Secret Weapons #1
Writer: Eric Heisserer
Artists: Raúl Allén & Patricia Martín
Letterer: Patricia Martín
Cover: Raúl Allén
Publisher: Valiant Entertainment
A review by Nico Sprezzatura
In a world of people born with astonishing abilities, not everybody will get a cool or useful power. For every Storm and Cyclops in the Marvel Universe, for example, there’s likely twice as many mutants of an Eye-Boy’s caliber.
Last month’s Generation X relaunch (which I reviewed here!) banks on that premise, bringing together some of the Xavier Institute’s most pathetic students under the tutelage of similarly-maligned mutant Jubilation “Jubilee” Lee.
This week’s Secret Weapons #1, published by Valiant, is another riff on the concept; what happens to “special” people whose skillsets aren’t exactly special? While Generation X’s optimistic approach follows its characters as they learn to cope with their unwanted powers, Secret Weapons takes a more urgent perspective, focusing itself on some of the Valiant Universe’s most disposable psiots, who find themselves targeted for –paradoxically enough– their abilities.
A quick primer on the Valiant Universe: their equivalent to the Marvel Universe’s mutants (or the DC Universe’s metahumans) are called “psiots,” and they’re born with latent powers that manifest naturally. Naturally, they’re often exploited and studied upon because of them.
The major plot thrust of Secret Weapons puts a group of young, rejected psiots in the crosshairs of an unseen mad scientist who, with the help of an adapting, android-like alien, wishes to steal their powers for some nefarious purpose. Luckily, they’ve got technopathic psiot Amanda McKee –better known as the superhero Livewire– as their protector and mentor, who puts it on herself to teach the kids how they can transcend their lowly status and become … secret weapons.
Secret Weapons boasts some major talent in the form of writer Eric Heisserer, whose work on last year’s Arrival earned him an Oscar nomination in the Best Adapted Screenplay category. While I haven’t seen any other films he’s written or directed, I loved Arrival, and part of my interest in checking this series out derived from that sole credit.
There’s definitely a cinematic flair to Heisserer’s script, especially in his dialogue between characters. A major part of Arrival’s appeal was its humanist perspective on an otherworldly story, and he brings that grounded voice to the proceedings here. The Valiant Universe already posits itself as a realistic, adult alternative to some of its contemporaries, and Heisserer is a good fit for the setting. These characters might be fantastic in nature, but their circumstances are anything but ideal.
Raúl Allén and Patricia Martín’s art, however, serves a wonderful contrast to the story’s inherent bleakness. At the end of the day, the Valiant Universe is still a universe full of superheroes; Allén’s illustrations and Martín’s coloring lend a welcome lightness that would otherwise be missing from Heisserer’s script. Their visuals are very reminiscent of Ramon Villalobos and Tamra Bonvillain’s work on Nighthawk for Marvel, which isn’t a bad thing in the slightest.
There’s also something to be said for Secret Weapons’ standalone nature, which informs much of Valiant Entertainment’s post-reboot comics. That’s perhaps another one of Valiant’s strengths over the likes of Marvel and DC; you don’t need to be overly aware of their history to pick up any one comic and enjoy it, but frequent readers will still be rewarded for their prior knowledge.
My experience with Livewire, for example, is limited, but I recognize her from Bloodshot USA (which I also reviewed here!), and I’m familiar with the concept of psiots from other Valiant comics I’ve read. But if this is your first encounter with either of those? No problem! It also doesn’t hurt that Secret Weapons is only planned for a four-issue run, making it a manageable commitment to undertake. In the age of blockbuster events and crossovers at the Big Two, that’s kind of a small blessing.
For those seeking a small-scale, self-contained superhero story with big ideas, Secret Weapons offers yet another accessible alternative to the Big Two.