First snow of the season - I like using these titles for weather updates, by the way; it's like performing a community service.

*Ed Cunard and John Jakala are blogging up a storm this week over at The Low Road. Really, it's just great links and analysis all around. The centerpiece, I think, is Ed’s excellent essay on hip-hop and comics, and how the two intersect and inform one another (just to add a little to the conversation on superhero comic ‘disses,’ Grant Morrison has inserted some lovely shots into Seven Soldiers, ranging from the closing scene jab at Alan Moore in Zatanna #1 to a strange reference to J. Michael Straczynski’s Amazing Spider-Man animal totem ideas in Bulleteer #1 - Warren Ellis has also written on the topic of comics as ‘response records,’ mentioning that his Apparat book Simon Spector was meant as a direct answer to Moore’s Tom Strong). Good times await you at those links.

The Secret Voice #1

For some reason, the price on this one got to me: $4.95 for a 64-page pamphlet by a small publisher (AdHouse) seems awfully inexpensive these days. It’s a lovely production too - I especially liked the colorful back cover and its apt description of the book’s contents as “Fiction, short stories. Excitement” hovering over a field of armored warriors leaping onto green clouds above a beer distributor to fire laser guns at one another. Good times, and there’s plenty of fun inside the book as well.

The Secret Voice is clearly a work of love by writer/artist Zack Soto - the reader can sense the excitement and care coursing through these pages as the author concocts new stories, new characters. This work is quite heavily informed by the superheroic milieu, and its accoutrements initially seem familiar; there’s more than one costumed adventurer to be met in this issue, and there’s trolls and human bullies alike to be fought. But there’s no whiff of simple genre mimicry here, even as the weapons brandished and the poses struck are iconic; it’s all Soto’s vision, and one needn’t read through the text features in this issue to feel his personality emanating.

It’s a one-man anthology (the book’s title is shared with some of Soto’s minicomics work), though its initial story (Dr. Galapagos Chapter 1) takes up 30 pages - it’s paced a bit like a single superhero issue all on its own, a debut, complete with an introduction to its protagonist’s powers, inferences as to the rest of his world, snatches of backstory to be expanded upon later, several mysteries duly established, plenty of action, and a cliffhanging finale. In short, the title character (a bandaged, goggle-wearing cloaked adventurer with a big blade and the power to literally breathe life into non-living things) visits an underground troll funeral on a mission to sever and steal the left hand of the deceased troll king. Such preemptory grave-robbing doesn’t sit well with the assembled trolls, and a huge fight occurs, eventually involving an irate troll shaman and a spit golem. The particulars of the Doctor’s mission remain shrouded, with only casual asides to unseen conversations and events provided to suggest a certain context.

Such exposition-light, action-heavy material may not be for everyone. In a recent column, Steven Grant said that the story “may be the single emptiest thing I've read in years,” citing its seeming lack of plot or character or theme. Indeed, Soto himself seems to be aware of the lightness of the work, at one point assuring us that “[t]here is an actual story building up here,” and promising plenty of fleshing-out of the protagonist in the near-future. I think, for a first outing, there’s some good work done with suggesting things, teasing the reader along with tidbits and little invitations to imagining - sure, it’s pretty heavy on the troll-stomping, but it ably creates a gently dream logic-fueled environment for its title character to romp in. And Soto’s art carries a lot of character itself, overcoming its occasional awkwardness (the first four pages in particular seem a bit unsure - though it’s interesting that they encompass all of the time the title character spends above ground) often through sheer force of verve and some lovingly executed leaps and swings. Soto’s visuals remind me a bit of Paul Pope’s in terms of movement, though Soto’s characters are both rougher and tighter, their energies more confined to their panels.

There’s other stories too - an odd little 2-page thing called Ghost Attack!? serves largely to (briefly) amuse, though the 9-page Day 34 offers some good hallucinogenic kick, as a man in a drifting lifeboat encounters a hole in the ocean, where he encounters a strange prisoner and an outbreak of dream logic. Indeed, one could say that ‘confrontation with the inexplicable’ is a running theme in the book, though the blood and flood of Day 34 is quite different than the curious, adventurous nature of Dr. Galapagos. Smog Emperor (14 pages) takes yet a different route, as a lonely Billy Batson-type kid argues with the title entity, his excessively bloodthirsty alter ego who’s basically his clawing id. There’s some decent humor, knowingly soaking up the joy of gleeful superhero destruction - it’s short on revolutionary insights, perhaps, but it’s infectiously catchy. That goes for the book as a whole, by the way.

The text pieces are also nice, including 3 pages of The Official Handbook of the Secret Voice Universe, highlighting material established in past Soto work, as seen in Project: Telstar, Project: Superior and Superior Showcase #0 (AdHouse’s 2005 FCBD book). There’s also plenty of recommendations of other books to enjoy, bonus thumbnail art, design sketches, an essay on Soto’s history with reading comics - all sorts of things. It’s a great big chunk of entertainment, infused with pleasure. It feels like a book that was exceedingly fun to make, and I think a lot of readers will find the enjoyment rubbing off onto them.