“Chapter One: Teeth With Which to Eat”
Writer: Jonathan Hickman
Artist: Ryan Bodenheim
Colors: Michael Garland
Letters: Rus Wooton
Publisher: Image Comics
Price: $3.50 US
When I saw this comic book on the most recent new releases list a few days ago, I had no idea what it was. But as soon as I saw Jonathan Hickman’s name attached to it, I knew I wanted it. Hickman’s creator-owned work is so strong, I told the manager at my local comic shop to add any Hickman-penned Image title to my pull list. I won’t miss any future projects should they fly under my radar again. Secret marks a bit of departure for Hickman, at least in terms of subject matter. I normally associate him with meticulously crafted science-fiction stories (Red Wing) or stories with a strong focus on social commentary (The Nightly News). With Secret, he offers up a story of intrigue. It boasts a convincing and intense tone. It feels a bit like The Firm meets Mission Impossible (and no, I didn’t pick two Tom Cruise flicks for the comparison on purpose). Maybe what’s most interesting about the first issue of this limited series is there are no good guys to be found. All of the characters seem corrupt or dangerous in some way, but their conflicting (and for some, unknown) motives are what create the drama.
An accountant to some of the most powerful and influential men in Washington, D.C., finds himself being tortured by a masked man who requires something from him. When the intruder leaves his home, the accountant finds his ordeal is far from over, as his attacker has him under his thumb. Desperate for help, a colleague in the legal community puts him in contact with a representative of a specialist security firm, unlike any other on the planet. Steadfast Security Holdings is made up of top experts, willing to go to any lengths to ensure a client’s security — be it personal, digital or professional. But the top-secret security outfit has another agenda of which its clients are completely unaware…
Hickman reunites with Red Mass for Mars artist Ryan Bodenheim, and his style works well with the corporate-espionage/intrigue riff at play in this story. He uses thick, bold lines to bring these intense characters to life. Despite the tone of the opening, there’s really little physical or action-oriented to be found in this story, but the artist nevertheless manages to maintain a tense, engrossing atmosphere and look throughout the issue. I also thoroughly appreciated the uncredited cover image. Given Hickman’s strength when it comes to design (and the fact he handles the design and symbology of so many covers for his comics), I assume he’s responsible for this mixed-media image. It’s incredibly striking. While it can be construed as misleading (as it initially conveys something of a supernatural tone for the story), it’s eye-catching and symbolically reflective of the story within and the title for this first chapter. I also appreciated something going on along the borders of the art on a key page. Sharp, diagonal lines cut across the edge of the panels. It looks like broken glass, reflecting how the life of the victimized character in the scene is beginning to shatter.
The most interesting thing about the art for this comic book is the coloring job. Color is used to distinguish characters, scenes and atmosphere. The ruthless intruder in the opening scene is bathed in red, and it conveys the danger he represents and the malevolence he shows toward his target. It’s interesting to note that as the victim bleeds, he comes to enveloped in red, but he’s not drenched in blood. He’s symbolically been shunted into his tormentor’s world. I also can’t help but notice potential connection between the red “hood” the intruder wears in that scene and the title given to this opening chapter of the series. Elsewhere in the issue, the accountant and his lawyer are presented in muted greens, and the coloring conveys the corrupt, putrid nature of their greedy souls. Warm yellows and oranges convey the confidence and skill of the Steadfast crew. Each scene is dominated by a single color, and it’s a technique that only works in the medium of comics. It’s so effective and integral to the mood throughout the book, I figure the method must’ve been used at Hickman’s direction in the original script.
Hickman has only provided us with the most superficial glimpses inside the heads of these characters, but what he’s provided just whets the reader’s thirst for more information. This first issue essentially offers up a mystery. The question isn’t “whodunnit?” so much as “whydunnit?” We’re left in the dark as to Steadfast’s motivations and operations, and I can’t wait to find out more. The accountant and lawyers are clearly driven by greed and other base desires, so I can’t help but think we’re going to learn justice, greed or some kind of twisted social conscience drives the Steadfast characters. It could be something much darker as well, and I suspect the fun of the series will stem more from learning about these characters even more than watching them skilfully manipulate and investigate in convincing yet incredible ways. 9/10
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