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The Secret History Book 12: Lucky Point
posted November 15, 2010
 

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Creators: Jean-Pierre Pécau, Igor Kordey, Chris Chuckry
Publishing Information: Archaia, comic book, 48 pages, 2010 $5.95
Ordering Numbers:

I believe in guilty pleasures. The conventional wisdom right now says to deny the term in a strident declaration that you're not going to feel guilty about a single damn thing that gives you pleasure. I get that; I grew up with American sitcom populism, too. And yet I think that way of thinking sort of misses the point. Pleasure is a good thing, but to deny a class of guilty ones is to suggest that the person doing the denying is of such well-tuned character that whatever they like, well, it has to be good. Maybe that's possible where the soul is constantly examined; my soul has pretty much never seen a set of stirrups. I'm simply not confident in my natural sense of refined discernment. I'm certainly not at the point where I'm ready to declare a great democracy of art united solely and equally by my thinking it's awesome.

imageOne thing I'm enjoying right now as a comics reader is The Secret History. The 12th $5.95 comic book issue was recently released, called "Lucky Point." Given the thrust of this review's first paragraph, I've potentially irritated Secret History's publishers, fans and creators. My apologies. It's just that long-form fantasy stories about secret conspiracies and immortal beings and all the questions of history having as their answer "The Secret History!" and the boiling down of complex questions about the nature of man into a series of back-of-jacket potboiler plot points, those kinds of stories strike me as fundamentally not-serious. I also feel there's a disconnect in this series -- translated for North American audiences by Archaia and finding a more than fitting home in their fantasy-stories-with-a-twist line of books -- between its pulp indulgences and its more contemplative/satirical elements. This keeps it, I think, from being a transcendent. The stakes feel awfully low considering all that we're told is on the line, and a lot of the narrative feels clinically executed at precisely those moments emotion should be driving our interest. At times feels like we're being pushed from historical setting to historical setting not because the plot demands it but because if we linger a stiff breeze might blow the cardboard buildings down. It's a not a deep treatment even of that material it chooses to engage.

The Secret History is really, really fun, though. This is particularly true -- maybe only true -- if you grew up with some exposure to the European comics of the pre-L'Association era. Like many of those works, Secret History is drawn with great skill, featuring meticulous, no-skipping-anything work by Igor Kordey that should all by itself shame the modern North American dispensers of what passes for high-end genre entertainment. Those comics' movie-pitch plots, slightly stylized but still somehow highly generic character designs, look-at-me scripting and dropped backgrounds seem a world removed from Secret History's handsome, robust, and judiciously designed comics pages the same way a TV show on public access feels wan when placed next to a feature film. The characters in Secret History are fun, too, an ensemble of magnificent pricks. They fall into three groups: grimly arrogant jerkweeds, flat-out evil assholes and long-suffering souls that must ping pong wearily, Martin Freeman-style, between the first two groups. There's not a natural role for an A-list Hollywood star among them, and thank God for that. Secret History, for all its sweep and similarity to certain sub-genres of popular fiction, is in that way at least a comic meant to be a comic. There's a thoroughness to the historical tweaking that can be a blast to watch, too: this latest issue sends one of the characters to Los Alamos; the authors choose to soak the supporting elements in the brine of their historical conspiracy pickle barrel, connecting both local Native American legend and southwest gambling to the interests the historical powers have in the making of the A-Bomb.

I'm not certain there's much in the way of a message in this giant sprawl -- the next few issues should give us a clue -- but if there is to be one, it might be found in how the more human/humane protagonists move forward in this giant game of immortal super-being chess. As opposed to the way this might develop in a North American comics story, where the secrets themselves would likely become an item bandied about by all the main characters -- "It's time I told you... the Secret History!" -- the cartoon authors of Secret History almost seem to be saying that the best thing to do if you learn how the world works is to take it in, recognize the ramifications, shut up and then continue to do your job, keeping as much of your individuality about you as duty and fortune allow. Their story suggests that history for most people remains the same whether they get to see behind the curtain or not. Not a bad lesson. Maybe in the final volume we get to learn the secret about how something this old-school attractive and in full-color for $5.95 slips through the marketplace with nary a whisper as to its accomplishments.

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