Spy Island #1 Review: A Weird, Stylish Genre Thriller

Spy Island reunites writer Chelsea Cain with two artists from her Image Comics series, ManeatersLia Miternique, who is credited as co-creator, cover artist, and artist for supplemental material, and Elise McCall, who handles the main art. Rachelle Rosenberg is on colors, Joe Caramagna does the lettering, and Stella Greenvoss handles more supplemental material for this Dark Horse debut. Cain is known for making waves in the comics industry, from her "Ask Me About My Feminist Agenda" movement that began with a Mockingbird cover and Maneaters, which proved controversial in more ways than one. Now, with Spy Island #1, Cain returns to comics with a rather unique concept. Let's dive in.

Spy Island #1 is the next Chelsea Cain comic series. Credit: Dark Horse
Spy Island #1 is the next Chelsea Cain comic series. Credit: Dark Horse

Spy Island is about a spy/assassin who is currently stationed on the Bermuda Triangle in an island full of spies. It largely reads like a straight-forward spy book with murder, espionage, and sex, but there are fantasy elements at play as well. Very lightly at play, though, as all that shows up in the book before the final shot is a far-off shot of a Black Lagoon-looking guy and a few references to supernatural creatures and events. To say it takes the supernatural in stride is an understatement, which is an interesting feature of the book that either makes it unique or makes its focus feel strange depending on how Cain handles the actual addition of mermaids into the plot in the next issues. There's not much in the way of the plot yet, but the book is heavy on exposition and style. It plays with the limits of the comics medium with sight gags and creative cuts, transitioning from the lead and a (very hairy) man about to have sex to a full splash page with the word "SEX" in huge lettering. It's that strange, stylish tone that keeps the reader tearing through these pages, but it's oddly short on character development considering how much the lead, Nora, spends narrating.

The artwork in Spy Island #1 is good; it delivers detailed and vibrant pages that have a real sense of life to them. McCall's pages are dynamic as hell, doing the heavy lifting in bringing these characters to life. The pages are characterized by busy backgrounds in which readers may discover hidden details on second or third reads, but the focus is always made very clear. The lettering is good, hold for one mistake in the structure of a balloon that should have been caught by editorial, but it doesn't detract from the reading experience.

Spy Island #1 is unique and stylish, but gives the reader too much over-explaining the life of a spy and not enough mythology or character development. The series will sink or swim, as it were, on if the next issue can change that.

About Theo Dwyer

Theo Dwyer writes about comics, film, and games.