Q: Who doesn't love a juicy secret?
A: The person it's about.
The latest offering from the team behind Red Mass For Mars is an espionage thriller set in the world of private security firms. For the past decade companies like Blackwater have been the popular subject for the ire of the people. The world has discovered the fallacies and shady practices of this newly birthed industry and, with huge money behind it, there doesn't seem much we can do about it.
Jonathan Hickman begins the spy epic with a violent scene involving impromptu dentistry and a stolen password. This leads up to the title page which reads, "One: Teeth, With Which to Eat" atop a picture of clean white chompers. It's a curious line, one that doesn't make sense until the very last page of this premiere issue, and nods to the hazy, clandestine story the creative team is trying to weave.
The wait for that final page reveal is a long, dialogue-infused ride that isn't hard to get through, but a little difficult to absorb. Surprisingly, despite the abundance of word balloons the issue is light on exposition, which is a relief because exposition-heavy first issues typically indicate bad writing. Rather, the story drives us right into the inner heart of private security firms through the vehicle of Grant Miller, a long-time employee of Steadfast Security Holdings. Through his interactions we find out enough about Miller to gather he is sagacious, astute and capable, even if what he does is still kind of ambiguous. The issue is dense, despite not a whole lot happening, and sifting through the names and facts comes close to a chore and requires at least one careful reread.
The unifying factor of the book is its look. Immediately, Secret captures the reader in its dual tone, pseudo noir-ish world. It's a visual experience as much as it is as narrative one. Michael Garland's choice to go somewhat avant-garde with the coloring elevates the comic and creates an atmosphere that Hickman's script didn't, or still has yet to, create. Bodenheim's pencils depict brutish people in a harsh world — everyone in this comic looks like they could kick your ass or buy your life and tear you down. Hell, I wouldn't even fuck with the law firm executive who gets his face beat and molar extracted. The backdrop of the Washington D.C. area gives the story a "high stakes" aura, creating the impression that the players are top talent, and we're watching the best at work.
I came into Secret #1 knowing nothing except the creative team and that it would involve teeth. At the end, I'm completely unaware of what the grand secret is, where it originates, what it's about or who knows it. A little research tells me this is probably, maybe, about the United States and Russia, which is a bit similar to what's going on in the first issue. We all know Hickman loves to pull the long game, and I'm all for it, but other than the word "Kodiac" I'm salivating for something more.
Secret #1 is a solid debut. Nothing extraordinary, and still without a firm direction, but bold and gritty enough to stick out in the current market. I look for the co-creators to improve on a commendable start, and hopefully when, and if, they get to the meat of this story I'll be there with them.
Jamil Scalese is just like you — an avid comics reader and lover of sequential art. Residing in Pittsburgh, PA, he is an unapologetic Deadpool fan, devotee of the Food Network and proud member of Steelers Nation. Check out his original, ongoing webcomic And Then There Were Zombies and follow his subpar tweeting at @jamilscalese.