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By | Wednesday, January 12, 2011 | 5:45 am | 9 Comments | Blog > Reviews
Find This Book At:
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Includes Issues: RASL 1-7
Issue Dates: March 2008 – March 2010
Creators:

This review is spoiler free! Skip To The Verdict? »

Jeff Smith is best known for titles that younger audiences can enjoy as well as fully grown adults. At least, that used to be the case.

His newest creation, RASL, may change all that.

Of course, all-ages appeal isn’t Smith’s only strength as a comic creator.

Smith is also known for plots with an air of mystery about them, almost mythical in proportion. You always feel like there is something larger going on behind the scenes.

This is still true of RASL, but rather than this larger force inspiring simple curiosity, it fills you with a sense of impending doom. Smith’s new work is a much darker read.

RASL is his dark dirty not-so-secret that is bringing in increasing numbers of new fans of his work, mostly those who were put off by the idea of Bone, Shazam!, and so on being so child-friendly and are now seeing a different side to Smith.

It’s still an infant title, having been started in Feb ’08 and then running on a very unconventional publication schedule. Currently there are only 9 issues released, 7 of which are collected here.

The book seems to be centered around a man called RASL who steals paintings from alternate dimensions for a living. He soon learns there a repercussions for dimension-hopping.

We join the story with him wandering the desert in tattered clothes,  spots of blood on his shirt. It then skips back in time, leaving you hanging, wondering how he came about to be stuck in the desert in that condition. The first few pages are wordless, adding to this big mystery.

As the plot moves back in time, we witness the theft of a Picasso painting with relative ease – after all, he is a professional. Following the successful job, he dimension hops back and pops into a local bar. It is then when we learn that he has to drink to help his body deal with dimension-hopping, to help numb the pain.

He decides he could relax easier if there was something good on the jukebox, perhaps a spot of Dylan. To his horror Robert Zimmerman (Dylan’s birthname) is the credit artist on the LPs; Dylan isn’t Dylan. He’s not back in the right dimension!

Panic and fear rising, he seeks to get back, but can his body take another hop? First he has to deal with a strange man dressed in a long black coat with a lizard-like face. A man drawing a gun on him. All of this in the first issue.

And you might expect it to all be explained by the end of issue one, as is the normal set-up of an “edgy” introductory comic. Smith isn’t that predictable. Even without the explanation, he’s now got you. Hook, line and sinker. RASL is one seductive book.

The plot does move forward, but not in a predictable manner. It’s mixed heavily with flashbacks to RASL’s even more distant past slowly revealing how he got to this stage – although it’s not exactly clear whether things are past, alternate states, or something even stranger.

The story is infused with some key 19th Century Electromagnetism, being used in a cutting-edge manner, making this an even more interesting read for those educated in that field (such as myself.)

Smith clearly isn’t a physicist but shows that he has done extensive research into this subject matter. A great amount of the science stands up, as long as you assumed it is possible to dimension-hop.

Thankfully for the non-physicist, this is purely a bonus feature of the book – you don’t have to understand Maxwell’s Equations to be able to enjoy the story.

RASL focuses heavily on the humanity of it’s characters, with romantic interests portrayed in a very adult manner (did we mention this isn’t a children’s title?).

The art in the book is related in style and quality to the art in Bone, but obviously depicting slightly more realistic settings and characters. It is in strict black and white, which works just as well as it did in his previous masterpiece.

Here, he relies a bit more on heavy shadows and angular lines. He also allows himself greater freedom between panels, with a slightly shifting appearance that keeps the reader slightly off guard.

The general effect is seductive in a way quite different from the rounded characters of his previous work – not inviting and comforting, but oddly beautiful nonetheless.

This collection is known as a pocket book but has the dimensions of roughly 9 by 6 inches in size, so it would appear to be quite a large pocket.

The issues are also collected in oversized “Giant Artist Editions.” RASL: The Drift collects issues 1-3 and RASL: The Fire of St. George contains issues 4-7. These both have the dimension of around 10 inches by 12 inches.

There is also a limited edition hardcover of the first oversized volume, which contains extra story pages along with further bonus material. I haven’t seen these collections myself but I would imagine the extra size makes the art easier to enjoy and I am very interested in reading the extra story pages.

Like Bone, this volume gives you feeling that it is going to be one of the best alternative series ever made once complete. It has classic written all over it.

My only worry is that if the forthcoming volumes drop in quality (or are never released!) then all the scenes that leave you wanting more will be unanswered or answered badly. That would make this book a lot less enjoyable.

I have faith that Smith won’t do that. Barring terrible misfortune, I feel that RASL will surpass all his previous work.

Verdict:
5 out of 5.

A dimension hopping tale twisted in time, the first volume of RASL shows Jeff Smith can write deep adult science fiction as well as all ages fantasy.

This book raises many questions and has us at TRO waiting desperately for more.

(This verdict is a joint rating between reviewer Simon and editor Ian. Please give us more.)

Essential Continuity:
Part one of _?_ parts, you will be lost without this part; Essential.

Read first:
Slip into your reading chair, strap yourself in and dive straight into this volume, no need for any pre-reading.

Read next:
Check out issues 8 and 9 as they are corkers! A warning – we have no idea when the next issue will be out!

And if you haven’t already read Jeff Smith‘s award winning all ages Bone then that is a must.

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By | Tuesday, January 11, 2011 | 4:36 am | 21 Comments | Blog > Reviews
Find This Book At:
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Includes Issues: The Flash 62-65; Flash Annual 8; Speed Force 1; Flash 80-Page Giant 1
Issue Dates: May 1992 – June 1992, 1995, November 1997, August 1998
Creators:
, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

This review contains minor spoilers. Skip To The Verdict? »

When considering an iconic character with a long publication history, it’s hard to know where to start.

For The Flash, the question is complicated by the name’s lineage: the title has belonged to at least three major heroes. There was Golden Age Flash Jay Garrick, the Justice Society member with a metal bowl helmet. Then came Silver Age Flash Barry Allen, reinvented for a 60s audience with sleek one piece red uniform. His Kid Flash sidekick eventually became the Modern Age Flash Wally West.

And then Jay Garrick came back through the multiple earths, Barry Allen‘s running around again, and things get downright crazy with timetravel.

But let’s ignore all that twisted continuity for now and talk about The Flash: Born to Run. This book is a “Year One” style title, of sorts. It’s designed as an introductory book (and the original 4 issues that make up the bulk of the trade actually bore the words “Year One” on the cover) but it’s focus is the then-current Flash, Wally West.

The stories are run in a past tense, from the perspective of the continuity when they were published, IE, Wally reminiscing and relating the story, instead of the book actually taking place in the past.

This differs significantly from classic Year One titles like Batgirl: Year One or Green Arrow: Year One, or other introductory books like Green Lantern: Emerald Dawn. As such, if you’re looking for the whole story, you may not want to start here – especially because there’s some very significant spoilers for the life of Barry Allen and a couple other major Flash-family characters!

The first story is the aforementioned “Flash: Year One/Born To Run” originally published in The Flash 62-65, taking up about 90 pages of the 128 page book.

This one was written by Mark Waid and illustrated by Greg LaRocque.

It’s close to Waid’s first work on the character. In addition to one shots and annuals, he wrote issues 62-129, 142-159, and 162.

As such, the characterization is pretty basic.

Wally West (the adult) gets little screen time here and is mostly portrayed as down about recent events (for good reason.)

The issues immediately following this trade remain uncollected, but I have a feeling that a big point of the Born to Run arc is to reintroduce Wally and set the tone with a more positive outlook for the hero.

The best way to do that is to look back to his early days as Kid Flash, in a world where (under the watchful eye of solid do-gooder Barry Allen) being a superhero was cool without a need for anything gritty and grim.

The four-parter is enjoyable, but not particularly memorable. It hits all the required explanations of the basic Flash powers (speed, vibration, etc.) and isn’t a bad introduction to Barry Allen either. Powers are gained, crooks defeated, secret identities hidden.

As the plot is fairly standard, so are the problems. For example, the story requires the reader to come with that basic Clark Kent Glasses Conundrum suspension of disbelief as the Silver Age Flash successfully hides his secret identity while wearing his “Flash Ring” in public. The villain doesn’t seem to have much motivation besides defeating the heroes which may not impress new readers with no knowledge of their history (which, admittedly, wasn’t really much deeper at this point.)

The art is also about standard, good but nothing special. I’ve always enjoyed the early 90s flat colors, which are reproduced well. Greg Larocque draws clear action and defined figures with thin lines. The anatomy is good and there is a definite feel of youthful exuberance in young Wally’s expressions. I especially like the way he handles the curls in Wally West‘s hair.

But sometimes the panels just feel a little too sparse, a few faces felt stiff or inconsistent (Wally’s age in the flashbacks in particular, sometimes he seemed very childlike and a panel later he’d look just like his adult self). There were some confusing coloring errors, like in one panel where Wally West’s father is accidentally colored as Wally (above). Overall, the work just didn’t wow me, though it did a fine job of telling the story.

The next story confused me a bit, since there was no transition page between the previous (which ended with grown up Wally talking to his grandfather) and this (which starts with a young Wally waking up in bed.) To confound the confusion, Wally looks just like Impulse here, drawn by Humberto Ramos. The story, by Tom ‘Tennessee’ Peyer, is called “Kid Flash, Day Two!” and was picked from 1995 Flash Annual 8.

At ten pages long, it tells a the story of a tiny battle between Kid Flash and Mr. Element. It’s cutesy and low on real content.

It’s a standard confront-fail-learn-confront again-win set up.

Ramos draws some fun action with excitingly dynamic bodies, but I’ve never been a big fan of his expressions. Sometimes they’re great, but it’s really hit or miss.

His big-eyes big-heads style tends to look better when the characters are in costume.

The next 14 page segment is called “Burning Secrets” and was originally published in Speed Force 1, November 1997. This one is by Mark Waid and Jim Aparo and also takes place in the past. It’s the first appearance of the yellow Kid Flash costume in this book, though no explanation is made for it.

The story takes a curious approach by introducing a new villain into the Silver Age era, a strange knight-ish fellow calling himself Cobalt Blue. This guy later goes on to play a role in issues 143-150 of The Flash, but they’ve never been collected. Secrets also brings in the concept of the Speed Force, which Waid went on to explore in depth during his run.

I was excited to see Aparo’s pencils here, where they evoked severe Bronze/Modern Age Batman nostalgia. In a story that requires much in the way of effort and strain from our heroes, Aparo delivers telling body posture and appropriately pained faces. The gradiated coloring felt a little odd with his comparatively rough linework, but it didn’t keep me from enjoying the story.

The last bit includes is a bizarre 10 page What If?-style affair called “The Speed of Life.” This one, extracted from August 1998’s Flash 80-Page Giant 1, showcase a bunch of quick segments in the life of alterna-verse Wally Wests, each painfully unhappy in their non-superpowered lives. It ends with Wally and his 1998 supporting cast, happy to be there.

It’s the kind of throwaway story that’s very fun in context but feels totally weird in this trade – where the chances are a new reader holds very little attachment to the lead and has absolutely no recognition of all the faces surrounding him.

Coupled with some absolutely dreadfully drawn faces on that final “yay, real life!” page, this story really brings down the ending of the trade.

I have to admit, the wheelchair bound and bearded Wally Wast murmuring “I should be in there..” outside The Flash Museum had me intrigued, but Pop Mhan‘s art seems to get worse as the pages go on and Mark Waid seemed to fart this one out rather quickly as not much of it past the first spread is really interesting.

Taken all together, The Flash: Born To Run is a bit of an odd duck. It’s a good basic introduction to The Flash‘s powerset and some of the important characters, but the main story isn’t particularly strong. The backups mostly dilute the package. So while it may be a “starting reader” trade, it’s not likely to win The Flash any new fans, unless, perhaps, they’re totally new to superheroics.

The selection also makes for a book hard to place in reading order, with odd cameos and references to serious events and reveals. In the end, it’s probably best to read this around when the 4-issue arc came out and just ignore the quick appearances by characters not yet introduced.

The highlight of the volume, actually, might be the introduction by Grant Morrison. It’s unabashedly excited about The Flash and it’s always nice to read a heart felt love letter to a superhero – especially from a creator who has proved his respect for the medium, even if some don’t like the things he does with it. It’s not really about the content of this trade in particular, but definitely helped get me in the mood for a taste of the scarlet speedster.

Born To Run isn’t a terrible book, just not self contained or awesome enough to be the best introductory trade for The Flash. If you’d like a quick catch up before reading some of the 90s run, it will do you just fine.

Verdict:
3 out of 5 stars.

Not so bad as to be mediocre, but not so good as to be highly recommended, The Flash: Born To Run is best for readers already fans of the character who can forgive the strange selection of one-off stories and tired story elements of the main content.

Or perhaps younger readers who simply won’t care, because, as Grant Morrison wrote in his introduction, The Flash is cool.

Essential Continuity:
This book retells and gives new context to events in the Silver Age, when Wally West was sidekick to Barry Allen‘s Flash.

As such, it’s not entirely essential, since nothing new happens here. However, if you’d like to jump into Modern Age comics, it’s an ok way to get quickly caught up with everything you need to know.

Read first:
You may want to take a peek at The Flash Reading Order.

This book doesn’t deal with the Golden Age Flash at all, but his adventures started in The Golden Age Flash Archives Vol. 1.

Barry Allen‘s story started in Showcase, collected in The Flash Chronicles Vol. 1 (c0lor softcover) The Flash Archives Vol. 1 (color hardcover) and Showcase Presents: The Flash Vol. 1 (black and white.)

There are some events that this trade really spoils. The most major of them happened in Crisis on Infinite Earths, the transition to the Modern Age. The other major events don’t seem to be collected, which is a pain since they are often alluded to – you’ll have to just pick them up as you go. For “major” events, they don’t effect the Modern Age story much.

Read next:
The next trade in line is The Flash: The Return of Barry Allen. This one answers some more questions you might be having about previous continuity, so it’s worth picking up. It’s also much more of an actual story with a bit deeper characterization for Wally West.

You might also want to pick up The Life Story Of The Flash which was also designed as an introduction to the character, focusing on Barry Allen. Written in 1997, this book does spoil some storylines though, so you may decide to wait until you’ve read the other stories published before then.

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By | Monday, January 10, 2011 | 6:34 pm | 11 Comments | Blog > Database Updates

Sorry about the lateness of this week’s giveaway (for Lex Luthor: The Unauthorized Biography). I’ll be contacting the winners for the previous ones tonight and announcing soon. The books will go out when I get a paycheck from work (just worked a 50 hour week! Here’s to not being broke forever!)

Update Edit: All holiday giveaway winners have been emailed! Check your inbox and spam folder!

I’ve added 74 more Marvel collections to the offline database. These are reflected on the main list, now at 2620 books!

1. X-Men and Spider-Man
2. X-Men: X-Tinction
3. Thing: Project Pegasus
4. The Thing: Project Pegasus Saga (fixed listing)
5. Marvel Europa
6. Marvel Europe
7. Origins of Marvel Comics
8. Son of Origins of Marvel Comics
9. Grandson of Origins
10. Bring On The Bad Guys
11. The Superhero Women
12. Marvel Holiday Special
13. The Best of What If?
14. Marvel Holiday Special 2004
15. Marvel Weddings
16. Amazing Spider-Man: The Wedding
17. X-Force and Spider-Man: Sabotage
18. Spectacular Spider-Man Facsimile
19. Best of Spider-Man
20. The Greatest Spider-Man and Daredevil Team-Ups
21. Spider-Man’s Greatest Team-Ups
22. Spider-Man’s Greatest Villains
23. Elektra: The Complete Saga
24. Fantastic Four / Spider-Man Classic
25. Incredible Hulk: Ghost of the Past
26. Greatest Battles of the X-Men
27. X-Men: The Movie
28. Avengers: Nights of Wundagore (Digest)
29. Conan Digest Vol. 1
30. Conan Digest Vol. 2
31. Conan Digest Vol. 3
32. Conan Digest Vol. 4
33. Conan Digest Vol. 5
34. Conan Digest Vol. 6
35. Amazing Spider-Man Digest Vol. 1
36. Amazing Spider-Man Digest Vol. 2
37. Amazing Spider-Man Digest Vol. 3
38. Captain America Digest
39. Doctor Strange: Master Of The Mystic Arts Digest Vol. 1
40. Doctor Strange: Master Of The Mystic Arts Digest Vol. 2
41. Fantastic Four Digest Vol. 1
42. Incredible Hulk Digest Vol. 1
43. Incredible Hulk Digest Vol. 2
44. Spider-Woman Digest Vol. 1
45. The Amazing Spider-Man
46. Doctor Strange: Master Of The Mystic Arts
47. The Fantastic Four
48. The Incredible Hulk
49. Marvel’s Greatest Superhero Battles
50. Marvel Team-Up Thrillers
51. The Fantastic Four Collector’s Album
52. The Amazing Spider-Man Collector’s Album
53. Incredible Hulk Collector’s Album
54. The Mighty Thor Collector’s Album
55. The Fantastic Four Return Collector’s Album
56. Here Comes… Daredevil Collector’s Album
57. Captain America: The Secret Story of Marvel’s Star-Spangled Super Hero
58. The Fantastic Four: The Secret Story of Marvel’s Cosmic Quartet
59. The Incredible Hulk: The Secret Story of Marvel’s Gamma-Powered Goliath
60. Spider-Man: The Secret Story of Marvel’s World-Famous Wall Crawler
61. Avengers: Origin of the Vision
62. Captain America Battles Baron Blood
63. Daredevil: The Man Without Fear
64. Fantastic Four: Featuring the Peerless Power of the Silver Surfer
65. Incredible Hulk: Featuring a Classic Tale by Harlan Ellison
66. Spider-Man: His Greatest Team-Up Battles
67. Spider-Man 2: Together With Thor, Havok, and the Man-Thing
68. The X-Men
69. Spider-Man: Matters of Life and Death
70. Astonishing Spider-Man & Wolverine
71. Spider-Man: The Complete Ben Reilly Epic Book 1
72. PunisherMax Vol. 2: Bullseye
73. Spider-Man: The Original Clone Saga
74. Osborn

These are mostly thanks to Oenglish on CBR who directed me to a great listing of older Marvel collections. The rest were from Amazon Recommendations after putting in that information. That strange picture is from the 1997 Marvel Superheroes Cookbook.

I’ll be focusing on reviews tonight after I send out the giveaway winners. I moved the recent two to backdate, intending to force me to keep posting at whatever pace necessary to catch up.

Oh, I created a slightly off topic / twitter style update thread on the forum – The Captain’s Log. I’ll post my more disjointed thoughts and progress there.

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By | Monday, January 10, 2011 | 5:37 am | 14 Comments | Blog > Reviews
Find This Book At:
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Includes Issues: 1st Issue Special 8; Warlord 1-28
Issue Dates: November 1975 – December 1979
Creators:
, , , , , , , , , , , , ,

This review is spoiler free! Skip To The Verdict? »

Have you always longed to see Oliver Queen dressed like He-Man?

I know I haven’t. And if you have, then I honestly don’t want to know your other hidden desires. Not that I’m judging, mind you.

In any case, you could be forgiven in thinking, from first glance, that the main character in Warlord is Green Arrow forced back in time – to the days when sword wielding warriors were the super-heroes.

Thankfully, this isn’t the basic plot of Showcase Presents: Warlord at all. In fact, the story is set in near modern times, in an odd little corner of the DCU.

We shall take a dizzying journey back to when a dozen eggs were only $0.62, way back to 1969.

It is a year that stands out in peoples’ minds for numerous reasons – the most obvious two being the Moon landing and the first ever Woodstock.

However, just a month before the landing and 2 months before the festival, on the 16th June, Lt. Colonel Travis Morgan USAF is in the middle of a dangerous flight over the USSR.

All is not well. Our latent hero in waiting has been detected by those pesky Ruskies and has Soviet missiles on his tail. Somehow, he manages to come out of it with just a fuel tank malfunction and takes a 2000mph glider over “enemy” territory.

Morgan has no choice but to try and make it to an emergency support base in Alaska, via the north pole. Once he spots land he ditches out of the plane and parachutes to the safety of the freezing cold Yukon.

Breaking through the mist and the clouds he finds himself instead in a tropical jungle of epic proportions. It’s a safe bet that this isn’t the Yukon he’s landed in.

It gets even stranger:

– It was past 6pm, yet the sun is at high noon, in the middle of the sky.
– The sun is also somewhat larger than it has ever been before.
– The horizon is gone. Instead, the jungle just curves upwards into the distance, until it is out of sight in the mist.

“If this is Canada, Joe Namath wears Pantyhose,” our central character remarks. But where exactly is he?

After a quick fight with a dinosaur, he meets some locals and the mystery is solved. The answer is quite simple.

He is inside the Earth, where a ball of flaming gas acts as a sun that never sets. This land is called Skartaris.

A bizarre concept, but one that people have thought to be true in days gone by. It does lead to some quirky plot opportunities to come later in the volume.

The most interesting one is the sheer inability to effectively measure time when there is no night. In fact, the concept of time is played with, fast and loose. One example of this coming into play is that Morgan’s “quick nap” is long enough to grow a full length beard, which, along with some new duds, completes his He-Arrow/Green-Man (take your pick) appearance.

And those strange events are just the start. In fact, all that happens in the first 15 or so pages!

Mike Grell writes and illustrates everything contained in Showcase Presents: Warlord. The book collects the 1st Issue Special and the first 28 issues of the ongoing series (out of over 120 issues). The stories all tend to follow on from each other loosely, with a couple of multi-issue plots rounding out the thick trade.

His stories follow Morgan during his initial exposure to this strange new land and through the life he makes there.

Grell treats us to some good old fashioned fantasy plots mixed in with more modern influences. Expect fights galore, a whole multitude of strange species, and a diverse group of clans/empires for Morgan to interact with.

The quality of the writing is very high and, despite being 40 years old, is still as enjoyable to read as most modern titles. Out of the 20 Showcase Presents volumes I own, this is the only one I was able to read cover to cover in 3 or 4 sittings. Very impressive for 528 pages of Bronze Age comics, which often have more packed into each issue than a four to six issue modern comic.

Mike Grell‘s art is reproduced in black and white, as in all Showcases, which suits his pencils very well.

His drawing ability, especially evident on the characters, shows real craftsmanship. While they all seem to be in skimpy costumes (both genders), their bodies are perfectly sculpted in almost every panel.

The physicist (my day job) inside me makes it hard to swallow certain things in this volume. I had to force myself to ignore the attempts to use physics to explain the strange world of Skartaris, often being completely wrong.

Non-physicists and younger readers obviously wouldn’t have this issue. Thankfully it was easy to skim over these parts as they were very brief.

My biggest issue is that the plot was sometimes a little shallow or linear. This was common in comics of the period, however it still is in stark contrast to the depth of the plots modern comics can have.

I can’t hold this against Showcase Presents: Warlord – it simply is a comic of its time. A very good one.

This is my favourite Showcase that I have gotten my hands on. I can only hope DC Comics decides to release another 3 (or 4) more to collect the remaining issues.

Epic is the best word to describe these stories. Truly epic.

Verdict:
4 out of 5.

If you can get past the fact that this was probably the inspiration behind He-Man, you will find yourself with a very enjoyable read.

Essential Continuity:
Entirely required if you hope to follow anything featuring Morgan/The Warlord, although he is a character not seen elsewhere very often. His stories are mostly contained within this small corner of the DC Universe.

Read first:
Best to start here. The character didn’t exist before these stories. There is also a color reprint, though, of 1st Issue Special 8 and Warlord 1-12 in The Warlord: The Savage Empire. That book is a little harder to find, but if you absolutely must have color, there’s your option.

Read next:
You could give the modern arc a go, starting with Warlord: The Saga or join me in waiting for a second Showcase to be released.

The Warlord reading order is sparse, as he makes brief cameos in a few books but not many of his more substantial appearances have been collected. Various DC characters and teams travel to Skartaris, but don’t always bump into Morgan.

Alternatively you could try and find yourself some He-Man and the Masters of the Universe comics.

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some good old fashioned fantasy plots mixed in with more modern influences. Expect fights galore, a whole multitude of strange species, and a diverse group of clans/empires for Morgan to interact with.
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By | Sunday, January 9, 2011 | 10:58 pm | 22 Comments | Blog > Reviews
Find This Book At:
Amazon (Softcover)
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Ebay (Search by Title)
Ebay (ISBN/Softcover)
View our database entry
Includes Issues: Secret Six 1-6
Issue Dates: July 2006 – January 2007
Creators:
, , , , , , ,

This review may contain light spoilers. Skip To The Verdict? »

Well, hello there TRO brothers and sisters!

Did you enjoy yourself some Villains United? I can only imagine that after reading Simon’s review, you quickly went down to your local comic boutique and purchased that fine trade.

Did it leave you craving even more of the stubborn-to-be-villainous Catman? The ultra-limber Ragdoll? The quick to mouth off (even quicker to shoot) Deadshot?

If so, you are in luck! Come with me for a brief chat about another book you will soon pick up: Secret Six: Six Degrees of Devastation.

This volume collects the 6 issue limited series that was released from 2006-2007 before the birth of the ongoing series in September 2009.

Gail Simone (Birds of Prey) brings back America’s favorite group of villai… wait… America’s favorite group of heroe… hmm… nope… America’s favorite group of oddly thrown together characters that have a good time fighting pretty much anyone who is against them.

And believe me when I say pretty much everyone is in opposition to the Secret Six, including each other.

The opening of the story focuses on reforming the team. Due to events at the end of Villains United and the one-shot included in Infinite Crisis Companion, there are now two spots open to complete their hex-tastic group of supermembers. If you’re jumping in here, don’t worry – the collection starts off with a brief recap of previous events.

It fills the readers in that Knockout is the newest member, filling the fifth spot. She is a former fury of Apokolips and the new lover of one Ms. Scandal Savage. That leaves one down, one to go.

As the book opens, a more immediate concern is that one of their current members is being held prisoner in North Korea. Obviously, this calls for a rescue. It’s a nice introduction, since it makes sense to start a book like this off with some action. After a wonderfully presented butt-whooping of the prisoner camp guards we follow Catman as he ventures off to recruit their last member. (Their dedication to ensuring the use of the awesome title “Secret Six” is really quite commendable.)

I won’t spoil who this character is, but know that he is nutty as they come. Put him, Ragdoll, and a copy of the DSM-IV in a padded cell and you’ll spend weeks trying to figure out who’s crazier.

For the next five issues the team’s focus is on defending themselves from attacks by a defunct member of the “Six”, old foe Dr. Psycho, and Scandal’s father, Vandal Savage, who soon becomes the main antagonist of this story.

This continues to be thoroughly entertaining with action here and there, scenes of indecency among team members (including a sex scene with a hat!?!), and a cameo clash with another team of characters – perhaps as screwed up as the Six, but like to think of themselves as heroes. The moments of relative calm are just as engrossing as the fight sequences.

Gail Simone has done a fantastic job of giving each and every one of the characters, even the cameos, very distinct personalities that keep Secret Six: Six Degrees of Devastation fresh page after page.

Catman has became one of the most interesting DC denizens, especially considering that he was pretty much a nobody before being brought back to the scene in Villains United. I was surprised at how much I enjoyed him and he’s totally on my list of characters to follow now.

Simone takes plots that could easily be clichéd and makes them work very well. For example, I am quite tired of the character who is skilled, knows he’s good, and can’t stop with the cocky one liners.

Somehow, she’s given Deadshot a great personality, showing both his professional and personal side, without making him an over the top character.

Almost any of these complex villains could carry this story by themselves if they needed to. Because of her excellent writing, I will definitely be looking into Simone’s Birds of Prey run, her previous work on Deadpool/Agent-X, and recent Wonder Woman stories – just to name a few.

Instead of Dale Eaglesham from Villains United, Gail calls in art support from Brad Walker to illustrate (Superman 3-2-1 Action, Guardians of the Galaxy) and Jimmy Palmiotti to do the inking (who probably only gets cover credit, unlike most inkers, because of his writing on Jonah Hex and Power Girl).

This team delivered a fantastic visual presentation that was clean, crisp, and entertaining without being monotonous.

They kept the action precise and the scenes were very pleasing to the eye and intuitive to follow from panel to panel. I am sad to see that they do not continue their work in the ongoing Secret Six series, but I will definitely keep an eye out for their names.

As you can probably tell, I am now in love with the Six.

Gail Simone and team have created a fantastic reinvention of the Secret Six with completely new takes on old characters. This series begs to be read by any comic fan.

Verdict:
A strong 4.5 out of 5!

Essential Continuity:

It sure is. It’s the start of an amazing group of characters. They are now involved in a successful ongoing sure to be pivotal in some DC Universe events down the line.

Read first:
There was a 7 issue Secret Six title from 1968 – 1969, which has a few small links to Villains United. A second Six had appearances in Post-Crisis Action Comics. None of this has been collected and they were entirely different casts, so don’t worry about it.

Reading Villains United would definitely enhance your experience, as it introduced this grouping. The Secret Six subsequently appeared in the Infinite Crisis Companion.

It’s good to understand where they are coming from, but if you picked this up without having any other knowledge it would still be incredibly enjoyable. I have a fairly narrow knowledge of the DC Universe and the only time I had to wiki a character was to get more of a backstory for Vandal Savage. If you dislike wiki-ing, you should be able to get enough information by checking out the individual reading orders linked from each character’s name.

Read next:
This was a limited series so it can be read on its own and has a satisfying ending. However, after completing this you can now jump right into the ongoing series starting with Secret Six: Unhinged.

The six did appear between the mini and their ongoing in Birds of Prey: Dead Of Winter, also by Gail Simone. That’s the seventh volume collecting the recent Birds of Prey ongoing, though, so you may want some familiarity with that series to get the most out of it.

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