A Tribute to the of

I really love reprints of our beloved Silver Age.  It's an economical and easy way to gain access to some wonderful, classic stories, but they still lack a few things, such as the great house ads of the originals.  One that had long intrigued me was for a new series called "The Secret Six!"  Even references to it in the Direct Currents column were vague and mysterious.  Well, after many years I have a copy of Secret Six number 1 at my disposal from April/May of 1968 (on sale February 1st) written by E. Nelson Bridwell and illustrated by Frank Springer for editor Murray Boltinoff.  Note that the story, entitled "Code Name:  Mockingbird!" actually begins on the cover (also rendered by Mr. Springer) in a rather unusual twist.  That must have driven people crazy who got copies with a missing cover.  At any rate, let's see what the Secret Six is all about.

Note that 20's vintage touring car careening down the road and bursting directly through the billboard announcing the first mission of the Secret Six.  Page one follows the descent of the car down the side of a cliff and into a spectacular crash for a filming crew.  The director asks the stunt-driver, "King" if he's okay, to which the daredevil replies "Of course!"  He does comment that he thinks he's sprained his leg and is off to keep a date "with a sweet little bird."  He promptly departs on his motorcycle from the Italian Alps where the shoot is occurring.

Flipping the page we find a striking young blonde named Crimson in a Paris fashion salon who is leaving her modeling job early for a rendezvous with her bird-watching club.

Next we meet Carlo Di Rienzi, who performs as "Carlo the Uncanny."  He is performing in a magic act onstage, changing places with his assistant after handcuffing and securing her in a chained box, but when the box is opened, Carlo has literally disappeared.

Segue now to Geneva, where one August Durant is at a high-level meeting of international figures, about to discuss The U.S.'s peaceful uses of the atom when he glances at his wrist and excuses himself for a more urgent appointment.

Meanwhile, on the French Riviera, Mademoiselle Lili abruptly departs her station at a beauty salon.

Then, on the Marseilles waterfront, an American is being unceremoniously thrown out on his ear from a pier-side dive due to inability to pay his tab.  Our writer then points out that this destitute hobo is wearing a pretty expensive watch.  Flipping back the dial, just like his five contemporaries at the signal of a rhythmic pulsation, a miniature television screen ala Dick Tracy is revealed with a mysterious hooded figure issuing a command:  "Mockingbird calling!  We are ready for our first job.  I will meet you at rendezvous point SF-2!"

We now join the intrepid sextet in an isolated valley where they meet for the first time.  King immediately hits on Crimson, who is less than impressed and Lili recognizes Crimson Dawn while August Durant greets Carlo, commenting that he'd caught his act in Milan.

In the next moment a huge airplane arrives, equipped with vertical take off and landing capability.  The Secret Six enter and discover matching leotard-like uniforms, each with a Roman numeral, I through VI on the back in red along with a profile of a Mockingbird on a red circular background adorning the left shoulder.  They don them while the craft gets airborne again and then hear whistling coming from the cockpit to the tune of "Listen to the Mockingbird."  Entering the cockpit they find the tune coming from a tape recorder and the plane is on auto-pilot.  The American vagrant says that Mockingbird was to rendezvous with them when August Durant says that he has, suggesting one of them is secretly Mockingbird and that he, or she, has a hold on each of them that requires anonymity.  Mockingbird's stated purpose is to apprehend criminals beyond the reach of the law and to "defeat them…by holding them up to ridicule…mockery!  Hence the code name…Mockingbird!"

King then asks "Tiger" what he thinks.  The American retorts that he's Mike Tempest, not Tiger, but they recognize him as the famed boxer, Tiger Force, who had testified against racketeers.  Tiger admits his identity and explains more of his background.

After a series of successful bouts he was given a shot at the heavyweight title, provided he takes a dive in the 5th round.  Refusing, Tiger goes even further by reporting the scheme to the boxing commission and ultimately to a jury.  The underworld has a long memory and a long reach, though and about a month afterward, Tiger Force is jumped in an alley and beaten badly.  At that moment the recorder in the cockpit interrupts.  "After you were beaten, Mike Tempest…or Tiger Force…Number One…I took you to a private hospital!  You recovered, changed your name…and have been running from those mobsters ever since.  I could tell who you are!"

The disembodied voice continues with each member in turn, explaining the hold Mockingbird has on them:

"August Durant—Number Two!  Enemies of our nation tried to do away with you by infecting you with an incurable disease, but it was not incurable to me."  The black man with the horn-rimmed spectacles replies that only he, Mockingbird, can supply him with the pills that sustain his life.

"You refused to pay off the mafia in Naples—Number Three—Carlo Di Rienzi!  They killed your wife and injured your son, but he will walk again eventually, thanks to treatments I have arranged!"  Carlo acknowledges the statement and notes that the treatments could stop abruptly without his cooperation.

"Lili De Neuve—Number Four—you were convicted of murder and sentenced to death!  But I believed in you, offered an alibi, which got you a pardon…"  Lili responds that despite her innocence, the alibi was crucial and she remains beholden to Mockingbird.

"You were an Ace in the Korean War, King Savage—Number Five—till you froze while flying combat!  You were shot down, taken prisoner, interrogated!  You talked!  But I arranged for you to escape and warn the U.N. forces of the disaster that might have resulted…"  Savage, with his Jim (The Spectre) Corrigan style splash of white in his otherwise brown hair states that he was hailed as a hero, but Mockingbird's information could change all that.

"Number Six—Crimson Dawn…heiress to millions!  You couldn't cope with a swindler who broke your heart and took much of your inheritance!  I arranged with Mlle. De Neuve to glamorize you…"  "…so my family couldn't recognize Kit Dawn…the girl who threw away the fortune on a heel!  You could cue 'em in, though!  You sure have the screws on all of us, haven't you?"

The next page, reserved for a letters column in future issues, is entitled "Behind "The Secret Six" Scenes", and gives us a background on the creative team bringing you the story in their own words:

Thanks to his abilities, or rather lack of them, the country lost a champion, maybe an Olympic pole-vaulter, but gained a crackerjack artist.

I attended public schools in New York City and Long Island, and graduated from Malverne High School," says Frank Springer, whose slick and inimitable interpretations are evident in the action-studded pages of THE SECRET SIX.  "The first money I received for a drawing was the grand sum of $5 (I did worse after that) in a local contest.  I used the money for a pair of track shoes.  I'd have been a champion pole-vaulter were it not for a deficiency of speed, strength, stamina, coordination and talent.

I was born on Dec. 6, 1929 in New York City.  It seems I always wanted to be an artist.  I started to draw at a very early age.  I fondly remember the beginnings of the comic industry with the reprints of Hal Foster's "Tarzan" and All Capp's earliest 'Li'l Abner.'  Later, with the advent of 'Superman,' followed by all the other super-heroes, we, that is, all the kids on the block, created competing comics of our own which featured various muscle-men with a fantastic array of strange powers.

I thought we were unique.  Now I find that almost everybody in the comic art business started the same way, saved the same 'big-little' books, idolized the same artists, swiped from the same 'how-to-draw' books.

After Malverne High, I attended Syracuse University, majoring in painting and illustration, and graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in 1952.  That same year, I entered the Army.  I didn't see any action and never got very far in my travels, but I drew what seemed to be millions of drawings and cartoons.  I also learned to letter, so in looking back it wasn't a total loss.

With my discharge from the service, I started to free-lance, and I've been at it ever since.  One of my most valuable experiences was in assisting George Wunder on his 'Terry and the Pirates' strip for several years.  I guess I'm a Jack-of-all-arts.  Besides working on many comic magazine features, I've done sports cartoons, book illustrations and animated a number of super-heroes for television.

I enjoy most sports (watching, not participating, alas!) but am really a nut on baseball.  And I keep up with who's who in pole-vaulting.

I live in Suffolk County on Long Island with my wife Barbara and our four children.  They don't think it's a bit weird that I draw for a living.  But I do, although I enjoy it very much.

And now meet Nelson Bridwell, who furnished the script:

I first saw the light of day on my grandparents' farm, Oak Hill Dairy, near Sapulpa, Oklahoma.  The date was Sept. 22, 1931.  The Great Depression was on and times were hard, but my dad soon landed a good job in Washington, D.C.  When the Social Security Board was formed, he joined it as an auditor, and was transferred from place to place, so I spent a good part of my pre-school years traveling.  Then Dad was sent to Oklahoma City, and it was here that I grew up.

From earliest childhood, I liked to draw.  Throughout my formative years I read comic mags—DC mostly—and drew adventures of my own characters.  One of those, whom I called Wonderfool, has since been transformed into Merryman, leader of "The Inferior Five."

After graduating from high school (good ol' Central High) I gave up the idea of college because (at the time) my health was not the best.  Instead, I took the Famous Artists Course by mail.  It was during this period that I sold my first gag cartoons and began doing a bit of commercial art locally.

Meanwhile, I had become a fan of "Mad," and in 1957 I prepared an article to submit to it.  It took me days to whip into shape.  I had another brainstorm which I worked up in a short time one evening and included in the same package.  Naturally, it was the second article that sold—something called "Products for TV Commercials, Inc."  If you want to see what it looked like, you'll find it reprinted in "The Organization Mad."  (Plug!)

I followed that up with the creation of "TV Scenes We'd Like to See," which ran three consecutive issues and was widely imitated.  In fact, two of the gags from this later showed up, almost word for word, on TV comedy shows.  When they start stealing your stuff, you've arrived!

More "Mad" articles followed.  Early in 1961, I began researching for a bit of nonsense called "Comicland Magazine"—a mag along the lines of movie fan mags, but devoted to comic characters.  (It ultimately showed up in "Mad" in 1963.)   In doing this research, I started reading comics for the first time in years—chiefly DC again.  I realized this was the kind of work I'd like to do.  I continued buying, reading and writing to the editors.  I got involved in comic fandom. And all with one motive—to crack into the comic mag field.

It took nearly three years, but I made it.  When I received a letter from Mort Weisinger, offering me an assistant editorship of the Superman line.  I accepted.  Later, I began to write—first for some of the mags edited at that time by Jack Schiff—"Unexpected," "Strange Adventures" and "Mystery in Space."

I have since written many scripts for the Superman Family, as well as all "The Inferior Five" stories and "The Maniaks" in SHOWCASE.  (Now you know who's to blame.)  And my latest projects are THE SECRET SIX and "Angel and the Ape" (which is scheduled for an early SHOWCASE debut.  I also edit the "Batman" and "World's Finest" 80-page giants.

Bridwell's greatest responsibility was as caretaker of the vast Superman Family mythos, a job he cherished.  Plagued virtually his entire life by numerous chronic health problems, Bridwell died January 23, 1987, of lung cancer.

There.  Now that we've been fully introduced to the characters and the creative team, time to get back to the story.

The recording on the plane states they're about to land at a private airfield near New York City.  Upon debarking the plane, the passengers get into a waiting limo that contains directions to an office building in mid-town Manhattan and ultimately to a sixth floor suite.  (Sixth floor for the Secret Six, presumably.)  There they find a movie projector with further instructions.  Soon they're viewing photos of a strangely equipped aircraft with what appears to be a massive snorkel assembly protruding from the bottom of the fuselage.  The voice over explains it's a weapon developed by a man named Zoltan Lupus, formerly a wealthy man who spent his fortune on this invention, which seems to remove the oxygen from the air, suffocating those within range.  Currently dwelling on Tartarus Isle, a former escape-proof prison, he is out of reach of any national jurisdiction.  He was able to afford only one test of the device and plans to develop a fleet of the deadly aircraft to blackmail the world, if he can only achieve some financial backing from the underworld.  Apparently four wealthy and unscrupulous men, hungry for power, are going to Tartarus for a demonstration.  Mockingbird decrees that the demonstration must fail.  Further data is contained in the files in the room and the reel ends.

Soon the Secret Six are reviewing the files and learn that there appears to be access via an underwater drain.  Carlo, master escape artist will make the attempt to break into an escape proof prison.  They also find complete dossiers on each of the 4 millionaires.  Lili notes that Bramwell Gibbs has the same build as Mike Tempest and she could use her makeup expertise to disguise him.  Crimson volunteers to be the bait for Gibbs and the next night manages to run into him at a nightclub where she slips him a Mickey Finn and spirits him to the suite where Lili uses the unconscious man as a model for her alteration of Mike.

The next morning the four men meet on the dock and introduce one another.  They are Vincent O'Hare, Stephen Beauregard, Peter Van Rapp and the bogus Bramwell Gibbs.  Crates are loaded aboard a cabin cruiser, some of which contain members of the Secret Six and soon the vessel arrives at another dock where Zoltan Lupus and his pet wolf greet them.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the island, Carlo and Crimson have just arrived via a rubber raft.  They are wearing wetsuits emblazoned with the same symbols as their other uniform and inexplicably Carlo says they've exhausted their aqua-lungs, so they skin dive to the drain where, naturally, it's covered by a grate.  Luckily Crimson has a bobby pin and Carlo uses it to remove the screws.  They then climb a ladder up the drain tunnel right into the sights of weapons.

Men in military fatigues shackle the duo to a support column, but when they go to fetch their superior, Carlo the Uncanny has used his well-honed skills as an escape artist to release them.  They rush down a brick corridor until they find where the crates are stored.  More guards are opening the crates only to discover Lili while King emerges from another.  Now it's hand to hand as four of the Secret Six lay waste to the guards.  Checking the other crate for August Durant, they discover he is gone.

Elsewhere we discover the whereabouts of Durant.  He is in a chamber and about to be used as a guinea pig to test Zoltan's device.  Lupus explains that his oxygen extractor does exactly as the name implies, removing the life-giving gas from the air.  Mike looks on helplessly from the glass booth as the apparatus is turned on.

To Zoltan's surprised outrage, though, Durant merely begins laughing madly.  Rushing to the control room he discovers Lili, who has attached laughing gas to the delivery system.  Shouting for his guards, Lupus orders all unauthorized persons killed and once again the fisticuffs fly.  As Mike Tempest, aka Tiger Force joins the fray he is astonished to discover that one of the guards is "Blackjack" Hanrahan, who was among the hoodlums who jumped him in the alley.  He attacks with zeal and Crimson is forced to stop him with a judo chop before he commits murder.

As the noose tightens around Zoltan Lupus he sics his wolf on the Secret Six, but Carlo produces a weapon and drops the beast to the floor.  Zoltan has used the temporary distraction to run, but makes a critical error when he runs into the test chamber, which just happens to be on and is now sucking the oxygen from the air.

More guards arrive at Lupus' summons and find him dead on the floor, the machine itself wrecked and a tape recorder playing "Listen to the Mockingbird."

The final panel has our team aboard the cabin cruiser and departing the island.  "Right now the question is—how long must we go on as "The Secret Six?"  "Until we find out which one of us—is Mockingbird!"  We're then given a short glimpse into their next adventure in the ending text box that says:  "Will that be revealed in the next issue when "The Secret Six" must steal a top-secret U.S. plan to stop a master spy?"

This story reminded me more than anything else of an episode of the old Mission Impossible television series which aired from 1966 to 1973.  Could it have been an inspiration?  Who can say?  By the way, did you notice at the beginning the references by both King and Crimson to birds?  A little foreshadowing to their meeting with Mockingbird, perhaps?

While this wasn't a bad premise, it certainly had its limitations.  It puts me a little in mind of The Fugitive.  At some point they've got to figure out the identity of Mockingbird and then what?  I understand the series sputtered out after only 7 issues and Mockingbird's alter ego was not revealed…until nearly 20 years later when DC revived the team in 1988 as part of the roster of heroes featured in Action Comics Weekly and at that time revealed that Mockingbird was Durant. The 1968 introductory tale was reprinted in The Brave and the Bold #117, the February-March 1975 issue; a smaller, slightly modified version of Nick Cardy's cover for issue #2 appears on the 100 page mag's cover instead of Frank Springer's original.

And now, a very special treat, readers.  Thanks to the wonders of the World Wide Web and a stroke of serendipity I was able to swap e-mails with Clem Robins, a letterer for DC back in the day who asked Bridwell personally who Mockingbird was.  Straight from the creator's mouth came the answer:  Tiger Force.  "Bridwell's explanation for this didn't make much sense to me, but in his defense, he was a comic book writer, and he never had the opportunity to explain things in the form of a comic book.  He said that Tiger Force was the one who could move through the world with the most anonymity, and the one who would never be suspected by anybody of being a mastermind."

Clem also shared with me that when people ask him this question he gives them a chance to submit their best guess first and no one has yet guessed correctly, including himself, who thought it was Crimson Dawn.  Clem further elaborated that there was a significant slip-up in one of the later issues where one of the characters, possibly Carlo Di Rienzi muses to himself about the possibility of Lili being Mockingbird.  "The editor tried to disown this comment as a mistake in the letter column, but there is no way in creation you can walk away from a gaffe like that."  The series was also ground-breaking in its strong anti-communist politics.

I thoroughly enjoyed the insights that Clem Robins so graciously offered and hope to keep in touch with him.  A first person connection to the DC Silver Age is a rare and wonderful thing.

All in all, while this finally satiated my long-held curiosity, I still prefer the super-hero genre of the era, so I'll grant this little footnote venture a 6 on my 10-point scale.  I do have access to other stories in the series, though, so we'll revisit the Secret Six in the future.

At the risk of sounding immodest, no one does the Silver Age of DC comics better, so if you'd like more, please join us again in approximately two weeks for the next installment.  If you've got questions, comments or requests, shoot me a line at:  professor_the@hotmail.com.

Until next time…

Long live the Silver Age!

© 2000-2007 by B.D.S.

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