Kate’s Review: “Secret Six: Villains United”

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Book: “Secret Six: Villains United” by Gail Simone, Dale Eaglesham (Ill.), and Brad Walker (Ill.)

Publishing Info: DC Comics, February 2015

Where Did I Get this Book: The library!

Book Description from Goodreads: Collecting the series that led into INFINITE CRISIS! Six of justice’s deadliest enemies band together to start a revolution. Together, they want to take a stand to stop the super-heroic community from tampering with their minds and to prove how deadly they can be! But not everyone agrees to this agenda. Six rogues are recruited by the enigmatic Mockingbird, charged with opposing the Society and given assignments to thwart their rivals and even help their enemies. Who is Mockingbird? Could it be one of the six? The status quo is rocked by the Society’s formation and the revelations along the way make certain that when the Secret Six are done, nothing in the DCU will ever be the same!

Review: Remember how I screwed up when I started reading the Secret Six trades? Remember how I jumped into “Unhinged” and felt like I’d missed something, and came to understand that I had missed the entire backstory comic miniseries “Villains United”? Well guess what! I went back and read not only the prequel series, but two other prequel arcs that were included inside the collection “Secret Six: Villains United”. Let me tell you, so many things make so much more sense now. And being reintroduced to these characters in their original introductions was a bit surreal, though very helpful.

Like the summary says, the Secret Six was originally formed in opposition to Lex Luthor’s group the Secret Society of Supervillains. The recruits included Scandal Savage, Deadshot, Ragdoll, Parademon, and Cheshire. Catman joined after Luthor had his pride of lions killed. The group isn’t exactly doing this of their own volition, as Mockingbird is using blackmail as a weapon against them. Secret Six has to help their enemies as ordered by Mockingbird, and has to contend with the fact that they may all betray each other. As far as a set up series goes, I liked “Villains United” for what it was. Sometimes it felt muddled when it came to motivations, and the plot got a little bloated for a six issue arc. But the fact of the matter is that this story was far more about the characters and less about the mess that surrounded them. Finding out why each of these villains joined made me love many of them even more. I was probably biased going in, given that the team has switched up between this story and “Unhinged”. I unapologetically love the current line up, and when the line up didn’t involve them, I stubbornly refused to be on board (mainly because I just love Jeanette, and Cheshire didn’t do anything for me outside of irritate me. Yes, I know that Jeanette didn’t even get introduced until “Unhinged”, but I never said I was rational).

But I really liked Catman again. Seeing his pretty tragic backstory and seeing why he would be so resentful for his current situation shed some serious light on his character. I like that he’s a villain, but is also very conflicted about being one. I doubt that he will become a hero by any means, but he’s a breath of fresh air in how sarcastic and crabby he is, while having a good heart that he resents. I also liked seeing Scandal’s own back story, from her love story with Knockout to her broken relationship with her assassin father who is ashamed that his daughter is a lesbian, and wants her to produce an heir to their line. Deadshot is still just a snark machine who makes questionable decisions, and Ragdoll is definitely the quirky weirdo that I loved in “Unhinged”, but this time he has an adorable friendship with Parademon, who is convinced that he’s a clown that must be protected AT ALL COSTS. Their friendship even got my misty-eyed at one point, a sign of Simone’s writing skills. She does such a good job of humanizing these villains while still making them, ultimately, villains. I just wish that it hadn’t been so convoluted at times.

Just to note as well, Doomsday showed up, and I’m still not totally over “Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice”, so I was both happy to see him and also suffering teary flashbacks.

Now that I’m all caught up in Secret Six I’m going to charge on through the series. Simone has a great group of characters, and a lot of heart and humor with edgy stories.

Rating 7: A good origin story with fun characters, but sometimes felt a little bloated and muddled.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Secret Six: Villains United” is included in these Goodreads lists: “Current DC Titles”. Yep, that’s it. You can find more on my initial “Secret Six” post here.

Find “Secret Six: Villains United” at your library using WorldCat!

Movie Review: Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice

As much as we like books, sometimes we like to check out the movie world as well. Today we reviewed “Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice.” Watch the video to find out all about Superman’s Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day and why Batman’s theme song should be “We Don’t Need Another Hero.” Stay tuned at the end for our book recommendations if you liked this movie. (Titles also posted below).

Kate’s Recommendations:

"The Dark Knight Returns"

“The Dark Knight Returns” by Frank Miller

 

 

 

"The Secret History of Wonder Woman"

“The Secret History of Wonder Woman” by Jill Lepore

 

 

 

Serena’s Recommendations:

"Lois Lane: Fallout"

“Lois Lane: Fallout” by Gwenda Bond

 

 

 

"Steelheart"

“Steelheart” by Brandon Sanderson

Kate’s Review: “Batwoman (Vol. 1): Hydrology”

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Book: “Batwoman (Vol. 1): Hydrology” by J.H. Williams (Writer & Ill.), W. Haden Blackman (Writer), Amy Reeder (Ill.), Richard Friend (Ill.), Dave Stewart (Colorist)

Publishing Info: DC Comics, June 2012

Where Did I Get this Book: The library!

Book Description from Goodreads: As a part of the acclaimed DC Comics—The New 52 event of September 2011, Batwoman’s new series finally begins! The creative team of J.H. Williams III and W. Haden Blackman launch the ongoing Batwoman series, as Batwoman (a.ka. Kate Kane) faces deadly new challenges in her war against Gotham City’s underworld–and new trials in her personal life.Who or what is stealing children from the barrio, and for what vile purpose? Will Kate train her cousin, Bette Kane (a.k.a. Flamebird), as her new sidekick? How will she handle unsettling revelations about her father, Colonel Jacob Kane? And why is a certain government agency suddenly taking an interest in her? These are some of the questions that will be answered in this long-awaited series!

Review: Batwoman is a character who has gone through a lot of changes since her introduction in the 1960s. When she was first introduced, her alter ego was Kathy Kane, heiress and love interest for Batman (because DC felt that there were too many people joking that Batman and Robin were gay lovers). She was more of a thorn in Batman’s side than an equal, as she was his competition, but wasn’t terribly competent at being a superhero. Not to mention Kathy only donned the cape and cowl so she could woo Batman. She kind of disappeared as time went on, making occasional appearances but not having much to do beyond her original intention. So when she came back for Infinite Crisis, she was given quite the makeover. She was darker and grittier. She was the daughter of a military man and was at West Point for some time. That is, until she was kicked out because she is a lesbian (before the death of DADT). The New 52 decided to give her her own series, and while it was eventually cancelled in 2014 (noooooooo!), Batwoman lived on her own terms an in her own series. I wanted to give Batwoman a try because I’d read enough peripheral comics to get a taste of her, and “Hydrology” seemed to be the next logical step in my exploration.

There were multiple strengths about this story arc that I greatly enjoyed. Of course I love where they have taken the character of Kate Kane, as back in the sixties when she was Kathy Kane she was a sexist stereotype of womanhood who was fawning over Batman like no tomorrow. So obviously I love that not only are she and Batman on tenuous terms at best, she has no romantic interest in him because she is a lesbian. I also liked her relationship with Maggie, a no nonsense detective who is trying to figure out who the mysterious Batwoman is. Maggie and Kate have a tentative romance going at first, and I enjoyed seeing them interact. As a huge fan of the La Llorona myth, having an iteration of it being the antagonist (as a ghost that is kidnapping the children of Gotham) was a neat change of pace and really intrigued me. La Llorona was legitimately scary, but also sympathetic in her own way. The other major plot line involves a mysterious group, and while it hasn’t been completely explored, it’s been set up pretty well, enough so that I’m quite interested in how this is going to develop. The artwork is also very beautiful, with lots of vibrant colors and different styles for different scenes with different tones about them. It isn’t very often that I am awestruck by artwork in comics and graphic novels, just because I don’t have an eye for art. But with “Hydrology” I was consistently impressed, sometimes having to pause just to take it all in.

My one complaint with this story arc had mainly to do with Flamebird, aka Kate’s cousin Bette. I feel that the plot line of ‘sidekick with something to prove who ultimately gets in over their head’ is one that is overdone. Bette is fine, but I had little patience for Kate underestimating her, and then Flamebird in turn overestimating herself out of anger, so when she found herself in a perilous situation I wasn’t so much worried as I was irritated. Why is it that when sidekicks have to impulsively prove themselves, it invariably goes wrong? And why did the “Batwoman” story have to go down this route when it is so original in other ways?!

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Alexa said it, we were all thinking it.

I was especially frustrated because there was a weird juxtaposition between Flamebird’s peril and a romantic interlude between Kate and Maggie. Couldn’t we have just had a lovely romantic scene without tossing in some pretty gritty and upsetting violence? It just didn’t work for me, and seeing that as of now I have no investment in Flamebird outside of Kate’s affection for her, this storyline didn’t do much for me and took me out of the book.

But overall I think that the Batwoman series is going to be strong. It’s a bummer that it ended, but I think that means that I will be able to follow it to its completion. Definitely looking forward to more Kate Kane in my reading life!

Rating 7: Beautiful artwork and coloring, and a solid start for the new and improved Batwoman. It could probably remove some of the drama with her cousin, though. 

Reader’s Advisory:

“Batwoman (Vol. 1): Hydrology” is included in these Goodreads lists: “Graphic Novels with GLBTQ Themes” and “Kickass Women in Superhero Comics”.

Find “Batwoman (Vol.1): Hydrology” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “Secret Six (Vol 1): Unhinged”

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Book: “Secret Six (Vol 1): Unhinged” by Gail Simone, Nicola Scott (Ill.), and Doug Hazelwood (Ill.)

Publishing Info: DC Comics, September 2009

Where Did I Get this Book: The library!

Book Description from Goodreads: The Secret Six are back in an all-new ongoing series that promises to deliver some of the darkest, most twisted action-adventure the DC Universe has seen since…well, the last time the Secret Six got together!

Join Catman, Scandal, Deadshot, Ragdoll, and their two newest members as they hit the road on the run from some of the world’s most dangerous killers! A contract has been put out on the lives of the Six, but the sly team has some tricks – and a whole lot of bullets – up their own sleeves! Prepare for an adventure that will take them through a gauntlet across the seediest parts of the DC Universe, and will ultimately pit them against a foe more monstrous and murderous than any they’ve ever had to face!

Review: This summer the movie “Suicide Squad” is coming out, and while a lot of people are already making fun of it (as many people are wont to do when it comes to DC movies), I’m intrigued by it and will probably go see it. I like the idea of villains being the anti-heroes and stars of the story, so “Suicide Squad” appeals to me. But along with Suicide Squad, there is another team of villains turned (sorta) good in the DC Universe, and that is the Secret Six. The Secret Six first appeared during the Silver Age of DC Comics, but they tapered off and didn’t reappear until Gail Simone (comic writer extraordinaire) brought them back from the dead with a new team and a new, edgier image. Though they started with a couple miniseries (which I AM getting from the library and will address in a later post), I started with their first stand alone volume, “Secret Six: Unhinged”*. In which our intrepid and jaded group of anti-heroes find themselves breaking former baddie Tarantula (Catalina Flores edition!) out of prison, and the target of a very scary crime boss named Junior. Because Junior is interested in something that Tarantula has in her possession….

I’ll admit that I was a little confused at first, as I inadvertently jumped in kind of in the middle of the story. But Simone does a really good job of getting newbies up to speed, and the new arc starts quick and takes over right away. All of the characters are drawn in many shades of grey, but they are all very likable even when they are doing pretty questionable things. What I liked the most about The Secret Six was that while they were all pretty snarky and had their own quirks, there was always a dangerous, and sad, vibe about each and every one of them. Scandal Savage is their sort of unofficial leader, but she is mourning the loss of her girlfriend, and that makes her fragile and unpredictable. Catman is going through his own traumatic memories, but that doesn’t stop him from snarking at Batman while they come to fisticuffs on the rooftops of Gotham (I was cackling hysterically when Catman was convinced there was a taco place around due to the scents in the air and would just. not. let. it. go.). Ragdoll is a weirdo who can contort and shift his limbs, but he may have a sadder backstory than he’s letting on. Deadshot is a tough guy with a mean streak, but you can tell he does care about his teammates. Jeannette is gorgeous and sexy, but has a mysterious power that goes back centuries. And then there’s Bane. A very conflicted, paternal Bane who has sworn off Venom because he doesn’t want to be an addict anymore. Which is weird. But along with thinking it was weird, I really, really loved it and was totally on board with it. Bane without Venom? Sure! Let’s do this!

All of these personalities combine to make a very likable team, and in turn a very likable series. It isn’t all snarky and espionage-ridden sunshine and rainbows, however, as Simone does bring in a lot of darker themes. The villain (well, the actual antagonistic villain, I should say), Junior, is seriously one of the most disturbing creations I have seen come out of DC comics. Heck, maybe even in all of comic-dom, at least for me, and that’s coming from someone who dabbles in lots of other twisted comics as well (Hellooooo “The Walking Dead”). Junior was a very depraved and upsetting villain, but even Junior has a lot of character and a lot of history that gives the reader no other choice but to feel some empathy for how this really scary villain got this far gone. That said, it’s hard to forget that the first thing we see of Junior is an unfortunate victim being pulled into a small wooden box and destroyed in ways that is only left to the reader’s imagination. And let’s just say my mind went to really awful places.

I also want to mention that there are laugh out loud hilarious moments in this first book. The aforementioned Batman vs Catman fight, some of Ragdoll’s eccentricities that put the rest of his teammates off, how exasperated Scandal gets with Bane’s misguided, if not sweet, attempts to be a father figure to her, and the snappy dialogue that Simone is known for. As someone who likes her superheroes with a little bit of edge, this team of ne’er do wells tickled me absolutely pink.

While I’m wondering how long this can sustain itself, and while I already found myself a little weary of the potential for constant double crossing, as of right now I am really digging Secret Six. This is a great example of why I am a DC girl at heart. It’s all about the villains, baby.

*NOTE: Simone’s original Secret Six run has been re-released as of late. I’m reading the original trades, which may be harder to find. If you want to read this series in the new trades, the titles are as follows: “Villains United”, “Money for Murder”, “Cat’s Cradle”, and a yet unnamed final trade, according to Goodreads.

Rating 8: Interesting characters and the right balance of action, pathos, and humor.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Secret Six (Vol 1): Unhinged” is included in these Goodreads lists: “Graphic Novels that Rocked My World” and “Comics Starring Villains”

Find “Secret Six (Vol 1): Unhinged” at your library using WorldCat!