Not all superpowers are born equal. For every Magneto and Mister Miracle out there, you’ve got your Jubilees and Skins and Dogwelders of the world. In this dynamic symphony of superhuman abilities, a few heroes are Concertmaster violinists, some are third chair woodwinds, and others play the triangle.
However, what made Valiant’s 2017 reboot of Secret Weapons so compelling was its focus on the superhero equivalent of melodica players — “psiots” (in Valiant parlance) with powers so useless or unseemly that they simply weren’t allowed to perform in the concert at all. The story focused on the former denizens of The Willows, a prison masquerading as a boarding home for young psiots with powers so trivial, clumsy, or mundane that the organization responsible for activating their latent talents deemed them worthless. Award-winning screenwriter/occasional comic book writer Eric Heisserer masterfully crafted a story around these characters that was as poignant and endearing as it was fun and exciting. He birthed a set of compelling new personalities for the Valiant universe, and my only complaint about the series was that it ended too soon. Given its critical success and positive reception among fans, though, it seemed unlikely that Valiant or Heisserer would truly let Secret Weapons end after only four issues.
Three months after issue #4, Heisserer is back again with Secret Weapons #0, a prequel focusing on ornipathic Willows reject Nikki Finch. The book follows Nikki over the course of a calendar year, showing her route from normal high school senior up to the events of the first issue. And to put it plainly, it’s brilliant. While the art and writing maintain the high standard of excellence established by the first four issues, the design and paneling choices made by its creators are what make Secret Weapons #0 such a special book. Every page is broken into four horizontal panels, with each panel focusing on Nikki at the center of the action. Thus, every panel is essentially a look at the world through Nikki’s perspective, a storytelling technique that fosters a heightened sense of intimacy with the character. Each wide panel is packed with enough context and detail to stand alone an individual scene, and a steadily advancing calendar in the top-left corner of each panel displays the temporal shifts from scene to scene. While Nikki shows up in issue #1 as a fully-formed bird-talking badass, the design of Secret Weapons #0 allows the reader to watch Nikki literally evolve, as a human and as a person.
I was a bit bummed to hear that the art and coloring team of Raul Allen and Patricia Martin wouldn’t be working on Secret Weapons #0, but Adam Pollina and David Baron deliver stylistically similar yet equally fantastic artwork while also managing to stamp their own identity on the series. Pollina’s depictions of Nikki are particularly notable, as he’s able to capture through her wonderfully expressive face the emotional highs and lows of a tumultuous and tragic year. Baron’s bright, bold colors match Nikki’s character perfectly, and he contributes some fantastic work with light and shadow throughout. Pollina and Baron truly make the most of every wide-format panel, and every scene appears so fully-realized that I’m confident I could have followed and appreciated the major story beats even if the word balloons were all missing.
Secret Weapons was perhaps the most original and engaging superhero tale of 2017 and certainly one of the best limited series of any genre. Luckily, Secret Weapons #0 couldn’t have done a better job of building on that success and expanding the world of Heisserer’s lovable Willows psiots. The book would be a worthwhile experience even for readers unfamiliar to the series, but it’s an absolute can’t-miss for anyone who enjoyed issues one through four. 5 / 5
(W) Eric Heisserer (A) Adam Pollina (CA) Raul Allen