One year since the Secret Six got their own title, the comic has established a dichotomy between two types of loyalty: While the characters in the comic seem to have little or no loyalty to their team, the readers of the comic are fiercely and vocally loyal.
Written by Gail Simone with art by Nicola Scott, Secret Six follows the story of six mercenaries, some of whom tend to come close to being anti-heroes and others that are just plain rotten villains. And despite their frequent in-fighting – which often comes to blows – the team has developed a shaky but ongoing bond that seems to keep them together.
With last month's issue, as the Secret Six went up against none other than Wonder Woman, the most mysterious new character, Jeanette, was revealed to be a banshee, something DC readers had only previously known through the Silver Banshee character. Now it looks like there are more than one banshee in the DC Universe, and Jeanette holds enough power to surprise even the star-spangled Amazon herself.
But the issue also made the team's future questionable, as well as setting up an Artemis/Wonder Woman-backed showdown centering on an island where torture and imprisonment are strangely admired and encouraged.
Newsarama talked to Simone about the team's future as Secret Six starts its second year with September's Issue #13.
Newsarama: Gail, now that the Secret Six ongoing has reached the one year mark, how do you think the team – and the comic – have evolved over the last 12 months?
Gail Simone: You know, the Seinfeld show had two unbreakable rules for their scripts – “No hugging,” and “no learning.” I don’t really see them as evolving so much as simply trying to stay afloat in treacherous, icy waters. Every time there’s a chance for one of them to do the right thing, they tend to do it in some awful way that makes things worse. Which is both tragic and hilarious to me.
I think of them as separate entities held together by a glue even they don’t understand. Certainly Deadshot is more tolerant of the Six than he ever was of the Suicide Squad, and I find that really fascinating. The problem is, though, that when they disagree, they tend to go straight to what they know and are comfortable with, which is sudden, desperate bloodshed.
That said, I think we’re seeing a constantly shifting set of alliances and emotions. They’re not ever going to be the Justice League. But they’re still human beings. Mostly. Kinda.
Nrama: The series isn't exactly a traditional villain's comic with a dark, evil tone, nor could it be described as light-hearted or heroic in nature. How would you describe Secret Six?
Simone: I’ve said it before, but I liken Secret Six to a beautiful, sunny morning, where you’re walking down the sidewalk eating a delicious, juicy peach, and all of a sudden you step in the carcass of a dead housecat. It’s that mix of fun and horror that I think makes the book unique among superhero titles. It’s very compelling to me that there’s laughter in the face of truly hideous things, and horror at what normal people consider routine.
I never wanted to do a book with six Doctor Dooms. I’m sure that’d be really entertaining if a genius like Warren Ellis or Grant Morrison wrote it, but I really wanted to write about a team of human beings, with faults and fairly small dreams. Scandal wants love, Ragdoll wants unnecessary surgery, Bane wants to have someone to watch over, that stuff is really compelling to me and it’s the same stuff people want whether they are in church or in prison.
Lately I’ve been less and less interested in WIDESCREEN story-telling, and more in the simple humanity, good and bad, in the DCU. I think that’s where the frontier is, to be honest. Some of the big, big screen stuff is starting to feel a little stiff to me. Some guys still make it fresh and thrilling, but I like a lot of the character stuff that guys like Brubaker and Cornell and Waid are doing right now even better.
Nrama: When this title started, there had been some talk about Catman getting a solo mini-series. Do you still think he's one of the more stand-out characters in the comic?
Simone: I do, although he’s had a smaller role in this story. Catman was always the POV character in the previous stories, he was the outsider on both sides of the moral line, which is where most of us fall, because all of us are sinners in the secular sense at some point. I think people relate to him not as yet another berserker, but more as a guy they would like to see make it, to do the right thing. Sometimes I myself want to slap some sense into him.
But yeah, we have a very hot Catman in Africa story I’d like to tell, and I think he fills a space in the DCU that was previously pretty empty. At one point we were going to rotate six issues of Secret Six, and six of Catman, but I think everyone felt that the team dynamic is too fun to ignore right now. I’d like to see some other writers use him and see their take on him, actually. Although Nicola sort of owns naked Catman at this point.
Nrama: Scandal and Bane have developed one of the more complicated bonds in the comic. How would you describe their relationship? And will it change after the events of the last issue?
Simone: They’re two people who have compatible needs that neither was aware of previously. That’s what life is about… sometimes you see a pair of friends that have nothing in common but are inseparable, or a married couple that could not be more different but are head over heels for each other. That’s what those two represent, to me, sort of the proof of chaos theory in human form. Scandal literally had the worst father in all human history, and Bane sees something in Scandal that touches him deeply. The great thing about Bane is, he doesn’t give a crap what anyone thinks of him, ever. He could care less how this looks to the rest of the Six or to anyone.
As for that scene last issue, all I can say is wait until Issue #14. Even Nicola was shocked, and that takes some doing!
Nrama: Where in the world do you get Ragdoll's dialogue?
Simone: I have a well filled with the tears of children.
Actually, I love writing dialogue and I think the fun of superhero comics comes hugely from the range of character, a range so wide that it encompasses characters from every genre from Science Fiction to Horror to Comedy to War to Western and just on and on and on. I never worry about whether or not my dialogue is ‘realistic,’ because the truth is, real human speech is pretty stuttery, dreary, awful and repetitive. What I like is that perfect phrasing, that oddball lilt, that might be completely removed from how people actually speak but still hits the ear as truthful and compelling. Nearly all my favorite comics writers are masters of, not ‘realistic’ dialogue, but fascinating dialogue.
My favorite Ragdoll comments are always a little bittersweet. After Deadshot shoots an innocent escaping slave in the back, Ragdoll says, “People are sad and I don’t know why.”
And that always gets me, he’s just genuinely that disconnected from empathy and the world around him. People tend to see him as just a jester, but I think he’s the most deeply tragic of all of them. So probably he comes from a sadder part of my soul than anything else.
Nrama: Does Deadshot still have a death wish? Or is he just apathetic about life?
Simone: I never thought he had a death wish. In the Villains United mini, he says something like, “All the people who used to say that about me are dead.”
What I think is that he doesn’t care which end of the gun he’s facing. He doesn’t care tremendously if he lives or dies, which is very different from having a death wish.
Nrama: One of the big mysteries in the series has been the background of Jeannette, the newest addition to the team. To kind of bring everyone up to speed, what can you tell us now about who she is?
Simone: Well, we know that she was the last victim of Countess Bathory, one of the most repulsive and sadistic figures in history, and we know that she gained her full banshee powers at the site of her own execution in Ireland. We also know she spent some time in some infamous jails. We learn a bit more next issue.
She’s really become one of my very favorite creations, and it’s due in large part to the fabulous acting that Nicola Scott has her doing each issue. I love her slight arrogance and elitism, but there’s also a very Earthy side to her… she likes sex and she likes it to be inventive. I asked John Byrne for permission to connect her, as a species, to his great Silver Banshee character, and John graciously said yes, and I think that really helped make her scene against Wonder Woman terribly frightening and powerful.
Nrama: How did you get the idea to make the new character a banshee? Is there a story behind the character's inception? And is there now a set definition of what a banshee is in the DC Universe?
Simone: Well, when Knockout was unfortunately killed in another book, it left a hole in our roster, and I wanted to add another female. I came up with several ideas and asked Nicola which she’d most like to draw. It was a toss-up between Jeannette and a disgraced Thanagarian elite cop (who had escaped prison on her own homeworld), and finally we went with the Banshee, who I think offered fresher visuals. But an angry female Hawkworld cop with a huge mace still sounds pretty fun to me.
I’m not big on standard definitions, I kind of like for the implications to be out there and to let the readers fill in the blanks. I think it makes it more interactive. But it’s definitely canon now that there are banshees in the DCU and they have some shared properties.
As fun as it is revamping older characters, it’s nice to try to bring some fresh blood in, as well, no pun intended.
Nrama: Why does this team often seem to come to blows with each other? Is it the differences in their moral compasses? Or are they just all hard to get along with?
Simone: They’re not big believers in group therapy. In the past, they’ve all always had to fight for their lives, so that’s how they see any threat or disagreement. And they don’t like to be pushed, by anyone, which makes the end of issue fourteen a really big deal. Where normal people talk, they tend to stab.
Nrama: Is there a little Gail in all these characters, and if so, what part?
Simone: Ha! The ruthless murderer part, that’s definitely me.
Nrama: Are you and Nicola going to be sticking with Secret Six for the long term?
Simone: That’s absolutely the plan. Nicola has a project that people are going to be really excited about that will take her off the book briefly, but the artist we got to fill-in is really, really good, which he’ll have to be as she’s left huge shoes to fill. Then she’s back with us for more horrid sex and lovely violence.
Nrama: Are there plans to change the team make-up in coming issues?
Simone: Well, yeah, one team member decides the team needs a membership change, for one thing, but even more fun is that Black Alice comes around and decides she’s going to be on the team whether they want her there or not.
Seriously, I love writing this book. And as a reminder, the first TPB of the ongoing series comes out next week, with a lovely introduction written by the great Paul Cornell, one of the best writers in comics, period. I’m excited that it’s finally come out as some of the early issues are apparently very scarce.
Nrama: Let's talk about this most recent storyline, where the Secret Six have interacted with Wonder Woman and Artemis. Things don't look good for Diana right now, but Artemis is positioned to put an end to all that. What can you tell us about the next few issues as this storyline concludes?
Simone: It’s kind of psychology 101 that a place where the value system permits evil behavior has the side-effect that it allows ‘good’ people to behave in an evil manner. That is, if you have a Nazi government and racism and genocide are encouraged, the whole country tends to go insane. In a prison where torture and beatings are covered up, obviously a lot of people go against their own morality because there are no consequences. This story is about an entire island that represents the worst of our world’s notions of imprisonment. It’s so bad that it’s affecting the glue that holds the Six together.
Several people have stated that they don’t see how the Six can stay together after this story, and I say, you have a good point.
After this, some long-running questions about Wonder Woman and Artemis will be answered, and it’s going to be a bit painful for both of them. I can say no more.
Nrama: Anything else you want to tell people about what's coming up in Secret Six?
Simone: There’s a bunch of cool stuff I can’t yet mention, guest stars, some cool special issues... yikes, the second year is going to be even crazier. I’m hoping to work in another appearance of the Tiny Sixers, if Ragdoll gets locked in a trunk again.
But one of my favorite announcements is that the great John Ostrander is writing Issue #15 as a Deadshot story, covering something that has been building in my issues. I’m really excited about it, as John’s the man when it comes to Deadshot.
Speaking of which, many of you are aware of comix4sight, the website that has been raising money to help pay for John’s medical bills due to repeated surgery to treat his glaucoma. We have raised over $31,000, and beginning this week, some of the remaining items that have been donated will be listed on the comix4sight.com website, to be auctioned off online starting August 24th.
This is going to include pieces by Scott Morse, James Owen, golden age great Fran Matera, Tim Truman, Billy Tucci, Joyce Chin, Udon Studios, Alvin Lee, Ethan Van Sciver, Rob Liefeld, Brian Bendis, and dozens and dozens of others. The first auction was a live event held at Chicago Comicon, so this is the first chance for readers to bid on some of the most ridiculously cool art and collectibles I have ever seen.
Again, all money over John’s expenses goes straight to the Hero Initiative to help other creators having medical difficulties. If you’re a fan of Deadshot or Suicide Squad (or good comics in general!), please take a moment and drop by the comix4sight.com website.
Finally, I know that there are a ton of great books out there right now, and comics are expensive. To the people supporting our oddball book, I thank you all on behalf of the entire team. Go, Speed Ragdoll, GO!