Writers: Gail Simone, Keith Giffen
Pencillers: Jim Calafiore, Matthew Clark, Ron Randall
Inkers: Jim Calafiore, Sean Parsons, Arthur Thibert
The final collected edition of the fan-favourite series, The Darkest House collects the two-issue crossover with Doom Patrol, before collecting the final six issues of the series. The crossover sees the Secret Six and Keith Giffen’s incarnation of the Doom Patrol go head-to-head once again in an all-out epic brawl of humorous proportions before the trade wraps up with a final story, in which the Secret Six literally go to hell in an attempt to rescue Scandal’s love, Knockout.
Does Gail Simone manage to give the team the send off they deserve? Or did the New 52 prematurely end another one of DC’s best titles? Read on to find out.
Crossovers can be an annoying thing, especially if you aren’t picking up the other title. However, when it’s between two titles you love, they usually are insanely fun to read. And that is no truer than with the little crossover featured in the first two issues of the volume. The story begins in the pages of Secret Six #30, where first and foremost, we see the continued development of Bane and Scandal’s relationship, with Scandal setting her ‘father’ up on a date with Spencer, a stripper from the same club as Liana. The humour Simone delivers during this segment is spot on, with Bane giving a whole new definition for social awkwardness. Meanwhile, we meet Eric, an unemployed teenage slacker, who just how happens to inherit a criminal fortune from his recently passed grandfather. And you guessed it; he decides to build a new criminal empire, bringing back the old school crime lord vibe. To do so, he wants a base in Oolong island’s volcano, and hires the Secret Six to clear the island up for him. Oolong island, being the new base of Doom Patrol…
This leads to a rematch between the two teams, with the Secret Six and the Doom Patrol crossing paths back in Six Degrees of Devastation. The humour between both issues is perfect, with the interactions between the two oddball teams being guaranteed to bring a smile to the faces of anyone who loves both teams. Robotman and Catman continue their feud from their previous meeting, while Ragdoll and Negative Man’s meeting is just sheer perfection. As you can imagine, the things soon escalate when the two teams clash, with Keith Giffen delivering just as excellent moments in Doom Patrol #19 too; I loved the whole inclusion of the Science Squad joining the fray. Altogether, this is an excellent crossover story, full of humour and great interactions between the two sets of characters. Both titles were built on differing styles of humour in their own right, but when they meet, it’s just an absolute delight to read. Whilst the story developed the ongoing story in Doom Patrol more, it doesn’t really matter here at all, since well, it’s just a fantastic story, which is well worth buying this trade for alone.
That’s not to say that the rest of the volume isn’t any good. In fact, it’s even better. #31-33 are the central point of this collection, seeing the Secret Six go to hell at Scandal Savage’s request, to try and retrieve her lost love, Knockout. Scandal comes to this decision after being struck by a vision and remembers the ‘get out of hell for free’ card which she has in her possession, something which was introduced in the opening story-arc of this series. However, Scandal is soon dismayed to find it has been stolen, by none other than Ragdoll, who seeks to use it for himself to retrieve his only friend, the Parademon. Seeing the transformation of Ragdoll during this issue from the insane, depraved clown to someone trying terrifying and sadistic is startling, and a true sign of just how good the creative team behind this series was—the art from Jim Calafiore really compliments the words from Simone, making a truly convincing change of character. In the struggle for the card, Scandal mortally wounds Ragdoll, who subsequently transports to hell, along with the card, leaving the team stunned by what has transpired.
Scandal is still determined to go to hell however, with or without the card to bring Knockout back. Seeing the team literally agree to go to hell and back with Scandal is a true sign of just how close these characters have become, and a sign that they aren’t merely a team of remorseless killers, but something far more—a family. No matter how dysfunctional and strange they are. I have to also applaud Simone’s creatively for the portal to hell, with it being an elevator in a mall in Iowa. Of course, down the elevator it is something far more expected to the reader, and again, Calafiore’s pencils really highlight the hellish landscape, complete with demons and disfigured inhabitants. Oh, and Ragdoll has set himself up as the potential new Prince of hell, complete with a legion of servants and his own torture schedule to carry out.
I could go into further detail about just what transpires in hell, but it’s something which is far more rewarding if you read and experience it for yourself. Simone has a delightfully wicked mind, with her horrifying version of hell being horrendous, and something which even causes the Secret Six a moment to pause and consider their relationship with each other. Each character gets a look at their own eternal torment, with each giving us a great look into the characters which Simone has brought to life in this comic so well. With this story leading to the finale of this title, the team’s trip to hell serves as a great point to wrap up character arcs, especially Catman with his tragic upbringing, as well as serving as the point for Bane to assess his very set of morals.
The final three issues of the series serve as an epilogue to the trip to hell, and then a finale for the team. During the team’s descent into hell, Scandal’s girlfriend, Liana, had been captured by an insane individual, who believed himself to have been touched by God and sent on a mission to ‘re-educate’ sinful women. Again, Simone’s writing creates someone terrifyingly sick—someone who makes the Secret Six look moral. Of course, they are still brutal, and dispense their own brand of retribution upon saving Liana from his clutches.
This comes before the second half of the issue, and indeed, #35-36 really focus upon Bane and his epiphany from his time in hell, as well as his date with Spencer. During his time with the Secret Six, Simone had defined the character, with his morals and code seeing Bane adopt a father-like relationship with Scandal, whilst acting at times like a twisted moral compass for the team. However, the affirmation of being damned sees Bane come full circle, and once again obsess over becoming more than just a man. Key to this is of course, breaking the Batman. And not just physically this time. This sets up the final mission for the Six, with Bane’s grand plan to either become Gods, or go out as legends is enacted, with the Six forced to make one final stand. And well, it is the perfect way for this series to end.
I’ve touched upon it already a couple of times, but I need to mention it once more—Calafiore’s pencils in this final volume are amazing. Nicola Scott’s pencils earlier on in this series were exceptional (but then again, her stuff always is), but Calafiore did no wrong in this volume. His depiction of hell was fantastic, and you could really tell that he was bringing Simone’s story to life, and when its one as depraved and insane as this one, that is one hell of a feat. Calafiore has always had a good command over pencilling action scenes, but in this volume, he nailed the more emotional and character moments as well, which really helped to make this volume such a fantastic read.
All in all, this is a mighty fine swansong for Secret Six. Simone effectively sent the team to hell, where they all met their personal demons from this series, allowing her to bring a satisfying conclusion to all the character’s story-arcs. Ragdoll finally realises he has more than one friend, Catman finds the justice he has been seeking his whole life, and Scandal gets her happy ending with Liana and Knockout etc. Most importantly however, this volume showed the characters realising what I’m sure readers had realised long ago—that they are more than just a team. The Secret Six is a family. Admittedly not a conventional, stable or even sane one, but it is a family nonetheless. And I’ve felt privileged being able to go on the journey with the Secret Six, as they discovered this about themselves.
GO Rating: 4.5/5
[Cover via Comicvine, panels scanned from Doom Patrol (2009) #19, Secret Six (2008) #33]