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Goodbye, Secret Six (Please Come Back Soon)

This week, DC’s villain team-up comic Secret Six ends its current series with issue #36. It’s one of the books that won’t be returning with a new issue 1 as part of DC’s relaunch in September, and will by far be the book I miss the most. Joined by loyalty, greed, a twisted sense of camaraderie and/or an abundant desire for sex and violence, this team of B-list-or-below mercenaries have walked the line between villains and anti-heroes in adventures that jump from moments of raucous hilarity to tense drama to thrilling action to genuinely heartwarming. If you’ve yet to give it a try, here’s why you should.With the help of artists like Nicola Scott, Jim Calafiore, Dale Eaglesham, Brad Walker and more, writer Gail Simone has put together an ensemble team book unlike any other superhero comic currently hitting the shelves and carved out a special corner of the DC Universe that’s been a pleasure to visit month after month.

The superb character work on Secret Six is a big part of what made the book so special, creating a degree of dramatic tension I’m unaccustomed to seeing in a capes-and-tights book. While they are all, at their worst, selfish villains, fighting side by side has brought each of to the point where they’d risk their lives to save the others, under the conditions. And at the same time they’re all no more than five seconds from betraying the rest of the team, given the right threats or motivations.

As the assassin Deadshot puts it early in the team’s mercenary days, the group doesn’t really care if it’s being good or bad so long as it’s getting paid. Still, there are moments when the team’s asked to do things so horrible that some can’t help but do what’s right instead of doing what’s profitable. Not all of them always rise to the moment, though, and that’s what I love about Secret Six. Well, that and Simone’s incredible sense of humor, which makes most issues a joy to read for the laughs alone. Unlike so many superhero comics, its characters are allowed to disappoint us, which in turn makes the moments when they surprise us by doing the right thing all the more special.

While members have come and gone, Simone’s first Secret Six miniseries in 2005 featured many of the characters who would become key parts of the team: Catman, a former Batman villain who’d sunk to the level of an overweight, washed-up joke before turning his life around; Scandal Savage, the deadly daughter of immortal supervillain Vandal Savage who’s often been forced to be both the brains and the heart of the group; Deadshot, the expert marksman who’s surprisingly friendly for a guy that’d kill anybody if he was paid enough (or bored enough); and of course Ragdoll, twisted in both body and mind and a convenient mouthpiece for the craziest thing Simone felt like writing at any given moment.

Secret Six appeared again the next year in another six-issue miniseries, featuring my favorite portrayal of the Mad Hatter ever, and in 2008, DC Comics launched the current Secret Six ongoing series, which added the infamous Bat-villain Bane to the team as he tried to beat his addiction to the Venom serum that gave him super strength and become a more honorable warrior. It also introduced Jeanette, an immortal banshee whose on-again-off-again relationship with Deadshot added a healthy additional dose of debauched comedy to the book. More recently the series has seen appearances by troubled yet all-powerful teenager Black Alice and the gleefully violent, consistently entertaining King Shark.

With the series about to become a completed story — for now, at least — it’s a great time to try to pick up the entire run. DC has collected most of Secret Six in trade paperbacks, starting with the six-issue Villains United mini, then the Secret Six: Six Degrees of Devastation mini, and then five trades currently collecting up to issue 29 of the ongoing: Unhinged, Depths, Danse Macabre, Cats in the Cradle and The Reptile Brain.

Those trades also collect some crossover appearances of the team, including the Suicide Squad tie-in to Blackest Night and a two-parter split with Action Comics. But they can be difficult to track down, especially the out of print Six Degrees of Devastation mini. Fortunately, Comixology has the same issues all available for download under the headings of Villains United, Secret Six Vol. 2 (the same mini collected in Six Degrees of Devastation), and Secret Six Vol. 3 (the ongoing series up to issue 29). Or if you can’t track down any of the earlier books, don’t worry. Either of the minis or the first volume of the ongoing are good starting points for the series.

Given that Simone is a major writers involved in the DC relaunch, and how many passionate fans of this book are out there, I’d be surprised if this week’s Secret Six 36 is the very last we’ll see of the team. DC isn’t published any other book like it, and a funny, dramatic, exciting ensemble comic that doesn’t require too much knowledge of comics continuity seems like a great choice to try to appeal to new or lapsed comics readers. But for now, I’ll celebrate the conclusion of a book that has had a remarkable run, and consistently been the DC Universe book I looked forward to reading every single month.

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