Agents of PACT #1
Writer: Kalman Andrasofszky & Blake Northcott
Penciller/Inker: Federica Manfredi
Colourist: Caroline Nolasco
Letterer: Andrew Thomas
Publisher: Chapterhouse Comics
A review by Billy Seguire
The long-awaited Agents of PACT #1 is the flagbearer for the first wave of Chapterhouse Comics in 2017. Uniting some of the company’s strongest female characters under one title, the squad of supernatural defenders uses Canada’s peacekeeping tradition as a template for ongoing superhero action alongside governmental intrigue. Keeping the mythology of Captain Canuck front and centre, Agents of PACT #1 forges a new path filled with political commentary and character depth that proves the women of the Chapterverse are ready to stand out.
For those who may be unfamiliar, PACT is Canada’s Paranormal Activity Containment Team within the Chapterhouse Comics universe. Directed by former superheroine Manon Deschamps, the agency has been through a shakeup over the course of the last decade. Going from paranormal agency to superhero training facility, there’s a mandate for action in direct opposition to corporate rivals such as Equilibrium. Highly secretive, yet far more open-minded in comparison to some other groups we’ve seen in the Chapterverse, it’s an organization that seeks to reach out to the paranormal with an open hand. As director, Deschamps is determined for her team to right past wrongs live up to the legacy of Fleur de Lis on the global stage.
There’s no mistaking that this first issue is anything but Manon Deschamps’ story. She’s a woman with history and regrets, primed for a new chapter in her life looking towards the future. There’s a richness to her character that gives deeper meaning to her words and actions throughout the book, and I love the retroactive inclusion of Deschamps as a superheroine active in the 1970s. It’s the same feeling I first got from The Pitiful Human-Lizard when I learned the titular hero was the second-generation bearer of the title. It’s things like that which make the universe feel older than it actually is. To see a woman like Deschamps take charge with the team is refreshingly optimistic, and the authors present Agents of PACT as an underdog story in perfect keeping with the Canadian tradition of being seen as second-best.
Marla Ritchie is the greenest agent. Her powers to manipulate the alien liquid gold that’s vexed Captain Canuck is a great way for Chapterhouse to retain the power without overplaying their hand with the villain. Her story is that of discovery in this issue, and while I was a little thrown by her sudden evolution from timid power-use to fully fledged paranormal superhero, the characterization was consistent throughout. Manfredi captures her wide-eyed excitement when she first encounters underground facilities and beings made of sentient light. While it seems she’ll be an audience avatar for readers, presenting her as a fully fledged member of the team is working for me so far.
Alongside Ritchie, Agents of PACT #1 also deals with Deschamps’ recruitment of Redcoat, the London-born agent who’s taken a spot on both sides of the conflict between PACT and Equilibrium up to this point. Deschamps’ meeting with Redcoat on a bridge is one of the issue’s most important and wonderfully depicted scenes, beautifully rendered by Federica Manfredi who brings the look of clandestine espionage to the scene with a cinematic eye. You could genuinely feel the tension between these two characters and the larger perils of the world around them. The fact that Redcoat had to be coerced and essentially blackmailed into joining PACT is sure to lead to some interesting scenes of conflict between team members in the future.
There’s some great political commentary at play where Agents of PACT #1 underscores the ideological conflicts between Canada and the US. While PACT reaches out to the paranormal, America’s HALO seeks to destroy it. It’s the symbol of Canada’s peacekeeping strategies vs. America’s military supremacy. Deschamps has regrets from working alongside HALO in the past. In the modern political climate of President Trump and Prime Minister Trudeau, this theme couldn’t feel any more timely and the book may explore the anxieties of many Canadians as the more corporate-focussed Equilibrium becomes HALO’s official partner, allowing the supremacist doctrine to encroach on Canadian soil.
It’s so refreshing to read a team-up book that so blatantly underscores inclusion in the face of fear. From the varied backgrounds and ethnicities of the team members to the stance of the agency as a whole, Agents of PACT #1 has a political voice. As Deschamps says, “the final letter in PACT stands for team” and she seems determined to embrace that in bringing in different viewpoints amongst team members. Little things, like how PACT Headquarters are hidden underneath a garden serve to emphasise the group’s goals and I couldn’t be more into it.
Federica Manfredi gives Agents of PACT a look that fits well alongside the other in-continuity books of the Chapterverse, with an art style most closely resembling that found in Captain Canuck. Little details like the texture of the organic gold on Richie’s face work well to give it its own flavour. I don’t know if Agents of PACT #1 captured the viscerally surreal powers with as much awe as I feel they deserve, but it suits the purpose of driving the story forward in a superhero book. Manfredi knows how to frame images cinematically like in the bridge sequence or the incredible destruction of a Miami razed by fire. I’m optimistic there’s still plenty to see in this book going forward.
Check It Out. I’ve been looking forward to Agents of PACT since I first read Northguard #2 back in September and realized how badly I wanted Kebec to headline her own series in the Chapterhouse Universe. It’s a story that groups together some of the strongest female characters of the Chapterverse without sidelining them to their own corner. Giving each character a different reason to be there, and giving PACT as a unit such a crucial mandate in opposition to both HALO and Equilibrium. While I still can’t wait to see where Kebec fits into all of this, Manon Deschamps was the star of Agents of PACT #1 and this issue alone sold me on the strength and integrity of her character.