Tom Taylor has written several comics I’ve really liked, with his run on “All-New Wolverine” and “DCeased: Unkillables” chief among them. So when I heard that he was going the creator-owned route with artist Daniele Di Nicuolo for “Seven Secrets” at BOOM! I knew that I had to check it out. Never mind the fact that I’d not heard of Di Nicuolo prior to this -- mainly because he has a long history of drawing “Power Rangers” comics at the publisher. The thing is that by the end of this volume, I was far more enthused about the art than the writing.
What are the Seven Secrets? Secret, that’s what. All we’re told about them is that they’re things of unimaginable power that have the ability to change the world. The person doing the telling is Caspar, the youngest member of the Order of Seven Secrets. He tells us the story of his upbringing, which involves living amongst awesome people of incredible talent and parents who can never admit their love for him. It also involves him enduring trials to become a keeper of one of the Secrets after one of its protectors is killed. That’s because there is one organization dead set on taking the Secrets and the power they represent for themselves.
After the end of the first volume, the Seven Secrets in question feel more like the “Seven MacGuffins” as they only exist to drive the plot. Or provide convenient escapes from it. This would be a problem if Taylor didn’t make it explicitly clear that this is Caspar’s story above all else. So it’s fortunate that he’s a likeable protagonist who thrives on the opportunity presented by the Order and uses it to become a hero with a versatile skill set. This is tempered by the ongoing drama with his family situation, but we’re fortunate that the writer understands that’s meant to be balanced with good stuff and not wrung out for angst. There’s also the matter of how Caspar is identified as a “chosen one” of sorts, but that seems like something we’ll get to in subsequent volumes.
If Caspar sounds like a familiar kind of protagonist, then it probably won’t surprise you to learn that familiarity extends to the story itself. I mentioned my issue with the Secrets themselves, but most everything else in this volume plays out as you’d expect. The Order is home to a school-like environment with colorful instructors and leaders who are hiding their own secrets while the organization opposed to them is fronted by a familiar bad-guy archetype with parental issues. Oh, and if you’re thinking that things are going to end badly for the Order by the end of the volume, well…
The biggest issue I had with vol. 1 is how there was one moment when Taylor looked like he was really going to go against convention. I don’t want to say too much about it, but it was a twist that made beautiful sense and had me thinking that the series was about to go off in a really unexpected direction. Then it was revealed to be a trick and we were back on the expected path by the end of the issue. Fool me once, “Seven Secrets…”
Still, the first volume’s appeal isn’t really in its writing or plotting. No, it’s in the art from Di Nicuolo who has a vibrant style that really jumps out at you. It’s clear from the surprisingly blood-soaked and violent start as the pages pan over a recent battlefield and the opening of one Secret before jumping back in time to show Caspar’s parents escaping an attack. The scene is fast, with characters full of energy and momentum, and structured in a way that’s easy to follow while communicating the action in a coherent way.
This is just the start as Di Nicuolo shows that he’s quite good with quieter scenes as we flash back even further to find out more about Caspar’s parents. A lot of talking heads are involved, but just like the action, they’re framed in a way to hold your interest and maintain the drama. Later on we get to see Caspar’s introduction to the Order and the look of everyone training together in the courtyard makes it easy to understand why our protagonist is delighted by it. I could go on and expound more about Di Nicuolo’s action scenes as the volume goes on, but I’ll leave it at this: His work elevates the story.
It’s not something I was expecting to write before I read this first volume, but there you go. Taylor does good work in making Caspar an appealing protagonist, and in providing the occasional convention-busting bit of dialogue. Yet the story he’s telling is quite familiar and I’m not encouraged by the fact that his one major deviation from predictability wound up being a fake-out. Which is a good thing that it’s supported by Di Nicuolo’s fantastic illustrations, as it does a much better job of enlivening the old tropes employed here. I know that Taylor is capable of the same, and while I hope to see him do so in vol. 2, I know that I’ll at least have more great art to look forward to when it drops.