By Levi Remington
When I learned that Eric Heisserer, writer of Denis Villenueve's astonishing Arrival, was relaunching Valiant's Secret Weapons as a 4-issue miniseries with Raul Allen on pencils and Patricia Martin on colors, I was ecstatic. Even the previews had stricken me rabid with anticipation. I couldn't wait to see what the team would bring to the Valiant universe with their take on Amanda McKee (Livewire) and this new band of misfit psiots. Well, my dear bastards, the time has come.
It's no secret that Valiant is a force to be reckoned with. Our own Dustin Cabeal has been raving about their recent relaunch of X-O Manowar from Matt Kindt and Tomas Giorello. The first issue is still the best selling independent comic book of 2017, after all. My love for the publisher stems from their adherence to a no-bullshit policy, which staves off those pesky trends of other superhero-infested universes. No event fatigue, no unnecessary crossovers, and no "helicopter-editors" with a disruptive hand in every creator's vision. Valiant understands what it takes to construct a shared universe that's worth a reader's time.
Okay, I know. This is starting to sound like a puff piece. The truth is, not every title from Valiant works for me. The universe has its corners, its niches, so it's best to personally experiment with their line to see what fits you best. That said, if there was ever a one-size-fits-all title at Valiant, Secret Weapons would be an excellent contender.
This issue follows a group of young psiots (think Marvel's mutants) with seemingly worthless powers: Nicole can speak to birds, Martin can make inanimate objects glow, and Owen spontaneously summons a random object at any given time. In light of activating and discovering these "mundane" powers, Toyo Harada and the Harbinger Foundation discarded these kids to The Willows, a home of unwanted psiots. A recent attack on this insidious institution left six boarding psiots nowhere to be found. When Livewire, an experienced psiot and former student of Harada, discovers this cruel practice and learns that these young psiots have been abandoned, she takes it upon herself to find them and keep them safe from inevitable harm.
So with that out of the way, how does the first issue stack up? Well, it's pretty damn superb. Conceptually, I love it. Even the basic foundation of this story is brimming with heart. Making heroes out of misfits, finding a purpose against all odds, protecting the less fortunate; It's a beautiful sentiment, rife with potential, and Heisserer sticks the landing. It's expertly paced, too. Ample time is given to introduce us to the major characters, the conflict is clear, and the execution is concise. Readers are caught up to speed in a short amount of time without the use of blatantly obvious exposition.
Nicole and Owen are instantly likable additions to the Valiant universe. Heisserer depicts them with such humanity and depth, making their journey all the more worth following. Their history is extraordinary, but their tragedy – and the resulting loneliness – is easy to identify with. You feel for these characters, which makes Livewire's position even more convincing, as she appears to be tapping into some motherly instincts for this journey. Her desire to protect these kids and bring them together to serve a better purpose, it's not brought forth by a corporate objective or any resemblance of selfishness or greed, but rather a genuine emotional longing to make things right for these kids who have been told they're nothing, and left with nothing.
Raul Allen and Patricia Martin come together to create some magnificent art. The storytelling is seamless, the designs are eminently pleasing, and the characters are delicately brought to life with charming distinctions. Allen's brief but thrilling action scenes are outlined with a clarity and dynamism, packing a heap of emotion and physical presence into a rough average of ten panels per page, demonstrating exceptional efficiency. While Martin's colors conjure up an alluring aesthetic tinged with pink and purple hues. Assets aren't lazily repurposed, a character's natural expressions and body language are consistently varied, and there's not a bad or rushed panel in sight. Top-notch work.
The first issue succeeds on every major level. It's so promising that I wish the book could last for longer than its solicited 4 issues. Your heart will melt in-between smiling fits, your eyes will grow spoiled rotten from Raul Allen and Patricia Martin's visual splendor, and Eric Heisserer's character work will have you clutching the nearest pillow, yearning for more. Secret Weapons unknowingly fulfills a prophecy set forth by its title, coming out of nowhere and dominating from the start with a creative team that you never knew was a dream collaboration. This issue proves that Valiant's own secret weapon is an onslaught of brilliant stories from great talents, and while this issue is just the beginning, I miss the series already.
Secret Weapons #1
Written by Eric Heisserer
Art by Raul Allen & Patricia Martin
Published by Valiant Comics