Writer Cristofer Emgard and artist Tomas Aria blend genres in the opening chapter of their 4our issue mini-series in “The Secret Land” #1. Lettered by Mauro Mantella, this WWII romance and espionage story collides with hints of cosmic horror to make for one of the most intriguing debut issues I’ve read in 2021. With an intelligent and perfectly-paced script and outstanding artwork, this is a series I can’t wait to watch unfold.
“Hitler’s dead. Ben and Katherine are supposed to be together, happy. Instead, Ben fights the war in the Pacific with the reckless heroism of one who believes his fiance killed in action. Yet, Katharine lives, undercover and about to arrive at the Third Reich’s last bastion. Something is waiting for her there, for all of them, and it is hungry.”
Writing & Plot
It’s a pretty incredible feat just how much Cristofer Emgard manages to pack into the script of “The Secret Land” #1 without the story ever feeling like it’s too bloated. He immediately sets about crafting the longing tone of the comic by introducing the challenging and unfair love of our two protagonists separated by a war on two fronts; Ben is the head of a special operative task force fighting in the Pacific during WWII (a la The Losers), and Kat is a top tier spy keeping track of what the Nazis are up to after their defeat at the hands of the Allies. While Ben’s story is cool enough, the real focus of the book is Kat’s espionage in the Nazi stronghold. This is where the book’s larger struggle comes into play while also revealing the strange cosmic horror element in the plot. Emgard focuses on the continuing evil of the Nazis especially in defeat, and also hints at this side of reality that they are fumbling at but cannot even begin to understand. The way the plot is handled is excellently intriguing, as the script never gives away too much of the larger plot and there is very little exposition. The human characters and their personal efforts in this conflict, and their own human struggles, never get lost in the shuffle of war and impending supernatural threats. This is an airtight script for one of the most promising debut issues I’ve read in 2021.
Of course none of the solid writing would matter much if the visual end couldn’t hold up its end of the bargain. Luckily, “The Secret Land” #1 has Tomas Aria on hand for the artwork. Aria’s visuals are crisp and clean in a highly professional looking manner, reminiscent of a modern era Marvel comic. However, the art still surprises beyond its normal character and environmental beauty with some grotesque shock popping up in the big “oh this is a horror comic” scene. Facial animations and designs are all stellar, with every person looking and being presented completely uniquely from one another. The environments are cleanly drawn and well-detailed as well, from the Naval ships on the open ocean to the secret labs of the Nazi’s hidden base. His coloring is also bright and intensely vivid, breathing more life into the panels with an adaptive palette. My one issue here is that the art sometimes comes out as a bit *too* clean. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a comic hit the area of the uncanny valley before, but this one comes close at a couple of points. The letters from Mauro Mantella are classic and professional looking, which makes the reading experience easily enjoyable. This is, for the most part, a stellar looking comic that brings together the action, thriller intensity, romantic intimacy, and shocking horror in a way that gels together under the same dynamic aesthetic.
“The Secret Land” #1 is a rich, fascinating, and engaging opening chapter to this WWII story/cosmic horror mini-series. Cristofer Emgard’s script is stacked with intimate character moments, espionage thriller tension, and surprise flashes of grotesque terror that all come out well-paced and not overstuffed. The visuals from Tomas Aria are well-directed, sharp, and (mostly) gorgeous to look at, crafting this comic’s sense of pace and tension wonderfully. If this sort of comic strikes your fancy, be sure to grab it when it hits shelves on 6/9!