Eric Heisserer, the writer of last year’s Oscar-nominated Arrival and the man chosen to help shepherd Valiant Entertainment's characters to the big screen over the next few years, returns to comics this week with a comic that feels clean, clear and assured. Secret Weapons takes the wreckage of past Valiant storylines and gives them a fresh life which, paired with the unclipped talent of artist Raul Allen, helps this debut issue soar off into the skies of Oklahoma City.
The series looks at more of the forgotten "psiot" children left to fend for themselves after Toyo Harada’s program crashed and burned at the end of the first Harbringer series. With four young survivors being hunted and chased (with only their street-smarts and largely useless powers to hand), it falls to relative superhero Livewire to step up and try to protect them. It may be a simple premise, but the creative team are able to siphon out the rest of the Valiant Universe and really hone in on their cast of new characters -- with the result being a tense, exciting, and refreshing take on the various authoritarian dystopias which have risen through Valiant over the years.
After several years of being part of a team or stood just off center, we finally get to see Livewire take hold of a series as a spotlighted character, and Heisserer is able to give her a voice of experience which sits authoritatively through the rest of the issue. By surrounding her by inexperienced and worried children, the series is able by default to make her the voice of reason and a protective presence who lifts up the somewhat rough circumstances of the story. She stands out as an engaging and optimistic personality, and somebody the reader is quickly able to engage with and support.
The children themselves also come across as a likeable bunch, resisting the sly urge of stereotype through smart character design from Allen and colorist Patricia Martin. Allen has managed to spend his career at Valiant shifting his style around seemingly at whim and here he plays into an approach which consciously evokes the Allreds. The characters seem refreshingly tired as they go about their daily survival, with their facial expressions and body language offering a lived-in perspective which looks down at the regular lives of civilians from way up high in the rafters of Oklahoma's skyline.
The main stumbling block for the first issue comes from the lettering, which is poor throughout and at times shocking for a mainstream comic book issue. The choice of font looks computerized and amateurish, and at some points the words barely fit into the balloons they’re allocated to, detracting from the fresh and authentic feel of the artwork and coloring. Allen will experiment wherever he has the chance with his layouts, but the lettering can’t keep up with him, doing a huge disservice to the storytelling and the coherency of the narrative on a page-by-page basis.
A more naturalistic approach would have served the narrative far better, as this feels like a story which just happens to take place in the Valiant Universe, as opposed to being defined or beholden to it. There’s a sense of assurance and a firmness in the pacing which convinces, and makes it clear that Heisserer not only knows exactly what he’s doing -- but that he also knows just where he’s taking the reader. On the basis of this confident and impressive first issue, it’s going to be somewhere interesting.