Comic Review – Secret Six #1

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Adam reads as many comics as he can afford. Every week he is going to attempt a mini review of one of them, with potential minor spoilers.

This week saw the Not-Really-That-New 52 debut of Secret Six, the much beloved series most recently written by Gail Simone before the relaunch of the DCU back in 2011. Until now the Secret Six has been absent as a series, the closest book to it being the Suicide Squad which has had mixed opinions for both runs over the last 3 years. Now DC comics have brought it back, with Gail Simone again taking over writing duties, pencils from Ken Lashley, who also shared inking with Drew Geraci, colours from Jason Wright and letters from Carlos M. Mangual. Full disclosure: I have never read an issue of Secret Six before. I am a terrible nerd. However, that does mean I can review this first issue on it’s own merits rather than having nostalgia influence what I think.

The issue opens with a group of agents, apparently the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, arriving at a bar to arrest Thomas Blake, aka Catman. The agents, who definitely don’t work for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, get somewhat destroyed before their backup arrives and stuns Blake. He wakes up in a large, dark room with a variety of other weirdos named Porcelain, Big Shot, the new(ish) female Ventriloquist, Strix and Black Alice, and two locked boxes. Any attempt at escape, even discussing it, results in reprimand from their invisible captors, who flash a message on the wall asking the question ‘What is the secret?’. The group are given a count down to provide an answer, or one subject from the ‘experiment’ will be terminated – and they have to choose who.

Gail Simone starts a compelling story here, swiftly introducing the cast of characters and giving a brief look at most of their powers or skills without wasting any time with it. The situation the they find themselves is extreme and confusing (for them), but the mystery is well crafted and the balance of action and dialogue is spot on. The art is scratchy and rough, lending itself well to the differences between the main characters. The backgrounds in the latter half of the issue, taking place inside the coffin-like box, are somewhat lacking but that can easily be attributed to the fact that there are no backgrounds in the featureless room. The strained desperation on the faces, particularly Catman’s as he realises he is trapped, is particularly strong in helping to get across the bleak situation everyone finds themselves in.

Secret Six was a very enjoyable read, and I’m looking forward to seeing where it goes next. I’ve always liked Simone’s writing style, and this was the last push I really needed to motivate me into actually tracking down the pre-reboot series that she worked on (though from what I hear that may be quite difficult). Pick this up at your LCS or digital comics platform thing.

8 Masks out of 10

Comic Review – Superman Unchained #9

Adam reads as many comics as he can afford. Every week he is going to attempt a mini review of his favourite one, with potential minor spoilers.

Slightly more major spoilers than normal.

This week saw the finale of the Superman Unchained series with issue #9. The whole arc was published by DC comics, written by Scott Snyder with pencils from Jim Lee, inks by Scott Williams and colours from Alex Sinclair, and in this issue the lettering was done by Sal Cipriano, with the flashbacks interspersed throughout illustrated by Dustin Nguyen, amd colours from John Kalisz. Back when this series started in June last year I was particularly excited, so I thought it would make sense to review the final issue.

Superman Unchained is a stand alone tale with the Man of Tomorrow facing off against a terrorist cell known as Ascension, Lex Luthor, the army and their own superhuman Wraith: an alien being with abilities similar to Superman, yet more powerful and knowing seemingly more about Kal-El than he does. Throughout the series, Superman fights and teams up with almost all of these characters, none of whom are particularly trustworthy. Luckily he does have his fellow Justice League heroes Wonder Woman and Batman lending some assistance, as well as Lois Lane, none of whom are useful at all in this finale. Wraith’s people are on their way to Earth to take it over, having seeded it years ago with Wraith himself. This fact is relayed to everyone by Luthor, who appears via a hologram from the comfort of a high back chair sipping wine to pontificate, sneer and suggest a way of stopping the huge alien armada – providing Clark with a solar fuel injection that will cause him to explode amidst the fleet, with a strength “six thousand times the power of Hiroshima and Nagasaki combined.”. Superman being the hero that he is, he flies straight into space to do just that. However, there he is met by Wraith, who takes on that burden himself and throws Clark free, detonating himself and saving the world.

There was a lot happening here, and I’m not entirely clear on everyone’s motivations. Wraith remained fairly unknown right up to the end, and I don’t think I really understand why he took Superman’s place and attacked his own people. His whole life Wraith had been a weapon, aimed by the US government. Maybe his end is his opportunity to make his own choice, not to be used as a tool to hurt innocents again. The issue itself and the story felt somehow incomplete, possibly due to a lack of significant action. Perhaps the huge brawl Superman had against Wraith a few issues back should have been closer to the end, but this feeling may actually be due to the various delays that the release of this book has had throughout its run. I think that is probably the main complaint I have about this series, as it has taken nearly 17 months for all 9 issues to come out, without any specific reason for the delay (though I think I have a pretty good guess). My own terrible memory and attention span means that I don’t actually remember a great deal of this series, and I think my overall impression of this issue would probably be much more positive once I sit down and re read the whole run.

Luthor’s monologue about Superman, only briefly interrupted to allow for the final showdown to breath, was particularly enjoyable. While told from Lex’s bitter outlook, it does still hint at what I liked most about this series as one of the most likeable, interesting Superman stories since the New 52 started. It certainly feels the most spot on for characterisation, allowing Clark to shine as the hero he really is. I’ve always enjoyed Snyder’s character work, so that didn’t really come as a surprise to me. I will say that as this series seems largely unconnected with the rest of the DCU at the moment, more risks could have been taken with the ending. In superhero comics it is rare that the hero actually dies at the end, mainly because there is no real end, but in this case it could have remained a possibility. Jim Lee’s art was very enjoyable here as usual, with the close up full page splash of Superman crashing through some asteroids, immediately followed by the second splash page now pulled back to see him roar through space, being my particular highlights. The inks and colours brought all of this to life with a clear vibrancy that really stood out from the page during the big action scene with Superman, Wraith and the ships. The flashback sequences by Nguyen, while very different, looked great too, but broke the flow of the read a little bit. Overall though the art was very strong.

I did enjoy this issue, and I worry that I have been too harsh on it. As a series overall I would give it a 9/10 (and you should definitely pick the collection up when it comes out next month), and with a re read I may feel more generous towards this issue too with the rest of the story more fresh in my mind. It is still a decent end to a great series, and I wish that it was going to carry on as an ongoing (just without the delays!). Check this out at your LCS or digitally.

7.5 Bagels out of 10