By Jay Faerber, Brian Joines, Ilias Kyriazis, and Charlie Kirchoff
Obviously, a pretty essential element to donning a mask and cape is keeping your civilian identity secret from the hordes of villains thirsty to harm you in every conceivable way. But what if the hero behind the mask isn’t nearly as heroic as they might seem? What if what’s hiding behind the mask is a cacophony of misdeeds and skeletons that could shake the foundation of their do-gooder persona to its core, primed to unravel any and all alliances? In Secret Identities, Jay Faerber, Brian Joines, Ilias Kyriazis, and Charlie Kirchoff explore the many facets of what it means to be on a superhero team when the greatest threats aren’t just the costumed villains seeking world domination, but are the ones lying just below the surface. The Front Line is the world’s premiere super-team; seven individuals, picked to live in a house (okay, a giant corpse) and work together, to find out what happens when people stop being polite… and start getting real.
Alright, it’s not really like The Real World, but rather a pure concentrated form of everything great about the genre of superheroes, but with an added twist that you won’t find in corporate comics that need to protect their IP first and foremost. Faerber and Joines’ enthusiasm for the genre and the many sub-genres is palpable on every page of this tightly written superhero extravaganza that delights in balancing the over-the-top superpowered action with developing a nuanced, diverse set of instantly intriguing and beguiling cast of characters. In fact, it’s that diversity that’s most refreshing as Faerber, Joines and Kyriaszis assemble a wide range of individuals from varied backgrounds, none of whom feel as though they were created as a token character or something to check-off on a representation checklist. Each member of the Front Line also ties into a different sub-genre of superhero comics such as the mystical pulp-inspired Recluse or the more street-level Punchline, but united and presented in a way that feels thoroughly modern. Faerber and Joines have smartly structured this first issue so that each characters gets equal time in the spotlight, allowing for just the right amount of initial development while hinting at potentially devastating hidden truths. It reads far larger than the thirty-pages its printed on as Faerber and Joines manage to pack a plethora of ideas into one issue without giving anyone short-shrift; any one of the multitude of scenes could have been an entire book unto itself. The dialogue is sharp and often bitingly funny as the reader gets acquainted with each character, inciting an immediate need to know more.
Ilias Kyriazis might just be a superhero himself considering the amount of kinetic energy injected into Secret Identities. His lines are bold and confident (as every good superhero is) and page layouts are pitch perfect in their ability to convey mammoth action or atmospheric mystery. Adeptly blending a cartoonist’ eye with a touch of realism, his figures move naturally while still maintaining a touch of exaggerated facial expressions. Kyriazis’ controls the pacing like a maestro, transitioning from a speeding car chase to a classic waterfront mafioso tête-à-tête with ease and moves the camera around cinematically to help infuse a sense of grandeur to these larger than life heroes and villains. It’s the design work that may be the most captivating in this first issue, as every character (not just the Front Line) has a distinct look that, well, just flat-out looks cool. Before any boisterous utterance, the costume design alone tells the reader a great deal about who these characters are, what their strengths are and how their personalities are reflected therein. Oh and the Front Line’s headquarters easily swept the “Best Superhero Headquarters Awards” because it is jaw droppingly rendered and imaginative. Kirchoff’s bold, saturated colors reinforce the book’s dauntless tone by keeping things appropriately bright, but still pivots into the darkness where needed. A large action sequence in the daytime replete with resolute primaries gives way to darkened alleys and ominously spectral green subterranean prisons as well as electric flashes of police sirens in frigid blue night streets. Visually, Secret Identities is everything you could want it to be: opulent, confident fun that’s not doesn’t need to obscure a damn thing.
It’s clear that Faerber, Joines, and Kyriazis love superheroes, but even clearer that this is a sandbox of their own creation and one they intend to mine to the fullest. It’s rare to see a first issue, let alone a superhero title, entice the reader with so many varied ideas while still providing a wealth of information. This isn’t a slug-fest and it isn’t a quiet introspective deconstruction of superheroes, but rather Secret Identities is simultaneously a celebration of the genre and something new altogether. There is an abundance of potential on display, mixed with the promise of dramatic conflict and requisite action that would typically require a Surgeon General’s Warning regarding its addictive properties.
[Ed. note: For more insight into Secret Identities, check out our interview with Jay Faerber and Brian Joines]