Secret Identity is a fantastic crime novel set in the seedy 70s comic book industry

Alex Segura has his roots deep in comics. He's worked at Wizard and DC, even served as the Co-President of Archie Comics before his current role as a Senior VP at Oni Press. And all the while, he's been writing, too — putting out comics like Archie Meets the Ramones and the noir-tinged Black Ghost, as well as a series of crime novels and even a licensed Star Wars book.

But his newest novel, Secret Identity, is absolutely the best thing he's done so far. It also feels the culmination of his entire resume so far — a crime novel set in the comic book industry, centered on a queer Latina woman. Here's the official blurb:

It's 1975, and the comic book industry is struggling, but Carmen Valdez doesn't care. She's an assistant at Triumph Comics, which doesn't have the creative zeal of Marvel nor the buttoned-up efficiency of DC, but it doesn't matter. Carmen is tantalizingly close to fulfilling her dream of writing a superhero book.

That dream is nearly a reality when one of the Triumph writers enlists her help to create a new character, which they call "The Lethal Lynx", Triumph's first female hero. But her colleague is acting strangely and asking to keep her involvement a secret. And then he's found dead, with all of their scripts turned into the publisher without her name. Carmen is desperate to piece together what happened to him, to hang on to her piece of the Lynx, which turns out to be a runaway hit. But that's complicated by a surprise visitor from her home in Miami, a tenacious cop who is piecing everything together too quickly for Carmen, and the tangled web of secrets and resentments among the passionate eccentrics who write comics for a living.

Alex Segura uses his expertise as a comics creator as well as his unabashed love of noir fiction to create a truly one-of-a-kind novel – hard-edged and bright-eyed, gritty and dangerous, and utterly absorbing.

This is a book for noir fans. This is a book for comic book fans. This is a book for people who like historical fiction that gives them a deeply intimate look at a strange and unique industry. This is a book for people who love to read about the creative process. This is for people who want to see Latinx characters fully fleshed out in American history. It is, quite simply, just an excellent book for anyone.

The comic book industry has a complex and fascinating role in American art history. There's the mythology and iconography of certain long-running superheroes, yes, but there's also the fact that the artwork was written as disposable pulp for so long. This enabled some creators to push boundaries in interesting ways that ended up having unexpected influences on future generations; it also enabled those creators to enter into lazy agreements with publishers who were later able to exploit those intellectual property rights and spin them into box office gold. By setting the story in the 70s, Segura is able to lean on the cultural shift occurring in New York's music and art scenes to explore the dark underside of the comic book industry. The sexuality and drug use of 70s New York come into play as well, in ways that also feel and organic. Even if you didn't know there were overlaps between comic books and punk rock and the LGBTQ+ community in the 70s, it all makes sense, and Segura elegantly weaves these elements together in an organic, character-driven way, with the kind of deft prose that just lets your mind take over.

I don't know what else to say about this book without spoiling it, but I found it absolutely rich and delightful, and I think you will, too.

Secret Identity [Alex Segura]