This volume of “Secret Six” is a different animal from its predecessor with a new cast, a more subdued Catman and an enigmatic question — “What is the secret?” — running through it all. There’s an argument to be made for this less campy approach, but it feels like the series hasn’t yet found its stride. In “Secret Six” #2, Gail Simone’s snappy and surprisingly heartfelt script is unfortunately bogged down by uneven artwork and murky colors. “Secret Six” will need to figure a few things out before it’ll be a hit, but it’s such an easy series to root for.
I understand where the artists’ impulse towards a darker and less discernible style comes from. In this issue, Catman isn’t dashing, confident and carefree. The story switches between the past, where he’s held in solitary confinement by the mysterious Project Mockingbird, and the present, where he finds himself trapped again in a coffin-shaped box beneath the sea. He’s claustrophobically desperate to escape, captive alongside the other murderers, sometimes-demons and a rotting ventriloquist.
And yet, Simone’s dialogue is relentlessly, reliably funny. From Ferdie’s lust for Shauna to threats to “burn you down and piss on the ashes,” all the Six are mouthy fonts of bawdy, body and bodily harm humor. Even their villains can be snarky, with the sadistic head of Project Mockingbird saying, “Well, aren’t we just a rude little bastard.” The subject matter might be dark, but the tone of the script is light.
However, Ken Lashley and Drew Geragi’s work leaves a lot to be desired. They can’t keep the level of detail consistent, even when panels are on the same page. Some scenes are super-detailed, with thicker inking and chiseled faces, while others are barely outlines. This variation makes the less detailed panels feel rushed rather than purposeful. There doesn’t seem to be a content reason for the vast difference in style. It’s particularly disappointing when the characters are being clever or sarcastic. Feisty responses like “Not bloody likely” merit some matching facial expressions, and they don’t always get them.
The colors are the final nail in the — pardon the pun — coffin. Sketchy linework can be salvaged by lighter, neater colors, but Jason Wright goes for a darker, globbed-on approach that exacerbates the problem. I like experimental colors as much as the next person, but the blobbiness of these pages gives the whole issue a sad tone. Wright also can’t decide what to do with the backgrounds. Sometimes, they’re barely there; other times, they’re overwhelming. It’s tonally confusing. That said, he really does enhance a few pages that would otherwise have faltered, and there’s only so much one can do with the pencils and inks he’s given. Lighter colors highlight the inconsistencies of the art; darker ones mask them, but obscure the action. There’s no great option here.
Letterer Carlos M. Mangual does solid work with a cluttered issue, but he occasionally obscures the chronology of the dialogue. I might have preferred that the announcements receive a more differentiated text treatment. As it stands, they sometimes feel like just an all-caps part of the conversation.
“Secret Six” #2 improves on issue #1 despite its struggles. I’m rooting for this series, which could be a lot of fun.