One of my all-time favorite comic book series is Gail Simone’s pre-New 52 Secret Six. It’s the story of a team of villains—occasionally drifting into anti-hero territory—who generally work as mercenaries, taking on messy jobs that usually result in a high body count. They become a makeshift family who often find themselves fighting other bad guys and occasionally fighting each other.
Simone excels at writing stories and characters that are dark, funny, violent, perverse, sometimes operatic, but with a strong streak of humanity to keep the reader invested. It’s clear that she loves the characters, even the horrible ones. Maybe especially the horrible ones. Secret Six is a prime example of this; Simone’s run on Birds of Prey actually makes a great light-side companion piece, using a similar approach with a team of heroes. The two series had a crossover one time, and it was delightful.
The modern incarnation of Secret Six began with the 2005 Villains United miniseries which was followed by a Secret Six limited series, then eventually an ongoing series that lasted until the DC Universe was rebooted for the New 52 (I am enjoying the current second volume, set in the New 52 universe, but it’s only seven issues in so it’s a bit early to declare it an all-time favorite). Secret Six has always been more of a cult favorite rather than a big, mainstream hit, and that makes sense. By its nature, it’s not going to be everyone’s cup of tea. But like most cult faves, it’s the kind of thing that has a very strong appeal for certain people who encounter it with that feeling of, “Yes, this was made just for me.” I am one of those special, terrible people. I’ll never get tired of the sweetly paternal relationship Bane has with Scandal Savage, Deadshot’s affected apathy, Rag Doll’s turbo-creepiness, or Catman’s apparent allergy to wearing shirts.
The team’s pre-New 52 mainstays include the aforementioned Catman, Deadshot, Scandal Savage, and Rag Doll. Hey, that’s only four characters! That’s right, because team members have a tendency to leave the group, often via spectacular death. The number of team members usually settles in at around six, but the exact number varies. Sometimes there are five, and sometimes extra people get caught up in the chaos so you have eight or nine people running around in the mayhem.
And that’s what made me associate the Six with this dip. The dip has a consistent base that allows for a lot of variations. It’s a perfect party food that can support between five and nine layers, just like our Secret Six team. It can be as spicy or mild as you like. Recipes for this type of dip tend to stick to vaguely Tex-Mex ingredients, examples of which I have listed below, but you can apply the same principles to other styles of food. For instance: hummus, olive oil drizzle, chopped tomatoes, chopped cucumbers, crumbled feta, and Kalamata olives. Maybe add a sprinkle of paprika for extra color!
While members of the Secret Six tend to be cool with both meat and murder, you can make a vegetarian version of the dip that leaves out the meat and uses vegetarian refried beans. You can even go vegan if you drop the cheese and sour cream and use more fresh veggies and/or vegan cheeses. But in general, this dip isn’t health food, and it’s not something you serve on fine china. If you use a plate at all, it’s probably made of paper, and you eat with your hands. But it’s delicious and satisfying and only a little bit bad for you, just like reading Secret Six.
Secret Six Layer Dip
- 1 pound ground beef or turkey
- taco seasoning
- 12 oz. beef broth or 8 oz. water
- 15-oz. can refried beans
- about half of a 10-oz. can diced tomatoes and chiles (like Ro*tel brand), partially drained
- taco sauce
- sour cream
- shredded cheese (like cheddar or a 4-cheese Mexican blend)
- black olives, sliced
- tortilla chips
This is the ingredient list I used for this batch, but you can use whatever you like and go for as many layers as you want. Here are more ingredients commonly found in dips of this type, but if you want to get wild and throw in a layer of gummy worms, it will be super weird but technically within the realm of possibility. You can say they represent Ragdoll’s hair or something.
- Shredded or fajita-style chicken
- Avocado or guacamole
- Chopped tomatoes or chunky salsa or pico de gallo
- Green onions
- Chile con queso
- Shredded lettuce
- Chopped green chiles
- Corn kernels tossed with a bit of lime juice and chili powder
Brown the ground beef and drain the grease. Season the meat however you prefer. I used a ready-made packet of taco seasoning and 12 ounces of beef broth for the liquid instead of the cup of water suggested on the package directions. This allowed me to simmer the beef gently for a longer time as the liquid reduced, which makes the texture of the beef finer. That’s good when you’re spreading it as a dip layer and eating it on tortilla chips.
You could make your own refried beans from scratch, but when you’re piling on a bunch of layers and chowing down, you might as well go for the canned refried beans. I added the chopped tomatoes and chiles with a little bit of the juice to the beans before I heated them up, which adds flavor and makes the beans a little thinner and easier to dip.
The beans make a good base layer, so spread the beans in the bottom of your serving dish. That’s Layer #1. Top that with Layer #2, a drizzle of taco sauce.
Then add Layer #3, the taco meat, spreading it to cover the whole surface. Layer #4 is sour cream, so spread a thin layer over the meat.
The sour cream helps keep Layer #5, the shredded cheese, in place. Last, top it off with Layer #6, the black olives.
Serve at room temperature (or freshly prepared with the beans and beef still warm) with tortilla chips. It’s best to provide spoons so your guests can spread the dip on chips more easily.