Written By Jonathan Hickman
Art By Ryan Bodenheim & Michael Garland
Published By Image Comics
Release Date: August 28, 2013
After a long wait, Secret, Jonathan Hickman’s creator-owned take on the modern spy genre has returned for a third issue. Secret #2 was released in June 2012 and over the past fourteen months a lot has happened in the career of Jonathan Hickman. His run on the Fantastic Four books ended, he took over the two flagship Avengers titles, and has had his name on two of Marvel’s top selling company wide events. On top of his for-hire work load, Hickman has also been able to launch a successful and critical smash hit in East of West, while consistently turning out issues of Manhattan Projects. After the first two issues of Secret were released to critical acclaim, the book seemingly disappeared and this third issue has been whispered under the same breath as Nonplayer #2, as a book that was eagerly anticipated, but nobody counted ever being released. It was eventually revealed that Ryan Bodenheim had health issues that prevented him from working, but it looks as if things are back on track with the book scheduled for release monthly through issue #5. After such a long wait between issues, was the return of Secret worth the wait? In short, yes, it most definitely was.
In a somewhat jarring, but unsurprising way, Secret #3 picks up right where the second issue left off with no recap whatsoever. While I wasn’t surprised that Hickman just picked up the story where he left it, I was surprised that there was no recap page or even a special reprint release of the first two issues being released side by side with this issue. For all of the new fans that Hickman has made in the past year — especially those who love his other creator owned works — the only way to get caught up on the story is to hope that their comic book store still has copies of an indie title that came out over a year ago. For those of you that own the previous issues, you will want to pull them out and read them again before diving into this issue.
Secret is a very deliberate book. To call it slow would be unfair, as a lot does happen from issue to issue, but Hickman his cards close to his vest to maintain an aura of secrecy that keeps us guessing as to the true nature of the professional problems our characters face. A common statement about the book has been that we don’t know what exactly is going on, but what is on the page is awesome. A less talented writer wouldn’t be able to pull this off, but Hickman is able to string the reader along slowly because he provides strong character work. In these early issues, we are discovering far more about our characters than we are about the mysterious plot, but the characters inform the story just enough to keep readers engaged.
This issue begins four years ago as Grant and Thomas are on an assignment for Steadfast Security. This scene is meant to show that Grant and Thomas were as close as was established last issue — while allso playing off the scene where Ronnie asks Grant to deliver divorce papers to Thomas without knowing that Thomas had been killed already. We are then introduced to Donna, Thomas’ wife, as she joins the guys and Ronnie (known as Veronica at this time) for lunch. This is a beautifully crafted scene as the only color in the few pages were Donna’s red dress and lipstick. We are then brought back to the present at Thomas’ funeral in a scene devoid of color. It is here where Donna reveals a key piece of evidence that Grant was not informed of, and when Grant confronts Mr. Steadman, he is told to stay out of it. From here we have Grant’s recently paroled brother Marcus staking out Steadman and James, Grant going on a recruiting trip, and a return to the single word that Thomas apparently died over, “Kodiak.”
Secret is Hickman’s most realistic book yet. The stakes aren’t universe threatening and the story takes place in the real world. It is a look into the dark underbelly of the world of corporate espionage, corruption, private security firms and how they all tie together. This results in a book very dark in tone. In many ways, I am reminded of the show Rubicon that ran on AMC for one season a few years back. There are a lot of secrets, a lot of mysteries, a lot of jockeying for position among the cast, and not a lot of good-hearted characters to root for. You know that Hickman is setting up for a big payoff with all the pieces he has set up on the board, but they have yet to be put together for the reader.
The tone of the story is very important to the success of the series as a whole so far, and artist Ryan Bodenheim plays a huge role in executing the tone that Hickman is aiming for. There is a very gritty feel to the art without being too dark. This is apparent from the first panel of the issue with a shot of a urinal in a men’s restroom. On the other hand, the art can also look quite elegant while staying down to earth, as in the lunch scene mentioned above. The two biggest strengths of the art are Bodenheim’s ability to draw expressive faces, and the coloring of Michael Garland. In a book that has a few action scenes sprinkled in with a lot of talking heads, the ability to have the characters express their emotions through their faces is very important. In this issue specifically, there is only one panel of action, and yet the art is able to convey emotion wonderfully. Along with the emotion filled characters, the coloring helps set the mood and is very unique. Each scene has its own color, and very rarely are more than one color used in a scene. The rare exception is the color red. As mentioned before, the scene where Thomas and Donna are introduced, everything with the exception of Donna’s red dress and lipstick are a grey color. This is used to great effect with the color red. It allows specific items to stand out on a page, and most of the time throughout the first three issues it is used to help blood stand apart from everything else. Nothing else is very bright and very subdued tints of grey, purple, yellow and orange are used in different scenes of the issue.
It might have taken forever, but Secret is back, and hasn’t missed a beat. I am a little bit worried that this issue won’t be judged by readers on its own merit as a single issue, but rather judged as a book that is over a year late. So for those readers expecting the issue to be something beyond what we got from the first two issues because of the delay they will be sorely disappointed. There is nothing extra, and as I mentioned, not a hint of even a recap page. All we are left with is a great third issue to what has been a great series from one of the best writers in the industry today. We have a spy story that is deliberately being revealed with a tone and pace that is less James Bond and more Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. For those of you that enjoyed the first two issues, you should be picking up this issue without a doubt. If you happened to miss out the first time around, have recently discovered Hickman through his Marvel work or books like East of West, or just want something different than what is normally found on the racks, then it is well worth picking up all three issues from your LCS this week.
The Verdict: 9.5/10