Secret Weapons #3
Written by Eric Heisserer
Art by Raul Allen and Patricia Martin
Lettering by Patricia Martin
Published by Valiant Entertainment
Review by David Pepose
‘Rama Rating: 10 out of 10
For a series that is only three issues old, there’s something remarkably natural and lived-in about Valiant Entertinmant's Secret Weapons, a book that barely includes any of the company's premiere characters.
Half old-school Marvel's Uncanny X-Men and half Bad News Bears, writer Eric Heisserer imbues his misfit Psiots with a charm and likability that some ongoing titles don’t even accomplish, as his precise and craftsmanlike script is elevated further by some beautiful artwork from long-time Valiant artist Raul Allen and colorist/letterer Patricia Martin.
Much like the superhumans of Mark Millar and Bryan Hitch’s Ultimates at Marvel, there’s a metahuman arms race going on in the Valiant Universe, and with the full-scale doxxing of even the lowest-level Psiots, an entire minority group is suddenly in the crosshairs. But Heisserer’s best twist with Secret Weapons is that the cybernetic hunter known as Rex-0 and his mysterious benefactors aren’t going for the A-listers - no, this is a story about overlooked potential, as we follow the most Z-list power sets as they scramble to survive.
With Secret Weapons #3, we see Heisserer’s minority metaphor at its clearest, as we go in-depth with Avichal Malakar, a Psiot with the power to turn into an impermeable but also immobile statue. But his situational invulnerability isn’t what keeps Avichal at arm’s length from society - it’s the fact that he’s Sikh, targeted at his school by racist bullies and freaked out suburbanites just for having the temerity to exist in public while wearing a turban. It’s hard not to read Heisserer’s script and not see parallels with today’s political climate: “This is normal,” Avichal says, even before people start revealing his location via social media.
When Avichal winds up having to use his Stoneskin powers to defend himself against his own classmates and even the police (who can’t be bothered to even get his last name correct), it feels less cathartic and instead feels as poignant and heart-breaking as it is expertly choreographed: this is a guy who just wanted to hang out at his dorm and be a normal college student. He’s been unbelievably patient, even in the face of overwhelming hostility. And the fact that his biggest fear is losing his cool on his own tormentors? It’s unreal - and it’s sadly the reality that many Americans face across the country.
And as Heisserer does an expert job finding new uses for seemingly useless super-abilities, artist Raul Allen and colorist/letterer Patricia Martin realize this script skillfully. There’s hints of Frank Quitely and The Wild Storm’s Jon Hunt-Davis in Allen’s work, which brings a very mathematic sensibility to the page layouts - evoking that even though these ragtag Psiots seem random enough, there’s definitely an underlying method to all this madness. For the most part, Allen’s panels explode with action, like Nikki kicking a bloodthirsty cop in the face, or hum with palpable potential energy, the spooky way that Livewire sits in an abandoned theater, her eyes gone white as a living computer search engine. But for my money, it’s Martin who is, well, this book’s secret weapon - the colors on this book are striking, particularly the way she uses pinks and oranges as accents, making Secret Weapons look like nothing else on the stands right now.
Ultimately, Secret Weapons’ greatest strength is that Heisserer’s characters feel so three-dimensional, so fully realized, that it feels like we’ve been following them for years, not three measly months. And in that regard, it’s a little sad to recognize that the series is almost over - I feel like there’s so much room to dig into Harada’s rejects, and so little space to do it. Either way, this book has been a tremendous highlight for Valiant, and should not be missed.