Book Review: Secret Identity by Alex Segura
By John ValeriJune 16, 2022
A Miami native, New York’s Alex Segura has spent his professional life balancing two great loves: novels and comic books. In addition to writing the critically acclaimed five-book Pete Fernandez Miami Mysteries series and a variety of short stories (one of which, “Red Zone,” won an Anthony Award), he has also penned multiple comics (“The Black Ghost,” “The Archies,” etc.) and enjoyed stints at Archie Comics and DC Comics; Segura is currently the senior vice president of sales and marketing at Oni Press. His newest release, March’s standalone novel, Secret Identity, merges those interests in masterfully meta fashion.
It’s 1975 and Carmen Valdez is living in New York City, where she works as an assistant at Triumph Comics—a less successful, more seedy publisher than the heavy hitters like DC and Marvel. The daughter of Cuban immigrants, Carmen comes from Miami—where she had a falling out with her parents and a failed romantic relationship—and is pursuing her own American Dream: writing comics. But that’s a man’s job, and her boss, Jeffrey Carlyle, has consistently ignored or marginalized her efforts while publishing subpar stories (and art) by his stable of male contributors. It’s infuriating, for sure, but Carmen knows she must work harder and be better than her contemporaries if she has any chance at making it in the business. And then an opportunity arises: a secret collaboration with an ambitious co-worker, Harvey Stern; they’ll merge ideas and submit their work under his name only for her to reveal herself after its success.
Together, Carmen and Harvey come up with “The Lethal Lynx” (later dubbed “The Legendary Lynx” at Carlyle’s insistence)—Triumph’s first female superhero. The comic is a runaway success by the publisher’s standards, but Carmen’s dreams of recognition are dashed amid Harvey’s apparent duplicity. When she goes to Harvey’s apartment to confront him, Carmen finds him dead in bed, a bullet through the head. She flees the scene and makes an anonymous call to the police.
Who would do such a thing, and why? Carmen can’t help thinking the answers to those questions are somehow inextricably linked to their creation—meaning she’ll have to risk her own life if she wants to get justice for Harvey and claim rightful ownership of her character.
The author’s narrative is interspersed with actual comic book sequences (art by Sandy Jarrell) that not only render “The Legendary Lynx” real in a visual sense but also underscore the book’s major themes. It’s an immersive hybrid approach, and one that beautifully illustrates the idea that comics are a marriage of words and images, each of which is (or should be) elevated by the other. This collaboration mirrors Carmen and Harvey’s own generative process. Segura excels at creating a suitably noiry backdrop, and 1970s New York comes alive in all its gritty splendor—augmented by well placed cultural and political references. But the true star is Carmen herself, who, much like “The Legendary Lynx,” must overcome internal and external demons to realize the full power at her disposal.
Simply put, Secret Identity is the book Alex Segura was born to write. His passion for the world of comics, in all its complexities and colorfulness, comes through on every page and will fascinate both the fandom and casual readers alike. Further, Carmen Valdez is a superhero in her own right, and a welcome addition to the pantheon of literature’s proud Latinx and LGBTQ+ characters. This one should be flying off the shelves. It certainly deserves to be.