Connect with us

Hi, what are you looking for?

Books

Read The First Chapter of Alex Segura’s ‘Secret Identity’!

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.

Thanks to our friends at Flatiron Books, we’re sharing the first chapter of the book below!

CHAPTER ONE

A scream tore through the office. It was barely eleven and Carmen Valdez already wanted to die.

“Carmen? Where are you?”

Her smile tightened a bit as she turned from the large, noisy copier in the small, overcrowded Triumph Comics office on Eighteenth Street, in the Flatiron District. The usual workday bustle seemed to ground to a halt as her boss, Triumph Comics owner and editor-in-chief, Jeffrey Carlyle, walked across the space—hands flailing like a young bird desperately trying to stay airborne, nothing but asphalt below. He cut a quick path to where Carmen stood, her expression still calm, eyes wide and expectant. This was their schtick, Carmen had come to accept. Carlyle would hiss and whine about some inane thing—misplaced original artwork, an appointment he hadn’t been told was happening, or just because he felt like it—and Carmen would calmly explain to him why the world was this way. It’d been like this for as long as Carmen had worked as Carlyle’s secretary. Almost a year. It was the dance.

“Right here, boss,” she said, her tone clear and alert. “Copying Maynard’s new script. Just takes a minute with this new machine. Kind of amazing.”

“I asked you to do that hours ago,” he said, his tone somewhat muted.

A tiny, fruitless victory.

Carmen caught a glimpse of the two beleaguered bullpen employees, looking down at their paste-up stations at the first sign of conflict. They were probably making a last-minute correction to the art on a book that was running hot. The sounds of Carlyle sniping at someone were a wel- come and entertaining distraction.

Carmen raised an eyebrow at them before turning to face her boss. “That was for Gray Wolf—the one where he battles the Interloper,

remember?” she said, handing him a stack of just-copied pages, the fresh ink smearing on her hands. “This is his new Avatar one. Issue fifteen.”

“Right, right,” Carlyle mumbled to himself as he grabbed the pages, his shrug of surrender almost imperceptible as his tiny eyes scanned the top sheet of the script. The book was hot. Len Maynard was Triumph’s top writer, but that didn’t mean he was their best. Or their fastest. Fans loved him for his bouncy, philosophical dialogue and innate, almost instinctual ability to create characters who felt otherworldly. Carlyle hated him for his spaced-out, trippy plots that clearly stemmed from Len’s fondness for mushrooms, acid, and White Russians. Not so much be- cause of Maynard’s literary aspirations, but because in Carlyle’s twisted view, his attempts to elevate his work were seen as an affront to Carlyle, a man with his own lofty literary dreams of writing the Great American Novel.

“Let’s see what kind of cool vibe we get tapped into this time,” he said, spitting out “cool vibe” with unbridled disdain.

Carlyle swiveled away toward his office and Carmen was left alone by the copier again. A brief respite. She took a moment to tie back her shoulder-length black hair in a hasty ponytail. In about an hour, he’d want his lunch—pastrami on rye, lots of mustard, no pickles—laid out on his desk, maybe with a bottle of Coke. Secretarial work was a slog, but Carmen was good at her job. When Carlyle complained, it was never about her. It was at her—usually about the staff or his own family. She kept her boss on a schedule, kept him focused, and, if she wasn’t being modest, kept the Triumph Comics machinery humming. She invoiced talent for work, she made sure artists had script pages to draw, and she co- ordinated staff time off and the holiday party. Usually for meager thanks and plenty of quibbles and complaints. She did it all with a knowing grin, too. She wanted to be here, and she wasn’t going to let anyone shake her. Working for Jeffrey Carlyle was a dream. Working in comics was the dream—the dream that brought twenty-eight-year-old Carmen to New York from Miami. To snowy winters, air-conditioning units, moldy studio apartments, skyrocketing murder rates, and smoky streets. The New York of 1975 was fraught, menacing, and hopped up on paranoia—where muggings were commonplace and home break-ins a rite of passage. You didn’t wear your nice jewelry and you looked over your shoulder as often as you could. This was in stark contrast to the tropical suburbia that Carmen still thought of as home. She was worlds away from Mami’s arroz con pollo and one single warm-weather wardrobe.

Away from Katrina.

She shook her head and grabbed the original script from the copier. Before Carmen could make her way back to her own tiny desk— stationed outside Carlyle’s large, glass-walled alcove—she felt a tap on her shoulder.

“Need a break?”

The nasally voice gave it away. Carmen turned around, unsurprised to find Harvey Stern, his lanky figure leaning on the doorway that led to the main elevators, a warm grin on his long, mischievous face. His overgrown brown hair flopping onto his forehead. Harvey was a junior editor at Triumph. He also had cigarettes.

“God, yes,” she said, dropping the script back onto the copier and following him out. “Can we smoke outside, though? I need to feel some kind of air.”

Harvey nodded and they moved in unision toward the elevator bank. Carmen gently swatted his wandering arm away from the small of her back. Harvey was sweet. Too sweet. And sweet on her. Carmen wasn’t dense. She saw how men looked at her. More importantly, she understood how men looked at her—trim and  fit,  with  sleek, dark brown hair that fell to her shoulders and a pair of feral eyes    that seemed to amplify a sharp, sly grin. The kind of cool, distant beauty and presence that could be both mysterious and warm at once. She’d heard variations of the theme from too many dudes, and it never ceased to bore her.

Harvey was a nice kid, maybe not even a kid—she honestly couldn’t tell how old he was, but there was no way he was a day over twenty-five. Carmen was closer to thirty than he’d ever get.

He played off the gesture and tapped his feet as they waited for the elevator.

“So what was he bitching about now?” he said, his words sounding awkward and stilted.

“Oh, he forgot what he asked me to copy,” she said, not meeting his gaze. “You know, the usual.”

Harvey was, as far as these things went, one of her only friends at work. But being a nice guy among a squad of over-the-hill assholes didn’t really mean much. She didn’t grade on a curve when it came to friends, which was probably a big reason why she’d spent a lot of time on her own since moving to New York. Carmen hadn’t figured out if Harvey was being nice to her because he genuinely wanted to be friends, or if he wanted to be friends because he hoped it’d mean more. Carmen was certain he’d sleep with her if she let him. Most men would fall into that category. But he was nice, and that was fine, at least when it came to passing the time at work.

They cut through the vacant lobby and made it out onto the street. It was a chilly, gray April day, the clouds threatening rain as the entire city struggled to figure out if they needed to cling to their winter coats or if it was okay to saunter outside in a lighter jacket. The past week had felt colder than any April should, and the city seemed particularly unhinged. New York was a nexus point for young people looking for work, but the city itself seemed to be ripping apart. Vacant buildings. Rampant crime. The most beloved city in the country was disintegrating, and all they could do was watch from the inside. Carmen shivered as she reached for Harvey’s outstretched pack of Parliaments. Not just from the cold, but from everything. He lit her cigarette before his and they slumped into their midday smoking positions.

“How’s the new Len script?” Harvey asked, probably spasming internally at the brief silence between them.

“It’s good,” Carmen responded, blowing a quick cloud of smoke out into the street. She watched the people walk by the building, all hypnotized by their own to-do lists and problems. An overburdened mother dragging a toddler behind. A leather-clad man wearing visor sunglasses nodding to a beat only he could hear. An elderly couple looking like a pair of Rip Van Winkles, awakening to a world they didn’t recognize. The flurry of people seemed to blend into the gray, polluted skies of the kinetic city Carmen now called home, creating an energy she still hadn’t found a way to channel or understand. Carmen wasn’t new to New York, not really. But it felt like it’d taken her a year just to learn to survive. The rest of her time here had been spent trudging along with a bit more confidence.

“I love his stuff,” Carmen continued, turning to look at Harvey. His eyes seemed to widen upon contact, hungry for some kind of connection. “It feels more alive, you know? Less paint-by-numbers than what he did at Marvel. It just feels like he’s trying to do more with it—give these characters a reason for being.”

“Yeah, yeah, totally,” he said, nodding his head. “Have you read Starlin’s Warlock?”

She felt offended by his question but didn’t let on.

“C’mon, Harvey. Of course I have. But I liked his stuff on Captain Marvel more,” she said.

Harvey nodded once more before turning away, taking a long drag from his cigarette.

“I feel like that’s what Maynard’s doing with Avatar,” he said, almost to himself. “I mean, that idea was pretty lame before he came onto the book.”

“It was dull,” Carmen said. “It read like a bad Superman knockoff, and Superman’s pretty boring as is.”

Harvey chuckled.

“Yeah, yeah, exactly,” he said. She caught him mouthing “boring” to himself. It was almost cute.

Carlyle would be slithering around the office soon, probably looking for something to complain about, but she didn’t want to get back up- stairs just yet.

“You think we’re in trouble?” Harvey asked.

It took her a minute to figure out what he meant.

“The company?” she asked, playing it coy. Harvey knew Carmen was privy to a lot more than the average employee. She sorted Carlyle’s mail. She took his calls. She often heard at least one side of those conversations through the thin wall that separated her from their boss. It was the oldest trick in the office politics playbook. Pick the secretary’s brain.

The exertion of asking the question made Harvey lose his nerve. He stammered a bit and let it drop. She was fine with that. Carmen looked at her watch.

“I have to get back,” she said. “Thanks for the smoke. Any big plans for the weekend?”

Harvey shrugged. It was cute this time. She wanted to like him more.

She could use a real friend, she thought.

“I might catch a show at CBGB,” he said, trying to play it off. Car- men rolled her eyes at the attempted cool.

“I didn’t think you were into the hip new sounds, Harvey,” she said with a tilt of her head.

“Well, no, but I—”

She patted his arm with a quick double tap.

“Relax,” Carmen said. “That seems fun. Who’s playing? The Ramones?”

“Yeah, I think so,” he said. Shit, Carmen thought. I got his hopes up.

“Have a good time, if I don’t see you,” she said as she turned toward the building.

She tried to offer up a warm smile, but Harvey was looking at his feet.

 

EXCERPTED FROM SECRET IDENTITY. COPYRIGHT © 2022 BY ALEX SEGURA. EXCERPTED BY PERMISSION OF FLATIRON BOOKS, A DIVISION OF MACMILLAN PUBLISHERS. NO PART OF THIS EXCERPT MAY BE REPRODUCED OR REPRINTED WITHOUT PERMISSION IN WRITING FROM THE PUBLISHER.

Secret Identity is available now

 

Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

DISCLAIMER

Forces of Geek is protected from liability under the DMCA (Digital Millenium Copyright Act) and “Safe Harbor” provisions.

All posts are submitted by volunteer contributors who have agreed to our Code of Conduct.

FOG! will disable users who knowingly commit plagiarism, piracy, trademark or copyright infringement.

Please contact us for expeditious removal of copyrighted/trademarked content.

SOCIAL INFLUENCER POLICY

In many cases free copies of media and merchandise were provided in exchange for an unbiased and honest review. The opinions shared on Forces of Geek are those of the individual author.

You May Also Like

Animation

Edited by by Kevin Sandler and Tyler Solon Williams Published by University Press of Mississippi   Hanna and Barbera Conversations is a new book...

Columns/Features

I gather, from a Facebook post this morning, that another cartoonist has joined the ranks of those afflicted by Shmuckholm Syndrome. Oh, well. In...

Art/Collectibles

This spring, Insight Editions will publish an in-depth look at the making of acclaimed filmmaker Jeff Nichols’ new film The Bikeriders: VANDALS: THE PHOTOGRAPHY...

Arts & Culture

This fully illustrated volume sheds light on how Marvel Studios’ Captain America: The First Avenger was created, including concept art, drawings, movie stills, and...