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Fourthman Reviews Codebreakers #1

Written by Lee Newman on Monday, April 05 2010 and posted in Reviews

When a codebreaker in the F.B.I.'s Alpha Team mysteriously commits suicide, the team knows something ain't right...


Codebreakers #1 Cover
Codebreakers #1
Published by Boom! Studios
Written by Corey Malloy
Art by Scott Godlewski
Colors by Stephen Dower

Ever since I read Left On Mission , I have been most impressed with Boom’s espionage book.  They, like Rucka in Queen & Country, have decided to take a real world approach to the subject matter.

In this series, we are given a different take on the F.B.I. than what you normally see on television.  This book is about those cryptanaylsts that help the Bueareau make the big busts.  You don’t see any Minority Report style smart boards , what you do see is mathematicians and crptolinguists working on codes that have gotten super sophisticated. 

At the heart of this book is the F.B.I.’s Alpha Team, a group of super smart humans who can crack codes in a briefing that supercomputers spend hours on.  The team is introduced to us through Stan Grouse, the youngest person to ever do this kind of work for the FBI.  He has a very Chuck like cover working at some computer retailer, but spends his time looking at crazy codes at Quantico.

When he receives a code in the middle of the night and breaks it, he sets forth a plot against national security that may have lead to his untimely death.  Not willing to believe he is dead, Donald Foster, head of Alpha Team, begins an investigation against his superior’s wishes.

Malloy does a great job of skillful exposition here.  The characters feel real enough and he shies away from making it less than believable.  Although, I do have a small bit of disbelief in criminals using paper stock weight as a cipher.  If they were this intelligent, seems like there would be a better way to make money legitimately.  Stan especially is well fleshed out, as is his mentor Foster.  Foster is the more intriguing character right off the bat though.  He is a former criminal coder who the F.B.I. brought into the fold, keeping their enemies close.

Stan gets a code to break in Codebreakers #1

The reasons for Foster’s belief that Grouse has been merely abducted are compelling enough, but what is more interesting is his deductive ability and the way that Malloy and Godlewski bring it to a very visual medium.  It is an interesting technique that bridges the gap of Sherlock Holmes’ observational prowess and the kind of instant code recognition that was displayed by John Nash.  Godlewski finds a neat way to do it differently then Ron Howard did in A Beautiful Mind and it is no less impressive.  The scene where Foster investigates Grouse’s apartment is the kind of complete synthesis of picture and words that marks a great comic.

Godlewski does a good job with the art as well.  He gives his characters a good bit of emotion and sometimes the art comes off a little playful, much like these math geeks probably feel when they are breaking a code.  What is more interesting is how the book seems to have a bit of the house Boom! style while still doing something different and new with it.  I’ve harped on how Boom’s more independent books all look the same and the lines here certainly fall into that category, but Godlewski has a cinematic eye that makes this feel like solid Hollywood like exposition.  Furthermore, Dower stays away from the dark, gritty and muted colors that often give the Boom Studios output a uniform feel.  In a sense, when you open the book, you know it is a Boom! book, but you also know it is something different as well.

For those of you who like reality based thrillers, this is right up your alley.  It feels like 21 with a more Bond like feel.  It’s like a Clancy novel, if he didn’t write about a boring bow tie wearing consultant.


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