Written by Zeke Perez Jr.
I’m starting to wonder whether we need to reconsider how we use the old saying ‘don’t judge a book by its cover.’ I mean, sure, it still applies to people and - in most cases - books. But it definitely doesn’t work for comics. Ignoring that adage allowed me to stumble upon Rich Tommaso’s Spy Seal series.
I was strolling through Mile High Comics in August, hoping to scratch the itch for a new series to follow. I was growing tired of following the same heroes and the same universes. I wanted to find something different, something unlike what I typically read. I scanned the rack of new releases and instantly found just that. Bright colors, amazing design, fun characters, a compelling title. Judging it solely by the cover, Spy Seal: The Corten-Steel Phoenix seemed to be among the most incredible comic books I had ever seen.
I’m not sure which aspect of the cover drew me in first: the exuberant colors or the title character. Either way, I was sold! Who doesn’t want to read a story about an anthropomorphic seal leading a life of espionage?? Immediately upon cracking the cover, I knew I made the right choice about picking it up. The story begins with a conversation between the titular protagonist, a seal by the name of Malcolm Warner, and his bird friend Sylvia. They discuss current events and the struggles of the oppressed working class in their country. The juxtaposition of cartoonish animals discussing high-level politics was unexpected, but I found it hilarious. It set the tone for the spy tale that was to come.
Between assassination attempts, chase scenes, gadgets, and hand-to-hand combat, Spy Seal presents an exhilarating spy story. Tommaso alternates between stretches that are very dialogue-rich and multiple shorter panels with no words and all action. The text-based panels tend to be a bit wordier than what you might typically expect from a comic, but they read smoothly and the story flows well.
I also truly loved Tommaso’s art and coloring. His artistic style is reminiscent of European comics, often appearing as a dead ringer for The Adventures of Tintin. The vibrant pastels made each cover and page pop. (My personal favorite was the cover for issue 003; a train rolling through a snowy mountain pass.) Even the inside covers feature unique and delightful patterns. In addition to the crisp characters and landscapes, I credit Tommaso for his attention to detail in each and every scene. Everything from paintings in the background of an art gallery to city skylines draws the reader’s eye, thanks to the nuances in each panel.
Rich Tommaso is currently at work on the next chapter in Malcolm Warner’s life: Spy Seal: The Flight of the Golden Bells. In the meantime, I wholly recommend giving Spy Seal: The Corten-Steel Phoenix a read. The four-part series, labeled 001 through 004 in true spy fashion, is available today in a trade paperback collection. And not just a normal TPB either. The collection comes in an oversized ‘French album size’ book. Tommaso wrote, illustrated, colored, and lettered the entire work himself, a grand feat made all the more impressive by the quality of the series. Head to your local comic book shop or bookstore today to pick up the Spy Seal series, not only to find out why it made a number of ‘Top Comics of 2017’ lists, but to support a solid all-around comic artist.