Tuesday, 28 July 2015

Secret Six Book 1: Villains United. (Villains United #1-6, Six Degrees Of Devastation #1-6)

"Good day. My loyal, tarnished knights" - Scandal Savage

So, if you ignore part twos, intros and the Sega ads post, this is my one hundreth book covered.  Woo hoo.  And to mark this special occasion I present the first one written by a female writer, the writer in question being Gail Simone.  Actually I had wanted to cover her quite a while back but for ages the stuff I had recommended by her was out of print and going for a fortune on Amazon. Fortunately the series I was most interested in, Secret Six has been reprinted and this volume contaians the original Villains United miniseries which I briefly cover for reason I'll go into later and then the follow up miniseries that ended up leading into an ongoing series collected in later volumes.  Also, I've been following Gail Simone on tumblr and wow, she must be the nicest, most awesome author as a person I have ever come across.  Her dedication to her fanbase is legendary and her commitment to portraying diversity in gender, sexuality, race and disability in her comics puts her way ahead of every other author I have read regarding social justice issues.  Even if I hated her work (which I don't, she's a really good writer) I think I'd still follow her tumblr for all the fun, and snark and cosplay pictures of women dressed as Red Sonja she links to, mmmm. So, I shall skim the first miniseries and cover the second in more depth, both have six issues making this book good value for money as well.

VILLAINS UNITED - When I started buying the original black and white Swamp Thing trades in the mid-to-late 1980's, each volume came with an introduction.  When it came time for the Crisis On Infinite Earth's tie-in to be collected, the intro explained  what the crossover was about and so I wasn't left totally bewildered by it as I only started collecting DC comics in earnest after Crisis On Infinite Earths happened.  The first Grant Morrison Animal Man trade also has an intro that explains the Invasion crossover that had a deleterious effect on Animal Man's powers.  Once again without it, it would be utterly confusing.
Mark One, Cheshire, Catman Ragdoll, Deadshot Parademon, Scandal.
This first six issue mini-series was not only a direct lead in to Infinite Crisis, but it also was based heavily on events sparked off by the previous crossover, Identity Crisis.  There is no helpful intro explaining this, nowhere at all on the trade paperback that explains anything about the larger events this mini was tied to. Now Gail Simone has made a valiant effort to make it understandable in it's own right, but as someone who has read Infinite Crisis I have to say, that if I hadn't I'd be completely confused as to what was going on.  And I am still a little confused because I haven't read all the other tie-ins that preceeded Infinite Crisis.  So that's why I am skimming this miniseries as I'd just end up getting sidetracked trying to explain what was going on elsewhere. 

Basically, the Lex Luthor from Earth-2, Alex Luthor, was disguised as the main DCU earth's Lex Luthor and was using a team of super villains to distract the heroes of the earth while he got on with capturing heroes and villains who had originated from different Earths before Crisis On Infinite Earth's crushed all the Earths into one, with various people from parallel worlds now making their home in the new compacted continuity.  Alex Luthor wanted to strap them to a giant tuning fork to split the earth into multiple realities again and then create the perfect earth.
Even Lex Luthor can't outsmart himself.
Real Lex Luthor secretly recruits his own merry band of villains and anti-heroes, Catman, Deadshot, Scandal Savage, Ragdoll, Parademon and Cheshire, by way of threats to their loved ones to combat Alex Luthor's villains.  The most important things that happen with regard to what comes after was that Cheshire and Catman slept together and Cheshire got pregnant, then she defected to the other side.  But the Secret Six had a spy in the villains ranks too, a woman called Knockout who is Scandal Savage's girlfriend.  The Secret Six put a stop to the other villain's shenanigans, earning the special emnity of Doctor Psycho and when it all kicks off during Infinite Crisis, they leave it to the heroes to sort it out.  Parademon is killed, and now down to five they decide to stay together as a mercenary band based in the abandoned House Of Secrets.

SIX DEGREES OF DEVASTATION - The Six are still down to five as this miniseries begins.  They are Scandal Savage, the lesbian daughter of Vandal Savage (you may remember him from Demon Knights) and their sort of leader; Knockout, one of Darkseid's Female Furies and Scandal's bisexual lover; Floyd "Deadshot" Lawton,  Thomas "Catman" Blake and Peter "Ragdoll" Merkel.  Only Knockout can be said to have superpowers, she is very strong.  Otherwise they are all Badass Normals. One thing you have to bear in mind as you read about them, these are NOT heroes.  They are deeply messed up individuals who do some bad things and some good things.  But in a universe full of goody, goody superteams it's refreshing to be able to pull for these flawed characters and how they navigate their way through the situations they find themselves in.  Simone is very good at giving each character a distinctive "voice" so they don't all blend into one. Anyway, lets begin.
North Korea. Not a fun place to live.
The story begins with in a North Korean camp for political prisoners. A prisoner is telling a man who is bound with a bag over his head the horrifying conditions there and how everyone there is going to end up dead sooner or later. "Do I look like I'm here to help you?" responds the bound up man.  A guard comes and takes him outside with the other prisoner to provide translations.  The interpreter tells the bound man the guard says he'll be his first American kill.

The man in question is actually Deadshot.  The rest of the Six parachute down nearby and hope they haven't been too late.  The North Korean commandant asks who his target was.  Deadshot asks if he knows a "Jip Li-An".  The commandant laughs and says that person was a traitor and died last week.  Deadshot says that he wasn't the target, but his widow is their employer.

Then he kicks the gun in the hand of the guard behind him who fires it in surprise and hits the commdandant in the chest, killing him. The rest of the gang arrive and deal with the guards.  Deadshot grabs a gun and starts doing what he does best.  Soon all the guards are dead.  With none left, the prisoners timidly go and pick up the guns dropped by the guards. As the five drive off, Deadshot remarks that it's only five miles to the Chinese border and some of them might make it.
The big boobed redhead is Knockout the replacement member.
Back at the House of Secrets, Scandal hands out their payments.  Then she warns them that Doctor Psycho is gunning for them and asks Catman to bring in the counter-measure they discussed.

Scandal: "And for everyone else.  Enjoy your vacation.  Eat well, get drunk, make love.. for I intend to do all thre with a complete lack of moderation."

Ragdoll goes to a restaurant for a fancy meal.  Deadshot is enjoying a nice walk in the park with his ex-wife and kid.  Scandal is in Bangkok with Knockout.  Entwined in each other's arms, looking out from their high up hotel roof, Scandal muses:

Scandal: "Thankyou for this, Kay.  I love this city".

Knockout: "Do you?  I must conquer it for you sometime then."

And they kiss.  Man, my girlfriends never promised to conquer cities for me.  I'm sad now.  Anyway, Catman ventures to a mysterious house to recruit their sixth member, who turns out to be The Mad Hatter from Batman's rogue gallery.

Suddenly Ragdoll is attacked by a knife wielding assassin in the restaurant.  Deadshot is accosted by assassins armed with swords, and in Bangkok, a helicopter with a woman armed with an exotic rifle in it fires upon Knockout and Scandal.  It embeds a ticking bomb in Knockout's skin, when she realises what it is, she flings Scandal clear and it explodes.  Deadshot is in trouble without his guns and Ragdoll is also being bettered by his assassin. In the creepy house, meanwhile, The Mad hatter agrees to join up with them.
Knockout tosses Scandal off (sorry)
The next issue begins with Scandal preparing to interrogate "Pistolera" the woman who shot Knockout.  And by interrogate I mean stabbing and slashing a bound prisoner with a knife.  The story then flashes back to the various attacks.  Ragdoll is surviving his in his own, inimitable style:

Ragdoll: "I break more bones than this myself before breakfast, muffin.  If you want me dead you'll have to crush organs."

And he manages to take his attacker out by ramming his arm down his throat. Deadshot is about to be executed by the sword wielding women, when his ex-wife tosses him a gun.  He tells the women to shoo, as he doesn't want to kill anyone in front of his kid.  Scandal floats in the water Knockout threw her in, then climbs out and finds Knockout's horribly burned body.  It is still breathing.  Scandal feels a rush of grief:

Scandal: "I felt only the weight of vengeance.  I felt the desire to visit the full wrath of my family's blood upon the woman who did this to you.  And for the first time I felt my father's hatred of humanity come to roil and fester right behind my eyes so intensely I could barely stand unaided."

And we're back in the present with Scandal getting all Jack Bauer on Pistolera.  Only unlike 24 which shows torture as neccessary and enobling, this shows torture as grubby and degrading for the person meteing it out, more out of revenge than a desire to know the truth.
Horrible, but it's meant to be. Don't piss off Scandal Savage.
Standing outside the room, Deadshot remarks that it's not Scandal in there but Vandal Savage's daughter.  Scandal tells Pistolero they should have attacked Catman, he's the worlds best tracker and found her easily.  Pistolera finally admits that it was Cheshire who arranged the hits and Catman was not to be targetted.

Catman comes in and they discuss what to do with the woman.  Catman says to let her go and Scandal agrees, but then Deadshot shoots Pistolera dead, taking the decision out of their hands.  He then says "Hatter's made some cake.  Who wants cake?"  Scandal tells Deadshot she doesn't know whether to kiss him or kill him.  She decides to kiss him, glad he took the only real decision that could be taken.

With Ragdoll in the hospital for injuries sustained in the attack against him, the rest travel to the Himalayas where Cheshire's base is.  They fight the kung fu monks inside and finally Cheshire appears.  She admits that Doctor Psycho was behind her arranging the hits. Scandal is about to kill her when she shows them something.
Cheshire, Catman and their baby, aww.
It's her baby son that she had with Catman.  He wants to take the baby away from her, but she says that'll activate a huge bounty on his head and he'd be dead within a week. So Catman pleads with Scandal to leave Cheshire alive for the sake of the kid.  Reluctantly Scandal agrees.  Back in the hospital, Doctor Psycho manipulates a nurse into taking him to the sleeping Ragdoll's room, where he intends to be up to no good.

The next chapter begins with Catman visiting Ragdoll in the hospital.  Scandal is busy trying to check Ragdoll out, when the nurse pushes an alarm that alerts the FBI agents to their prescence.  They come to arrest Ragdoll and the other two, because they are all still criminals.  But Catman and Ragdoll crash through a window and escape, meeting up with Scandal who has done the same.

Back at the House of Secrets, they are having a meal.  The Hatter has placed tiny little hats on the fruit in a bowl.  Scandal is sleeping by her lover, who gets up and removes her bandages to reveal she is totally healed.  She takes a shower and then walks into the kitchen area totally starkers, much to the enjoyment of Deadshot and Catman.  Hatter ignores her because she didn't have a hat on.
Ah strategic hair, very handy to avoid a NSFW label.
Scandal has a dream about her father, Vandal Savage.  He tells her that her mother was the only mortal woman he has ever loved.  He wants a grandchild.  She says no can do, but he is insistent, he wants an heir.  Vandal suggests Catman, but she says "no... he is a friend."  Vandal says chose something else, and as he starts to tell her why she will do this, we leave the dream and she wakes with a start and panics because Knockout is gone.

Knockout runs in and hugs her.  She explains she was engineered to "stay presentable even after the most greivous of wounds."  Then Deadshot pops his head round the door and says they have a lead on the women who attacked him.  "Suit up, we're going hunting."
A mind controlled Ragdoll attacks the rest of the Six.
They fly there in a helicopter and Ragdoll gets a phone call.  When he hangs up he starts attacking the others, apologising the whole time.  In the struggle, Knockout is um.. knocked out of the helicopter but manages to hang onto Ragdoll's hand.  He disjoints it off completely and Knockout falls.

Catman: "Last chance Doll, stand down or die."

Ragdoll: "I choose...Death".

They land the helicopter and notice that Hatter is having some sort of seizure.  Scandal says to leave him and search for Knockout.  She finds her unharmed.  Ragdoll appears, now back to normal and explains that he had a post-hypnotic suggestion implanted in his brain by Doctor Psycho when he was in the hospital.  He apologises again and before they can leave, The Doom Patrol appears.
The Doom Patrol arrive, it's them at the back.
I'm not sure which version of the Patrol this is, but as they are back in the DCU it's post Vertigo, and it has Beast Boy, Bumblebee and Mento in the line-up alongside Elasti-Woman, Robotman and Negative Man.  It doesn't actually match up to any line-up listed on the Doom Patrol wikipedia page, although I believe it's meant to be a version created during the Infinite Crisis event, but it's closest to Keith Giffen's version which was version five and who I wrote about earlier this year.  I'm a big fan of both the Doom Patrol classic that we have here and Grant Morrison's crazy reboot one.  Being a bunch of weirdoes and outcasts themselves they're the perfect team to take on the Secret Six. There is another link between the two. Both Secret Six and Keith Giffen's Doom Patrol got cancelled when the The New 52 was launched and no I am never going to let that go DC, despite The New 52 itself finally being retconned away too.

Cheshire and Doctor Psycho meet with Vandal Savage at his Japanese home and he feeds them soup and meat made out of Solomon Grundy, much to Cheshire's disgust.  Back with the Six versus the Patrol, Scandal says maybe they should try to talk to avoid an ass kicking.  However Robotman says they are all wanted by the police.  Catman says, yeah but it's all petty stuff.  Why are the likes of The Doom Patrol after them?

Catman also points out they have people in need of medical treatment.  Robotman says treatment first then jail.  So the Six attack them.  Elasti-woman grows to huge size, and Ragdoll gets a good look up her skirt before downing her by stabbing her in the ankle.  Beast Boy tries to get Mento (his adoptive father) to help her (his adoptive mother).  But Mento just jibbers about random stuff, so Negative Man releases the Negative Spirit upon them.
A mind controlled Elasti-woman chomps Robotman's noggin off.
There is a massive rumble and Deadshot goes to get the Hatter.  He uses his magic hat to attack the Doom Patrol psychically.  He mind controls Elasti-woman into biting off Robotman's head.  She picks up Beast Boy and is about to do the same when Scandal yells at Hatter to stop and knocks his hat off, which brings Elasti-woman back to her senses.  Robotman's decapitated head says:

Robotman: "Hey meatheads.  You can see we're still working the kinks outta this team.  You got lucky.  Get the hell out of here before we take all that away."

Back at the House Of Secrets, Ragdoll has his arm reattached.  Deadshot speaks with his ex-wife saying he can't see her and his daughter anymore but the cheques will still come.  she angrily tells him to "burn in hell" and hangs up.  Knockout comes in and Deadshot and her share a drink. Scandal dreams of her father again.  He says she must do as he commands or he will "take them from you."  Or she can come kill him, whatever.  She wakes up and goes looking for Knockout and discovers her in bed, shagging Deadshot.
Seriously, don't make Scandal mad...
Scandal is understandably pissed off and punches the shit out of Deadshot.  Knockout is confused as to what she has done wrong.  Catman comes in and wrestles Scandal off Deadshot:

Knockout: "Scandal, is it the sex?  Is that why you're angry?  Is that it?  On Apokolips after a battle the survivors always... This man means nothing to me.  Less than nothing.  Kill him if you must."

Deadshot: "Hey!"

Sorrowfully Scandal walks out on them, telling them to burn her things like she was never there.  And not to follow her either.  Deadshot tries to justify himself, but Catman says he "screwed all of us."  Scandal leaves in a plane to go to her father's house.  The rest of the Six have a meeting and Knockout says Scandal didn't leave over the sex, if she was really mad, Deadshot would be dead by now.  Also, Scandal loves her.  This was a ruse.
I like dramatic scenes where everyone is nude.
Hatter says she's gone to Japan to see her father, he knows this because he bugged all their rooms and Scandal talks in her sleep.  They all decide together to "go get our friend back."  In Japan Scandal is greeted by her father.  The Six fly to Japan themselves and when Catman finds out he was tapped to be Scandal's baby-daddy he is somewhat chagrined at being seen as a walking sperm bank.

Scandal tells her father that he has won and that he must not hurt her friends.  He says that if he was to lose her, he'd lose everything of the only woman he ever loved.  As she refused to shag Catman, he has picked a mate for her, Doctor Psycho.  Ew.  The Six's plane touches down outside and they come out fighting, taking on Vandal's ninja guards.
Opening a can of whoop-ass.
Meanwhile Scandal grabs a pair of chopsticks and buries them deep Vandal's his neck.  Doctor Psycho goes outside and tries to mind control them into killing each other, but Hatter overrides his psychic abilities.  Hatter gloats, which is suddenly cut short due to a poisoned knife in his back courtesy of Cheshire.

Hatter has a trippy dreamlike vision where he sees Cheshire as the Cheshire Cat and Doctor Psycho as the White Rabbit telling him to jump into a hole that is his grave.  Scandal brings him round, she says she can close the wound but he needs the antidote fast.  She shoots Catman a significant look and he obdiently goes after Cheshire.
What did I say about pissing off Scandal?
Inside Vandal has been impaled via two katanas to a post by Scandal.  As he frees himself, he says she is "willful, like her mother".  There is a chaotic fight going on outside, CHeshire tells Catman that if he wants the antidote, he'll have to have sex with her.

Catman: "Cheshire, your womb is the most Godammned dangerous weapon I've ever faced.  Worse than that... I can't believe I'm considering it."

Cheshire says he better make his mind up fast, so they disappear somewhere secluded.  Knockout and Scandal deal with the zillions of mooks and Hatter disappears to chse after Doctor Psycho.  Vandal Savage stands on the roof of his house and challenges Scandal to a one-on-one fight.  She agrees but tells Knockout that this house is his favourite and he despises disorder. "Displease him for me won't you?" she says, and they kiss.  Then Scandal climbs up to fight her father.
Dr. Psycho and Hatter grapple, while Scandal fights her dad.
Hatter catches Psycho trying to leave and they both fight each other.  Catman reappears with the antidote and Deadshot keeps the pressure on the masses of guards.  Scandal and Vandal battle, the house shaking as Knockout trashes the inside.  Catman finds Hatter next to the dead body of Doctor Psycho and gives him the antidote.

Vandal stabs Scandal through the hand with a katana, but then as Knockout makes a particularly big dent in his house, he and Scandal are knocked off the roof.  Scandal is left hanging on by her good hand, while Vandal dangles off her leg.  Vandal says he suddenly has no more desire to take her down and lets go, smashing on the rocks below.  Hatter then appears and goes to stab her through the hand she is hanging on by for the crime of knocking his hat off.
How fluffy and nice...
However Ragdoll appears and makes an appeal to him saying "we're your friends".  Hatter apologises and Scandal climbs up to safety.  She leaves Ragdoll and Hatter up there discussing friendship, Hatter says he will be a good friend to them.  Then Ragdoll pushes him off the roof saying thats as maybe but "there is only room for one dandy freak on the team".  He then strolls back to the plane where the others are waiting, telling them Hatter decided to stay.  So down to five again, they return to the House Of Secrets.

Once back there, Scandal thanks them for coming to help her, she says she plans on getting her tubes tied to prevent her father, who will come back alive again, from trying the same stunt again and she has no desire for kids.  She also tells Deadshot if he tries it on with Knockout again, she'll turn his testicles into earrings.  And the miniseries ends with poor old Mad Hatter left behind, with the only thing in life he can truly trust.  His hat.
You can always rely on a hat.
This second minseries is basically what makes this collection worth it.  It was good enough to land The Secret Six an on-going series following on from it, that I shall be covering over the next few months.  If I was in charge of putting the trades together, I probably would have given the Villains United one a miss if I wasn't planning on adding an explanatory page at the start.  And either released Six Degrees of Devastation as a six issue trade, or placed it in a larger collection like this with the first story arc of the on-going.  Six Degrees of Devastation is excellent though, while the art by Jimmy Palmiotti and Brad Walker is fairly standard but decent superhero mainstream stuff with some confusing action scenes in places, the writing is very strong.  Gail Simone strikes me as a very humane writer, able to find sympathy in even the most messed up characters, and having a strong lesbian couple at the centre of events who openly express affection for each other is something I enjoyed very much as well.  It gets very dark in places, but there are also funny jokes and surreal interjections and also it was nice to see The Doom Patrol again too. A worthy one hundreth book for this blog.


  1. so women do write comics, i was wondering :P gratz on the 100 reviews!

  2. Yes, yes, yes I know, I should have done a female author sooner. But there are still so few that are easy to get hold of in collected editions. Or they're manga authors like Hiromu Arakawa who I'd need to devote several months too. But thanks for the gratz, I won't be running out of stuff to cover anytime soon :)

  3. Congratulations Kyoko-sama :-)

    Has Gail Simone ever written a story about a transgender person? Just wondering.

    I think your girlfriends never promised to conquer cities for you because that would be, like, illegal. Or maybe you're just not dating the right sort of women. Although I personally would be quite upset if your US army girlfriend conquered... oh, let's say London... because American imperialism sucks even if the UK would kind of deserve it for colonising India.

    LOL, the Hatter has a tiny hat on his fork. And now I feel sorry for him because Ragdoll pushed him off the roof. Sad times :-(

  4. Yes, Gail Simone put a transwoman character in her run on Batgirl.

    She's also written a badass asexual character as well in another comic I shall look at in the months to come.

    I guess you're riht about hte illegality of having your lover conquer a city for you, I just got caught up in the romance, sigh.

    Yes, poor Hatter, used for his psychic powers then tossed aside. I never said these guys were heroes though :D