12 August, 2014


Not Quite Like Pulling Teeth
Thoughts on Secret (2014).

Secret is one of those books I skipped reading in issues because I figured I was just going to get it in the trades. Manhattan Projects is one of the best books I've read in a long while (as far as super-science books go, I think Nowhere Men just barely edges it out). Considering the book's subject mattr, in addition to its pedigree, it seemed like a slam dunk. Having now finished it, having done some measure of meditation on the book, I kind of wish I had only bought the first issue instead.

And I am not entirely disappointed. Secret is a fine book. Perfectly fine, even. While I still really like Jonathan Hickman as a writer, this book feels sparse. In that way, it's less Manhattan Projects than it is Red Wing. It's an odd thing to accuse a Hickman book of being insubstantial. Overall it feels like a story that was sitting in Hickman's drawer for a couple of years until he became Mr. Crossover at Marvel. Good for him if he's got that kind of heat behind him. There's certainly less deserving creators out there and it's a hard enough trade, the comic's game, even within the halls of the Big Two.

On that same note Secret is fairly vapid. It isn't that it's dumb. I've read dumber books than Secret that don't move as quickly and as viciously as it does. The Programme is a book that is both dumb and slow. As a dressed-up genre book, it's doing something right. It's violent. It's mean. It's got twists. And that's about it.

When I approach some of the book's deeper meaning, I don't come away looking for more answers. I come away slightly more confused, as if the answer isn't even worth knowing. The artistic style leaps to mind.

The concept behind Michael Garland's color palette is my main stumbling block. In the book, it leaps from black and white to monochrome to sepia, with the odd splash of blood here and there. Think a collision of Sin City, Casanova, and, for flavor, the opening of The Big Red One.

Is it symbolic? Is it tonal? Is it just quirky? Am I an idiot? If so, why? Or is it just there as chaff to distract us all from the fact that there's basically nothing beneath the surface of this book? At least when Hickman did it (and I'm sure it was his idea, it almost has to be his idea) in Manhattan Projects there is a clear connection to either a character or a timeline. It works in conjunction with Nick Pitarra's art (also Jordie Bellaire, the fairy queen of coloring works on the book, which doesn't hurt). Here. . . I don't know it's just weird.

Other than that, the art is excellent.  Ryan Bodenheim does a fine job of differentiating characters and generally making Secret's world of office blocks and cubicles into something visually arresting. Or at least as visually arresting as those things can be. I'd be interested to see what Bodenheim does in the future and what he's done in the past. Even if this isn't the perfect project, his art carries the story along nicely. Then again, it'd have been nice to see some color thrown in there somewhere.

It's frustrating to not know how dumb or how smart it is. It's like Lost. Or The Leftovers. Is it me? Is it this dumb book? Both, maybe? Are you leaving us a mystery to solve or did you just plain forget to fill out the details? With Manhattan Projects there is no such doubt. And, hell, it isn't Hickman's experiment on SHIELD, whatever the hell that was supposed to be.

But it's Jonathan Hickman making an industrial espionage book with a fairly talented artist and I am perfectly okay with that.  It's also only $9.99, so who the hell am I to complain? Image drives a hard bargain. Just read Manhatattan Projects or Nowhere Men and let's call this whole thing a wash, okay? Or maybe Zero if you want some crazed ultraviolence. Or East of West 

Hey, the world is your fucking oyster, okay? Go out there and read something.

James Kislingbury is a writer, podcaster, and an enemy of mankind. You can follow him on twitter.