What is the secret?
That's the question on which this debut issue turns, as writer Gail Simone brings a fresh take on her superb Secret Six series to DC's New 52 line. Fan favourites Catman and Black Alice are present and perhaps a little different, along with Strix from Birds of Prey, the Ventriloquist from Batgirl and new characters Porcelain and Big Shot.
The book opens with an extended sequence showing the capture of Catman by persons unknown at a desert bar. The fact that he's ultimately beaten doesn't take away from what's come before - this is one bad (and, it seems, bisexual) kitty. The claustrophobic Catman - Thomas Blake - finds himself in a large, locked room, with the rest of the cast. They're given 15 minutes to answer a question - 'what is the secret?' - while having no idea what the query actually means.
I see the confusion. If you have six strangers to one another in a space, and you really want information one has, wouldn't you give a little more in the way of a question? Some context, a hint as to what's being sought? This has me thinking the answer to 'What is the secret?' is teamwork. Someone may be trying to forge six very different souls whose paths would never normally cross into a team. If that's so, and they succeed, well, I can't see this bunch of rebels and misfits dancing to anyone else's tune.
We shall see. I'd be happy to be proven right, yet happier to be proven wrong; I love surprises in comics and Simone is one of the few writers clever and considerate enough to give them to us. She loves a mystery, and I cannot wait to see where this classic locked room set-up takes us.
It's good to see Catman and Black Alice back, as their personalities always add spice and their abilities are undeniably useful. Porcelain, who can make things brittle and shatter them, has the assuredness of former Sixer Scandal, along with a playfulness that's her own. I like her already, and the same goes for the affably downbeat detective Big Shot, who can bloat his body to Hulk proportions. I'm not a fan of the Ventriloquist, finding her far less charmingly goofy than the original Alan Grant/Norm Breyfogle version, but I wouldn't put it past Simone to flesh her out into something more than psycho-ripper.
As for Strix, she's a former Court of Owls assassin who communicates by Post-It note (death by 1000 paper cuts?). She's the hardest sell for me but again, Simone is a massive talent so I'm happy to wait and see how the elements she's selected work together before writing them off.
And I wouldn't be surprised were one or two of this bunch to be quickly removed - there has to be someone in the room who knows more than they're telling, that's the classic set-up. Black Alice and Porcelain, for example, would both seem to have the clout to break through a heavy metal door - OK, I could buy that magic borrower Alice is too much the space cadet to focus, but Porcelain seemingly has but to touch something to break it.
Penciller Ken Lashley goes for looser layouts than I've seen from him previously, then lends a rougher finish with his inks that's followed through by co-inker Drew Geraci. The approach suits both the savagery of Catman in the first scene, and dark mystery of what follows. The colours of Jason Wright - one of Simone's regular collaborators on the previous series - play well to mood, while letterer Carlos M Mangual keeps the sound turned up.
Another former creative team member, Dale Eaglesham, supplies the clever, eye-catching cover, for which Wright adds the tones.
If, like me, you were a fan of the previous Secret Six, you'll likely eat this up. If you've never read an issue, ditto - while containing some familiar elements, the new team and new story makes it extremely reader friendly.
And a great addition to DC's quickly improving line.