One of Mad! magazine's longest running features is Scenes We'd Like To See. This issue of Secret Six goes in the other direction, flashing back to Scandal Savage's 9th birthday for a scene I could easily live without. As a rite of passage her father, Vandal Savage, has her run a gauntlet of thugs for an especially nasty reason.
Yes, I know the outwardly sophisticated immortal Vandal is a cannibalistic caveman, so any daughter of his isn't likely to have the sanest upbringing. But even in the nastiest DC comics I don't expect to see children brutally attacked - we're not talking suggestion here, the art is explicit - then taught to 'crush, disembowel and mutilate' aggressors. I see that the scene speaks to character, and I know this is a book about villains willing to kill, but there should be limits. I had problems enough when Black Canary suffered a similar attack in Birds of Prey under Secret Six writer Gail Simone, but at least Dinah Lance had a choice. L'il Scandal has no say in the matter.
There are a few more really nasty moments in an issue which seemed determined to push the envelope. If anything, it's going to push me away. I buy this book for the characters, plots, team dynamics and art. I know Scandal, Ragdoll, Jeanette and co aren't kindergarten teachers but I'd prefer the extreme stuff to be left to the imagination.
And if that makes me a lily-livered hypocrite, so be it. I know Gail is a huge admirer of John Ostrander and Kim Yale's Suicide Squad, a book which similarly featured the scum of the DC universe (among them, Secret Six's Deadshot) teaming up for dubious missions. It managed to be a fabulously dramatic read, month in, month out, without going the graphically grisly route. Gail's a writer with the talent to follow a better path; I hope she chooses to do so.
Rant over. This issue continued the Depths storyline, with the Six split into factions over a ring of slave owners building the world's largest prison. Also on hand are Wonder Woman and the mythical beast Grendel who, being chained up, doesn't get to do much other than make creepy threats. We also get more insight into the banshee Jeanette and catch up with Scandal's new girlfriend Liana, and the instalment is entertaining but my interest is waning - this is part four with no end in sight.
Nicola Scott, Carlos Rodriguez and the rest of the artistic team keep things looking good, if grisly, while Daniel Luvisi supplies another gorgeous cover. In all, this isn't my favourite issue, but it's still a smart read.