Written by: Gail Simone
Art by: Jim Calafiore
For most of my life comics with the “DC Bullet” on them were the funny books for me. That changed around the time the bullet morphed into the current detergent emblem. It seemingly marked the moment editorial lost control. Mixed signals and general havoc were promoted as the marching orders, and leadership threw away years of storytelling for no good reason. The return of multiple mass-murderer Hal Jordan coincided with Ted Kord’s Blue Beetle getting executed and replaced by a new character. Sue Dibny was butchered but here comes the classic Doom Patrol, Detective Chimp, and Hawk and Dove to turn back time. The theme of the DC Universe now seems to be resurrection amidst the bloody slaughter. The last five words of this week’s DC Nation pabulum piece was “ultraviolent ‘Reign of Doomsday’ event. That’s apparently the big selling point to editorialize and be proud of this week. Maybe comic sales are so far in the dumper these days because the books are aimed at people that crave violence, murder, and resurrection. It sounds too much like a real life holy war, if you ask me.
Before I digress too far, let me speak about the Warlord. Travis Morgan, his cast of supporting characters, and the world of Skartaris, as told by Mike Grell, are some of the greatest comic book stories ever written. Totally mishandled for two decades, the Warlord, at one time, was the best selling title that DC Comics offered. As the ‘70s moved into the ’80s, Mike Grell departed the book that made him a star, and the Warlord became a perennial sales cellar dweller. In 1989 the book was cancelled. The character disappeared except for a mini series in the early ‘90s and a handful of appearances that could be counted on two hands in the ensuing fifteen years.
Mike Grell made public his hope of fashioning a concluding story for the character, but the detergent generation decided to enlist the “he who ruined more comics than rising water” Bruce Jones to re-imagine the Warlord into cancellation in just ten issues. This was at a time when Hal Jordan was flying back into our lives and beating his murder rap because he was infested with a giant purple form of cosmic syphilis. Fast forward a year or so after the Bruce Jones train wreck and DC calls on Mike Grell to re-resurrect the original version of Travis Morgan. Grell only wanted to do a miniseries to finish his storyline off right, but Dan Didio “loves” the character so much he asked Grell to do an “ongoing” (presumably because he enjoys cancelling the Warlord as often as possible). Grell seemingly draws his tale to a close with the death of Travis Morgan in issue #12. The series continues with Travis’s son Tinder assuming the mantle of the titular hero. Cancellation comes just four issues later to the, once again, re-imagined hero. That’s an editorial plan, ladies and gentlemen!
Now we finally get to this month’s issue of Secret Six. Last month’s cliffhanger saw Catman don the Warlord’s helm, loin cloth, and boots in an attempt to unite the world and battle Morgan’s longtime foe Deimos. From a Warlord standpoint this makes no sense whatsoever. Where the heck is Tinder in all of this? Obviously nobody cares about the characters of the Warlord beyond a few jaded fanboys like myself, but seriously where’s Tinder? Gail Simone seemingly dreamed the idea of Catman in the Warlord costume and fashioned the Six’s adventure to Skartaris around this single beat. She sprinkles in the characters of Machiste and Shakira to show her “love” for the Warlord. The fact that neither one is portrayed even remotely similarly to their characterization of the past 35 years shouldn’t worry anyone at DC. That could only occur in a perfect world where editors demanded consistency across the line. Gail Simone mentioned on the DC Message Boards that she spoke with Mike Grell before writing this storyline and used his input—she even thanks him on the title page this month. If this conversation occurred, she must have listened to every fifth word the man said. I find it difficult to believe Simone ever read a story that featured the Warlord unless it was written by Bruce Jones. If she ever read anything Mike Grell wrote then she has the reading comprehension skills of a second grader.
These may seem like harsh criticisms considering the book is called the Secret Six, but if you are going to feature a cast of characters from another book at least do a bit of research. As for DC editorial, could you let the writers you employ have a clue about what’s gone down in other books? These comics were written less than a year ago! Maybe Tinder is a real person and he couldn’t be in the issue because he got diverted from the NY offices to the new swank LA digs where Geoff Johns worries about Green Lantern movies that look underwhelming? Is it possible that Geoff Johns, Dan Didio, and the rest of the DC brain trust sit around playing Madlibs all day to figure out the direction for the DCU? Marvel may be a conglomeration of corporate comic production, but at least they have some kind of long term plan on how to utilize their characters. I think a group of angry baboons with darts, character sketches, epoxy, and old word balloons could craft a more coherent universe than Johns and company.
Now I don’t want it to be all fire and brimstone. Beyond the fact that Gail Simone probably never even heard of the Warlord before she wrote these comics, this story has some good elements. Simone has a mastery of the book’s regular characters. Even though the story is a massive mess of a battle scene she does give many of the dozen (yes, there are two different Secret Sixes) a bit of time to shine. I found the developments with Giganta and Dwarfstar as well as Amanda Waller controlling the Six as a new Suicide Squad interesting enough that I may pick up the next issue.
The one group of people that I cast almost no blame on for the past five years of convoluted madness known as DC Detergent are the artists…unless of course they write too. Jim Calafiore can’t be blamed for poor research or editorial ineptitude. I was an avid reader during his time on Marvel’s Exiles and he’s actually improved since then. Calafiore has always been great at translating massive set pieces with dozens of characters and general madness as the keystone of a given comic. It was especially nice to see his interpretations of the Warlord’s costume, Machiste, and Shakira.
This was a well crafted story if you had no clue what Skartaris was before reading this arc If you are like me and Travis Morgan means something to you: well this is yet another low blow from a company run from a boardroom.
Tags: DC Comics, Gail simone, jim calafiore, Reviews, Secret Six