Monday, March 26, 2018

Far Better than they Needed to Be

The two #0 issues of Valiant's Secret Weapons have both been released, each an origin story about a different misfit kid from last year's miniseries:

The first #0 is Nikki's Story. Nikki Finch is a psiot whose power is to communicate with birds. The second #0 is Owen's Story. Owen Cho is a psiot whose power is to conjure things from thin air, only he can't control what he conjures or when it appears. These powers are low on the list of cool things Harada and the Harbinger group envision as useful, so they were shipped to the facility in OKC that opens the acclaimed miniseries from last year:

What I noticed about each of these 0 issues is that both are far better than they needed to be. Fans of the miniseries will likely have purchased them anyway, or, as was the case with me, having the original miniseries on my pull lead to each of these being added without my asking. This is just one more moment of Valiant doing that extra something that makes fans believe.

The storytelling in each is different than most books coming before, and each are incredibly novel and successful in their approach, and each is different enough from each other that we fans should be celebrating a company willing to be different and succeeding to be excellent at the same time.

Nikki's story is framed by a calendar year in her life, and each page is broken up into four equal-sized rectangles. Nikki appears in the center of all but a single panel, while many panels are dated when necessary. In the beginning of the year we see her getting a call from a Harbinger recruiter who saw some footage of her executing a perfect gymnastics routine on Youtube. A year later at the end we see her and Owen in a scene from the first issue of the miniseries. In between we see the tragedy unfold rectangle by rectangle...her parents don't want her to go to the Harbinger training facility; she leaves high school after her 18th birthday and goes anyway; she survives the activation; her power takes a while to be discovered; Harada goes down and the feds come shooting the place up; a monster gets released...all in all it's a busy year. The framing device and so-old-school-it-qualifies-as-experimental storytelling really nail the pathos of Nikki Finch's plight. Why shouldn't she be able to go back home sometime in the future?

If Valiant had used the same style of framing device and approach, it would have been lazy, but challenging and interesting nonetheless. But Eric Heisserer wouldn't have stooped to that level. That device and structure worked for Nikki and her background, but Owen needed a different approach.

Owen's story is framed by a yard sale. He struggles to maintain a job because of his often inopportune conjurings, and has decided to have a yard sale to raise some funds, really just enough to get a friend to let him couch surf until he gets a little more sure-footed. The framing device is a series of vignettes about the circumstances about which he conjured individual items. Readers begin to see how some items have serve no purpose, some items serve an immediate purpose and give hope that Owen may one day have control over the power, and some items are needed in the future, but that's unknown at the time they're conjured. Heisserer spoke specifically about the difficulty of writing the vignettes, about how to make everything fit, and in doing so, the world fleshed out by the six issues becomes more alive. We get to see particular rectangles from Nikki's story from Owen's POV, and come up on the same moment from the end of the other zero-issue and the start of the first issue of the miniseries.

Individually the books are great, and no history is necessary to pick either up randomly, but to see how all six issues fit together, and the story puzzles itself together, the full mastery of the art form is on display.

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