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Credits & Solicit Info:
Writer: Gail Simone
Artist: J. Calafiore
Colorist: John Kalisz
Letterer: Travis Lanham
Assistant Editor: Rickey Purdin
Editor: Rachel Gluckstern
What would you do if the whole world rose up to fight you? Would you hide in a corner and surrender to its will, or would you go out in a blaze of glory while making it realize why it considered you such a threat in the first place? These are the questions that get answered as Secret Six shows us one last time, why it truly was the best book that carried the "DC" logo.
With DC's new era beginning less than 4 weeks from now, the race to find the story that defined the era that's coming to an end (i.e. The Post Infinite Crisis era (for simplicity's sake) ) has begun among casual fans, dedicated readers and "insiders" of all stripes. Of course, while said debate would most likely end up with people choosing either Geoff Johns' "Green Lantern" saga or Grant Morrison's "Batman" saga, I would not christen either of these works with such a high-level honor. From where I sit, the work that truly defined the DC Universe in this era was the beautifully titled "Secret Six"
Naturally, it goes without saying that such a declaration is best backed up by a strongly structured argument; thankfully the strength of Secret Six's work allows me to present a multi-faceted argument. With the foundation of one of the strongest premises in comics period (Secret Six had evolved into a tight knit group of people who would either find salvation or damnation), "Secret Six" would have some of the best character development (Catman's slide back into a dishonorable life was one of the most engaging character arcs in comics) and interaction in a DC Comic. When you take that and combine it with a writing job that made the stories being told arguably the most compelling ones that DC had to offer, it becomes very easy to see why I think "Secret Six" deserves this honor. With only last issue to wrap things up, can the creative team deliver magic one last time? After multiple readings of this issue, I can safely say that magic has happened.
Hitting the ground running, Secret Six #36 builds upon the foundation established in the last issue as we get a glimpse of Bane dealing with the aftermath of intimacy. It is this opening scene that sets the tone for a situation that escalates (and degenerates) to the point where only a spectacular exercise in futility can be the proper result However, do not allow yourself to be fooled by this summary into thinking that's all there is to this story, because unlike some final issues, Secret Six #36 covers a lot of ground. In fact, this issue covers so much ground that it's conceivable for someone to read this issue multiple times without discovering all the layers ithas to offer. Taking that into consideration, the writing analysis of this work will mostly judge how well this issue serves as a bookend for this story.
As much as I make it my business not to play favorites, let me start this analysis by saying that when Gail Simone brings her A Game that almost anything she writes is sure to be one of my favorites, and the final issue of "Secret Six" is no exception. For starters, considering everything has to happen to bring this story to a proper finish, Secret Six #36 has to be one of the best paced comics of the year. Backed by amazing dialogue, this work takes the reader on a ride where virtually every action builds upon each other as we get closer and closer to a climax the reader will be greatly invested in. With that being said, the writing in this comic truly shines once you go beyond the surface.
For the eternity of this run, the one thing that has made this overall story such an engaging one is the fully 3-dimensional character work that took place within the covers of virtually every issue. As this ride comes closer and closer to the end, we're able to take a good look at both who the main players are and what their motivations are. As the gravity of the situation begins to weigh in, the reactions of almost every character make each of them more compelling, which in turn makes the reader sympathize with what's to come. Along with amazing individual characterization, the interaction between characters is simply a joy to behold. While more people will focus on the beginning scene involving Catman and Deadshot, or the resolution of Scandal's love triangle, (which does seem a trite rushed, to be honest) the way Jeanette interacts with the cast is really a sight to behold. From the way she supports Scandal in her decision, to how strongly she gets Deadshot to react to any threat to her person shows me why I thought she was the soul (with Ragdoll evolving into the Voice of Reason) of the best written team in the DCU, along with being another fine display of the amazing character that was created within the confines of this comic.
Beyond the amazing pacing and excellent character work, the final reason why the writing job of this issue turned out to be so amazing, is how previous story happenings played into all aspects of the final issue. The first instance of this is how the initial wave of heroes recognizes the threat this group possesses and proceeds to call in a who's who of intimidation factor to take them on. The second instance is how the group gets divorced from the deal they made several issues ago, because they couldn't take the time to do some basic Intelligence gathering. Beyond those two instances, the most powerful part of the issue is how Bane's experiences with his comrades' play into the actions he takes in this final chapter. Unlike most similar developments in other books, Bane's abandonment of his friends, lover and principals can rationally be accounted for. With such attention to detail, it's not hard to see why this may be Gail Simone's best writing job of her career, so far.
While the writing of the final issue of "Secret Six" is good enough to overlook whatever small flaws may be present, unfortunately the art is not so lucky. Working on an obvious deadline, it seems like the art team took some shortcuts to make sure this issue got done in the time frame. Indistinguishable features shared between characters (many male and females look alike without their hair) and poorly drawn shades of others (with numerous characters missing eyes featured at multiple points) make their appearance known in this work. Despite those unfortunate instances, Calafiore and Kalisz are able to deliver a work that is also carries significant poignancy. Along with powerful splash pages that work extremely well to deliver the unwritten messages that only comics can give, the emotions displayed during many parts of the comic get the reader behind the 8 souls who are about to go down with guns ablazing. Overall, the strong art direction is more than enough to make this art job in this final issue memorable.
The Final 22 Cents:
If you were to ask me the thing I hate most of all about the upcoming re-launch, it would be that the future of this story and the characters presented within it is quite uncertain. As a book "Secret Six" meant quite a bit to me, due to the fact that I found DC to be a less welcoming place every single week. Taking into account the sometimes malicious dumbing down of characters, plot and story to the lowest common denominator of the past 6 years, the fact that "Secret Six" never shied away from being the best book it could be won my complete respect. The sadness continues in this regard when most of the information being released about the higher profile seems to indicate that they'll fall into the same traps that further contribute to my feelings of disenchantment with Big 2 comics as a whole. Taking that into account, it might pay off to be patient until a good creative team comes along and gives the characters the respect they deserve.
Still, even if the new 52 books were created first and foremost to give us great stories, the end of "Secret Six" would still be something to mourn. For the past 6 years, no group of characters were more compelling and no set of stories mattered more in the DCU. By embracing many of the principals that numerous great stories share, "Secret Six" became one of the best stories I had the pleasure of reading in any subset of literature and if more works had the same amount of effort this one had, then storytelling as a whole would be a much better place.
Thanks for the memories "Secret Six", you will never be forgotten.
Writing *****: With only 20 pages to tell the final chapter of this story, Gail Simone pulls out all the stops to give readers an amazing bookend to this series.
Art ****: Art direction saves the day, as the emotionally powerful moments shine through less than amazing art.
Accessibility ****1/2: This book not only rewards long-time readers by using past events to make the finale even more poignant, but it'll definitely make the curious hunt down the rest of the story.
Final Judgment (As a Stand-Alone Work): ****1/2 (Above and Beyond)
Final Judgment (As a series finale): ***** (Transcendent)
Review by: Linwood Earl Knight