Spy Seal Volume 1: The Corten-Steel Phoenix is an espionage comic book with anthropomorphised animals as its cast. Apart from this key fact about the species of its characters, it is fairly standard as spy thrillers go. Terrorists have attempted to assassinate a member of parliament, and it is up to the titular Spy Seal to save the day.
The book is only 72 pages long, and this is reflected in its pacing. The story moves from one scene to the next at a consistently brisk pace. Each scene is allowed to develop enough to sustain the intrigue of the comic while ending quickly enough to allow the full story to be told in the relatively limited page count.
The fact that every character is an animal is something that is rarely made part of the plot, but is used creatively when properly utilised. At one point, the Spy Seal receives a message about his mission from a mouse. The way that the mouse chooses to blend in with the environment only makes sense for a mouse, and a human character trying something similar would attract attention rather than escape it. Similarly, the Spy Seal and his fellow agent are only able to escape one near death experience because of his colleague's animal nature. Because Spy Seal only rarely acknowledges the fact that it is a book full of animals it avoids coming across as an overused pun. The book manages to find the sweet spot of not hitting you over the head with its central conceit, while also managing to make use of obvious differences that result from not having a set of human characters.
The characterisation of the cast should be somewhat familiar to fans of such series as James Bond, but there are differences, most noticeably in the main character. The Spy Seal isn't the suave ladies' man archetype made famous by James Bond. He gets on with the women he meets in the comic, but doesn't charm or seduce them. He is more of a hapless everyman than is typical for such characters. He is skilled at what he does, but struggles enough to be endearing.
Spy Seal Volume 1: The Corten-Steel Phoenix is a charming oddity of a book which uses the well-worn ground of international espionage as an anchor for its less conventional elements. This combination makes for a charming comic, and a fun read.
SPY SEAL VOLUME 1: THE CORTEN-STEEL PHOENIX / STORY, ART, AND COVER: RICH TONMASO / PUBLISHER: IMAGE COMICS / RELEASE DATE: JANUARY 30TH