Growing up on the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and An American Tail.\, I had a healthy training ground in learning to love anthropomorphic stories. It’s carried over throughout the years, so when I saw there was a new series about a Spy Seal, I squealed in my head a little. I feel like there’s still a lot of territory to cover in this genre…can it be called a genre? I think so. Spy Seal follows Malcolm, our out-of-work seal, who inadvertently becomes involved in some espionage action when he goes to an art gallery with his bird friend, Sylvia. Like a good, old-fashioned Hitchcock story, a mysterious and buxom (in this case) bunny sidles up to the well-dressed Malcolm, and things go downhill from there. Malcolm proves a hero – he was military after all – and this entrenches him even more into a world of Secret Agents, MI-6, and deadly assassins.
The series by Rich Tommaso is almost a perfect balance between silly and serious. Sometimes, the characters fill the pages with a little too much political theory, which is much more effective when the more dramatic elements come into the story, and not enough quick-paced repartee, which if you’re going to delve into the world of Hitchcock and spy thrillers, the dialogue should clip along from panel to panel. It doesn’t always here. On the silly side, birds squawk when they are shot and use knowing puns like “the winged me.” There’s such joy for me in moments like this, but I feel like it can be pushed a little further. When anthropomorphic animals act too human, I start to wonder why the decision was made to make them animals in the first place. Would it be too much to have a bird human eat a worm, or a seal spend some time underwater every day? Whether or not things are pushed to that degree, I feel Tommaso has a lot more room to play. Hopefully, he’ll dig a little more in future issues.
I love the artwork and the look and feel of the characters. The character designs are simple but a lot of fun. It’s in the actual script, the dialogue, that the book is a little clunky. Thankfully, not in a way that makes you not want to turn the page. It lessens the fun of the dialogue and slows the flow of the book down. When Malcolm gets his mysterious spy back to his place, they spend a healthy amount of time paragraphing at each other about the state of the world and how Malcolm’s views are slightly shortsighted. My guess is as Malcolm becomes more embroiled in this world, his worldview is going to change a little. Maybe a lot.
And finally a shout-out for the lettering. There’s a certain subtle and whimsical feel to the font being used and the way sounds enter into panels to create tension. It’s truly an effective part of the story in creating the world.
It’s a fun first book with a lot of potential to be great. I hope Tommaso continues to strengthen the voice of the book and takes more chances creatively.