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Art by: Ilias Kyriazis
Published by: Image Comics
“Secret Identities #1” opens with an action scene that could just as easily have been ripped from the pages of one of DC or Marvel’s big team books. The brawling heroes exchange witty repartee during a heated battle with a power-mad villain hell-bent on destruction all the while everyone is dressed in colorful costumes that clearly explain their namesake. Writers Jay Faerber and Brian Joines thread territory that has been done literally thousands of times before but they do it without the benefit of having characters we already know and love embedded into the story. But that doesn’t spell doom for the series, while it’s difficult, series like Invincible have thrived as creator-owned superhero narratives but the list is small and must be, by definition, spectacular to survive. Unfortunately for Secret Identities there is very little of the special, secret sauce in this debut issue to warrant raising much of an eyebrow.
At first it seems like this series is going to settle into an examination of the superhero, some form of deconstruction, albeit one that relies far too heavily on the content that it should be analyzing at that. That isn’t the direction Faerber and Joines intend however, as is obvious as one delves deeper into the issue and as Joines spells out in the introduction issue essay. So it seems that we’re being asked to assess Secret Identities based on its own merits, which is where it fails.
Venturing into the waters of the superhero genre without well-known characters is difficult, it’s doubly difficult if you’re not seeking to produce a work that is rich in parody and embellishment. For all intents and purposes “Secret Identities #1” presents a tale that shoots straight as an arrow and reads like a bland title from a defunct ‘60’s publisher looking to ride Marvel’s coattails.
For example, the series takes its title from a core concept around superheroes: the secret identity. It’s an easy tension builder when a villain stands poised over Batman’s unconscious form with his cowl in their hand. But that scene can only create tension if we care about Batman in the first place. This series asks us to invest too much into characters that we have no connection to and who are not written with the incredible skill necessary to build a bond with the reader after only one issue. Do we really care about these characters? Does their de-masking mean even remotely as much as Peter Parker pulling off his mask at the start of Civil War? Unfortunately, Faerber and Joines go a step too far and ask us to invest in a group of characters whom we barely know.
Likewise, the final page doesn’t present a compelling reason to continue reading the series because it doesn’t offer us something that we haven’t seen before without innovating or reinvigorating the core idea. There’s a kernel of potential in this debut issue but it’s not embraced and thrust into the forefront of that narrative and thus is likely to be easily dismissed.
Ilias Kyriazis is a skilled artist but the book doesn’t give him much room to succeed. Visually “Secret Identities #1” is lackluster and average, which follows the trend that has been established already. There is a deadpan seriousness to the narrative that ends up creeping into the artwork giving it a stale, stiff look that sucks the life out of the book. The opening action scene is generally well done but after that characters look bored or awkward and as a result become instantly uninteresting. “Secret Identities #1” begs to be compared to the major team books of Marvel and DC, even Valiant and Image, and it really doesn’t differentiate itself in any meaningful way.
I found the character designs to be well done, it’s pretty much impossible not to borrow wholesale from a previous design these days and Kyriazis makes their abilities and costumes identifiable and recognizable.
“Secret Identities #1” comes off as a comic that might have worked a lot better about 10 years ago. The creator-owned space has been used to break down superhero characters and concepts, to amazing effect, and this title doesn’t fit in well with that illustrious crowd. The visuals don’t breathe extra life into the dull characters and bland script and ultimately we’re left with a half-baked series that doesn’t do any one thing particularly well. It isn’t an affront to all things great about superhero comics, but it is definitely below average in quality. The question that “Secret Identities #1” really begs is whether you have any reason to care about the secret identity of any of the characters found therein, and for my part at least, the answer is “no”.
“Secret Identities #1” earns 5.5/10