Review: Spy Seal #1. The Corten Steel Phoenix
Writing, Colouring, Lettering and Art: Rich Tommaso
Publisher: Image Comics
With the latest in anthropomorphic antics as well as the latest spy romp, Spy Seal hits both boxes in one go. With regards to the latter, the shelves have had something of a surge in espionage titles such as the remastering of the 007 franchise, and Ice Station Zebra to name but two. And with the genre comes something of a sixties cool that carries the swinging, hip culture into the hands of the reader, automatically setting a style precedent before even a page is read. As for anthropomorphic titles, these tend to have either the effect of lightening the mood and adding a sense of frisky fun that a human centered story would need to establish first, or the writer will use the animal characters to reach a new level of self imposed reflection that reaches out to the reader in a non judgemental way, such as in Maus or Elephantmen. The question is, has Tommaso nailed it on both accounts, otherwise what was the point?
The story begins in an artist’s loft where our protagonist is deep in conversation with a female companion. The topic of conversation isn’t light, or frisky for that matter, and instead introduces the characters as political animals, aware and full of zeal. We get our first hint at the politic within the issue here, as the comments on class war and socialist ideals will ring true with a section of the readership on both sides of the pond. I guess the British setting could make the content easier to bear for a US audience where positive talk of socialism or communism sends shivers up even the spines of the most diverse publishers. The frames are dialogue heavy at this point and although talk does die down within the following gallery sequences, the dialogue boxes dominate, to an extent. the look of the book has a Daniel Clowes element, maybe due to the shaping and sizes of the dialogue boxes.
When we meet Angora, an over-friendly art-lover (or is she?) we see an intrinsically European approach bed in within the pages; similar to the aforementioned Clowes, the thinner line work has the effect of creating a very poised look to each frame and Tommaso tries to bypass this in order to inject kinesis with the use of ‘double-faces’, where characters look one way then the next. If anything, this highlights the artist’s ability to play around, albeit minimally, with a particularly flat platform. The colouring probably doesn’t allow much room for manoeuvre either , it being very blocked with little shading or blending. The line style does limit this but importantly gives the European look that works very well with anything in a 1960’s vein.
By the end of the opening sequence, we eventually see some signature spy action with a roof-top chase, and it eventually leads to the crux of the plot and opens the door of intrigue to our fish gulping hero. Speaking of fish gulping, Tommaso didn’t play on the animal traits of the characters. It would have been great to see Malcolm being offered a fish platter at the gallery but instead the writing tends to stay reasonably dry, bar a few minor quips, and stays focused on the plot. The plot itself does thicken with more shooting and potentially shady characters to negotiate but Malcolm does so with aplomb, keeping his cool and practising that zeal flashed in the opening.
All in all, it’s an okay read. Yes, it does rely on a cool exterior style with all the sixties fixings, as well as some overly used espionage cliches, but it utilises these reasonably well. Also, I was left with a desire to find out what happens next, which is essential in any book. Was it original? I’d say it is, but not essential. Add issue #1 to you’re pile but don’t rush out and spend your last pennies on it.
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Review written by Arun S.
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