When comic book writer Gail Simone first heard the news that the Secret Six were heading to the small screen, she was as surprised as anyone. Simone famously wrote DC's Secret Six (2006) relaunch after reintroducing the team as a mostly villain-led set in 2005's Villains United #1. She went on to write three volumes under the Secret Six title and, while perhaps best known for her work on DC's Birds of Prey or Marvel's Deadpool, Simone's name remains synonymous with the Secret Six.
SYFY WIRE spoke with Simone to get her take in the wake of the recent news that CBS had committed to a Secret Six pilot episode. Simone spoke about what she would and wouldn't like to see from a Secret Six TV show, what she loved about writing the series, and why villains are so hot right now.
The series, Simone told us, will likely focus on the first iteration of the DC Comics book from the 1960s and not her rebooted team of villains from 2005. That's good and bad news, according to the prolific writer who has worked on titles such as Batgirl, Deadpool, Red Sonja, and, of course, Secret Six. Currently, Simone is working as the Chief Architect to the Catalyst Prime Universe at Lion Forge, writing Plastic Man at DC, and penning Domino for Marvel.
On October 10, Variety announced CBS would be developing Secret Six as a drama series with Warner Bros. Television. According to the report, Rick Muirragui will be serving as writer and executive producer. So far, details surrounding the show have been scarce with no word on which characters will appear in the series.
"Well, it was very exciting," Simone says of first hearing the news. "It's an odd thing but a lot of this kind of stuff, we end up finding out the way readers do, by a note in Variety or The Hollywood Reporter or Hang Gliding Monthly or whatever. But I woke up and dozens of people were sending me the news stories, all of which had a shot of my run on the book to go with it."
While Simone said a great TV version of the rebooted characters from 2005 would mean so much to so many people, she believes the original premise — which was more of a spy story — could prove fertile ground for the adaptation.
"I can't say for absolute certain, but that's how it reads," she says. "I don't know that much about the production and a little bit of what I do know, I have been asked to not talk about yet."
Launched amid the spy craze of the 1960s — set off by the writings of Ian Fleming — the original Secret Six was created by writer E. Nelson Bridwell and artist Frank Springer in 1968. The team first made its debut that May in the titular Secret Six, only lasting seven issues.
The first team was made up of boxing champion Tiger Force, nuclear physicist August Durant, illusionist Carlo Di Rienzi, mistress of disguise Lili de Neuve, pilot and stuntman King Savage, and femme fatale Crimson Dawn. That story followed the Six, each holding dark secrets, as they are blackmailed into the service of the faceless and mysterious Mockingbird.
In the 1988, the team was rebooted by writer Martin Pasko and artist Dan Spiegle in Action Comics #601 - #612, when the Secret Six is tasked with stopping the villainous Zoltan Lupus from demonstrating his weapons of mass destruction.
In Simone's critically acclaimed Villains United run in 2005, the team consisted of villains, including Catman, Deadshot, a Parademon, Cheshire, Rag Doll, and Scandal Savage. Subsequent versions grew to include Bane, Amanda Waller, Lex Luthor, and Harley Quinn.
What do you think about having the Secret Six on TV?
I would love to have the Secret Six on TV, but one of the reasons I always was pretty skeptical of it happening is, there is a lot of similarity between the Six and the better-known cousin, the Suicide Squad. And that villain team already has a huge hit movie and an animated film (based weirdly on a plot from my book, the Secret Six). And I also think "Suicide Squad" is a catchier title. So I always felt having the Six out there might be seen as diluting the Squad's core concept for non-comics readers.
That said, the original idea for the book, in the 1960s, was to cash in on the spy craze, and it was a cool idea. The Six were all talented individuals forced to do the bidding of a mysterious figure called Mockingbird, who, it turns out, was actually one of the Six, but readers weren't told which one. It would make a great show if they go that way.
Later, there was a version of the team with six cyborgs. It's a bit of a guilty pleasure.
What do you love about Secret Six as a premise?
Oh, I love when they do the adaptations of more obscure titles. DC is sitting on an endless treasure trove of cool concepts and characters. I think Suicide Squad proved it doesn't have to be Batman, Superman, or Wonder Woman.
And I love the moral ambiguity of all three versions. "Hero or villain?" is a great question for any character to ask of themselves.
Which Secret Six characters did you enjoy writing the most during your many runs?
The story of my Secret Six is, I was asked to do a huge crossover tie-in book about the villains of the DCU. And I love those cats; the Joker, Catwoman, Darkseid, Harley Quinn, Luthor, you can just list names all day. The problem was, I couldn't use any of them, they were all tied up in the main book.
So it became a challenge: How do you do a villain team-up book without any name villains?
So, I deliberately picked a terrible team of long-running losers, headed by a Batman clone named Catman. These were the also-rans and never-was players. And people seemed to respond. There was a lot of unexpected humanity in the book.
Why do we love our villains these days, maybe more so than the heroes?
I think politically charged times always ramp up the desire for escapist fiction. And I think frustration tends to make more people root for the villains, the people who aren't held back by a moral code that can sometimes seem fussy. Batman doesn't kill, Superman is uniformly decent.
I think it's a bit cathartic to see someone throw a bad guy off a building, sometimes. In Secret Six, we tried to show that that has consequences.
At their best, the Secret Six seem to actually care about others. Did you intentionally want to write villains who walk a gray line, who are a bit more human?
This came up a lot, and I think as heroes get more and more powerful and flawless, and more tied in with merchandising and high expectations, they can sometimes come off a little too perfect. You might not feel able to tell stories where they mess up or behave selfishly very easily. It happens, but there's reader pushback, both in actual deed and in the reading experience. "Spider-Man wouldn't do that," you know.
But with the Secret Six, we were able to talk about love, lust, revenge, guilt, aggression, hopelessness, depression, greed, and a lot more, and I think it's shown that people could see themselves in that.
We told what seemed like a very obscure kind of story with even more obscure characters, but (due largely to amazing artists like Dale Eaglesham, Nicola Scott, and Jim Calafiore) we got people to care. You can't go to a con to this day without some Secret Six cosplayers; people talk about the book all the time; the collections topped the New York Times bestseller list; just on and on.
I think it meant something to a lot of people who have to confront their own light/dark conflict. I'm currently exploring similar themes in Plastic Man for DC again, and Domino for Marvel. I can't seem to stay away from the people on the edge!