Pull List: ‘Secret Identities’ Peeks Beneath the Mask

On this week’s Pull List, where we read the first issues of new comic series’, we’re reading Secret Identities, Image Comics’ new superhero ensemble. It’s a varied cast, and the first issue does a surprisingly nice job of packing seven or eight different backstories into a single issue, while still having enough space to introduce the main conflict.

The debut takes great pains to ensure from the start that much of the team’s exploits will be in the personal realm as well as the criminal. Called The Front Line, the team  is headed by Luminary, a light-based heroine who serves as the team’s White House link on account of her being the President’s daughter, which places her in a somewhat awkward position on a team trying its best to stay neutrally international. On knuckle-bruising duty is Punchline, a burly femme with dreams of becoming a standup comedian, a goal that’s becoming quickly strangulated by her day job on the team.

Vesuvius is the resident monstrosity, something discovered in an archaeological dig who looks like The Thing, but with the additional benefit of being draped in lava. The Front Line has their own magic-caster in the form of Recluse, who pulls double duty as their dark-and-broody vigilante, with arcane addictions/conditions that his fellow teammates might not understand. Gaijin is a katana-wielding alien orphan raised by a Yakuza boss, and in the cyborg division is Helot, a mech-man styled after an ancient Greek warrior, liberated from his original programming. Oh, and the team’s speedster goes by Rundown, and spends his free time sprinting between his many families, a situation that I surprisingly haven’t heard of within that superheroic type.

As Image Comics’ maybe-new-flagship superhero title, Secret Identities does a good job of bringing together a cast of characters rife with possibility in terms of intriguing situations, like the White House’s constant hounding at Luminary’s national allegiances, or Vesuvius’ pre-modern past that he hopes, perhaps, will stay buried. As for more relatable situations, I actually enjoyed Punchline’s more low-key backstory, as well as Rundown’s familial philandering about.

Secret Identities does sag a bit in the superheroics department. The team’s dynamic isn’t especially stellar, from the middling combat banter to their living room interactions, so that I’m not entirely sold on why these people choose to wade into combat with ranks of demons at each others’ side. Also, the principal conflict so far was delivered with too much evil monologuing and duplicitous, behind-the-curtains laughter, and ultimately comes off as flatly theatrical.

The visual style is a shade too cartoony for my own tastes, but aside from Luminary’s character design (which is basically a white tunic with some techno-arcane tattooing on an exposed shoulder), I quite like the look of the rest of the team. Punchline’s boy shorts and goggles convey her physical insecurities nicely, Recluse has a pretty cool and subtle spider-theme going with his clawed fingers and eight-eyed mask, and I can’t wait to see Vesuvius’ juggernaut form throw down with similarly-sized nasties.

Secret Identities’ debut isn’t quite perfect, but there are definitely some aspects of the title that I wouldn’t mind exploring. So far, it’s succeeding more on the strength of its characters than with a cohesive plot or conflict, but there’s lots of room for improvement.

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