Writer, Editor, Author

Tag: Cold War

‘Secret Six’ #4 Goes Behind the Bamboo Curtain

A mess of a cover for "Secret Six" #4 (Nov. 1968). Art by Jack Sparling.

The covers on “Secret Six” #3 and #4 are my least favorite things about those issues. Neither is strong but #4 in particular is a weird mess of an image muddled by an orange and brown mess of color and a too-small logo. I like big, bold logos that you can see from across the room.

The plot this time is a standard Cold War scenario given a touch of currency by being set in China instead of the Soviet Union. China was a closed society at the time as it underwent from 1966-1976 the Cultural Revolution, which was meant to correct the deficiencies of the Great Leap Forward five years earlier. Millions died in both events, though exact numbers are hard to pin down. I think pop culture would have dealt very differently with China in the 1960s had events been better known and understood in the West. Anyway, this story starts with disgraced General Pao waiting in his cell for execution, when King Savage enters and puts a real scare in him on the splash page.

Jack Sparling again shows he’s a good match for the material, giving the series’ unusual need for exposition a nice touch on pages two and three by really putting a sense of personality and even fun into the poses for each character. I especially like Mike Tempest showing off his muscles and Crimson Dawn doing much the same.

Page 6

King Savage gets the backstory treatment this issue, starting off with his reckless youth racing dragsters and segueing into flying fighters in the Korean War. He’s shot down, captured and forced to talk by none other than General Pao, before Mockingbird arranges his escape and heroic return. Sparling pulls out the EC card for this sequence, delivering a really scratchy and moody sequence that fits the sequence well. The coloring, which is uncredited in the comic, also delivers some great mood with strange mixes of secondary color.

Page 8

Speaking of color, things go off the rails a bit as the team arrives in China to extract Pao and bring him back to the West, as Lili DeNeuve makes up the team to pass for locals. That means unfortunate exaggeration of the epicanthral fold and a skin tone that bears no resemblance to that of any human. Neither would pass muster today. The coloring at least could be argued as limited by the technology of the day. There was no easy way to convey skin tones that weren’t white or black. The physical exaggerations in the art are really just awful, though thankfully not as bad as it could have been. Or even as bad as it is for some of the other characters in this issue, starting with General Pao. I doubt DC could reprint this today without some alteration, adjustment or apology.

Page 11

And then comes page 11, which Will Jacobs and Gerard Jones chose to illustrate the entire series in “The Comic Book Heroes,” and it is a terrific page featuring a full-figure image of Crimson Dawn crouched undercover firing a rifle at a distant traveling car. This is a great example of using odd angles and panel shapes to create a dynamic story-driven comic page. It’s the clear highlight of the issue, which from here on out struggles to maintain that level of quality.

Crimson Dawn really emerges as the most interesting member of the Secret Six. After blowing out the tire of the car with her rifle, she kills the three men inside the vehicle and later during the climax of the caper, having positioned herself correctly, efficiently shoots Mike Tempest and Carlo Di Rienzi with her rifle. It’s all part of the plan, and her targets are soon revealed to have worn bullet-proof vests, but Crimson clearly has depths of dedication to this kind of work the others fail to show.

The plot in this issue has finally found a nice balance between the kind of careful machinations the premise requires and believability. This is far more realistic and compelling than the vacuum-cleaner plane from the first issue, and the street-level viewpoint and scratchy ink work make it a quite compelling read.

Page 22

There’s a few pages that use gimmicky layouts, though not to too much distraction. Page 21 uses a diamond design featuring the team in the middle and other events wrapping up in the panels surrounding it. And page 22 has this chain design where Sparling draws images inside each link, leading up to the finale on page 23, which is one of those half-pages rounded out with an ad for Palisades Amusement Park in New Jersey.

One final note from the letter’s column: Editor Dick Giordano answers a letter explaining that Nick Cardy got the gig of drawing the cover to issue #2 because he was in the office the day they came up with the concept. Springer wasn’t, so he missed out. That’s comics.

Reviews: Hulk #1, DD #5, Cold War #1, Last of the Greats #1, Aquaman #2, Justice League #3

The Incredible Hulk #1 was better than I expected. Not having read the book in years, I missed out on and don’t understand most of the Red Hulk stuff or what mental state Bruce Banner and the Hulk are in these days. I therefore expected to be confused, but wasn’t, though I’m sure it helped that I recognized the Mole Man’s underground minions. Writer Jason Aaron did a good of job of putting it all together and making sure there was some actual action in a first issue. The art by Marc Silvestri et. al was quite good — definitely Silvestri’s distinctive style but amped up with some nice detail that came through quite well in the inks and was well-complemented by Sunny Gho’s colors. That said, I”m not interested enough in the Hulk to make this a regular read at $3.99 a pop.

Daredevil #5 is another terrific issue from Mark Waid and Marcos Martin. This reads very, very smoothly and is clear enough that I think the average reader could pick it up and understand pretty much the whole thing. It looks incredible, too. Martin and colorist Javier Rodriguez deserve very high marks for making such a great-looking book.
Cold War #1 is a new, period espionage thriller from John Byrne that I was mildly disappointed with because I thought Byrne had done such a great job on the revived Next Men series. This isn’t quite as good as that, as it’s just a bit too restrained and dated. The dated part is on purpose, as though this is a series Byrne has wanted to do for decades, i.e., a time when this kind of thing would have been much more relevant. It’s still a nice modern Byrne comic, though, with solid art and decent storytelling. It just doesn’t have the kind of zip that a book like this should have.
The Last of the Greats #1 by Joshua Hale Fialkov and Brent Peebles is for me a tough one. I like the concept, which is that seven alien beings came to Earth and used their powers to solve many of mankind’s problems in return for demanding control and fealty from the people of Earth. People then turned on them, and all but one were killed. The issue begins with six humans coming to the last of these aliens, dubbed the “Greats,” and asking for his help with a fairly big problem. But I think the execution is talky and exposition heavy, and think this could have been much more compelling by show more than telling.
On to the DC relaunch books, Aquaman #2 was about the same as the first issue — a story that’s slick and commercial if not particularly deep — but it was the cover that struck me the most. My first thought was it was a recolored version of the cover to Star Wars #64, my least-favorite issue from the original Marvel series. It’s close enough to be an homage — or a swipe if you’re so inclined — but it’s far too distracting for me and I don’t know I will remember much else about this particular issue.
Justice League has been getting better with each issue and #3 is the best yet. Finally, we get to meet Wonder Woman, and she both charms and kicks ass. The action kicks into high gear with a huge invasion from Darkseid’s minions, while writer Geoff Johns delivers a nice chunk of the ongoing Cyborg origin subplot. It’s interesting to note the ways in which Jim Lee’s art has evolved as well as the ways its stayed the same. The finale’s introduction of Aquaman gives him a hairstyle, facial hair and costume straight out of 1996. Some other details, like the cops on the first page also look a bit dated. But the way Lee draws his heroic figures — both men and women — has improved tremendously from his days on The Uncanny X-Men, with anatomy and posing that’s overall more realistic and more solid looking. Wonder Woman here is a far cry from the somewhat plastic looking sexy Psylocke from way back in the day. Anyway, issue #4 looks like it’s going to be a barn-burner.
That’s only a fraction of the stack I’m looking to get through, so I may just stay up late and read funny books until my eyes pop out of my head to get a look at more New 52, the Fear Itself epilogues and more X-Men: Regenesis.

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