Wednesday, June 15, 2011

#13 - SECRET SIX: The Darkest House/The Jagged End of the Chainsaw

Uncanny X-Force took their shot as assassin ready to kill the threats they see are too dangerous to live. Now, we see the world of Secret Six, six mercenaries (which are known villains) in the DC Universe, are usually either trying to stay alive from other villains that want to kill them or taking jobs to kill people in order to make cash. Prepare yourself as we meet up with . . . .THE SECRET SIX!


Issues #31 - 34
Story (arc) name: The Darkest House; The Jagged Edge of a Chainsaw
Written by Gail Simone; Art by J. Calafiore
DC Comics


    The original Secret Six is nothing like this so we are gonna skip them to get to the origin of the current incarnation. It started back before Infinite Crisis, when DC released several miniseries to help move along plots for Infinite Crisis. Lex Luthor (who was actually Alexander Luthor from Earth - 2) formed a group of supervillians called The Society. Yet, when Scandal Savage (daughter of Vandal Savage), Ragdoll, Deadshot, Catman, Cheshire and a Parademon decide to NOT work for Luthor, they are considered traitors with the Society wanting to kill them. Thus the Secret Six was formed back in the Miniseries Villains United. 
     By the time things were over there, Parademon had died. Which heralded the Secret Six miniseries. The Secret Six were taking jobs from this mysterious being known as Mockingbird. Yet, the Six were betrayed by Cheshire. Yet, to bolster their ranks The Fiddler, who was then killed by Deadshot by order of Mockingbird. Mad Hatter joins for a short time but is kicked out by Ragdoll . . . feeling that he should be the only loony among them. Hatter was replaced by Harley while Knockout joined the group. Knockout and Scandal became lovers . . .yes, Lebians, get over it . . . Knockout was killed in an issue of Birds of Prey, after the miniseries.
    Fast Forward to the ongoing. In the first storyline of the ongoing, the Secret Six remaining, Scandal Savage, Catman, Deadshot and Ragdoll run into some trouble as they find out about a "Get Out of Hell Free" card. They are hunted by a group of villains and mobsters working for a mysterious being called Junior . . . who is actually Ragdoll's crazy sister. The group add Bane and original character, Jeanette, who seems to be a banshee, onto the team. Bane and Scandal connect in an interesting father daughter fashion. So much so that after the first year of books, Bane fires Scandal but keeps her around. Black Alice watches Catman and Deadshot, the biggest bromance since Booster Gold and Blue Beetle, kill someone without blinking and takes on the team to prove herself at Scandal's new girlfriend's, a stripper named Liana, job. Bane hires her.
       After taking on the Suicide Squad, Catman finds that his son with Cheshire (yes, they mated and had a boy) was kidnapped. He is told that he has to kill the Secret Six to extend the life of his son. Catman decides to not listen and track down the man who kidnapped the boy from Cheshire and while he does that, we get back story.It seems that when Catman was a boy, his dad was the ultimate prick and forced him to shoot and kill his mother. In anger, Catman also manages to shoot his dead, killing him for making him shoot his mother.Back to the present, Catman tracks down the old man that ordered his son's disappearance and finds that the old man did not kill him but just hid him. Catman calls Cheshire stating that their son is dead instead of letting her know he was alive. 
         The team splits into two as Scandal, Black Alice, Deadshot and Ragdoll go after Catman while Jeanette and Bane form a temp Secret Six in order to take a job. The Temp team with Bane and Jeanette are Dwarfstar, Giganta, Lady Vic and King Shark. They get "recruited" by Spymaster to take over the mystical land of Skaratis, the home of the Warlord. Scandal, Black Alice, Deadshot, Catman and forced member "Tremor" are ordered after them to stop the other Secret Six group with the prize being complete pardons on ALL past doings. The two teams fight then unite against a demonic evil. When they get back, The Secret Six are back together and get pardons along with Dwarfstar and Giganta. King Shark decides to stay with the Secret Six. 
    And that pretty  much gets us up to dates on what you all need to know before we go into "The Darkest House." 

   The Darkest House opens with . . . a commercial. Seriously. Scandal is seen in a business suit, talking about how to protect you if there are a rebellion in your country, harassment from super heroes or if you were attacked by a "blood-sacrificing snake cult", then call the Secret Six. Mind you, this commercial was given in secret. Then it goes through all EIGHT members of the group at the moment ending the ad with these words:
    "The Secret Six. Your enemies are our enemies and most of OUR enemies are dead."
    The director says cut which Scandal reacts by asking what the problem is. The director points out that their are EIGHT members and Deadshot merely says he's going to his trailer.
    We cut to a guy entering his home, monologuing about how far people will go and how "they" have everything. Then he gets sexist stating that the women have everything and what they keep hidden and how they keep their privates hidden while picking up a bottle of hot sauce; then pouring some of that very same hot sauce INTO HIS EYE! Just before he does this . . . he wishes that she will "be soft", whatever that means. He screams in agony over hot sauce in his one eye.
     We cut to Superiors Gentlemen's Club, the strip joint that Liana works where she is talking to Spencer. She tells Spencer that she has a date when crazy burn my eyes with hot sauce on his eyes. Crazy guy goes through a monologue as he enters. Liana calls Scandal about a date but Scandal has forgotten  and is laying in bed. Scandal promises to make up for it tomorrow and Liana acts like its okay. She gets off the phone upset. She goes outside alone after the bouncer says he can't go out with her. Liana fumes after it. She get kidnapped by crazy dude.
    Scandal dreams of Knockout who tells her that she's in torment in hell and that Scandal can get her out. Scandal wakes up to see Bane punch through her door. Bane says he came in cause he heard Scandal cry out. Scandal reveals that she lied to everyone that she kept the "Get Out of Hell" card from the first storyline of the ongoing. She goes to her floor and reveals a secret safe . . . that is empty. Through her narrative, she fingers out it was Ragdoll who took the car. She attacks him in his room . . . which is full of monkeys dressed like the Secret Six. Ragdoll ends up twists Scandal's arm around to pin her down. He talks on how it is okay for her to keep the card and wish back her while the rest of them have someone special they want back. Then goes on how Scandal decides to get a skinny replacement for her love and decides that now is the time. Ragdoll continues to say that he had his friend, the Parademon stuffed and mounted to keep him with him always. Scandal suddenly stabs Ragdoll, falling down. The rest of the Secret Six come in to ask what is happy with King Shark joking what is the policy on eating dead teammates.  Ragdoll crawls over to the dead form of  the Parademon and takes out the card. He says he's sorry to Scandal then disappears.
    Crazy stalker dude has Liana in a car, driving her to somewhere in Vermont in the woods. He says that he understands why she's crying and promises not to rape her. No . . .he wants to "Deprogram" her.
   Back with the Secret Six (Eight? Seven?), Black Alice gives background of the current state of hell, including that Lady Blaze had beaten both Satanus and Neron to take over the realm. She states that she can never go there again until its her time. The rest of the team decides to go so Black Alice tells them the entrance to Hell . . . is a mall in Iowa. Hey . . . hey . . . not my choice. Deadshot jokes about how it makes sense when Black Alice leads them to the door as people just walk on, oddly not paying attention to them. She explains that they are mostly dead people. They get to the door way when suddenly . . .Black Alice states that she won't be seeing any of them again and apologizes. She leaves as Scandal steps toward the door, which are elevators to Hell. Two guys in black suits and sunglasses guard the door. One of them tell Scandal that the toll to get the ride down is a pound of flesh and to pick who is gonna give up a pound of flesh. Catman volunteers. Scandal argues that she should be the one to pay the price but watches as Catman proceeds to cut off the hand of the same guard that told them the toll. He hands the hand back to the guard and says to "Keep the change" and issues a warning that they are going down to get back one of their own and they don't care if anyone tries to stop them or not.
    They go down the elevator with an elevator operator. When Scandal ask if the doorman was Charon, the robbed figure reveals himself to be the Demon Etrigan. The doors open to see Ragdoll . . . and a whole legion of demons behind him.
    The Secret Six (minus Black Alice & obviously Ragdoll) prepare themselves as Ragdoll says he has joined the legions of hell, offered the position of Prince of Hell and how time moves slower in Hell than on Earth. Ragdoll address that with his title, he owns part of Hell, is engaged and . . . well, states he owns the Secret Six. Deadshot states how uncomfortable that is as we, the readers, see that Catman and Etrigan have disappeared. Jeanette states they are there for Scandal and her true love, calling Ragdoll selfish for wanting to return to Earth with someone he cares about but hates at the same time. And what does the banshee get for her trouble . . . A BOOT THE HEAD! No. No. Kidding. She actually get a hard punch from the dead Parademon. Deadshot lights up, stating that it could be the last time he does as they notice Catman and Etrigan are gone.
    It seems that Catman and Etrigan start traveling as Catman states he has one thing he needs to do first before rejoining the others. Etrigan asks why when Catman states that he knows why. Catman then asks why Ragdoll isn't being tortured like the rest of the people in Hell. Etrigan tells Catman that Ragdoll was born without a soul.
     Quickly back to Ragdoll, who continues on about the whole born without a soul bit only to get slapped by Scandal who demands Knockout and the card. Ragdoll smirks as he says he will take them to Knockout.
    Back in Vermont, Liana's kidnapper goes on about her reeducation that plans and begins to open the car, telling her not to do anything. And what does Liana do? Kicks the door towards her kidnapper and starts to run. She is tackled and then held at gun point, with him promising that she will learn.
    A demon named Pariagon stops Catman and Etrigan as they make their way through Hell. He says he cannot let them through but Catman dispatches him with his knives. They come to a dead tree where a man with blonde hair lays naked and chained with a small doll of Catman slightly torn in his possession. The man is on the ground and Etrigan states that he hopes that Catman is happy with what he sees as the man on the ground is Catman's own father. Yes . . . that jerk.
    Ragdoll goes on to why he has accepted the position of Prince of Hell as he felt lonely and somehow . . . he was slowly going sane and that frightened him. He did not want to be sane on Earth so he chose to stay there and be a Prince of Hell. The Six talk about options of leaving till Parademon and Ragdoll's assistant, who was a mass murder whose eyes and mouth are full of tongues sticking out of them; goes on about their records show that All of the Secret Six will end up in Hell. Deadshot and Jeanette comes to grips with it quickly. Yet Bane . . . does NOT take this news well. Bane proclaims he lives by a code but Ragdoll makes it apparent that they do not care. Bane doubts anything he does on Earth will make a difference if he's damned but Scandal says not to buy it. She demands to see Knockout and get back the card. Ragdoll says what army does she have and she merely tells him, "No army. Just my friends."
     The battle begins and Jeanette gets hurt. Bane clears a path for Scandal to get at Ragdoll who asks again for Knockout and the card. Ragdoll starts on his arranged marriage when she is punched away from Ragdoll. Scandal is bleeding as Ragdoll introduces his fiance . . . the late Knockout in green wedding attire.
    Scandal looks at Knockout, going over what is happening in narration. Ragdoll goes on about how nice Knockout looks when Bane asks Ragdoll to return Knockout to Scandal. Then Ragdoll gets his mask on and in a tux saying that he is gonna offer them seats in his own court. We are then treated to demonic versions of the five members of the Secret Six . . . the offer being that if they join his court, they can be the tormentors instead of the tormented. Jeanette asks the group to vote on it. She and King Shark vote to stay. Scandal and Bane vote to fight leaving the last vote to Deadshot. The demonic Deadshot merely takes his gun and SHOOTS RAGDOLL IN THE HEAD.
   Back over with Etrigan, Catman and . . . naked father, narration from Catman takes him through what happened to him as a child with his dad forcing him to kill his mom when he says he needed to be sure. Catman talks to his father, Reese Blake. Reese begs for help and tells his son that "she" comes every day to kill him, eat him and then . . . well, poop him out and "she"does it over and over again. He says if saying he was sorry would help and Catman asks who. His father answers, "The Lioness. Your Mother."
    Frantically calling Catman stupid while asking for help, Catman merely replies to his father that it was always about him and not the rest of the family. Catman's mother, now a lioness with his mother's face came over to Catman; explaining to her son that what she will do is something she'd rather not have him see. Catman says he understands and tell his mother he loves him. At this point, Reese is full on screaming for his son to save him as Catman and Etrigan walk off. His screams are cut off. Catman asks why is his mom in Hell when Etrigan explains that her painfully tormenting and devouring her husband over and over again is her Heaven. OoooooKayyyyyyyy!
      Back with the rest of the Six, they prepare to fight after having shot Ragdoll. Scandal makes a run for it to Knockout, kissing her to make her remember; but only after taking the head of Ragdoll's assistant . ..  literally.Bane goes on about how he has a purpose.
   Back with Crazy Kidnapper man, he goes on about how Liana is sick and a whore. Crazy Kidnapper goes on about how she is resisting when Liana states that she is none of those things. She adds that he needs people to be less than human but he is not fit to breathe their air. He punches her saying that he will make her well through his actions and God.
    Knockout and Scandal are some distance away with Knockout not remembering who Scandal is. Scandal ducks a punch from her then starts to carry her off. Back in the battle with the others, Lady Blaze appears and starts to torment the four members of the Secret Six.We see glimpses of torment from Bane, Deadshot, Jeanette and King Shark Scandal stops runing and heads back to help the others. Knockout remembers. Scandal comes in and challenges Lady Blaze for the lives of the Secret Six and Knockout. Blaze laughs it off and is about to attack Scandal when Catman comes in saying that he's ready to die. The others sake off the effects of Blaze's attack. Jeanette talks on how no one owns them while Bane gets all inspirational; even stating that they will defeat Hell. Ragdoll looks at this loyalty and decides to denouce his role as a Prince of Hell. He apologizes to Parademon but he exclaims that he likes it in Hell. Ragdoll hands over the card telling Scandal. Lady Blaze let's her go but tells Scandal that if she uses the card now to resurrect Knockout, it won't help her new girlfriend, whose soul will soon belong to her.
   Issue 34 opens with Jeanette saying that Death is all around and near in some kind of woods with the moon, full and high. Crazy Kidnapper is continuing his "reeducation" of Liana, now pouring hot sauce in Liana's eyes; yelling for her to admit that she is a sinner. Liana replies back that he does not know God at all. Before Crazy Kidnapper can hurt Liana more, there is wrapping on his door. He takes his gun and opens it . . .
To see Scandal, Jeanette, Bane, Deadshot and Catman (all unmasked) standing in front of his car, which has its lights on now.
   The Crazy Kidnapper stands there as Deadshot explains how Scandal's skills with Computers and how Catman's trackign is what helped them find him. Deadshot tells Scandal to find Liana while they deal with Crazy Kidnapper.  Deadshot clamors on about how the group is live and let live types after Crazy Kidnapper goes on about know what Liana is. Deadshot answers that if the Crazy Kidnapper can get to his van, he can live . . . only by getting past the four of them.
     Scandal finds Liana, who asks for water. At first, the Crazy Kidnapper states he is doing God's work and that what if he doesn't want to play. Deadshot smirks; answering that the game has started already. Jeanette grabs his hand next panel . . . OH MY GOD . . . Jeanette is wiping her mouth with blood and Crazy Kidnapper is asking help from above as he's missing some fingers . . . oh wait . . . next panel . ..  there they are. Crazy Kidnapper proclaims that he was trying to help Liana and says women need guidance as he makes his way to Bane . . . who breaks his arm. Crazy Kidnapper stumbles on as he makes his way to the van. Deadshot shoots out one of the crazy Kidnapper's knee caps. Catman has a knife out, musing how a lot of sex workers are missing and that Crazy Kidnapper has been doing this for a while. Liana and Scandal make it outside and says for them to stop. Catman offers the knife to Liana, saying no one will miss the crazy kidnapper. Liana goes on how she has a relationship with God and to leave him with the police. Liana makes Scandal promise her not to kill him; which she readily agrees. Jeanette then carries Liana, leaving the others alone with the man. Jeanette sings a lullaby to Liana. Liana goes into unconsciousness as the lullaby goes on with the lyrics going on as narrative over the next page. Scandal takes Crazy Kidnapper and stabs him . . .in his eyes through his head into the window of his van. The lullaby goes on as Scandal asks for any of the three men that she proclaim will be the only men she will ever love to hold her.
     The five return to their headquarters to find them being welcome back by King Shark . . . holding a chicken? Scandal goes on about how they are all connected as King Shark how Liana was. They tell him that she's in the hospital. King Shark says he's happy, offering the neck of his bird to the team. Scandal reveals that they are responsible for each other then ORDERS Bane to go out on a date with Spencer. King Shark stops them asking why Catman, who never smiles, is grinning ear to ear while Ragdoll is frowning. Scandal leaves as Deadshot asks Catman while he's smiling. Catman responds that his father is being tormented in Hell and declares there is justice in the afterlife.
    Scandal checks on Ragdoll, who is depressed with Black Alice gone and Parademon choosing Hell over him; leaving him feel all alone. Scandal says that she is his friend too.
    Spencer and Bane go on their date as they walk a carnival. Spencer teases Bane that he did not want to go to the Ballet and he plainly answers yes. Spencer gives him her candy apple to try and Bane . . . eates the whole thing with a stick. They walk pass a booth with stuffed animals as prizes. Bane at first wants to move on til Spencer goes on about how big and hairy and cuddly the stuffed pandas would be on her bed. Bane shows a wad of cash to the carny. Bane wins 2 stuffed pandas for Spencer. In the background, the carny points at Bane to some thugs with a crowbar. Bane goes through his history with Spencer on the ferris wheel, admitting that he's dreamed of the night he snapped Batman's back since he did it.He also explains how his mother died in the jail he was born. Spencer shares a little about her family situation when Bane asks the question of "how did you keep  your kindness?"
   Before we get an answer, the carny and thugs attack Bane in order to take the rest of his money. Bane is EASILY wiping the floor with these thugs. Then one is dumb enough to lunge at Spencer with a knife. Bane blocks the knife attack with his hand, letting it goe through it. Then him palms that same hand with the knife into the attacker's skull. The guy falls, seemingly dead while Spencer is . ..  grateful. Spencer noticed that he was not mad till they came at her. Bane says he understands and Spencer takes him hand and . . .
   Bane: Does this mean
   Spencer: Mating, Mr. Bane. Yes. Lots and Lots and Lots of Mating.


    Jeanette visits Scandal in her room alone. Scandal tells Jeanette than both women will recover and she has a decision to make. Jeanette muses how they, being the Secret Six, are not to live a life not decided by sin or salvation but merely show that they were here. That they did exist and leave an impression, ending our story.


     Wow. Just . . .WOW. This book is . . . wow. Okay. I have read my fair share of books, comics and other wise, over the years. But this book leaves an impression on me. A BIG impression. So big that when I picked up 4 issues of a book to read a story, I was hooked.  Instantly hooked. So hooked that I went back the next week and picked up almost all the issues I did not have in one foul  swoop. So to say I like this book would be understatement.
    That said, I want to point out that this is a great book and this storyline, "The Darkest House" was a full and grand story with many different surprises.I am gonna break down why.
     Artistically, you can tell that J. Calafiore is having an absolute blast doing art for the book. He did the penciling and the inking for all four issues. And DEAR LORD, is this his best work he has ever put out. Panel after panel is filled with so much emotion, action, life and gripping story that you look through the pages with delight.The distinct looks of the entire cast alongside the wonderful shading to bring out any and all emotions and motivations to face. You can open a page and realize not only who is good and who is evil but reactions. The pictures really set a wondrous tone for the book. The shading is just right for every single panel, from the dark of night in the woods in Vermont, to the lightheartedness of the carnival. When a character need to look menacing, they looked down right scary. When a character needed to be angry, you felt the rage. Every person, every place, every nuance displayed with sharp, clear and detailed pictures. Not overly detailed but just enough to give you a great idea of the story, its setting and the tones that want to be conveyed. Not a single panel was duel. Not even with a panel of Bane holding Spencer's hand. Not a single one.
   Calafiore, with colorist John Kalisz, bring us a world full of blood, bullets and evil alongside emotion and insanity that just make you feel and really hold you as you look into it. Hell . . . definitely looked like hell. The coloring of the book always showed the characters that they were a bit darker but still going on to have lives. And when they went to Hell, those colors were darks and reds and blacks that seemed to shallow you into the panels. An  tour de force by J. Calafiore and John Kalisz.
      Now . . . to my dear Gail Simone. Gail Simone. I know that I stated my particular fondness for this book. And this storyline displayed so many reasons why Gail Simone is one of, if not, the top female writer in the comic book business today. Yes. I said it.
    The Darkest House, with The Jagged Edge of the Chainsaw, create a great story of love, betrayal and family alongside so many philosophical debates about Heaven, Hell and Humanity that you really can discuss these issues for quite a while. Simone takes on church in an interesting way by not flat out naming a religion but still using it to drive the storyline and the characters in big ways. Crazy Kidnapper really showed a creepy devotion to the reeducation of Liana that it was in an odd way admirable yet you still did not like the man for trying to literally shoving his beliefs into someone else. It was a very creepy plot point that was extremely well executed.
   Providing Liana with strong characterization also made this an even better read. Liana was not just some victim. No matter what Crazy Kidnapper did, Liana did not proclaim herself a whore or a sinner. Not allowing herself to be dominated by a man, especially one who is violently attacking brings up so many possible interpretations. Is this a way to show that not all women are helpless? Was it a statement on God and Sin and how being homosexual played into that? Was it about a man who is so lost in what he believed that that he could not go on without trying to reeducate women? Are sex workers still people if they work in a sexual establishment? Get my point.
    The Secret Six's trip to Hell itself gave some eye opening moments. From Catman taking off the guard's hand with ease to Ragdoll defending himself against Scandal in his room with a bunch of chimps made up like his friends to Jeanette's final words in the last page of #34, the Secret Six really displayed a lot of conviction and loyalty.Simone really took many different views of religion and mixed them well in the storyline alongside the members of the Secret Six. Emotionally, this was a very hard storyline to read if you are attached to these characters. Scandal wanting to be with the one she loves but she is not quite sure who she loves more. Bane's code of ethics make him feel as if he is a righteous man but do they even work if he kills how he does. Which brings another philosophical debate: Does know where you going to go when you die mean all you do while you are alive mean nothing? Kudos for Gail to taking that on and still leaving the question still unanswered in a rewarding way.
   There is not a single main or supporting character that is not fleshed out or real. You really get a great feel for all the characters. If this is your first jump into Secret Six, it will make you want more. King Shark's good natured attitude. Deadshot's live and let live ideals. Catman's search and answer for justice in the afterlife. Bane's moral code. Jeanette's artisocritc like way. Ragdoll's search for love. Black Alice's fear and regret. This are just tidbits of the vast characterization layered into these 4 issues.
    The pacing was excellent. The reactions were human. And this book  is . . . WOW gory at times, Gail Simone has mastered humor, horror, action and drama so well that it leaves you on a emotional rollercoaster. The best examples are first the battle between Scandal and Ragdoll before they go to hell in issue #31 in his room. The fact that there was such a profound conversation and fight with monkeys dressed up as the Secret Six added a touch of humor and horror to that confrontation. Secondly is #34. In one issue, you had moments you made you cringe with the whole finger thing, moments that tugged at your heart like Scandal finding Liana or moments of triumph with Jeanette. The dialogue is nothing hokey, except for Etrigan but he is supposed to be hokey. The storyline opens with a hilarious advertisment with the team. Gail Simone writes this book as if her life depends on it while having the most fun anyone could ever have in their life. And I wish more books were written in such a multilayered and fun manner.

    The Secret Six: The Darkest House  and The Jagged Edge of A Chainsaw are solid, great reads. Well developed plots and characters. Exceptional art and coloring. A book that will make you laugh, cry, scared and think all within an issue or a story. This is comics at its best.

So it is my distinct pleasure to give Secret Six: The Darkest House and The Jagged Edge of a Chainsaw a World Heavyweight Contendership (A 5 out of 5). This is book you need to read before you die. If you want to get someone into comics that is into violence with emotion and interesting characters, this is the book you give them. 

With this Secret Six beats out Uncanny X-Force. Disagree? Leave your comments below. 

See you Next Week.


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