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CSI: Secret Identity

CSI: Secret Identity
I want to get this right up front. I bought this miniseries because it was written by Steven Grant, not because it was based on the hit TV show CSI. Although I’ve been a fan of Steven’s weekly column–Permanent Damage on ComicBookResources.com–for a few years now, it’s only been recently that I’ve gotten into his comic writing.

Permanent Damage mixes up comic industry commentary, reviews of comics and TV shows and political commentary, but as far as comics go Steven is mostly known for his crime fiction, even though he’s also written superheroes and other genres. So, since I’m not especially drawn to crime fiction, whether it’s reading regular books or comics, I resisted trying his work.

Eventually, though, I got Badlands, Steven’s most famous and popular book, which is about the guy who really killed JFK. Since then, I’ve been hooked on Steven’s terse, gritty and morally ambiguous stories. One of his trademarks is that the characters who are normally considered the good guys are the most evil and the “heroes” are either people committed to their ideals or are buffetted by powers out of their control.

In writing a CSI tale, Steven is of course going to be stuck in somewhat following the format of the show as well as sticking with established characterizations. If Secret Identity were not set in an established franchise, it’s more than likely that the criminalists would be the villains of the piece trying to cover up a crime rather than solve one.

However, the central plot of the book does involve Steven’s usual supects: corruption, scandal and the immorality of people in high places, as well as a real corker of a mystery. If anything ever written in the CSI franchise were most like a film noir, it would be this graphic novel complete with a murder at a seedy motel, cheap thugs and the spoiled rich.

I’m not a huge fan of CSI to start with, although I do regularly watch the original series and enjoy it. It’s a fun show with outlandish crimes that are solved in ridiculously short periods of time with generally outrageous criminal motivations. So I came to this book with an understanding of the characters as well as the formula.

The story starts out simply enough in the first chapter with the CSI crew getting a mystery handed to them: A tourist videotapes a casino demolition and turns over his tape in which he claims to have seen a dead body fall out of the rubble. But hours later, the tourist is killed and the 25-year-old mummified body found at the demolition site is a dead ringer (pun intended) for another man who died of natural causes just weeks before. So,while regular CSI episodes are usually fairly straightforward, Secret Identity offers several intertwining mysteries. Is the killing of the tourist connected to the twin corpses? Just who are these identical bodies? And how does it all tie in to the history of corruption between Vegas casino developers and city and labor officials?

As for the artwork, I always find the illustration in licensed books, like ’80s Star Trek comics, to be a little distracting. You want the artist to be unique, but at the same time you’re checking the character’s faces to make sure they look like their real life counterparts. It also seems that the art is there not to please comic book fans who may be more accustomed to more artistic flourish, but to attract in fans of the show who might not otherwise read comics and thus might expect more straightforward realistic art. In that regard, Gabriel Rodriguez does a fine job providing a clean style and a nicely dramatic look that’s appropriate for CSI fans. Also nice is the use of Steven Perkins to add a painterly expression to flashbacks and crime reconstructions, like the zippy, hazy-looking montages used on the show.

While I read CSI: Secret Identity as individual issues, a graphic novel compilation is now also available.

Buy this graphic novel at Amazon.com!