Spy thrillers are funny things. As a life-long fan of genre fiction, I've always had a soft spot for a good espionage thriller. But as an adult and a journalist who has much greater understanding of the real-life intelligence community, I find myself becoming increasingly aware of where and how I have to suspend my disbelief with these stories. Sure, there are plenty of stories that (accurately) depict spies as people operating in shades of grey, with no real "heroes." But even those stories still rely on a certain sense of competency. The spies are genuinely good at what they do, and aren't, ya know, self-important bureaucrats who spend half their time mopping messes that they made themselves.
And that's why I had such a goofy grin on my face while reading the first issue of Spy Superb, a new comic by Matt Kindt and Sharlene Kindt that's pitched as "John Wick meets Wes Anderson. The book cleverly flips spy tropes on their head not once but twice. The basic setup is that the titular Spy Superb doesn't really exist — rather, it's a fiction created by the US intelligence community to scare other countries into thinking they created the most unstoppable, unfindable super spy of all time. In reality, the Spy Superb is not a single spy, but a bunch of bureaucrats who manipulate everyday people into being their unknowing pawns for data collection — which is both clever spycraft, and also, weirdly more in line with actual spy work than the sneaking around seen in so many spy thrillers.
But things get complicated when their most recent asset, a useful idiot named Jay Bartholomew III, turns out to be even more idiot than they bargained for: a single, middle-aged, underemployed, "do-your-own-research"-type who fancies himself an aspiring novelist whom the world just isn't ready for (despite the fact that he hasn't really written much of anything). He's that deadly combination of incel who's just as arrogant as he is oblivious, a walking example of how you can't make anything idiot proof. He's pathetic, and you know he knows it, but at the same time, it's hard to feel bad for him because he sucks so much. But it's because he sucks that he foils the spy bureau's schemes to manipulate him, and spins things out into an even wilder conspiracy — all of which naturally lead him to conclude that he is, in fact, a sleeper agent who is secretly the greatest spy who ever existed, and not just a lonely redditor disappointed with his life.
There are certainly Hollywood-ized versions of "Dumb person gets recruited to be a spy, hilarity ensues, starring Melissa McCarthy and/or Kevin Hart." But Spy Superb is great because everyone takes it deadly serious. In other words, it feels like a great espionage thriller, instead of a comedy, even if it is sort of satirizing everyone involved. And I'm excited to see where it goes!
Spy Superb [Matt Kindt and Sharlene Kindt / Dark Horse Comics]