Sunday, May 17, 2009

Review: Secret Six #9

Secret Six #9

Writer: Gail Simone
Penciller: Nicola Scott
Inker: Doug Hazelwood
Released: May 13, 2009

Gail Simone should have written Battle For The Cowl. The mess that is going on in that other book and all the other accompanying books tragically tagged with the BFTC banner would have been avoided if DC had just handed the reins of the misguided juggernaut to Simone. Want proof? Read Secret Six #9. Everything that the other books are trying and failing to achieve is accomplished here in 22 pages. This one single issue encapsulates everything about Batman, his legacy, and what his absence from Gotham City means to both the citizens and the costumed denizens left behind, and does so with intelligence and humor while bestowing an unbelievable grace and nobility upon the men in tights who, in one form or another, make it their business to help save a little corner of the world.

The remarkable triumph of this issue is how much it accomplishes with such a simple conceit. There is no elaborate plot nor redundant trappings to distract from the core issues. Bad guys are becoming more brazen in the absence of Batman. Others of all stripes must now come out to restore order and continue the mission laid out by the Caped Crusader. It's a simple story used as a microcosm to explore the larger more complex questions surrounding, not only this corner of the DCU, but the very fluidity of heroism and villainy in general. Are the methods by which one perpetuates heroism just as important as the end results, and in fact, are the methods used what ultimately define the hero? Was Batman the hero he was because he crusaded against crime or because he did so without employing the tactics of the criminal element he hunted? Ultimately, was it Batman's seemingly more honorable code, adopted by his allies, that allowed him the right to pass judgement sanctimoniously over the greater costumed community at large? Was it this code that elevated Batman to a level greater than a vigilante even while he worked so perilously close to the edge of civil law? Not all of this is alluded to explicitly, but it is present in nearly every panel and every line of dialogue; in every interaction, Batman and the questions that have always surrounded his existence are there for the reader to discern. 

Issue #9 is also filled with small details and moments that serve as eulogy and tribute to the spirit of Batman in all of the varied and conflicting guises the character has taken on over the years. One panel, in particular, shows our protagonists scaling down the edifice of a Gotham City penthouse in direct homage to the 1960's Batman television series wherein Adam West and Burt Ward could be seen (slowly) defying gravity courtesy of a sideways camera. Simone continually flirts with the fourth wall, showing the reader that her characters have knowledge of things that are of our world, such as Robin's ridiculous catchphrases in the aforementioned TV show, here discussed as being apocryphal. Moments like these do more than just acknowledge the lengthy history of the characters, they also shine light on the immense footprint Batman and Robin have left on all the players of the DCU. Simone deftly wields all of these elements - the big theoretical questions and the small humanistic moments - and creates a substantial fullness to a 2-dimensional comic book universe. These people exist and know about each other's histories, and are affected by them whether they like it or not.

It is difficult to write about Secret Six #9 without bringing up the severe deficiencies of the main Battle For The Cowl series and ancillary books, and I don't want to mar a review of a phenomenal work with the tainting droppings of something else so obviously inferior. Suffice to state, whatever the 16 books of that event were purportedly supposed to realize, it has instead materialized as a monumental misfire, an overcrowded mess of characters and inane action sequences that muscles anything substantive off the page. Gail Simone's Secret Six #9 manages to balance action with intellect, and uses subtlety in place of histrionics to massively powerful effect. Near the end of the issue when Nightwing makes his appearance, he immediately takes command of the situation in a quiet, confident, and masterful way. With few words and measured movement, Dick Grayson, the original Robin, the first and true son of the Batman, demonstrates in only six panels why he, and only he, could ever truly don the cowl of his adoptive father. It is as obvious to the reader as it is to those on the page. 16 issues versus 6 panels. This is efficient, engaging, and beautiful storytelling done by a writer who understands the beating hearts of the men she writes. They all want to be Batman, be as noble and as revered, be a legend crusading for the just cause, but they know they cannot be. That type of hero - truly that type of human being - exists only once. Each man's actions testify to just how much, in their own way, they miss Batman and understand how much he is truly needed. 

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