By: Peter Milligan (writer), Fernando Blanco (penciller), Scott Koblish (inker), Brian Buccellato (colorist)
The Story: This wouldn’t be an inappropriate time to bust into Gnarls Barkley’s “Crazy,” right?
The Review: The key to a really great ensemble cast is a broad diversity of characters. The more far apart in personality and background they are, the richer their interaction becomes. In superhero comics, you also have to consider their power sets. Too many redundant abilities, and the range of obstacles they can face drastically narrow. Most of all, you need a writer who can give each member life and motivations of their own, so they don’t just disappear into the group.
Secret Seven has a great ensemble. Whereas previous issues dragged from Shade’s ceaseless moans over his questionable sanity, the back-and-forth among the team once Zatanna, Raven, and Mindwarp show up has great pop and crackle. Interestingly, despite their animosity and suspicion towards Shade (even after he admits he may be responsible for some of their deaths) they demonstrate a kind of sympathy, even loyalty, to him, trying to gauge how far he’s gone.
But once the kid gloves come off, none have any qualms about getting their hands dirty, a sequence made all the more entertaining by their specific range of powers, a mixture of the occult and psyche very much in tune with the spirit of this title. Zee’s incantations, though put to some dark uses here (“Raet reh trapa!”), seem restrained in contrast to Enchantress’ wild magic, while Raven, Mindwarp, and Shade’s psychic manipulations prove capable of some grim effects.
It’s particularly good to see Shade in action, as we finally get a sense of just what his vest can do: “The M-Vest has used the psychic energy of their anger…to turn their souls into amorphous solids.” We also see how unsettling his abilities can truly be; his attempt to reanimate the broken Amethyst’s corpse strikes a perfect chord of creepiness (“Hello, Shade. Hello, June. I’m twelve years… I’m twelve years…”), showing why Shade’s grip on reality may have so degraded.
But Shade remains a little difficult to sympathize with, maybe because of his unwisely stubborn devotion to June even in the face of her merciless crimes. Case in point: the woman unfeelingly murders two of his helpless teammates before his very eyes, and he still begs Zee to help him save her. Sure, his poor decisions probably arise out of desperation to cling to something he thought his addled mind knew was true, but that no less absolves the fact that he, as Enchantress taunts later, is half responsible for the horrors that take place.
You can still sort of forgive Shade’s over-the-Moone (yup—pun!) attitude towards Enchantress because Milligan portrays the dichotomy between her personalities so well. While the green-eyed witch certainly can’t be trusted, there’s a certain ambiguity to June’s manner that keeps us questioning how truly innocent she is, and how much sway she even has over her body anymore.
Blanco’s work soars on the otherworldly elements of this issue. While his figures still look clumsy and stiff a lot of the times, there’s no denying how great he makes the effects of their powers look, especially when coupled with Buccellato’s psychedelic colors.
Conclusion: A convincingly tense piece of magical realism that makes good use of the title characters, a good thing as Milligan will use half the cast in his upcoming Justice League Dark.
– Minhquan Nguyen
Some Musings: – I know Enchantress long ago crossed the Nutbag line, but how deluded do you have to be to not get the implication of Penthesilia’s promise that, “…when the war is over we shall see you are dealt with. You will have your…peace, then.” What more hint do you need, a musical sting?