REVIEW: Secret Six #35

Of all the casualties of the impending DC Relaunch, perhaps none makes me sadder than the iminent demise of Secret Six.  Ever since its first issue a few years ago, Gail Simone’s series about a ragtag group of villains-for-hire has been one of the most consistently stellar titles in DC’s catalogue.  Ironically, it is a more effective team book, with a better grasp of the team dynamic, than any of its heroic counterparts in the market.  Sadly, it’s an underrated, all-too-often overlooked gem of the DCU, and for much of its run I lived in fear of its cancellation.  All things considered, it’s an achievement it ran as long as it did, one that writer Gail Simone, artist J Calafiore, original artist Nicola Scott, and everyone else involved with Secret Six should be proud of.

I could talk at length about the series as a whole (and I may yet do that once the final issue is released next month and I can look at the run in its entirety), but for now I want to narrow my focus onto this current issue, Secret Six #35.  This last two-part arc that closes the series out, “Caution to the Wind”, has an interesting challenge placed before it.  Namely, that Secret Six #34 – which came before it – was a perfect, poetic summation of the entire series, and would have been a fitting final issue in itself.  I actually thought it was the final issue after reading it, and was shocked to find we had another two issues to go.  What else is there to say?

Quite a lot, as it turns out.  Last month, Gail Simone let us see the team – one of the finest, oddest ensembles in all of comics – at their most human.  She made explicit what had long been implied: that the Secret Six is a family.  A broken, dysfunctional family of maniacs who frequently betray and try to kill each other, but a family nonetheless, who support and, in their own twisted way, love each other.  It was heartwarming.  It was nice.

Secret Six #35 is not nice.  If Simone was playing to our hearts last time round, now we’re being splashed in the face with cold water and being told to use our heads.  No matter how much we may like or sympathise with these characters, with this issue we are being told not to forget that, at the end of the day, they are villains.  With how often they are set against the vilest of foes, much more monstrous than them, it can be easy to forget this, but it would appear that, as a closing statement, Simone wants to remind us of what the Secret Six truly are.  Bane is the one who spearheads this epiphany.  Bane is troubled by the idea that associating with this band of lovable losers – and, in the highlight of the last issue, going out on a date – is making people think he’s gone soft, that he’s nothing but a shadow of the man who once broke the bat.  So, he comes up with a plan to transform how the world (and us readers) perceives them, and demonstrate that, when they set their minds and collective abilities to the task, they can be truly dangerous, ruthless villains.

This story sets the stage for a climactic showdown with Batman and his stable of allies in next month’s final issue.  It should be interesting.  After 35 issues of the Secret Six being our protagonists, at the very end they have switched themselves to the role of antagonists.  How is it all going to end?  Presumably, they will fail in their goals to wipe them all out.  This is a superhero comic, and in the end, the good guys always win, even if the bad guys are much more fun.  So, is that how Secret Six is destined to end, with our beloved oddball cast defeated, either dead or in prison?  Was there really any other way their tale was ever going to end?

It’s going  to be a bittersweet final issue, and this chapter skillfully sets the stage for it.  From small character touches, to high-octane action, to barmy comedy setpieces (most of which belong to the goofy King Shark in this issue), Simone and Calafiore score on every level.  Even as it approaches its endgame, Secret Six is as consistent as ever.

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