My So-Called Secret Identity Volume 1 Print Edition Review

The past couple of weeks have not been a good time for female fans of comics. Between GamerGate trying to set up a booth at a Calgary Con, Michelle MacLaren’s rapid exit from Wonder Woman, and Jeremy Renner and Chris Evans’ inappropriate jokes about Black Widow, and Renner’s ridiculous non-apology. There was also the disappointment (again) with a lack of Black Widow merchandise, and Target’s misstep with the Star Wars shirt.

So it was a nice change of pace to sit down and review Volume I of the print edition of My So-Called Secret Identity as a preparation for the Kickstarter and release of Volume II this summer.

As the promotional materials for MSCSI state, “Since MSCSI launched in 2013, the mainstream comic industry has changed, introducing female characters with practical outfits, hipster neighborhoods and diverse friendships – just like Cat’s.” Looking at other comics from the last two years it is easy to see the impact Cat Daniels has had on both the look and character of other books. Cat Daniels is unique in that she’s a PhD student with a photographic memory, with a tagline of “smart is a superpower.” She’s not rich, and doesn’t have a lot of resources, but she does have herself, and friends. Armed only with this Cat decides that she has to fight or her city, that someone has to try. And so we begin to follow Cat on her adventure as she tries to identify the big bad, and help protect the people of the her city, Gloria.

There are plenty of things that will be look familiar to comic fans in MSCSI. The homemade costume, the full page panel layouts, the sidekicks that rally to the cause. But rather than these feeling like tropes, MSCSI uses these familiar elements to tell a new story.

MSCSI, created by Suze Shore, Will Brooker and Sarah Zaidan, launched online in February 2013. Issues 2 and 3, funded entirely by fan donations, followed later that year, with Issue 4 released in June 2014 and all four of these issues are still available online for viewing.

Later there was a reprint edition of issues 1 and 2 in a special issue of Geeked magazine. Expanding how they offered the comic and the reach of their audience there was  a successful Kickstarter campaign in July 2014, which raised over £10,000, and allowed them to produce Issue 5 – the final episode of the first volume – and published the complete story in February 2015 as a collected, full colour, high quality print edition. The comic follows Cat: Catherine Abigail Daniels, a cop’s daughter and PhD student; an average young woman who just happens to be very, very clever.

One of the things that was great about the beginning of MSCSI was that you weren’t just getting a comic. The fan incentives as part of the fundraising were great, and seemed like personal touches. Cat Daniels and Urbanite were regular Tweeters, actively engaging with fans, garnering attention, and both had their own voices. They advertised their campaign, offered cells you could print out, color, and send back. On the website there’s also the Lookbook, a scrapbook of character sketches, background and insights on characters. While these online presences became less active as the issues continued, and MSCSI took off, it was one of the things that I think made the comic, and the character so special, and I hope it’s something that the team thinks about reviving for their June Kickstarter. While I know it has to be time consuming, that kind of personal interaction means a lot to the fans, and I think that one on one was part of what made the comic so unique and to me, was a big part of the reason why I was such a big supporter early on.

It’s obvious from the Lookbook that the creators are fans, and know the types of things fans like and want in their extras. The website has some great extras. There’s a Sound and Vision page that gives a play list. The Community page has readings lists and resources. And for people who like to wear their fandom, or want print editions of the comic, there’s the Shop.

In June, the team begins their second Kickstarter for the more ambitious second volume, featuring guest art from world-famous names alongside early-career artists – including John Higgins (Watchmen), Steve Yeowell (Zenith), Marguerite Sauvage (Wonder Woman), Rachael Stott (Star Trek/Planet of the Apes), Sally Jane Thompson and Arielle Jovellanos (both from the white-hot new Kickstarter project, Fresh Romance). The website already has some preview sketches available on the site.

I’m looking forward to seeing what the team does next with this Volume because one thing they’ve proven the past two years is that they will constantly and consistently provide great material for fans.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Karra Shimabukuro is a Ph.D. student in British and Irish literary studies at the University of New Mexico. Her research focuses on how folkloric characters (especially the Devil) are represented in literature and popular culture. She regularly writes reviews for The Journal of Popular Culture and The Journal of Folklore Research Review, and she is also a regular presenter at the Popular Culture National Conference. She is a self-professed geek girl and can be found at scholarlymedievalmadness.blogspot.com.

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