Review of Secret Identity by Alex Segura
I’ve always liked the idea of a story that somehow involved the comic book industry in some way. Maybe it’s because it’s a niche industry, but I think the dramatic scale of comics translates well to some intriguing character-oriented drama. Personally, I think it’s cool to tell a story of another genre in the settings of the comic book industry. And that’s what I loved about Secret Identity, where Alex Segura writes a compelling mystery set in the world of comics.
Taking place in the ‘70s, Alex Segura’s novel follows the story of Carmen Valdez, a Latin-American assistant at publisher Triumph Comics (a perfect old-school name for a comic book publisher of that decade if you ask me), who aspires to write her own stories in the industry. Luckily, she gets the chance to write a comic for the publisher thanks to one of her co-workers wanting her help in writing a character, though her involvement is kept under wraps. However, tragedy strikes when her co-worker is found dead with a gunshot to the head. Carmen decides to unravel the thread of events that led to the murder.
There is a great mystery story that is being told here, and I think having the plot set in the world of comics is a great premise. References to famous comic book creators are listed and despite Triumph Comics and Carmen Valdez being fictional characters, there’s a realism to Segura’s style of writing which works so well to the point where there were times when I almost had the temptation to look up some of the characters, even if I knew they weren’t real. There’s a lived-in quality to the world that was enjoyable to read. It adds to what I felt was the almost “noir-esque” quality of the mystery being told here, as Carmen investigates various clues to unearth who may have murdered her co-worker.
The realism of the world Segura crafts showcases the flaws of the industry. Carmen wants to break into the comic book world, but she must deal with a dismissive attitude upheld by certain figures, which speaks to how the industry has always marginalized women, people of color, LGBTQ folks, and the like because they didn’t fit into a dominant ideology of what the quintessential comic book writer is supposed to be. While things are better on the representation front in the real world, it isn’t any better, especially when considering how difficult it can be for a creator, who’s not a cisgender straight white man, to break into comics. Because of this, certain aspects of the marginalization that are depicted in the story feel rather real when considering what has happened in the industry. The marginalization isn’t upfront, but it is passive, which is worse.
Through the marginalisation Carmen faces, Segura creates a compelling character study that meshes well with the murder she investigates, especially with regards to her motivations and her desires. There’s an interesting character-oriented direction as we learn more about Carmen’s life and the subtleties as she develops over the course of the story are incredibly written. And it does this perfectly especially when Segura utilizes an almost comic book-y style of narration. Secret Identity is a suspenseful thriller about the comic book industry that is introspective about the world it is set in.
Secret Identity is available for purchase at your local bookstore or wherever they’re selling what I think would be the best books of 2022.