Review: Secret by Jonathan Hickman and Ryan Bodenheim

SecretSECRET opens with a ruthless interrogation of the CEO of the accounting firm Koptein-Lewis. Tied to a chair, naked, Richard Dunn’s masked assailant uses pliers to pluck a tooth from his captive, then threatens to kill the man’s family unless he gets what he wants: Dunn’s password, which enables access to an abundance of classified information. Flash forward to the following day, and Dunn hires Grant Miller from Steadfast, a private security firm, to retaliate. Meanwhile in London, a colleague of Miller’s is publicly assassinated in a London restaurant. What ties these events together is a conspiracy that dates back to the Cold War, and an operation mentioned only in the tightest of circles: Kodiak.

Jonathan Hickman and Ryan Bodenheim’s collaboration is a pulse-pounding cerebral espionage comic book thriller. Hickman is a writer I’ve always associated with grand ideas coupled with lackluster characterization; oftentimes I think he owes it to himself to allow his stories additional pages to breathe, and embellish his stock characters with the blemishes necessary to humanize them. SECRET is tightly plotted and cinematically rendered, but without an endearing cast to hang onto and sympathize with, the final product lacks emotional resonance. It feels like a blueprint to a truly impactful thriller: with a little extra work, it might’ve been something truly special and unique. Instead, despite my immense enjoyment, in many respects feels like a lost opportunity.

SECRET is a fine showcase for Bodenheim’s art, however, and Michael Garland’s superbly subdued coloring. Hickman’s script calls for dozens of pages of mundane character interaction, but with constantly shifting angles and layouts, and commendable attention to detail, Bodenheim’s art comprises the nuance that Hickman’s dialogue occasionally lacks. When a character is angry, the rage radiates from the page, such is Bodenheim’s uncanny knack for nailing facial expressions. And when the bullets start flying, Hickman wisely allows his artist the space for dynamic layouts. This is a creative team working in wonderful harmony.

SECRET doesn’t quite deliver on its potential, but it comes very close. There aren’t many espionage thrillers in comics, and if Hickman and Bodenheim’s project marks the start of an influx, the competition has a lot to live up to.