Or – “If They’re Really A Secret Six, Why Are They So High-Profile?”


That look on Lady Blackhawk’s face, my friends, is known to scientists and students of non-verbal communication as the “Skunkeye” ( also called “Stinkeye”), and it is used to imply that the subject of your scrutiny is so suspicious as to actually reek of illegitimacy. It’s commonly seen in singles bars, at all-you-can-eat buffets, and on the face of David Letterman. “But, Matthew,” you’re asking, “why is Babs Gordon’s dark doppelganger, her nemesis from college, the wicked and abusive power-mongering manipulator Spy Smasher sitting alongside Zinda, Babs’ trusted pilot/cowgirl/girl Friday? This can’t be right!” Indeed, my young friends, it is NOT right, but it’s interesting and entertaining, and sometimes that’s almost as good. You can sit here, in the waiting room (or wait there in the sitting room), but get comfy, ’cause Uncle Matthew’s gonna tell a yarn Ah done heard from a lady name’a Gail, in th’ back of an opium den off the arcade in Shanghai… and this ‘uns a corker!

bp1.jpgSorry about that. Occasionally, I’m possessed by the spirit of Gabby Hayes. Just roll with it, you’ll be okay. Last time, in Birds of Prey, Oracle’s worst nightmares seemed to happen in quick succession. A mission in Mexico went bad, causing the accidental death of a man who wasn’t really innocent, nor a bystander. Manhunter, who had been conscripted into the Birds, had her own agenda, double-crossing Oracle for her own ends (partly to vent her discontent that Oracle hacked the computer system in her mask…) Misfit, a teleporting teen terror who wanted to be called ‘Batgirl,’ messed with her computers, causing the Mexican mission to be nearly fatal for Judomaster, Huntress and Big Barda. Worst of all, Oracle’s college frenemy Katarina Armstrong resurfaced, aware of her Oracle activities, and telling Barbara in no uncertain terms that Oracle either works for Kat now, or she doesn’t work at all (and gets to experience the glory of women’s prison). Oracle acquiesed, grudgingly, and we pick up the story from there…

This issue starts with a mysterious figure, trudging up the stairs in a Russian winter, relating the story of the Maiden Tower. The story says that a woman, distressed at the seeming death of her beloved, climbed the steps, hurling herself into the ocean, just in time to be witnessed by her still-alive paramour, who then killed himself to be with her. I don’t know what it means, exactly, but it’s interesting. We cut immediately to a jet black plane racing home from the catastrophic mission in Mexico, and the words of Lady Blackhawk: “Fair warning, then… I intend to hit some decent, moraly upstanding drinkin’ dives this evenin’.” Zinda knows how to come down from a mission, having learned from the best. Oracle is glad that some things never changed (having a an upbeat blonde on her squad helps her remember the old days), but change is inevitable…


Misfit is hysterical here (“Um… is she supposed to be, uh… leaking like that?”) and Zinda advises that she’s changing course for a hospital. “Nonsense,” says Barda serenely, “I just need some pliers. Or a knife will do. And some strong wire. Oh, and a towel for the carpet, perhaps?” When you grow up on a planet known for eviscerating people who order their latte wrong, you don’t sweat a couple of small caliber puncture wounds. While Barda calmly starts minor surgery on herself, Huntress and Oracle have a discussion about the change in “management structure.” Oracle explains that Spy Smasher is threatening her father, and Huntress wants to mount the operation now, and take S.S. out.


If she really has that kind of pull with Checkmate, then Katarina is even scarier than she sounds, take it from the old dude… Even if it’s just pull with the White Queen, it’s a kind of pull that can get you places in a hurry. The references to the Maiden Tower are pulled together, as Barda and Huntress are sent on a mission to Azerbaijan, a former Soviet Republic, for Spy Smasher’s mysterious assignment. Huntress is obviously uncomfortable, but nothing can shake the confidence of Barda, raised to lead the Female Furies into battle with the Parademons and Hunger Dogs of Apokalips… given, of course, a tiny boost from Armani.


Barda is one of those old-school Kirby creations that (when handled well) are just a joy to read. When accosted repeatedly by Russian gangsters and profiteers, Helena finally calls in one of Barbara’s above-mentioned ‘specialists:’ Aleksandr Creote, former Spetnaz, former mercenary, all-trouble. As Barda wonders whose side Creote is really on (watching him schmooze a criminal putz), we see Spy Smasher and Lady Blackhawk, running surveillance in an uncomfortable silence. Zinda watches as Katarina snottily and authoritatively orders Barda and Huntress around, and finally, takes a spare moment to deliver the most withering criticism she can muster, in her plain-speaking way.


Arched eyebrow and bemused face aside, that really should have hurt, especially if this woman is who we think she is. Huntress is asked to dance by an attractive blonde man, and they immediately do that “cute” connection thing. “I have this theory,” says the handsome stranger, and Huntress nervously asks what it’s about. “It’s simply this: that when two people meet during a waltz, it means they’re bonded forever. Until the sky falls.” Y’know, I’m not at all what Zinda would call “fancy,” but boy if that isn’t a great line. Unfortunately for Huntress’ love life, he has as big a secret as her, and it’s the same sort of “mask-and-underpants-on-the-outside” secret, to boot.


That’s the whole Secret Six there (though numbering only five right now, the big redhead is Knockout ((also of Apokalips, he noted significantly)), her date is Scandal ((daughter of Vandal Savage)), the rumpled and unshaven man is Deadshot ((who really should be more familiar with formalwear, you’d think)) and the harlequin who has to wait in the car is Ragdoll), and their presence is pretty much an indication that everything is about to hop into the nearest handbasket and inquire as to where we’re going. Blake, following his cat instincts, totally triggers Helena’s perv sensor when he inadvertantly licks her neck. Oracle realizes that Knockout could ID Barda and sour the whole deal, and tries to pull her agents out, as the Russians finally show the “item” that the BoP and SS have come to acquire…


Nothing like a good punch in the face, eh, Knockout? Barda grabs the armor (with one hand!) and leaps out the window, as Huntress says goodbye to Blake: “I have a theory about people bound together by waltzes and meatballs,” she says. “I thought you might…” Blake replies. “And it is?” Helena reples by grabbing his collar, “That regrets are for losers,” she says and kissing him right and proper, and running out like Cinderella. The Birds are off, but Catman and company are close on their trail, Blake’s tracking skills being unmatched by nearly anyone. Unfortunately, Oracle did mention picking up “a couple of specialists,” didn’t she?


Have you all met Kendra Saunders? (It’s like Linkapalooza today, isn’t it?) The mystery of who was standing atop the tower is revealed (and what she had in that strangely wing-shaped valise, as well), the Birds of Prey escape, and the Sixers are left high and dry. “We’re screwed. We’ve lost the target,” Blake says gloomily. “I wouldn’t say that,” replies Knockout, as her girlfriend Scandal races up on her motorcycle. She has the trace on the BoP, and the one that punched Knockout will die last. Vandal Savage’s kid, folks, she’s not just blowing smoke. In the escape van, Barda mentions that the armor isn’t empty, and hopes it’s not a bomb. “Can you open it?” asks Huntress. “Do you forget who my husband is, Helena?” Heh. Barda pops the armor’s seals, and lo and behold…


…it looks like somebody is tired of the “JLI Curse.” Kudos for remembering that Huntress was, ever so briefly, a member of that League, and worked alongside Ice at the time, which might explain her familiarity with (and worry about) the young woman. But how is that even POSSIBLE? Didn’t the Overmaster blow her away, ON PANEL? Well, yes, but even I can think of about fifteen different ways to retcon that (notably the fact that she had recently displayed enhanced powers and a change of personality, so who really knows if that was Tora AT ALL? Hey, it worked for Jean Grey, didn’t it?), and it’s good to see her, even if I rail against bringing characters back to life. Tora’s death meant nothing, achieved nothing, and the only time it was ever used to good effect was the emotional resonance it had on Guy Gardner and Fire in “I Can’t Believe It’s Not The Justice League,” nearly TEN YEARS LATER. So, in short, this is interesting…

I cannot say enough good things about Nikola Scott’s work, going from the all-out fight scenes last month, to the ballroom intrigue this time ’round, the only thing that even came close to questionable was the escape vehicle used by the Secret Six, and frankly, that doesn’t undermine the beauty of her characters. Even Spy Smasher (whose every facial expression shows a brobdingnagian contempt for everyone around her) is wonderfully designed. Just having more than one female body structure earns her huge kudos from me, and the last shot of Ice was heartbreakingly awesome. I love the writing of Gail Simone, and like the way that the guest stars were clearly defined (for the poor people who didn’t read their own book), and got in some excellent moments, without shorting the regular cast. This outing is superb, as usual, and nets 4 out of 5 stars (yes, Tom, I did think it deserves a higher score that JSA #4, because I’m evil that way.)


The Author

Matthew Peterson

Matthew Peterson

Once upon a time, there was a young nerd from the Midwest, who loved Matter-Eater Lad and the McKenzie Brothers... If pop culture were a maze, Matthew would be the Minotaur at its center. Were it a mall, he'd be the Food Court. Were it a parking lot, he’d be the distant Cart Corral where the weird kids gather to smoke, but that’s not important right now... Matthew enjoys body surfing (so long as the bodies are fresh), writing in the third person, and dark-eyed women. Amongst his weaponry are such diverse elements as: Fear! Surprise! Ruthless efficiency! An almost fanatical devotion to pop culture!

And a nice red uniform.

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  1. Brent F.
    April 4, 2007 at 5:10 pm — Reply

    I love reading this series because it’s one of few titles that depict real women. Here’s to hoping characters like Cyclone, Manhunter, and Misfit are the start of a promising future for female superheroes.

  2. April 5, 2007 at 7:06 am — Reply

    I’ll second that, and raise you a Stargirl.

  3. Brent F.
    April 6, 2007 at 4:14 pm — Reply

    I’ll third that, and raise you a Speedy.

    One character I would really like to see in the pages of BoP is Flamebird (Bette Kane).

  4. April 6, 2007 at 8:48 pm — Reply

    An interesting call… I haven’t seen a post-Infinite Crisis appearance, are we sure she didn’t buy it in Metropolis?

  5. Brent F.
    April 7, 2007 at 2:32 am — Reply

    Her survival was confirmed in the pages of the Teen Titans where she was shown to be one of the Titans during the missing year.

  6. April 7, 2007 at 8:55 am — Reply

    So, you want Babs, the former Batgirl, who regularly works with The Huntress, the former Batgirl, to run a mission with Bette, the former Batgirl, possibly featuring Misfit, the former Batgirl? Maybe they could recruit Kathy Kane and try to retrieve Cassandra Cain from the clutches of the Terminator?

  7. Brent F.
    April 7, 2007 at 11:56 am — Reply

    I just think Bette Kane and Barbara would have an interesting relationship considering their mutual acquaintance, Nightwing.

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