The Secret Six Characters are Perfect

November 24th, 2008 Posted by Esther Inglis-Arkell

Notice I didn’t say Secret Six, the comic, is perfect. I’m sure there are flaws in there somewhere, but I’m not in the mood to find them. And, of course, none of the Six are perfect at anything. Deadshot’s a great shot, but he isn’t exactly legendary, and he godawful fighter. Catman has always played second-fiddle to Batman. Actually he’s played something like eighth fiddle to Batman. Possibly he got kicked out of the string section altogether and has to follow Batman around with a tuba. My point is, he’s not in the same league. Scandal turned to business because she couldn’t measure up to her father and runs a mercenary team because she couldn’t quite hack it in business. Ragdoll is pretty flexible, but you’d have to put him up against Dick Grayson in a stretch-off before I’d could judge who’s bendier. Plus there’s always Plastic Man.

Nor do they form the best team. When a team’s greatest accomplishment is managing to keep one of its members from getting knocked up by a guy named Dr. Psycho you know that you aren’t talking about the JLA. Especially since the team didn’t manage to keep one of its members from knocking up Cheshire. Right there, in that middle ground of evil between Dr. Psycho and Cheshire is where the Six’s effectiveness lies. What I’m saying is, they’re not impressive.

It’s a cliché to say that a character’s flaws are what make them unique. However, that concept has become a cliché for a reason, and Secret Six demonstrates this reason very well. Batman, as a character, is allowed to make mistakes, but is never allowed to be shown as a buffoon. These characters can. Superman is never allowed to be as petty as any of these characters are. Wonder Woman cannot have their moral failings. None of the team books are allowed the goofiness that this team shows. Because of their ineffectiveness and essentially petty natures, the Secret Six are allowed a freedom that no other characters in the DCU have. Showing the team rescue a puppy, shoot a nun, enter a dance contest, liberate a nation, design a line of handbags, none of these things would be out of place in a Secret Six comic. They will only do things for certain reasons, but there is nothing they will not do.

After you’ve seen the tenth preview for a Batman comic that says something like, “Will the Dark Knight cross the line and kill his opponent,” and thought to yourself, “No. Obviously not. Why even bother trying to make me believe something like that,” that wide range of possibility begins to look very good.

Post to Twitter Post to Facebook Post to Reddit Post to StumbleUpon


Killing Your Darlings: You Can’t Please Everybody

September 2nd, 2008 Posted by Esther Inglis-Arkell

In writing, the phrase ‘killing your darlings’ refers to the painful process by which authors weed out their favorite lines, best scenes, and most precious concepts because they distract from the story. In comics fandom, I think of it as describing the way that fandom crushes its own favorite characters under the weight of their own popularity – a process I can’t help but take part in.

Oracle is one of the best characters in comics. Her role on the various teams she’s on is irreplaceable. Her history is as varied and interesting as any character’s could be. She has a defined personality but isn’t a tired, one-note character. Her strengths and weaknesses make every fight she is in even enough that the reader cannot predict the outcome. Of the hundreds of people in the DCU running around in capes and solving the problems of the world by punching people, Barbara Gordon, confined to her wheelchair while being the Lone Ranger of cyberspace stands apart as a unique character.

I, as a reader, would give all that up in a second if she could be Batgirl again. I wouldn’t do it because I lack female crime fighters to identify with. After Fempocalypse – the cancellation of Manhunter, Batgirl, and the elimination of Spoiler, Onyx, Leslie Thompkins, and Gotham Central – DC is gyning up their superhero roster again and I can find strong females without resorting to the Teeny Blue Miniskirt. (Although, to be fair, Kelley Puckett has done an excellent job on Supergirl and I’ve been reading that again, too.)

I wouldn’t even do it because the Batman: The Animated Series episodes that starred Batgirl brought joy to my pre-adolescent life, although admittedly that would be a secondary reason.

I’d regress Barbara Gordon from a team leader to a Batman knock-off with problem hair for one reason: I think it would make her happier.

Yes. You read that right. I want a fictional character to be able to take a walk in a fictional park, then maybe go out dancing with her fictional boyfriend. Just to end the day right, I want her to get her fictional feet massaged. She’s earned it, hasn’t she?

The idea of treating characters as real human beings is plainly ridiculous, but it’s also only an extension of what comics fans do all the time. When we can’t believe that these characters have a life of their own, if only for twenty-two pages, then all we’re doing is staring at ink splotches on wood pulp. And while obsessing over a pet character can be silly, I don’t want to meet the comics fan with a soul so dead that they let go of all character identification and only read comic books ‘for the story.’ However, there does need to be a story, and indulging love for a pet character most often turns that character and every story they’re in as flat as the page they’re printed on.

Striking a balance between wanting a good story and wanting to cater to a favorite character is difficult. The character that makes me topple over is Barbara Gordon, obviously, but I’m willing to bet that every comics fan has one or two characters they’d like to get hold of. Someone out there wants to cast believability to the wind and make Ted Kord and Booster Gold in charge of the Justice League, or allow Superman to rebuild Krypton, or save Bruce Wayne’s parents.

Of course, thinking about 800 issues of Batman in which Babs Gordon goes for a walk with Martha Wayne on New Krypton and talks about how smoothly things have been going since New League took over earth is enough to make me glad there are strict copyright laws.

Post to Twitter Post to Facebook Post to Reddit Post to StumbleUpon