“Secret Six” #7 is another superior issue, suggesting the series could have done some really cool stuff it this wasn’t the final issue.
This period was a tough one for comics. The Silver Age was winding down, the industry was facing distribution issues amid a volatile economy and a new series was bound to struggle for sales. Of the “DC Experiment” titles Jacobs and Jones lauded in “The Comic Book Heroes,” none was a commercial hit. But, as they write:
“But the experiment had been an exciting one, and the field seemed suddenly flushed with the rcognition of its newly expanding horizons. Anything, it now appeared, might be tackled in the medium.”
Titled “An Eye for an Eye,” this issue strangly lacks credits for the usual creative team of E. Nelson Bridwell on plot, Joe Gill on script and Jack Sparling on art. The story shines a spotlight on Carlo Di Rienzi, who is back on stage pulling off impossible feats as an illusionist. Like this one:Page 4
Not sure why he doesn’t just walk around the wall, but OK, it’s comics.
On the way home, he’s kidnapped and chained up by some tough guys who want to know where to find Mike Tempest, a.k.a. Tiger Force. Carlo, of course, refuses and conveniently flashes back to that time he rebuffed mobsters pushing on him a protection racket. The result of that was the mobsters blowing up his house as he pulled up in a car marked “Carlo the Great.”Page 8
Page 8 is pretty effective in showing the aftermath, and generating a lot of sympathy for Carlo. Bat-fans will surely see some similarity between this and the famous “Death in the Family” storyline from Batman #426-429.
Torture’s terrible, but Sparling’s art on pages 11 and 12 look great. There’s a strong EC influence here, with a solid dose of noir that is, again, very unusual for DC books of the era, if not just about any entertainment of the era. The coloring on panel 4 of page 11 is a great example of how to use the simple options of the day to create drama.Pages 13 and 14
All of it leads up to this cool spread in which King Savage and Crimson Dawn come to the rescue and deliver a Kirkian beat-down on these pug-ugly mobsters. Sparling does great work here and his version of King is the closest he’s gotten to channeling the influential power of Jack Kirby’s work. I love Crimson’s double-handed Kirk chop and wonder how and why that move was so popular in the 1960s. It’s clearly worthless, taking away all the leverage. It looks cool, though it also always reminds me of the fight scene between Nicolas Cage and John Goodman in “Raising Arizona” where Cage lifts his hands to deliver a Kirk blow and scrapes his knuckles across the rough popcorn ceiling. Excellent stuff.Page 19
There’s some great “Mission: Impossible” stuff on page 19 with a disguised dummy, followed by a great, moody finale with big, even wordless panels.
And then it’s all over. The final page is only a partial page, and “Secret Six” comes to an unexpected end without revealing the identity of Mockingbird and many interesting missions untold.Page 24
“Secret Six” wouldn’t return to comics form until 1988, when DC converted “Action Comics” into an anthology titled “Action Comics Weekly,” which featured 48 pages of comics a week. The debut of this format in “Action Comics Weekly” #601 featured the debut of a new “Secret Six” serial written by the recently departed Martin Pasko and drawn by Dan Speigle.Action Comics Weekly #601 (May 24, 1988). Art by Dave Gibbons.
It was a continuation of the original series, though the intervening years had passed. The original Six was all still alive, though much older, as Mockingbird assembled a new Secret Six. The identity of Mockingbird was eventually revealed in one of the later episodes, and “Action Comics Weekly” only ran 41 issues before returning to its previous format as a monthly Superman title. And when DC revived Secret Six in the early 21st century, it used the name for a completely concept and set of characters.
Does “Secret Six” hold up? Yes and no. The early issues in particular are a real struggle to get through, but readers who stick with it will get to some really nice vintage storytelling that stands out for its time as well as for today. Definitely a fun one to visit — or revisit, as the case may be.
I couldn’t stand Sparling’s art until I discovered his work on Secret Six. I finally saw what he was capable of when he wasn’t hurrying. He did some fine character sketches here and held my attention instead of constantly annoying me with his familiar slapdash drawing tics (his inking breadcrumbs appear everywhere in 50s, 60s, 70s comics for just about every possible publisher; I recognize him immediately. He and Colletta were apparently THE go-to guys for rush inking work). Thanks for presenting your series of remarks, issue by issue! Helped me enjoy the entire series in more depth.
Thomas J. McLean
You’re welcome, Gary! Glad you enjoyed it.