GRAPHIC NOVEL REVIEW: Super Spy
The life of a spy is a cramped, paranoid, fear-ridden thing, not one of derring-do and adventure. Matt Kindt knows that well. His second graphic novel Super Spy is set during World War II, in England, France, Spain, and other places, and features a large cast drawn from all the nations of the European theater. Some of the spies use fancy gadgets and many of them have a mystique about them, but they’re all mortal, all prone to making mistakes, all caught up in something much larger and more deadly than themselves.
The production design of Super Spy might lead the reader to expect one kind of story – the front cover shows a woman, crouching, with circles explaining bits of spy paraphernalia and events in her career. The back similarly depicts a man. Both are obviously cramped, forced into an uncomfortable position, with their hands at the edges of the cover – perhaps the walls are closing in on them? It’s a strong visual metaphor both for the life of spying – constrained, constricted, having ones life shoved into a box – and for the hardships of WW II itself. So far, so accurate. But the cover also hints that this will be a story primarily about these two people. We don’t know their names on the cover, but the tags on “his” picture refer to “her,” and to their shared experiences.
Super Spy is not the story of two people; there are at least six major characters, of whom these two are only the ones we meet first. These two are not even necessarily the most important characters. And, given the dangers of spying in wartime, it’s wise not to get too attached to any character in this book. Kindt knows that spycraft is a very dangerous profession, and he shows us all of those dangers.
For a book mostly focusing on Allied military/government personnel during “the good war,” Super Spy is almost entirely free of propaganda. We’re never told that what these characters are doing is vital to the cause of freedom in the world; they never use words like that with each other. It’s simply what they do, and what they have to do.
To get any further into the plot, I would have to start listing characters and explaining their connections to each other, which would inevitably give away important plot points from the first several sections. (Super Spy is told in thirty-seven chapters, arranged in a non-linear fashion; it begins with chapter five and ends with number thirty-four.) Since the whole point of a spy story is to learn the little details oneself by reading it, I won’t do that.
I will, instead, urge you to read Super Spy. It’s a carefully-constructed tale, with a definite point of view and a characteristic tone but utterly without message. The story is engrossing, the characters are true to life, the events are often heartbreaking. After reading it, I’m going to try to find Kindt’s first graphic novel, [[[2 Sisters]]], for myself. One of the quotes on the back cover compares Super Spy to Art Spiegelman’s [[[Maus]]]; that’s a bit of a stretch, but not completely out of the realm of reality. It’s a major book from a creator I expect we’ll be hearing a lot more about over the next few years.
Top Shelf Productions, 2007, $19.95