It's difficult to describe the genre or style of Gail Simone's Secret Six. The 2008-2011 comic that Simone built around a group of little-known (and even less liked) antiheroes, is relaunching this week in the New 52 with a highly anticipated new #1.
Secret Six is most often called "quirky" — and the definition (and synonyms) all certainly fit the comic. Quirky — adjective: Characterized by peculiar or unexpected traits. Synonyms: Eccentric, idiosyncratic, unconventional, unorthodox, unusual, strange, bizarre, peculiar, odd, outlandish, zany. And the unexpected twists and turns of the first Secret Six series are all of the above.
Yet behind the first series' "zany" action was also plenty of character depth, as Simone exposed and explored the humans behind the masks, making readers adore this band of borderline-villainous characters.
For the New 52 version of Secret Six, Simone is having to start from scratch. With the 2011 reboot of the DCU, several of the Secret Six team members lost their baggage. Yet the lack of history also allows Simone to do something she does well — introduce new quirky, zany characters into the fold (while also inventing some new baggage for her older characters).
As this week's Secret Six #1 begins the new chapter of Simone's beloved team, Newsarama talked to the writer to find out more about her approach, the characters she's changing and what Convergence will do to the new series.
Newsarama: Gail, I get the feeling that the meaning of the title, "Secret Six," takes on a whole new meaning this time around, in the New 52. How did you come up with this focus on "secrets," and what role do "secrets" play in the title?
Gail Simone: That is very astute, actually! Okay, yes. Every character in the book has a secret. And we do start learning them, this isn't five seasons of LOST to find out a guy ate a weird apple once. We actually have secrets and they have meaning right away.
Why is Catman so claustrophobic? Why is Big Shot talking like he just stepped out of a film noir from the '50s?
And on top of that, there is a serious DCU secret that we reveal in the first arc, something people have been asking about for three solid years. I am excited to show it!?
Nrama: The first issue, with the characters all trapped in a room together, sounds like a psychological thriller. I feel like this book, in the past, often focused on the psychological aspects of the characters. Why did the premise of "trapped in a room" fit the style of the new Secret Six?
Simone: Well, proximity forces unwelcome familiarity. ?
The thing is, the Six are all loners. None of them have family, really, to speak of. They don't make friends, they have no allies. They are alone and they prefer it that way.
So, being forced together, having to work together, it's difficult for them. I speak with a lot of people who have social anxiety — this is kind of their nightmare, and I get that. It's very, very difficult for the Six to interact with each other, especially when someone is forcing them together. It's uncomfortable. It sets six dangerous people completely on guard and on edge.
?And above all...who is doing this to them?
?Nrama: How's it been working with Dale Eaglesham on the designs for this title?
Simone: Dale is my hero. He is the unspoken guy who set the tone for the entire original series, with his designs and his commitment. We have been dying to work together again for years, but we kept signing exclusives with different companies and it just became agonizing. It felt like we would never work together again.
Secret Six was not even on the table, we didn't think that was an option. When Dan DiDio suggested it, BOOM, Dale said he would fight sharks to draw it. It's been his dream for years, and I could not be happier.
We are doing something very cool. We have two brilliant artists, Dale and Ken Lashley, and they will be alternating arcs and covers. Dale does covers while Ken does interiors, then for the next arc, the other way around. It's exciting, I have never been part of anything like that...but it's so perfect.?
Nrama: With Ken doing the interiors on the first arc, what's it been like working with him? How would you describe his style on this book and how it fits the comic?
Simone: Woof, you know, I was a hairdresser a decade ago. I was doing perms. Now I get emails with pages of Ken Lashley drawing my story. It all seems impossible a lot of the time.
I am a Ken Lashley fan. We have wanted to work together for years. He not only turned down huge offers elsewhere to do this book, he decided he wanted to re-invent his style specifically for this book.
It's gorgeous. I don't have the words. I am very, very delighted and fortunate.
This is way better than doing perms.
?Nrama: If the solicitations are to be believed, then the next few issues will be pretty much focused on singular characters. Is this how we learn about these new characters over the next few months, through each character-focused issue?
Simone: It's character focused, yes, but it also has grenade squirrels and sex barbecues.
Nrama: Of course it does!
Simone: Secret Six is never going to be the JLA or the Avengers. It's the book that you hope your mom doesn't catch you reading, I think.
But we have to learn the new cast — those that survive.
Nrama: You're getting to introduce quite a few of them.
Simone: I am wild about the whole cast. I can't wait for people to see what Porcelain is about.??Nrama: But Gail, that line about "those that survive" ….you cannot even joke about killing Catman. I think your fans would revolt. But this is obviously a different Catman. What prompted the changes?
Simone: Well, that's an interesting thing. I gave this a ton of thought, and it hit me that a huge part of what made Catman unique was his history as a failure. But in the New 52, we don't have that history — he's never met Batman or Green Arrow. So it meant re-thinking.
What's happened is, this Catman pissed off the wrong supervillain, and paid a terrible price. And now he's a little anti-social and a lot dangerous. He's a little younger, a little brasher, a little more prone to flipping out. And he's got a superpower, for the first time.
And it's cool as ****.??Nrama: OK, then we've got Black Alice returning too. How would you describe the character, as you're writing her in this version of Secret Six?
Simone: I think of Alice as terribly sad. She reminds me a lot of many of the readers I meet, who have gaps in their support system, and they fill those gaps with the things they love.
So many young people are hurting in very adult ways, not through their own doing at all. Their parents are gone, or not around, or not understanding, not supportive, or maybe they have trouble making friends or finding love. Alice is experiencing all of that. She's filling those gaps in her life with magic she can't really control.
She breaks my heart. She doesn't want to hurt anyone. But she has the power of gods. It's inevitable. ?
Nrama: You know, I feel like you're one of the best writers at finding creative ways to fit your stories into the events and time constraints that come with shared universes. Strix is an example of that, as you created a great character in the midst of a shared "event." Why do you think this character works so well, and can you tell us anything about how she fits in the book?
Simone: I love Strix, let's just get that right out. Okay, here's the thing. Many writers grumble about crossovers as this horrible necessity, this terrible burden, and I get that. They can be disruptive to your plans. But at the same time, holy crap, are they fun, when done well.
I love the DCU and Marvel Universes. I love the tapestry. I love that the same universe that has Jonah Hex also has the Legion of Superheroes. So I always welcome crossovers as an opportunity. It's the one time where a competitive streak shows up in my writing. I want to do something meaningful. I don't want it to just tick off obligatory boxes.
Secret Six came out of a crossover. Strix came out of a crossover. You can use these things for opportunities precisely because the scope of the stories is so big. Use them, you know?
So we were asked to create Talons, and I came up with Strix (who originally died in her story), and Scott Snyder, bless him, loved her and said, "DON'T KILL HER, SHE'S AWESOME." And then the Batgirl issue came out and she was a big hit. To me, that's the happy benefit of these things: She never would have been created if Scott hadn't had such a wonderful creation in the Court of Owls.
It's jamming, only I am plunking away awkwardly while Scott does his Hendrix riffs. But how often do you get to play with Hendrix?
?Nrama: Speaking of fitting into time constraints of shared universes, you've got a two-month break coming up in April/May for Convergence. Anything you can tell us about what to expect from Secret Six in the months before/after Convergence, and how you're making the break work for a new series?
Simone: We aren't really addressing it, the story carries right over. But I am writing two Convergence issues with Nightwing and Oracle and holy crap that's fun.
Nrama: You returning to Oracle is about on par with you returning to Secret Six. But I wanted to ask — why did you want to come back to this concept and characters, and what's the experience been like so far working on Secret Six?
Simone: Every issue gets more fun, and more wild. We are pushing envelopes, more than that, we intend to set fire to envelopes.
I like writing about the people who are struggling. I like people who get knocked down, but dust themselves off and try again. Most of my heroes know failure intimately, it's just that they didn't quit after failing.
?That's a more heroic message to me than most superhero comics.
Nrama: OK, we're running out of time, but I wanted to ask about something on the cover of February's issue #3. It a little hand down in the corner, coming out of the sewer, with a paper that says "Mr. E" on it. Is that the Mister E, coming to the comic (because I think your fans would love to see you write him)? Or is that just a play on the word mystery?
Simone: It could be. Or it could be "E" for "Eaglesham." Or it could be something else altogether. But I will say, that squirrel with the grenade, that's an actual thing in the story.?
Nrama: Awesome. Then to finish up, is there anything else you want to tell fans about the debut of the New 52 Secret Six?
Simone: Yes. If you don't buy this book, you might never know who had weird sex on the couch in the living room.