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Let’s get this right at the beginning

At the start, this may seem like I’m going in hard on this comic and also going in hard for choosing to be something I don’t like.

So, I want to say this clearly up front.

I like this comic, it’s a work forming for sure. So if you want the slick, mature work of creators fully situated in their styles, or a very settled format of superhero comic similar to corporate comics, this is not what you’re looking for. I think it’s not yet formed, and I think it’s still firmly rooted in its genre work, but it does nothing badly. For most people who read the kind of thing I’ve reviewed before it’s likely not the kind of work that will interest them, and I’ll argue why I can fit this in my mind in the same space as those works at the end and why I think it has a virtue worth investing in. It’s entirely possible these are patronising things to say and I’m going to hold my hand up to that if I’m called out on it.

I also add the extra caveat that all comments about style and genre are not to be considered as a definition of the creators’ interests, influences or personal systems of categorising. They are comments upon my thoughts, values, and ways of thinking. They deal with what I’ve put together and brought to this work. Talk to the creators for their opinion.

It all gets quite deep and specific as I parse those things out for you.

On that sinister note, let’s go!

TSP - Logo SP

This is an interesting comic

Maybe you’re old enough, maybe this will mean nothing to you, but this really reminds me of the comics put out by Adventure Comics in the black and white glut. Now, I really like them, in fact, I’d say that I actually own comics just like this one.

They’re the sort of comics that mix ideas the creators have seen in fiction and thought, ‘Oh my god, I want to do a story with that in it because it’s so COOOOOOOL!’ Then there are moments where there is something so personal and out of context with the stuff in it that it throws you sideways. I like them for the very reason that they’re often just this weird stew of genre cliché and they’re often characterised by being about plot point and cool scenes and some stuff to string them together. I just like sitting down and parsing all of those influences out and enjoying how clearly these are people fulfilling their kid comic dreams.

This work is near to that experience, but there’s something more than that about it. It’s one of those ones where you can see it has potential for the creators to get better an not just sit making their own weird stew of fan-fiction.

Which is to say that this is a work that leans heavily on its inspirations, has not shaken off that inspiration enough to call itself its own thing yet, but it has these moments and ideas that could really be exploited if they dig into it. It’s a work you can see where the creators are figuring out their choices and solutions a hitting some and missing others.

Which is an appallingly long way of saying that this is the work of a team finding its feet between doing the stuff they’ve loved reading and wanted to make since they began wanting to make stuff and finding their own style and purpose and their own way to say it. They have made some quick steps between issues though.

I found the second issue, for example, much more interesting than the first both story and art wise.

 

 

Let’s go back in time

Now, we have to establish a bit here. This is a ‘modern’ superhero comic and I am genuinely not a fan of modern superhero comics, they take too long to get to anything and they don’t know that they’re too serious or how to package an idea. They equate heroic poses with emotional gravitas and, as with all modern media, angry emoting is seen as ‘character’ and ‘depicting male emotions’. I’m not a fan of either thing, it’s hysteria not emotion, its going ‘BOO’ when you could sneak up and tap someone quietly on their shoulder. It’s a smiling emoji rather than laughing with your friends.

That’s definitely a taste and age thing. It’s also a bit damn unfair of me to knock something for reminding me of a style that I’m not a fan of. However – there’s work in here that has a much more interesting nature than the genre it’s leaning into, so I need to deal with why I feel this could ‘move up’ (in my estimation). It is also the nature of this blog that I’m talking about my reaction to thing, so honesty around that is required.

To me, this story doesn’t get going into the characters quickly enough because it has decompressed its story too much. Its story also seems more plot than story, as in, stories have character arcs not just things that happen. Stories talk about something relatable to their audience, not relying on a familiarity with genre to carry the weight of identification.

Put another way, these could be interesting characters, but we don’t know them. We know their plot points, not their personality and those two things are very different in my head. We know the main character got his powers in a disaster and that there are shadowy powers at work and a superhero team at work. Just looking at things, we can also see that we’re dealing with a battle between diversity and racism/fascism/the shadow government.

All we know about the personality of the main character is that he’s a bit shy around a pretty girl, loves his family and gets angry when confused. We’re two issues in, for me that’s two chapters of this story, which means two chapters in and I’m still not comfortable about whether these he’s going to be an interesting character to read about. I know he’s there to be a cypher for the reader to identify with so they can be led into this new world through him, but he’s too much of a cypher, really too much of a stereotype and not a person yet. Sometimes you need to know the head of a character before you trust their heart and their insight.

As to the Secret Protectors, the same is true for them, except that there are some moments where you get a little ‘in’ on their relationships. I’m unsure whether issue 2 delivers more interest because of their presence, or their presence in issue 2 mean that they’re treated with more skill and so come across as more interesting.

I think the art also needs to work harder at selling this comic at this point as well. It’s uneven at the moment and fluctuates in ability sometimes panel to panel. There are moments where the anatomy is bang on, followed by some really awkward posing or poorly executed foreshortening and that throws around the reading of the story. On the whole though, those anatomy issues are about time and practice. There are more fundamental decisions here about the approach to the story where there’s an uneven approach that throws the story out. Choices of posing and pacing and sequencing that at points flatten the character portrayal or the excitement of the action, but at other points serve to really punch it up a notch.

 

Diving down into the detail

Now – I’m going to get into a quite close read of this here and this is where I talk about why I enjoyed this comic and what I see as its virtues. That all comes with the caveat that I’m neither writer, nor artist, nor editor and that none of these things are anything other than the reasons I have for reviewing and recommending this.

So, lets begin by picking 2 pages from issue 2 to compare, page 2 and a detail from page 5.

Page 2 is the first half of a double page spread and we’re seeing what should be a really impactful moment where a mech droid is confronting the Secret Protectors. I’ve decontextualized this a lot by removing the big robot, because I want to talk about character and the depiction of those characters.

If you look at the poses being struck here, I find them vey static and generic. There’s nothing individual about those poses where you couldn’t reverse the costumes and be showing them as having the same personality. Also, the composition relies very heavily on the action lines to feel dynamic. That barn in the background carries as much dynamic force as the figures themselves in my reading of the scene.

Compare that to the action shown on page 5, the position and shape of the body, the placing in the frame and the composition of the action between those two panels. They’re small on the page in the actual comic, but they carry much more action and punch and show more of the character’s personality, The writing here adds an extra element to the character depiction, seemingly at odds with the ‘go in there and do it’ look of the action we can see someone concerned with not causing harm to their enemy.

Then you look at that pose in the panel and instead of opting for a typical ‘blasting out flames’ pose, the arms are thrown backwards whilst getting into position, so now I see that the writing explains why they are thrown back without banging you on the head with a hammer.

Interestingly, the anatomy in both drawings is no better on a ‘realistic’ scale, it’s just that the flame panels have their own rhythm where those shapes put together make sense as a person running fast. Also the shapes made by the flames between each panel match up dynamically, twisting the eye around in a near circle, moving your eye down from top to bottom before retuning it to the right so you move on to the next panel. My eye moves quickly, like the action it’s depicting.

Even the computer art works differently; the orange flames, though very painterly, sit within the context of the image; whereas, the action lines on page 2 stand apart, almost speaking a different language to the image on the page.

Secret Protectors 1 page 4 detail
Secret Protectors 1 page 4 detail

The computer art has a nice pace of its own at points in this comic as well. There’s a panel on page 4 of the 1st issue that is just orange colour with a white speed line filter applied. It works, at that point, as a nice story beat, it’s very otherness serving to break out the rhythm of the story. The approach is not used in such a considered manner throughout though.

Secret Protectors 2 page 1
Secret Protectors 2 page 1

The 1st page of issue 2 also has an interesting moment like this and shows my point more clearly, I think. If you look at the whole page, the middle panel again uses some computer made speed lines to give a sense of dynamism. This time, I feel, they’re working against the real dynamism achieved in the figure drawing and panel composition. They’re dumped so artificially onto the panel it breaks up the flow of the story where it should move dynamically. Then you get that final panel, where there’s this amazing, expressionistic depiction of the van shown very realistically in the first panel. Break beat. Sinister yellow eyes glowing out. Impact of the message driven home. Game changer engaged. Essentially, such a different outcome.

 

Secret Protectors 2 page 1 close up final panel
Secret Protectors 2 page 1 close up final panel

I guess the point that’s being skirted around is that there is some really good work here, but I’m not sure that it’s a choice as part of the story delivery. I hope so for the creators, because these are interesting techniques to employ consciously. Personally, it doesn’t matter so much, intent doesn’t stop me from stopping and looking at that and thinking it is awesome.

But the application is inconsistent throughout the two issues and that’s a shame as it can really block the story at points.

Maybe one last group of examples might make my point clearer.

Secret Protectors 1 page 1
Secret Protectors 1 page 1

The use of computer colour and design on the drawings, particularly on the buildings, has a sort of deadening effect on the art quite often, as do the pacing and drawing choices. If you look at the 1st page of the 1st issue, the very precise nature of that building, the point of view disappearing into the centre of the building, the matching tones of most of the page, all of these serve to force you to just stare at the centre of the hospital complex. It’s a real work of effort to move your eye on.

When you do, it’s the same battle over again to move your eyes off those repeated panels, then again, the first panels of the bottom tier are matched so closely that the final panel of the page seems like it’s clipped from a completely different story. That page is just hard reading all the way through. Yet I can feel that it’s trying to create a rhyme on the page, a pace to draw you through.

Secret Protectors 1 page 9
Secret Protectors 1 page 9

I get the same feeling about the pacing set up on pages 8-9 of issue 1. Just looking at page 9, you can see the rhythm being aimed for. Yet it’s so flat, the characters aren’t made interesting in either drawing or writing. It’s stiff at all points. Maybe not stiff, forced, like the creators know they’ve got something to get across and they’re going to make it happen.

Now, why I’m interested in this comic can be seen when you contrast that with issue 2 page 13. Just stop and look out the layout and how it rhymes and matches up, window panes below matching panel layout above, colours in top and bottom tiers balancing yet contrasting. Even the way that the panels show the change in character personality. The anatomy may be no better or more consistent, but the pacing is on point so it doesn’t matter to me.

Secret Protectors 2 page 13 detail
Secret Protectors 2 page 13 detail

Look at how the relationship of characters is mirrored between their powers at work, the story beats are well chosen and well depicted. They sell the relationship of those characters to each other, rather than labouring the point. It’s subtler already. It’s unfolds before you rather than TELLING you about itself.

 

One last dive

I just want to look at this last page, mainly because of those bottom three panels and the way I like the look of them! Also though, because that middle panel works so well to deliver an emotional moment. Simple, good facial expression and body language and colours focussing the moment. Then those last three panels delivering such a different artistic style, changing the rhythm of the comic instantly. It’s moments like this that make me enjoy this comic.

Secret Protectors 2 page 7
Secret Protectors 2 page 7

It’s served up in a way that shows me some character and emotion, in a way that feels like it’s a personal solution for its creators. It’s fine entertainment and I’m all about that at times.

 

all art copyright and trademark it’s respective owners.

content copyright iestyn pettigrew 2019

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