Burton-themed stripper, the terminally apathetic Deadshot placed in charge of a team for some reason, and King Shark inexplicably transformed into a hammerhead to take away any of the menace that so greatly accompanied his comic foibles.

It's hard not to be bitter about losing one's favorite book, especially when freshly absorbing its heartbreaking finale, which happens to be tragic, frantic, respectful, mournful, thunderous and pathetic at the same time, in true Secret Six fashion.  The team has always been awash in conflicting interests, self-destructive behavior and an abject refusal to ever do what's expected of them, and that holds true to the very end.

Last issue, we saw Bane, the strongest personality on the team, insisting that they go all out in an effort to break the Batman once again, which he had viewed as his greatest achievement and had become dismayed with how the Dark Knight seems to be suffering no ill effects from that experience any longer.  Most everyone else on the Six had reservations, but Bane is a forceful presence, and after returning from their bonding experience discovering they were all destined for Hell, their desire to stick together seemed to outweigh their better judgment.

In Secret Six #36, we see Bane''s motivations laid bare, and it serves to be an amazingly deft way to regress his character back to the straight Bat-villain we all knew he would have to become again thanks to his inclusion in Christopher Nolan's film The Dark Knight Rises.  Before his trip to Hell, Bane had believed the strictly principled life he led, no matter how twisted his sense of honor, meant something.  Learning Hell was to claim him anyway shook him to his core.  When he tells the woman he'd been seeing that the nascent feelings he had for her have only illuminated to him that the best way to break Batman is to break the people he cares about, she stammers in confusion.  "I am bound for hell, Miss Spencer," Bane responds.  "I will not go there as a comedy." 

In that one statement, everything is explained, and the sense of foreboding that Jeannette had been experiencing for the last few issues comes fully into form. Bane expects them to fail.  Bane expects to die in this attempt, and even if he doesn't, his teammates certainly will, and he will have shed his baggage, emotional and human, in order to truly become the Bane of the Bat once more.  Thus, the foolhardy tragedy is set in motion for the characters just as it is for the readers who know the end is near.

"Good don't last," Floyd Lawton grumbles at the thought of what they're giving up in order to follow Bane into the breach.  "But messed up, that goes on forever." 

Messed up it is.  The Six never get a chance to even put Bane's plan in action, as instead they are ratted out by their violently recruited member the Penguin, and they find themselves surrounded.  By everybody.  In their last of many failures, they are nonetheless shown a tremendous amount of respect by the superhero community, as they've called in every cavalry possible to deal with the threat they pose.  The Birds of Prey, of course, but there are Titans.  There's the Justice Society.  There's the Green Lantern John Stewart, who just killed a planet again.  Both Batmen (which makes Floyd amusingly incredulous).  Even Superman and his Superfriends make the scene.

"We're the Secret Six," Thomas Blake, aka Catman sighs, resignedly.  "We're always outmatched.  And we never win."

We see it all, everything they've suffered through, coming right to the fore.  There is kindness and compassion as they trade their innocent family of accidental hostages for the Huntress, and yet they threaten to rend her limb from limb if they can't escape.  There is mistrust and paranoia as they start to disintegrate and turn on each other, threatening to go out like Reservoir Dogs until one of their least likely members strengthens their resolve.

"We are worthless.  We are the scum of this planet.  We have only one redemptive trait, my dear, sick, wounded friends," Peter Merkel Jr., alias Ragdoll, explains to the malcontents of his heart.  "We don't know how to surrender."

And they do not.  And they try to go out not like dogs, but like gods. 

Am I being a bit overwrought in my writing about this?  Probably.  There will surely be some great books in the reboot.  Simone has made mention that there's been some loose talk behind the scenes about a new Secret Six title sometime next year, although there's nothing official, and it certainly can't be in the same form, given the commitments of some of its main characters into other, almost guaranteed to be lesser books.  But given that this is the best book going, that it didn't have to end, that its author didn't want it to end, and yet it's being sucked into the undertow of a perfect editorially-mandated storm, the fans of this book are entitled to some bitterness in the immediate wake of the end.  Our noses are out of joint, and no sir, we don't like it.  Unfortuantely for the entire medium, good, interesting and different books getting canceled is a dreadfully common occurrence, and it's always hard to deal with.

The only knock on this finale issue is that J. Calafiore, while often excellent, sometimes has his tendency towards blockiness in his human figures get the better of him here and there, but for the most part, it's just a great exercise in building dramatic tension to a violent climax – the only way a team of outlaws like the Secret Six should ever go out – a blaze of completely misplaced glory.

Thanks for what you've given us these past several years, Ms. Simone.  Here's hoping you can bring 'em back after the bend in the road, and here's hoping you can pry Floyd Lawton out of Adam Glass' hands when you do.