DIRTY LITTLE SECRET
By Robert Jones, Jr.
SECRET SIX #13
Gail Simone: Writer
Nicole Scott w/Carlos Rodriguez: Pencillers
Doug Hazlewood w/Rodney Ramos: Inkers
Jason Wright: Colorist
Travis Lanham: Letter
Sean Ryan: Editor
Daniel Luvisi: Cover
In this issue of "Secret Six," we find our villains divided. One group (Scandal, Jeannette and Bane) have decided that their most recent assignment (acting as storm-troopers for a modern-day slave trader) was beneath even them. The other group (Catman, Deadshot and Ragdoll) are now obligated to hunt down and perhaps kill their teammates—on behalf of their benefactor, Mr. Smyth—for their betrayal. In the middle of this, we find a semi-conscious Wonder Woman (who is still feeling the effects of her encounter with Jeannette’s banshee spell) and a crucified and hungry demon by the name of Grendel (yes, that Grendel), who wants nothing more than to devour the Amazing Amazon and anyone else with a heartbeat.
What’s Wonder Woman doing slumming around with the likes of The Six? Well, she’s there to save the Amazons (members of the lost Amazonian tribe of Bana-Mighdall, to be exact) who’ve been enslaved by the nefarious Mr. Smyth. These particular Amazons are—at least when viewed through western eyes—dark outcasts, brutes, and savages; much closer to the war-like roots of the Amazons in the classical myths. One must be wary of Amazon portrayals in the classics, though; their boogey-womanhood was largely imagined by men who feared and loathed their power, and who viewed women in general as half-beings ill-equipped for serious thought much less self-governance.
And it’s certainly curious how these darker-skinned Amazons (they are histrically mostly of African and Middle Eastern origin) function as the Other, not only from a cultural standpoint, but from racial and gender positions as well. They do not worship the same gods as the Themysciran Amazons (Wonder Woman’s tribe). The Bana gods are *gasp* black: Mammitu, Isis, Neith, and Bast are to whom they pay homage.
Certainly, these Amazons aren’t innocents (and that makes their presence in this tale, and what they endure, deliciously murky). They’ve not only tried to kill Queen Hippolyta and her tribe in the past, but they’ve once attempted to kill Wonder Woman herself. They have since made amends, and it’s a testament to Wonder Woman’s character that she still considers them her sisters. So, she’s there with a single-minded purpose: to free them and return them to Paradise Island.
But it doesn’t end there. These Amazons were easily manipulated into storming American shores and the American heartland, with swords drawn and bows pulled, riding ancient monsters, and killing everyone (male and female) within blades-length and arrows-distance (see the travesty of a book "Amazons Attack" for details). When we’re engaged in warfare, we somehow consider the heinous loss of life something other than murder—unless, of course, we’re on the receiving end (the cognitive dissonance involved is astounding). So, when the Amazons attacked and caused all sorts of “collateral damage,” the American government felt justified in its retribution. The government apparently captured the enemy Amazons and sold them to the highest bidder: one Machiavellian Mr. Smyth. The only surprise here is in how unsurprising the American response is.
The name “Mr. Smyth” seems intentional to me. It’s, by far, the most popular Anglo surname and it speaks frighteningly to Mr. Smyth’s everyman quality. He’s the latest John Smith of Jamestown, still possessing those same Enlightenment qualities that lead men like him to believe that inflicting pain and suffering on others, irrespective of the lives destroyed, is a perfectly logical, reasonable, and laudable ambition—especially when profit and acquisition are involved. His history speaks for itself: Pocahontas, Wonder Woman, Jeannette, Scandal, Artemis and Liana are all interchangeable in his eyes—and serve the same purpose. He could be any one of us, really; he’s likely roaming the halls of some Wall Street or White House office right this instant.
Gail Simone provides very compelling contrasts to the Mr. Smyths (figuratively speaking, there are a few of them) and the apathy of the patriarchal psyche. That contrast isn’t only seen in the various powerful and intelligent female figures, but it’s seen in several of the male figures as well. Incredibly fascinating is how these men access their own femininity as a source of power (we are, after all, male and female in ways that have nothing to do with our genitalia). I would argue that what Wonder Woman sees in Catman (in a legitimately moving moment within the narrative) that leads her to reach out to him above all the others isn’t simply a generic kindness she sees in his eyes. It’s not just that she senses a conscience within him. No, I posit that it’s a sensitivity and righteousness she interprets as sisterhood that causes her to wake from her mystical stupor and implore him to free her enslaved sisters. It’s buried within him, of course; and it’s tiny. But there isn’t a fathom deep enough or a molecule small enough to hide the truth from the custodian of it.
The role of the feminine is played out in many interesting ways in this story. We see it with the soldier who uses his last thirty seconds of life to say good-bye to his wife. We see it in Rag Doll who really, really likes Wonder Woman’s boots, tiara and bustier (one of the funnier moments in the story). We see it in the stripper dressed in her best Wonder Woman drag during Liana’s scene (some would argue that similar fetishism is essential to comprehending the Wonder Woman archetype). And the fascinating thing about that last item is that a woman clothed in a symbol as powerful as Wonder Woman’s costume immediately calls into question the identity of the power-holder in the stripper/voyeur dynamic. That notion makes me consider another that I believe is appropriate for this story: The Chained One and The One Holding The Chain are equally captive (and equally degraded); for while The Chained One cannot escape, The One Holding The Chain dare not relinquish the chain and thus cannot escape either.
I can’t depart without discussing two scenes that I believe function as shocking feminist commentary. The first features Jeannette who is recuperating from her exhaustive battle with Wonder Woman. She’s hallucinating. She’s interpreting her surroundings as some sort of R-rated Disney-esque tale where there’s to be food, merriment, and kinkiness. But then, with the help of her friend Scandal, Disneyworld becomes the world of the Brothers Grimm, and the problem becomes clear (see the opening quote).
The second scene is a flashback. Here, we depart from Nicola Scott’s absolutely perfect pencils (I’m very serious here; Scott will be the next superstar comic artist, you wait and see) to a more moody style from Carlos Rodriguez. Scandal is remembering a lesson taught to her by her father, Vandal Savage. It’s her ninth birthday and her gift from him is to face nine men with clubs while her mother’s life hangs in the balance. Some of the men are filled with glee at the prospect of beating this young girl to a pulp. Others have pained looks upon their faces; they are obviously attacking her against their will. But—and this is important—they attack her nonetheless. None of them are courageous enough to break formation or shirk their brutal duty. Scandal is battered, bloodied and bruised by the attacks, and in the end has only one weapon that will save her mother’s life.
There’s been this discussion of rage over in the main "Wonder Woman" title, and I think I’ve discovered its touchstone. It’s the same rage that was articulated brilliantly (and much to Virginia Woolf’s chagrin) in Charlotte Bronte’s "Jane Eyre." For the woman who is forced to rally against the unassailable forces that oppress her (and they are legion), rage is a weapon to be cherished rather than suppressed.
Simone has woven an unbelievably complex morality tale with feminist underpinnings. There’s hardly any black and white in this story, just muddy shades of gray. Everyone has a justification for their actions and it’s left to the reader to determine who’s motivated by the greatest good. It’s all relative, baby; and because it’s relative, the analysis reveals more about the reader than it does about the characters. In other words, "Secret Six" is good literature; and good literature is always a mirror.
Robert Jones, Jr. is a freelance writer from Brooklyn, NY. He is webmaster of the blog Son of Baldwin, and is currently working on his first novel.