The Secret Voice vol. 1 HC – Zack Soto

4 out of 5

A collection of creator Zack Soto’s previous Secret Voice works, I’m happy to report that having adventurer and sorcerer Doctor Galapagos’ travails in getting various tribes to join up with the Red Kingdom against the nefarious Smog King streamlined into one reading experience does all sorts of beneficial things, mainly: making it hecka fun and exciting to read. Not that previous issues weren’t fun in their own ways, but the world of Galapagos is rather vague, and the issues’ releases spread out, so it made figuring the whole thing as one tale – one in which Soto is also doing some world building – harder to actualize. The tone was also somewhat indiscernible in the single issue format, with the explosion of violence in issue one and some of the clipped dialogue suggesting something pulpy or darkly comedic, when the hardcover more clearly shows that we’re reading a pretty straight fantasy novel.

…Which Soto takes a bit of a backwards route to explain, slightly to The Secret Voice’s detriment. The first issue certainly lays down the gist, with Galapagos visiting the troll kingdom to explain that Smog King Wux Heng is up to conquering no-goods, and by bonding together, the various mates of The Red Kingdom can triumph over the evil, only for the conversation to go way South when ‘a secret voice’ confuzzles Galapagos’ thoughts and he ends up attacking the troll king, leading to pages and pages of a mostly wordless, sword-swinging, spell-casting, monster-making, thrilling escape. That is the remainder of the book’s m.o.: we see some other Kingdom inhabitants fighting the King, or discussing their plans, checking in with Galapagos on his way back with post-troll news, but the display of that ‘voice’ is set very much on the back burner. Soto brings it up in passing – showing the Doc temporarily waylaid by a spell of some sort, mentioning the ill effects of a poison – but not affected to the extent that he initially was, making it unclear what the focus of our story will actually end up being.  (As in: maybe I’m mis-attributing the voice the Doc heard for the one mentioned in the title…?)

But Zack is writing the long game. More characters and concepts are wended in, and that ‘1’ on the book’s binding does, indeed, turn out to be a promise of volumes to come, which I very much hope is the case.  Zack displays a fantastic sense of action paneling in Secret Voice, and his indie mindset lends the inbetween moments an interesting bit of wandering / surreality via the layouts and half-overheard banter. The coloring grows a bit warmer over the course of the issues, but maintains a very Fiffe-y pastel base that gives the world of SV its own vibe. And, ya know, the worlds and characters growing within Secret Voice are actually just as interesting as its (initially) mysteriously bandaged antagonist; a very good sign that this long game will be worth playing.

The Floating World Comics woven binding and hard cover on this are quality; the printing looks great – coloring on issue 3 was definitely enhanced, inking / pencils throughout were cleaned up – but the page stock may actually be too thick, as I was struggling to turn the pages one at a time. You also get a couple of Secret Voice-adjacent shorts in the back (one previously printed), and some pinups. I own the issues; I own this. They’re each unique reading experiences, and worth it in whatever format you can grab.