You've likely heard of Tom Taylor. He's one of the biggest rising stars of the last decade, thanks to his work at the Big Two. He turned Injustice, a video-game tie-in, into a bestselling success, DCeased is one of DC's biggest hits of late, and he's soon to have a similarly apocalyptic book at Marvel – Dark Ages. At least for this critic, All-New Wolverine is the highlight of his output, a blast of fresh air for the flagging X-line of the time with the lighter tone and heartfelt relationship between sisters standing out against the grimmer, more serious tone of DCeased in which emotional connections are born out of survival.
Written by Tom Taylor
Art by Daniele Di Nicuolo, Walter Baiamonte, and Katia Ranalli
Lettered by Ed Dukeshire
Published by BOOM! Studios
'Rama Rating: 4 out of 10
Chances are you've also heard of Seven Secrets, Taylor's new book, already being touted as Boom! Studios' most successful series launch. As his first creator-owned work in years, writing his own characters instead of those in established universes, it should offer an idea of 'what interests Tom Taylor interested in outside of superheroes?'
Instead, the narration found in this first issue is so all-encompassing about the nature of secrets that it doesn't pick a point to make. Ultimately it says nothing at all, even with secrets considered weapons or artifacts that could single-handedly end the world.
Seven Secrets #1 also puts a greater emphasis on teasing the lore of various secret orders than it does providing a strong sense of a protagonist. This idea-first world-building would be fine were it not for the fact that it avoids distinctively defining what makes characters different and drives them to conflict. The emotional beats suffer as a result, coming off as hollow due to there being less time invested in the characters, while DCeased was at least able to rely on readers' familiarity with continuity and existing character relationships — such as Damian Wayne and Jason Todd's reactions to the fate that befalls Bruce Wayne — to aid them in landing.
That said, there are intriguing glimmers of promise. The opening scene, in which artist Daniele Di Nicuolo starts with a close-up on the aftermath of a battle and gradually pulls out to establish the scale, suggests that they'll be getting right into the swing of the story. The in-medias-red approach is a ripe opportunity to get right into the thick of the story and let the adrenaline drive it forward... only Taylor stops to jump back in time instead.
Transitioning to three months prior, the bulk of the story unfolds in London at the scene of a different attack. While this is the more energetic scene of the two, the flow of the overall narrative is put off balance with little time for the reader to orientate themselves to the swift change in scenery and scale between the two locations.. There's more reverse chronology at play later in the issue – a flashback within a flashback that provides the only glimpse at the identity of the narrator in the issue. This structure is one of the things that saps Seven Secrets of forward momentum, even when the kinetic and crunchy work of Di Nicuolo, Walter Baiamonte, and Katia Ranalli is clear to see on the page.
It's here that the team introduces Sigurd and Eva — Keeper and Holder respectively — in a unit dedicated to keeping one of the titular Secrets safe. Considering another group is currently trying to obtain it, Sigurd and Eva need to get away as quickly as they can. Colorists Baiamonte and Ranalli make this clear with the intensity of the explosion that opens the sequence and the subsequent gunfire that erupts from the mysterious, attacking force. They and Di Nicuolo quickly transition from this cramped and dimly lit locale to the open air of London, as Eva races through the streets on a motorcycle. It's dynamic and bright with a strong sense of geography, only that drive is cut short again with Taylor flashing back to detail the duo's relationship.
Seven Secrets would likely read well as a story bible where all the lore that Taylor intends to build up over the course of the series, and how all these characters exist in relation to one another, is presented in a cleaner manner. There are a couple of links between the periods shown and hints at established history, but because it's not the time to reveal what that is, it feels like it's there to fill space more than anything else. Letterer Ed Dukeshire arranges it around the action as best he can but without any opportunity to imbue it with any additional personality.
The literal-mindedness of the script is so focused on secrets — the real protagonist of the issue is not only a secret but their name literally also means "a treasured secret" — leading to narration boxes presenting one idea and then immediately the reverse. Two examples: "Newer secrets" and "Older secrets", then "Power to illuminate" and "And to keep in the dark". Doing this once or twice would present opposing views if it came from two different characters. Continual repetition of this style solely from the protagonist wears down the effectiveness of this setup because it doesn't tell us which viewpoint they hold. All of this makes for an issue that's all surface-level. As pretty as it looks, there's little going on at a deeper level.
Reading the word "secret" so many times in the space of 24 pages led me to think about the briefcase in Pulp Fiction. As the McGuffin of the story, what's inside intrigues Jules and Vincent, not to mention the many people who have come up with theories about the cause of the glow. Tarantino, however, knows choosing not to divulge the answer allows it to hold greater thematic potential for any given reading. Seven Secrets #1 falls headfirst into that problem by being so intently focused on its namesake, and by proxy, offering little insight into the kind of the story this series will tell going forward. Which begs the question: when everything is kept a secret, what is ultimately revealed?