Writer: Eric Heisserer
Artist: Raul Allen
When notable authors and creators from other mediums dabble in the world of comics there is automatic intrigue. For one it shows how far reaching the medium of comics are and it hopefully will lead to some quality work. Eric Heisserer may not have the name recognition of someone like Kevin Smith but he is hot on the heels of getting nominated for an Academy Award due to writing one of the best movies of 2016 in Arrival. On a pure optics standpoint, it is great for Variant to show they are just as capable of landing talented writers as the big two of the comic industry. Of course, the question is does his talent follow him to the world of comics?
One issue into Secret Weapons and the answer is a defiant yes. Secret Weapons #1 does what good writing should do by giving you key characters to care about and a concise refreshing premise that gives you plenty to invest into. Eric Heisserer’s script is very economical in the way it lays out its plot without feeling full of generic exposition. More focus was on the main characters showing us who they are and what they are all about. As well as giving us an anonymous threat that is hiding in the shadows for reasons yet to be determined.
Looking at the way we are introduced to Nicole Finch and Owen Cho we can see the best example of Heisserer’s writing. Nicole is this endearing character that becomes likable the moment we meet her. Her pleasant demeanor is infectious throughout. You would think someone who went through hell to discover her powers would have dourer mood when all they can do is talk to birds. Instead she has made the best out of it by forming some key friendships with pigeons, using their waste to target some mean jerks, and of course fending off some monstrous crazy robot that is trying to kill her.
The point behind Secret Weapons is that there was this secret team of psiots that were basically hidden away because their powers were pretty much useless. While other psiosts had the power to level cities they could do things like make a stick glow. For those that enjoyed Grant Morrison’s run on the New X-Men, there are certainly similarities with how he approached the vast levels of the mutant genome. Heisserer’s characters though are not as downright crazy as some of what Morrison put together.
Owen Cho, for instance, is just a normal teenager who cannot control his ability to conjure up random objects. He has a knack for conjuring the wrong item in inopportune times. That ability does not seem as useless as the others. Kang the Conqueror has been fighting off the Avengers with a similar skill for decades. Owen’s inability to control it though is what has landed him on the reject list. It is also a great writing trick as he becomes part deus ex machina, part go to for a cheap gag. Be warned that joke can get old very quick if he runs it into the ground too soon.
Considering Eric Heisserer is an outside name it is somewhat surprising he was given a book that takes place right in the middle of the Valiant universe. Valiant has books that exist on their own like Britannia that have nothing to do with any other Valiant series past, present, or future. Heisserer’s name will surely bring in new readers who will be picking up their first ever Valiant book. So it is a bold move to have this take place in the general universe. With that, there may be some key elements that are not fully clear for brand new readers. Characters like Livewire and Toyo Harada who have been featured heavily in past Valiant books play a major role so far with series. If the word psiots is foreign to you may wonder what exactly it means to be one, and why they at one time went to war.
Not that you necessarily need all those pieces to comprehend what’s going on. The key pieces are explained, and in a way, this may even play better to those that are unfamiliar with some of those pieces. You will be in the same place as some of the main characters that know nothing about Livewire either. Heisserer’s is able to placate all sides of the comic book fandom by making a book that is part of continuity but not reliant on it.
Raul Allen also needs major credit as his style is what makes much of this storytelling work. Those who enjoy art by David Aja will see some key similarities in how Allen draws his books. Similar to Aja he takes the standard nine-panel grid and divides it down even further giving you pages chalk full of panels. That paired with the limited dialog leads to a book that is faced paced and a breeze to read. Allen will split up conversations so each piece exists in its own panel, but when big action beats occur that happen in one frame. Little contrasts like that made the book stand out.
Secret Weapons #1 keeps it simple and never attempts to set the world on fire by doing too much too soon. Instead, Eric Heisserer and Raul Allen do what good comics should and tell a great story with tremendous potential. If you are going into this book thinking you will be reading the comic book version of Arrival you will be sorely disappointed. This shares very little in common with that film, nor should it as creators should not be limited to what’s familiar. If you ever had an interest in Variant comics this works as the perfect jumping on point.