When the current "Secret Six" storyline, "Cats in the Cradle," first began in #19, the cliffhanger was more than enough to warn readers that this story was going into some dark and disturbing places. What shocks me the most, then, is that Gail Simone and J. Calafiore have continued to keep that general sense of dread hanging over the book as we enter the third of four installments.
With Catman going after the assassins who have kidnapped and quite possibly already murdered his son, it's safe to say that this wouldn't be a light and happy story. What I wasn't expecting, though, was a series of flashbacks to Catman's childhood as we learn some more about his horrible family life and just what helped shape him into the man he is today. Meanwhile, part of the team tries to find Catman while the remaining members pick up some temporary members for a new assignment.
Here's the thing. Abusive father issues are a cliché, there's no way around it. Simone and Calafiore sell it here, though, by keeping a careful lock on what we do and don't see, as well as the setting of the scenes as well. Simone's script isn't afraid to infer at times, let the reader fill in the gaps themselves. If there's one thing that audiences are good at, it's making what we don't see an even more disturbing moment than what we would have seen had it all been shown to us. It's something that also holds true for the present day scenes, as Catman continues his hot pursuit of the kidnappers. What we don't see is in some ways worse than what we do.
Scandal's half of the team does some of the heavy lifting here, letting them deal with the aftermath of Catman's attacks. They're almost like a Greek chorus in places, responding to the events that have happened and helping cue the reader to process those moments. There's more to it than just that, though; Black Alice and Scandal Savage's confrontation in some ways has been a long time coming, and it's nice to see Scandal back in the mix of things once more. Bane and Jeanette, on the other hand, feel like they're the one disposable part of this story, with their temporary line-up of villains to pad out their ranks looking to be marked for disaster.
Calafiore has proven to be a more than good successor to Nicola Scott as the main artist for "Secret Six." I love the way he draws characters, with crinkly details somehow overlaid on smooth overall figures. Looking at Ragdoll, the individual strands of his wig manage to look almost like tentacles in an eerie manner, and his lithe, almost anorexic figure is a perfect contrast to the bulk and sheer muscle mass of a character like Bane or Loki. Best (or worst) of all is how he draws the shocked, scared look on the young Catman's face. You can almost see his innocence drip away from him, moment by moment, and it's a sad and creepy way to open the issue.
"Secret Six" #21 is another nasty gut punch from Simone and Calafiore, and I love it. This book has more and more stayed away from playing it safe, and the end result is a book that continually shocks and surprises its readership. We need more books like this.