There are a few kinds of movies I’m an absolute sucker for – stories about garage bands making it big, any film set at a newspaper/television news program and, most especially, heist/espionage movies. From the intense planning to the inevitable adaptation under pressure to the gadgetry, every frame of these films thrills me.
So, an espionage book from Jonathan Hickman, one of my favorite writers, would seem right up my alley. After the cut, see whether or not this is so. This is a spoiler-free review, so read one without fear of having anything ruined for you.
Written by Jonathan Hickman
Illustrated by Ryan Bodenheim
“TEETH, WITH WHICH TO EAT” A man gets shot in London, a law firm gets broken into in Washington, an accountant gives away the password to his computer, and something put to sleep 20 years ago awakens. What is the unsavory relationship all these things share, and how could it bring down two of the largest governments in the history of the world?
I know that comics are a medium and not a genre; that is to say, there isn’t just one kind of comics. There are superhero stories, war books, fantasy, romance, etc. But that doesn’t mean that all genres work equally well on each medium. And, sadly, I think that is the case with “Secret.” This is a well written, nicely drawn, sort of boring comic.
The book has three key parts: Mr. Dunn being attacked, the Steadfast Security enhanced package pitch, and the peek behind the curtain at Steadfast. In the first act, Dunn is in the financial industry, and is attacked in his Washington, DC home and made to give up the password to his computer and, presumably, lots of sensitive information about his clients. In the second act, Steadfast Security pitches a law firm on their “enhanced security package” by demonstrating just how not protected their information currently is. Finally, in the third act, we see the company a little more clearly, based on one scene in London and one in their main offices.
All of these pieces work well; both as separate scenes as well as in the issue format, but all of them also feel pretty by the numbers. How many times have we seen a company hacked only to hire the hacker to do security? That is the late 20th century/early 21st century version of the classic “kid gets caught trying to steal from the crime boss/crime boss takes kid under his wing” story. Even the twist at the end of the book is pretty clearly telegraphed.
As a fan of Hickman’s, I am hopeful that the story will pick up and distinguish itself sooner than later and, hopefully, prove my doubting wrong. But right now, all the snappy dialogue in the world can’t make up for the fact that this story is familiar, and not in a good way.
The art, by Ryan Bodenheim, is the book’s strong suit. Bodenheim’s attention to detail is stunning; from the wrinkles in Dunn’s linen pajamas, to the security guard doing Sudoku, to the veins on the leaves on the National Mall, every panel is packed with realism and style. There is a truly cinematic quality to Bodenheim’s work, and he clearly has a clear vision for the book. He and Hickman make a good team (they have previously done “Red Mass for Mars” together) precisely because of their shared sense of specificity.
One of Hickman’s greatest qualities is his ability to build worlds through his writing, and here he is more or less working in a very simple world which, while a nice change of pace, ultimately leaves me a little unsatisfied. Even though the story spans two continents, deals with million dollar secrets, and has action, nothing feels particularly profound. All the characters so far are stereotypes — the steel-willed security worker, the cowardly money man, the shifty lawyer, the former government worker going rogue — they all feel stale.
This is not to say that the book doesn’t have potential — it does. There have been, and continue to be, lots of crime books that work, but with most of the crime books out there, the tone set out for is one easier to replicate than what Bodenheim and Hickman are setting out for here. The film that keeps being my reference point is the great Robert Redford vehicle Sneakers. Sneakers had clever dialogue, lots of tension, superb performances, and a plot that kept you on the edge of your seat for over 2 hours. So far, “Secret” hasn’t given too many meaty roles, too much tension, or a plot that is easy to identify. It feels like three loosely connected vignettes, which all come together at the end in a not too exciting way.Continued below
I wanted to like this book a lot more than I did — and I hope that I can look back on issue #1 a few months down the line and see the beginning of a lot of great things. I hope Hickman continues to pull on the threads found here, and I hope what unravels is something more interesting than what I’m seeing so far.
Final Verdict: 6.1 — Browse, but give #2 a try next month.