by Gail Simone (writer), J. Calafiore (art), John Kalisz (colors), and  Travis Lanham (letters)

The Story: Scandal finally decides to use the Get Out of Hell Free card on Knockout, but discovers that to be easier said than done, while Liana finds herself in hot water.

The Review: The solicitations call this the most requested Secret Six storyline yet, and in my case at least, they don’t lie.  I’ve been dying for this strand to be picked up and honestly, just getting the Secret Six back in their own comic after a couple of crossovers is certainly appreciated.

There’s quite a bit to like here, mostly because this issue shows what makes Gail Simone’s so special, that being its blend of twisted humour with dark, dramatic, violent ugliness.  It’s the kind of issue that will, at different points, make both laugh and wince.  Best of all, that wincing isn’t due to gruesome imagery or gore.  Rather, it’s due to the emotional wringer that Simone puts her characters through.

Part of that wringer is the revival of Scandal’s guilt over Knockout’s being in hell.  I’ve always rather liked Scandal Savage, in all her inner turmoil and social awkwardness, and as such, this is a very good issue for the character.  She’s a sympathetic character, but whose flaws, both in herself and her claim to the card and its uses, are blatantly obvious.  Simone successfully writes Scandal’s emotions, making her position visceral and gut-wrenching.

There’s also a big betrayal on the team over the card, and it comes for a direction that was a complete and utter shock.  In pro wrestling terms, Simone has one of the team members make a “heel turn” that is a total surprise, but also completely fair.  The argument he/she makes over Scandal’s possession of the card is entirely valid, yet seeing the character’s dialogue become so suddenly monstrous is a shocking turn for the character.  It’s a big twist and I absolutely loved it.  Scandal’s subsequent fight with the character is incredibly well illustrated.  It’s a battle of blades and words that are equally cutting and it’s emotionally and physically brutal stuff.  Calafiore’s subtle shift in how he draws the now bad guy/girl’s face is also pretty damned scary.

Despite all of this, there are also plenty of laughs to be had.  The issue opens with the Six filming a commercial that’s cheesecake-y goodness and Gail Simone also writes the hell out of King Shark throughout the issue.  The guy is freaking hilarious and Simone’s sense of timing in her use of the character is impeccable.  Then there’s Simone’s use of a horrifically boring Iowan mall as anteroom to hell that must be seen to be believed.

If there’s one knock on the issue, it’s the creepy dude who kidnaps Liana.  Make no mistake, Simone writes him well, but she seems to be writing an archetype that’s been done before.  He’s crazy, he’s sociopathic, and he’s self-flagellating and he gets lots of narration to show this fact.  And he thinks that he’s the victim as much as his victims are.  It’s the kind of creepy that Simone executes well but that’s the thing, it’s a defined “kind” of creepy that’s pretty familiar.  It’s nit-picking a bit I guess, but I’m only doing it because the rest of the issue is so good.

Conclusion: The best issue of the Six to come around in a while.

Grade: B+

-Alex Evans