By Jonathan Edwards
The last thing I read from Rich Tommaso was his book She Wolf, and I really wanted to like it. The story was a surreal one and greatly aided by his unique art style. Unfortunately, it failed to amount to anything more than a superficial monster book with a penchant for focusing on sexuality and young women. When I saw the initial announcement for Spy Seal, I questioned whether or not I should give it a shot. Eventually, I figured his writing might benefit from the change in genre, plus I knew I'd still enjoy the artwork. And in the end, I think that bit of faith was somewhat rewarded.
To start, Spy Seal #1 is a much more straightforward affair than its predecessor. We're introduced to Malcolm Warner, the titular Seal, and it quickly becomes apparent that he's yet to step foot into the world of espionage. This actually surprised me. Going in, I kind of presumed that he'd already be the marine mammal equivalent of James Bond, and we'd just sort of get dropped in with him either already on a mission or just starting one. On top of that, the actual way in which he finds himself becoming a spy is... weird. I mean, pretty sure MI6 agents don't blatantly inquire about your interest in joining their secret service after being tangentially connected to one of their investigations and managing to handle yourself somewhat well. At least not in the real world. Of course, anthropomorphized animals don't at all comprise the population of the real world either, so perhaps proximity to reality is not the best barometer for this book.
Beyond that, it does feel like Tommaso has constructed an elaborate enough web of mystery for us to gradually uncover with Malcolm. I'm not convinced it won't get a little convoluted at times. However, in the particular case of this spy story, I don't think that's necessarily a bad thing. In fact, I'd sooner expect it to fit in with the inherent strangeness that always seems to pop up and run close to the surface in Tommaso's stories.
As previously stated, I expected to like the art here, and that expectation was met. I didn't like it quite as much as I liked She Wolf's art, but I still dug the flat, almost pop art aesthetic that has replaced the moody shadows from before. And, it is pretty interesting to see Tommaso's conception of an animal art gallery and what they would celebrate as fine art. Special shout out goes to the chicken sculpture that appears to be outright enthralling the chicken man staring at it.
This issue also features a back-up story by one Joey Weiser. I don't have much to say about it other than that it's pretty short but still rather cute. All in all, Spy Seal #1 is a decent start and pleasant enough read. It certainly feels more grounded than She Wolf did, and it looks to be moving in a more stable direction too. I wouldn't call it a must read, but if the high concept charm is enough to catch your eye, then I'd say it's at least worth taking a look. Plus, it did leave me curious enough to want to come back for the next one.
Spy Seal #1
Writer/Artist: Rich Tommaso
Publisher: Image Comics