The original Secret Six goes all the way back to the late 60s and used a bunch of characters who most people wouldn’t recognise. The team was revived two decades later for its second arc. But we’re looking at the third incarnation from the mid 2000s written by Gail Simone. This particular collection includes Villains United #1-6, Villain United: Infinite Crisis Special #1 & Secret Six #1-6.
We open with a bunch of big name villains, including Deathstroke, Talia Al Ghul, Lex Luthor & Black Adam, gathering everyone they possibly can into a Society of villains. Their purpose is simple, prevent any heroes from crossing over the line and erasing their minds like they did to Doctor Light in a stupid retcon for a shit comic.
We’re introduced to the first of our major characters, Catman, when he refuses an offer from Doctor Psycho and Talia. Psycho is furious since Catman’s been basically a joke for years. We cut to a small group: Deadshot, Scandal Savage, Cheshire, one of Darkseid’s Parademons, Ragdoll & The Fiddler, fighting some H.I.V.E agents. They complete the operation and the Fiddler is deemed unworthy, resulting in Deadshot straight up murdering him. They need a sixth member, which turns out to be the aforementioned Catman. Now these six less than well known villains under the guidance of the mysterious Mockingbird find themselves at odds with a massive society of villains.
At least, that’s the first arc of the collection. The second deals with Vandal Savage deciding that it’s time for his daughter to pump out some babies. Because he wants those grandchildren. Neither she nor her girlfriend, Knockout, take kindly to the notion.
The writing in this is, frankly, really stellar. Especially considering it’s working off of something as shit as Identity Crisis. In a sense, it’s the ultimate underdog scenario. Not only are these villains fighting against much bigger villains, but they’re villains who are largely regarded as C-list, at best. And the situations they find themselves in don’t have the usual, obvious comic solutions. Things happen that you would never expect especially if you’re used to comic conventions. I guess that’s the advantage of using unconventional characters. And these aren’t twists that come out of nowhere, Simone does a good job of building up to them. She just makes it vague enough that you aren’t sure what exactly the build up is for until you see it.
About the only thing I take some issue with is the use of character death. This is something I’m critical of in comics as a whole. I don’t like seeing characters die cheaply. I don’t like seeing them resurrected cheaply. In this case, we see quite a few characters killed off. To be fair, most of them are characters who weren’t being used and were unlikely to show up in anything else. In some cases, like The Fiddler, we even see their legacy passed on. I still can’t help but see it as taking part in a very negative trend, even if it handles it better than the vast majority of comics.
Simone has a difficult task in this story. She has to build up these characters that you probably don’t give a shit about going into the story in a way that keeps them villainous but also makes them relatable enough for you to have some investment in what happens with them. Fortunately, Gail Simone is easily one of the best comic writers out there and she does a fantastic job of doing that.
The characters are heavily flawed. They do some very questionable things but they have enough complexity to them that they are interesting to read about and, perhaps more importantly, they have likeable traits. And one of them is a freaking nameless Parademon.
They also have strong dynamics. Deadshot and Catman start developing a strong friendship that neither one will likely ever call a friendship. Scandal and Knockout are kind of adorable in their relationship. The Parademon and Ragdoll have an interesting dynamic. Cheshire and Catman have a lot of intrigue betwixt them. And those are just the stand out dynamics. really, any two major characters who are part of the six together will have something interesting to their interactions.
The artist changes throughout. We have Dale Eaglesham, Val Semeiks & Brad Walker for the pencillers. All three do great work. this is a well drawn series of comics. The colourists, including Paul Mounts, Rob Schwager & Guy Major also deserve credit because the colours in this are also damn good. The action sequences are dynamic with a strong sense of flow. The characters look great, it’s just strong work all around.
Secret Six- Villains United is pretty phenomenal. Thirteen comics and they’re all great reads. I would certainly recommend it for any comic book fans and my final rating is going to be a 9/10.