Posted by Don MacPherson on November 26th, 2006
Enigma Cipher #1
Writers: Andrew Cosby & Michael Alan Nelson
Artist: Greg Scott
Colors: Imaginary Friends Studio
Letters: Ed Dukeshire
Cover artist: Jeff Johnson
Editor: Marshall Dillon
Publisher: Boom! Studios
Price: $6.99 US
Boom! Studios seems to focus its energies on publishing specific kinds of comics. There’s the farcical books (Hero Squared, What Were They Thinking) and the strong anthologies (Pirate Tales, Zombie Tales). And then there are the movies on paper. Boom! has published a number of comics that read a lot like movie or TV treatments, and the publisher has provided some solid entertainment in that vein. Among the previous limited series that fit the bill are Tag, X Isle and the superbly diverting Talent. Enigma Cipher is the latest “movie on paper,” and it’s a lot of fun, capturing the same sort of tension, excitement and conspiracy-theory drama as The Pelican Brief. There’s just one problem: the format. By splitting this story into two oversized comics, Boom! Studios missed a great opportunity to publish its first-ever original graphic novel.
A university professor teaching a class on cryptography happens upon an old World War II-era German cipher, a cryptography machine with a near-unbreakable code. He also happened upon an old message created using one of those machines years ago, and he presents the enigma to his students to study, tasking them to try and break the code. Most interested in the assignment and historical curiosity is student Casey Williams, who finds herself on the run after discovering her classmates and teacher have all been killed. Those murders bring a homicide cop into the fray, and Casey’s only hope is to convince him of her wild tale of men in black and coded messages.
Greg Scott has worked for Boom! before (X Isle), and his artwork is rather representative of the publisher’s “house style” for these “movies on paper” projects. Just as Paul Azaceta does on Talent and Kody Chamberlain does on Tag, Scott employs dark, shadowy figures and backdrops to really capture a tense atmosphere. Scott boasts a minimalist style, but he nevertheless captures a strong sense of realism. The darkness of the art sometimes makes it difficult to keep track of characters, notable the interchangeable, faceless henchmen who pursue and hold Casey later in the story.
It’s also unfortunately easy to pick out aspects of the art that are based on photo (or movie) references. For example, the scarred bad guy who interrogates Casey in the latter part of the book seems clearly based on actor Michael (Total Recall, Starship Troopers) Ironside, and the professor’s office space appears to be a clone of a comparable set from Good Will Hunting.
If you’ve seen The Pelican Brief or The Net, you’ll have a pretty good idea of what this story feels like and how it unfolds. One could argue the plot is even formulaic, but it’s a formula that works well and one the creators on this book execute well too. It seems to me, though, that Casey spends a bit too much time running in this first half of the series, and I was disappointed that we never get to see her taking any kind of initiative. She’s forever the damsel in distress, and at the very least, I wanted to see her outsmart her persecutors once or twice.
By dividing this story into two parts and asking $6.99 US a pop, Boom! may be pricing this book out of the reach (or at least interest level) of readers. Now, a single, combined graphic novel, ringing in at 88 or so pages of story at a more affordable price such as $9.99 US would be a different matter and potential get the publisher into the larger bookstore market. I certainly suspect this story would read well in a single sitting and appeal to a wider audience. 6/10