Indie Comics Spotlight – Secret Weapons #1, Red Sonja: The Long Walk to Oblivion, and Dragon Age: Knight Errant #1


By: Jonathan Pilley (@omnicomic)

Secret Weapons #1

“Bring me a champion for your next soak.”

Comics have a tendency to glamorize what it means to have superpowers. There are plenty of instances where characters contend with a moral crisis as a result of their abilities, but by and large the fact that they have abilities is still a point of enjoyment. Secret Weapons #1 from Valiant is an example of characters with abilities and no glamour. The issue is written by Eric Heisserer, illustrated by Raúl Allén, and colored by Patricia Martin.

The government has dispatched Amanda McKee – the technopath codenamed Livewire – to investigate the ruins of a secret facility formerly run by Toyo Harada, the most powerful telepath on Earth and her former mentor. In his quest for world betterment at any cost, Harada sought out and activated many potential psiots like himself. Those who survived, but whose powers he deemed to have no value to his cause, were hidden away at this installation. A young girl who can talk to birds… A boy who can make inanimate objects gently glow… To others, these are expensive disappointments. But, to Livewire, they are secret weapons in need of a leader. Now, as a mechanized killer called Rexo seeks to draw them out, Livewire and her new team of cadets will be forced to put their powers into action in ways they never could have imagined.

The spectre of Toyo Harada always looms large over the Valiant universe and Heisserer effectively taps into that in Secret Weapons #1. His script is very engaging as it introduces the reader to psiots who have what some would perceive as “useless powers.” The lack of importance so to speak is the catalyst for the plot and Heisserer leans into it well. Each of this misfits are really just kids at heart and the infusion of youth into the issue also lends it some intensity and unpredictability. Sure, there are shades of a Professor X/X-Men vibe throughout, but Heisserer is looking at a broader theme of impressing upon individuals who feel as if they don’t have a place a sense of belonging.

Allén’s artistic approach is relatively simplistic yet offers some intricacies. He shifts focus and perspective quite frequently throughout the book in a way a movie frames different shots, working in cuts to the other side of the action. Characters are rendered with lines that give them enough detail so that they stand out against the backdrops. Allén also handles the action in the book very well, meticulously sketching out each segment of an exchange so that the reader gets a full sense of what the characters are contending with. Martin adds another layer of depth to the book with muted tones throughout the book that emphasize the more subtle nuances of the setting, such as time of day for instance.

Secret Weapons #1 is yet another fantastic entry in the Valiant universe. Nicole, Martin, and Owen are all interesting additions to the publisher’s stable of characters, mainly because they have abilities that aren’t necessarily that exciting. Heisserer focuses on the less glamorous side of being gifted and brings them together in a way that makes sense. Allén’s artwork is fantastic and follows along with the characters’ discoveries quite nicely. Secret Weapons #1 is a really interesting premise that offers up a refreshing take on the prototypical superhero.

Secret Weapons #1 is available June 28.

Red Sonja: The Long Walk to Oblivion

“…and our only salvation is a devil.”

Red Sonja is someone who gets things done. And generally speaking, she offers her services at a very fair price depending on the magnitude of the opponent she’s being asked to square off against. In Red Sonja: The Long Walk to Oblivion from Dynamite Entertainment, her reward for fighting a massive demon isn’t what you’d expect. The issue is written by Erik Burnham, illustrated by Tom Mandrake, colored by Mohan, and lettered by Tom Napolitano.

The people of Meru are in terrible danger from an ancient evil, and there is only one person who can save them: the Hyrkanian warrior woman, Red Sonja! A lone Meruvian is sent to find Sonja and bring her back east – a treacherous trip that ends in a trap laid by Sonja’s old enemy, the evil wizard Kulan Gath.

Red Sonja is known for quite a few things, the most notable of which are her love of ale, violence, and never backing down. These are traits that Burnham infuses Red Sonja with in Red Sonja: The Long Walk to Oblivion as he takes her from a pub to a face-to-face fight with a demon. Along the way, Burnham works in some pretty standard Red Sonja encounters, all of which still work well to remind the reader that she’s a force to be reckoned with. The story itself is narrated from the view of Ram of Shondakor, a messenger tasked with seeking out Red Sonja to save his kingdom from the aforementioned demon and the narration approach is interesting. In funneling the story through Ram, Burnham can effectively recount what the reader might be thinking in watching a character like Red Sonja in action.

Mandrake’s artwork demonstrates a focused approach in terms of rendering the characters. Red Sonja maintains her trademark appearance of blazing red hair and chainmail armor while other characters sport more barbarian-like appearances. In fact, Mandrake illustrates just about every male character in the book with an attention to a deep-seeded anger within them which makes Red Sonja’s general ease in dealing with them that much more apparent. There’s an extended fight sequence in the middle of the issue that Mandrake handles well by mixing up the panel layouts and sizes to reinforce the somewhat frenetic atmosphere that typically accompanies a Red Sonja fight. Mohan’s colors are bold – Red Sonja’s fiery red hair stands out in just about every panel in which she’s featured.

Red Sonja: The Long Walk to Oblivion isn’t exactly new when it comes to a Red Sonja book, but it’s still enjoyable. It’s clear there’s nothing Red Sonja will back down from, although the ending of the issue puts her in a position that she probably didn’t expect going in. Burnham knows what works in a Red Sonja book and doesn’t stray too far from that formula in Red Sonja: The Long Walk to Oblivion. Mandrake’s artwork is effective at keeping up with what Red Sonja does best, which typically involves a lot of beheadings. Red Sonja: The Long Walk to Oblivion isn’t revolutionary as far as Red Sonja stories go, but it is another solid entry in the character’s storied history.

Red Sonja: The Long Walk to Oblivion is in stores now.

Dragon Age: Knight Errant #1

“The war had barely ended, and it was about to begin anew.”

The role of knight is one filled with honor and respect. It’s not often that you’re both a knight and something less knightly, such as a thief. Dragon Age: Knight Errant #1 from Dark Horse Comics is fine with that dichotomy. The issue is written by Nunzio DeFilippis and Christina Weir, illustrated by Fernando Heinz Furukawa, colored by Michael Atiyeh, and lettered by Nate Piekos of Blambot.

Elven squire Vaea and her knight arrive in Kirkwall for Varric Tethras’s appointment as viscount. A talented thief, Vaea takes on an easy job…but when she chooses to change the terms of the deal midheist, she is entangled in a dangerous mission that is surely above her pay grade.

DeFilippis and Weir offer a somewhat interesting twist in Dragon Age: Knight Errant #1 by making Vaea both a squire and a thief as the two occupations are seemingly at odds with one another morally. That serves the story well in that funneling the events of the story through both her and her knight offer a somewhat unexpected look at knighthood. DeFilippis and Weir define Vaea as extremely capable at being both a squire and thief, but the twists she encounters definitely make things interesting. Their dialogue is a great fit for the atmosphere of the book itself, tapping into the language and exchanges that are familiar to readers of fantasy books. And there are plenty of references to the “errant” in the title, both in Vaea straying from the expected ideals of knighthood and her knight recounting tales of adventure that he always seems to be seeking.

Furukawa’s approach with the art is somewhat cartoonish in its appearance. The general look of the characters reminds the reader the issue is rooted in fantasy as facial expressions are exaggerated in some panels for emotional effect. The empty gutters give the panels more room to breathe and draw the focus into the action. Furukawa relies on a largely standard grid format that makes it easy to follow along with Vaea as she works the job she was hired for. Atiyeh’s colors are fantastic at setting the stage, providing a brighter look for the daytime action at the docks and darkening things for the cover of night that assists a thief in her work.

Dragon Age: Knight Errant #1 further explores the Dragon Age universe by subverting some expectations that come with certain character occupations. Vaea is very talented at being a thief, but there are still some gigs that can ensnare even the best in something bigger than they expected. DeFilippis and Weir offer a story that effectively characterizes the main characters well. Furukawa’s artwork is strong and infuses the book with a sufficient amount of fantasy appeal. Dragon Age: Knight Errant #1 doesn’t require an understanding of the broader Dragon Age universe to know what’s going on, but it does ask the reader to enjoy believing in elves.

Dragon Age: Knight Errant #1 is available now.

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