Last issuesaw Ragdoll take the Get Out of Hell Free card from Scandal and descend to the Pit. As we join the rest of the Six in part two of a three-part serial, they've gained access to Hell thanks to Etrigan, the mercurial Demon. There they find that Ragdoll - who had intended to free his old chum the Parademon - may not want to return to the realm of the livng. He's having a kick in the Nether Regions, after being made a Prince of Hell, his qualities having been recognised by the ruling demon, Lady Blaze.
There follows a massive scrap between our 'heroes' and Ragdoll's newfound followers, the 'Secret 666'. The fight scene is entertaining, but what I especially like about this issue are the team members' various reaction to being told, point blank, that Hell has a place for them: resignation, despair, disbelief, defiance ... writer Gail Simone shines a new spotlight on her characters, making them seem more emotionally vulnerable than ever before. And there's a real poignancy in the exchanges between Ragdoll and Scandal, who wants to rescue dead lover Knockout from the demon realms. Another member, meanwhile, is looking for a 'relative' (loved one would be overstating).
Also present is this book's trademark black humour, the best example involving the sins of Ragdoll's personal servant, Theus, though the Demon's rhyming couplets are ever amusing - and they even scan! What's more, it turns out that Etrigan isn't the only rhymer on hand - but Pariagon's verse is worse.
We're offered just one side trip away from Hell, as we see Scandal's girlfriend, Liana, in deep trouble, and with her villainous friends so very far away, I fear she won't be part of the supporting cast after next issue. I hope I'm wrong, I like Liana - quietly dignified as she's treated by Scandal as sloppy seconds - and would hate to see her gone.
It's drama all the way, thanks to Simone and her artistic collaborators. Illustrator Jim Calafiore is criminally underrated. He characterises the Six - all seven of 'em - superbly, but also takes care to fill the panels with individuated demons. And I'm talking wall to wall. You could understand an artist giving us a few great establishing shots and then fudging the crowd scenes, but not Calafiore. The demons are everywhere. And behind the demons are bats. And skulls, screaming skulls to unsettle even the most villainous of mortals.
And this is the level of work Calafiore produces every month. I hope someone at DC recognises what a gem they have here.
Colouring the pages is John Kalisz, who saturates Hell in the requisite shades of red, orange and yellow without boring the eye. And Travis Lanham has a suitcase of fonts to suit the most stylish of demons. The cover is by Dan LuVisi and it's typically striking - from the leering devil to the rising ash, 'intense' doesn't cover it.
Editors Rickey Purdin and Rachel Gluckstern complete the entirely benevolent, not-so-Secret Six-ish who get this superb title on the stand month after month. They're a ... heck of a team.