Thursday, November 04, 2010

Secret Six #1

As the 1960s drew to a close, DC began to experiment more. Whereas previous titles had almost always required a tryout issue or two in Showcase, Secret Six debuted in their own magazine. The only earlier Silver Age title I can think of given that treatment was Captain Storm.

The first part of the story is tied up with introducing our six characters. King is a Hollywood stuntman, Crimson is a top model, Carlo is an escape artist, August Durant is a physicist, Lili is a cosmetologist and Tiger is a former pro boxer. We learn that a mysterious person called Mockingbird has a hold over them, and wants them to defeat criminals that the law cannot touch.

The hold he has over them is somewhat like blackmail, although in each case it does not appear to be something the Secret Six member did wrong:

With the arguable exception of King. I point this out because while the idea of the "anti-hero" was very popular at the time, DC was not quite ready to present their readers with characters that were more than a teensy bit flawed, although that would soon change.

To add an element of suspense, it is indicated that one of the members of the Secret Six is probably Mockingbird operating incognito. He (or she) uses his control of the group to force them to attack criminals who are outside the reach of the law. Their initial misson:

Crimson seduces and drugs one of the financiers. Lili then makes up Tiger to look like the drugged moneyman. Carlo uses his escaping abilities in reverse to find a way into the evil genius' hideout.

They succeed in rather undramatic fashion; in the end the criminal dies by his own gadget as is cliche in these stories.

Overall the story (by E. Nelson Bridwell) is entertaining but nothing special. The art by Frank Robbins (Correction: Frank Springer, as pointed out in the comments by Dan) shows some promise; if I recall correctly, this is an early work of his for DC. The series is obviously inspired by the very popular Mission Impossible show on TV at the time.

Update: I read through the next several issues in this series and I have to say that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Although the individual stories are not all that strong or unique, I like the way the series develops. As time goes by we learn more about the background of the Secret Six and the people responsible for the problems that Mockingbird exploits to force them to do his bidding--the crooks that wanted Tiger to throw a boxing match, the charmer that conned Crimson out of the family fortune, the torturer who forced King to reveal army secrets, etc.

Update II: Commander Benson's take on the Secret Six series is here. Commander Benson discusses the logic process that led to his deduction of the identity of Mockingbird here. I should mention that in my reading of the series, I noticed that while there were six issues after the first, and that each issue revealed more about the backgrounds of the characters, the only character whom we did not learn more about was the one that Commander Benson identified.


Dan said...

Pat, if I remember right, the art is actually by Frank Springer. Robbins' work, which I like, is more cartoony than this. This looks similar to stuff Springer did in Shield for Marvel around the same time.

Anonymous said...

I remember buying this issue just because it was a #1, plus the odd cover with the tiny logo. Don't think I ever actually read it though.

michaelrbn said...

One of my favorite series of all time, and one of my first experiences of a favorite series being cancelled.

I recall that around the second issue there was a slip by the writer involving a thought balloon for one of the characters that effectively eliminated him/her as a possible candidate to be Mockingbird. I think the editor (Bridwell himself?) responded in a letter column that it might have been an intentional clue and not a slip up.

Pat said...

Michael, as I indicated in the update I'm enjoying the series a lot more as it goes on; I like the way the characters are revealed to us over time.

I see the point you made about the thought balloon (in #2) and it is indeed mentioned in a letter (in #4) although the editor (Giordano after the first issue, Murray Boltinoff for the debut only) does not explain it away; he just ignores it. In response to another letter, he says that he does not know who Mockingbird is and that they will never reveal his or her identity.

Commander Benson said...

I once did an analysis of the short run of The Secret Six, to see if I could deduce the identity of Mockingbird. I posted my conclusions as an entry in my Deck Log column back on the original Captain Comics board.

If anyone is interested, he can read it here:

The entry just before that is my analysis of the entire series:

Not trying to toot my own horn or anything. In fact, there is some counter-argument to my solution. Supposedly, Nelson Bridwell once revealed whom he intended to be Mockingbird, and it wasn't my conclusion.

hobbyfan said...

I actually had the complete set once upon a time, and Mockingbird would later be revealed when the Six were reunited in a serial in Action Comics Weekly nearly 20 years later. There was a "Mission: Impossible" vibe, and I think that might've been Bridwell's inspiration.

Heh, I bought the issues in back issue bins virtually on the cheap, long after I'd collected the last 9issues of Super Friends (most of which were also written by Bridwell). What a difference in the writing. Nelson knew what audiences the books were meant for, that's for sure.

Aaron said...

Nice to learn a bit more about this - DC really put out some interesting stuff in this era. Much was overlooked because the advent of Marvel had the same effect as the advent of grunge in the nineties had on many good bands who suddenly found they weren't cool anymore. It's pretty much an unstoppable force when you're not the cool one, even if you're an originator, as myspace has learned.

Anonymous said...

Who was Mockingbird? The solution would be a catch-22: Dr. Durant was too obvious, but any other suspect would be illogical.