May 11 2011 4:12pm

Entertaining Monsters: Secret Six, “The Reptile Brain”

Secret Six

Secret Six is one of DC comics best kept secrets and I think it is a comic that a lot more people should be talking about. A comic about villains might initially not sound appealing but there are number of advantages it has over other titles which add up to make it an interesting read. I enjoy superhero comics, but as a mature reader I find myself drawn more to stories which have a darker edge to them, such as Secret Six.

The Secret Six are a group of criminals and super villains who work together as mercenaries for hire. These are not tortured anti-heroes or characters working towards redemption. They are killers, madmen and monsters who are very good at their jobs.

After an internal dispute the group splits and Bane forms his own group with some new members. He is then offered a job in the distant world of Skartaris, a savage land filled with dinosaurs, monsters from myth, and warring primitive tribes. Meanwhile his former teammates are offered full presidential pardons for all of their past crimes. All they have to do it kill Bane and the others.

There is no age rating for Secret Six but it is not suitable for younger readers, as the main characters regularly kill people and their personal histories are dark and disturbing. (Although that makes for some compelling characterisation.)

Superheroes often struggle with decisions such as whether or not they should kill a villain to prevent the possibility of further attacks. Most often they side with the law, or their conscience, and send the villain to prison. The Secret Six have no such issues. If they are pointed at a target they will eliminate that person with deadly force, be they a hero or another villain. These are not nice people and yet they are fascinating and complex characters.

The personal issues they struggle with are deep-seated neuroses, mental and sometimes physical scars left by their parents, and family issues you will not typically see in a superhero comic due to their disturbing nature. The leader of the Secret Six changes but it’s sometimes Scandal Savage, the daughter of Vandall Savage, an immortal who has sired thousands of children and tested many of them to destruction. To be worthy of using the Savage name requires someone incredibly special and that means they must pass a number of very nasty challenges, even as a child.

Despite being deemed worthy of using the Savage name, Scandal has no intentions of being the heir and wants nothing to do with her father. Other team members include a mentally disturbed jester who was experimented on as a child, a deadly assassin who seems to be a moral vacuum, and Bane, the man who broke Batman. The team dynamic is funny, adult, and very unpredictable because none of the characters seem to have anything in common.

Although Secret Six is set in the DC Universe and tied into current continuity, you don’t need to read other comics to enjoy it. (Although a grounding in the characters and their history will help.) All of this adds up to a comic where the scope for stories is much wider. The Secret Six can go anywhere in the world, encounter almost anyone, and some stories don’t feature superheroes at all. For example, a previous story arc resembled the plot of the movie Taken, and Catman’s retribution was equally as brutal in the comic as the movie’s resolution was.

“The Reptile Brain” arc pits Bane and his team against his former teammates in a place called Skartaris. Bane has been sent there to subjugate the tribes and he goes about the task with his usual brutal efficiency, dismembering and decapitating people who get in his way. In a short time he earns several nicknames from the conquered locals, including “Deathbringer.” Not long after his old friends arrive, a powerful demonic entity enters the fray. What follows is a violent battle royale with magic, armoured dinosaurs, battle axes and bikini-clad warrior women. It’s a fun an entertaining Conan type adventure that is full of action, but still has some good character moments in between all the bloodshed.

The secondary plot revolves around the people giving the Secret Six their orders and it is a nice espionage and intelligence story with a much more grounded counterpoint. The writer, Gail Simone, must have enormous fun writing this series, as it is full of deeply flawed characters who are regularly put in dangerous and unpredictable situations that they must then hack and slice their way out of. Secret Six is also not limited to a specific type of story, and with the ability to rotate out the main cast, the comic is never the same read twice. Despite the dark tone to the comic it is also a very funny read and never takes itself too seriously, even if the issues being dealt with are often adult in nature.

Overall, Secret Six is an interesting, exciting, and unpredictable comic about a group of fascinating yet disturbed people with stories you’ll not see anywhere else.

Stephen Aryan is a lifelong fan of comics, science fiction and fantasy. He co-hosts the Comic Book Outsiders podcast and writes fantasy and comic book reviews at Walker of Worlds.

Doug M.
1. Doug M.
I didn't love this story arc, because you kinda needed some grounding in Skartaris to enjoy it. Putting aside that I think Skartaris is really stupid -- it's the DC Universe playground for John-Carter-of-Mars style science fantasy, where magic mixes with dinosaurs -- very few readers are going to be familiar with the complex backstory of Deimos or Machiste.

But there are some wonderful Secret Six stories! The first three TPBs are all excellent, and recommended. The first story arc, in particular, revolves around the cleverest McGuffin I've seen in a long time.

It's good stuff.

Doug M.
Stephen Aryan
2. StephenAryan
Hi Doug,

I'm a long time DC reader and I'm not familiar with the history of Skartaris, but I still enjoyed it. I just took it as DC's equivalent of The Savage Land, which is Marvel comics land of the weird where the fantastical exists alongside all sorts of odd creatures. A bit of info about Deimos does help, but I don't think it distracts from the story too much. I was glad to see Bane doing what he does best, conquering and breaking people, although is attachment to Scandal is still distracting. Simone's depiction of Bane is one of the best I've seen, but I do want to see him go darker, and from what I've read, to lead up to the new movie, he will do just that.

It's certainly a great series, and as I said, its incredibly varied and a hidden gem that more people should be reading.

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