Rich Tommaso’s new graphic novel series takes readers into the underground world of European espionage. However, instead of human characters, the author uses anthropomorphic animals, placing them in an alternate version of 1960s Europe. Entitled Spy Seal, Vol.1: The Corten-Steel Phoenix, readers are treated to a graphic novel filled with spy thriller action, colorful characters, and an entertaining storyline.

There are tensions between the British and the Russians, especially within their spy agencies. While attending an art showing with his close friend Sylvia, a seal named Malcolm Warner becomes drawn into the secret life of espionage after he saves her and a member of the British Parliament from an attempted assassination. MI-6 is impressed and gives Malcolm the opportunity to become a spy. His mission is to infiltrate the art world of Europe to find a group of Russian secret service agents who are targeting members of Parliament. With help from Agent Kes and the rest of MI-6, Malcolm soon discovers the Russians’ headquarters, former agents passing information during various art shows, and a liberation movement protesting against the Russians.

With espionage influences and a creative cast of characters, Spy Seal is an action-packed graphic novel. The storyline is reminiscent of classic spy novels and movies, from the numerous disguises to high-tech gadgets. Malcolm Warner is a newbie at the agency but with his military training and willingness to partake in the mission, he fits right in with the rest of his spy group. However, a detailed look into his past may give his character more definition; something I would like to see in a potential sequel.

The action scenes are shown very well with multiple panels of gun fights, chases, vehicle crashes, and close up illustrations of expressive characters. There are plenty of these scenes from page to page but it does not deter from the dialogue and the story. The ensemble of characters are anthropomorphic animals wearing clothing and hairstyles similar to the fashion of the 1960s. Besides the titular spy seal, the rest of the characters are a variety of species, such as birds, dogs, reptiles, rabbits, and even one mythical creature (hint… hint… ). Tommaso’s artwork is very similar to that of Hergé (The Adventures of Tintin), the action scenes and moments of world travel especially, and Jason (I Killed Adolf Hitler), who has created graphic novels with anthropomorphic characters.

This first volume of the Spy Seal series is a good addition to a library’s graphic novel collection. It will appeal primarily to an adult audience. Devoted readers of spy stories will enjoy the action sequences, mysterious characters, and the dialogue centered on espionage work.  Teen readers who are interested in spy thrillers and action comics may want to give this story a try as well, but some may find the anthropomorphic concept silly or unappealing. Those who enjoy anthropomorphic graphic novels, such as from Bryan Talbot’s Grandville and Juan Diaz Canales’ Blacksad, will be intrigued with this new series, especially the mystery and action within the story.

Spy Seal, Vol.1: The Corten-Steel Phoenix 
by Rich Tommaso
ISBN: 9781534304796
Image Comics, 2017

  • Gloria

    | She/Her Children's Librarian, Elmont Memorial Library

    Gloria is a full-time children’s librarian at the Elmont Memorial Library in Long Island, New York where she runs a monthly STEAM program, a graphic novel book club, and storytime for preschoolers. During her free time, she is found reading anything and everything from the classics, to poetry, to the newest best seller. Her other interests include writing, online games, exploring new areas in her home state, and spending time with friends, family, and colleagues. She has also written articles and reviews for the website Cosplay, Comics, and Geek Culture in Libraries and on her personal Goodreads page.

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