There are few things as quintessential to American comic books as the superhero team. From the Justice League of America and the Avengers, to the X-Men and the New Teen Titans, to the Authority and the Doom Patrol, the dynamics of teams of superpowered individuals have been explored through countless iterations, yet it still stands as one of the most appealing forms of superhero storytelling.
Valiant has been building team units from their stable of characters to great success in recent years, and the newest entry, Secret Weapons, shows a whole lot of promise even as it fails on a few crucial fronts.
Written by Academy Award-nominated screenwriter Eric Heisserer (Arrival), with art by Harvey Award-nominee Raúl Allén (Wrath of the Eternal Warrior), along with Patricia Martín, Secret Weapons is a reboot of a 21 issue series from 1993 to 1995. Loosely adapting that property, this version follows superpowered “Psiot” Amanda McKee/“Livewire” and a team of young rejects from the Harbinger Foundation who are being hunted by Rex-0, an alien monster who is able to steal their abilities by bathing in their blood.
The biggest problem with this issue is only apparent if you are not familiar with Valiant stories or properties, but it’s a glaring one for new or lapsed readers; there is almost no explanation for what’s occurring. It does little to fill you in on the worldbuilding elements it relies on from previous Valiant series, name dropping Unity, Psiots, without giving even a cursory definition or explanation of what these things are. A new reader can glean from the context that Unity is a team and Psiots have powers, but that’s all. In the case of Unity, it makes even less sense, as Unity itself doesn’t matter to the story in the slightest, but also would have taken all but a few words in one additional narration caption to explain. Anyone who studies writing knows that exposition can weigh down a story, but no exposition will undoubtedly leave readers lost for no good reason.
However, once Heisserer leaves the history behind and begins the character work and plot progression, the story becomes easy to follow and enjoyable. New characters are introduced quickly and efficiently, though to varying success. While Nicole Finch is a bit cliched, Owen Cho’s inventive power set, and its seemingly awkward ineffectiveness, is a highlight of the issue.
Other than Owen Cho’s unfortunate super-ability, the strongest element is the art. Allén’s style is reminiscent of loose artists like Nick Pitarra or Ramon Villalobos, but just a tinge more tightly rendered in a way that makes the characters less distorted and more realistic looking. Paired with precise geometric background design and an almost garish, high-contrast color scheme, the overall effect is one that perfectly compliments the kind of mundane quirkiness the book is going for, while still being dynamic and energetic though both moody, plot heavy sequences and fast paced action.
There is one art issue that, for some, could be viewed as a nitpick, but really is a big detraction for some others. There is something off about the word balloons in the issue. The alignment of the text is wrong, not centered properly or not given enough space by the word balloon, plus the font seems too mechanical, and doesn’t fit the book. Having the art team do the lettering may save Valiant on production cost, but it’s not worth it, as it gives an impression of lack of polish on what is otherwise a beautifully made book.
Fumbles aside, this is a strong start, carving out a quirky niche that marries elements of Fraction’s Hawkeye, Morrison’s New X-Men and BKV’s Runaways, as well as some good old classic horror, to create something unique among Valiant’s line and comics in general right now. Plus, with hints that it will have big effects on Valiant down the line, this is definitely a must-read for Valiant fans. 8/10