You could easily be forgiven for mistaking Rich Tommaso’s Spy Seal #1, out today from Image Comics, as a children’s story. With its simple art style and anthropomorphic animals, it certainly looks like something your mother used to read you before bedtime. But the more you read, the more you realize how “not-for-children” this book is. Beneath its elementary facade is a gripping story of espionage and intrigue. It’s for fans of The Maltese Falcon as much as fans of Babar.
Spy Seal is a concept Tommaso created in 1984 at 13 years old. The cartoonist shared a sketch of the character on Facebook last October, and it was so well-received that it was immediately green-lit for a series. It’s the story of Malcom, a veteran of the British military (and a seal), who is recruited into MI-6 after he helps foil an assassination attempt on a member of Parliament. Russian intelligence, rare artifacts, and a beautiful buxom bunny – Spy Seal has everything a spy noir fan could ask for!
Tommaso proves his strength to be his visual storytelling; the best sequences in Spy Seal #1 are those without any dialogue at all. The chase and action sequences move from panel to panel with a kind of simplicity and energy that’s reminiscent of old comics. They’re pure fun to watch unfold and follow along with. If you like fast-paced action, Tommaso delivers.
But it’s not all fun and games here. There are real stakes and real danger in this story; bullets fly and characters die. While it may look like a children’s book, children cannot appreciate the mix of Sam Spade and James Bond that is at work here. This is a comic for fans of noir and spy thrillers as much as their inner children.
However, while Spy Seal‘s artwork draws you in and keeps you engaged, the dialogue comes off as a bit stilted. Some pages are dominated with large blocks of text heavily infused with exposition. It feels stilted and unnatural, which disrupts the flow of an otherwise fluid comic. But again, if this is indeed meant to be a throwback to classic spy noir, this sin can be forgiven. After all, no one really talked the way they did in those old flicks and pulp comics, right?
If you’re looking for a comic that’s classic fun with just a hint of edge, Spy Seal is the book you need to pick up this week. Ian Fleming meets Raymond Chandler meets a petting zoo in this story straight from the mind of a 13-year-old Rich Tommaso.
What did you think of Spy Seal? What else are you reading this week? Comment below!