SVK is the latest comic collaboration by Warren Ellis and artist Matt "D'Israeli" Brooker, who previously worked together on the cyberpunkish Lazarus Churchyard. This one-shot comic has been gaining press for a totally unabashed gimmick: it comes packaged with a handheld UV light device that allows the reader to discover hidden dialogue bubbles rendered in invisible ink.
Given that SVK clocks in at 40 pages, I'm not going to delve into the secret of this invisible dialogue. What I will say is that when you first open SVK, you'll be scouring every square inch of the page for hidden messages.
You'll get such brain flashes as "Hey, let's shine this on William Gibson's head in the foreword!" (which works) and "Gosh, I bet there's some strange clandestine shit in those clouds!" (which doesn't). During your first read through, you'll be so preoccupied fooling around with the UV light that you'll miss most of the story, which takes place in a London where technology's just a bit ahead of the curve.
SVK follows Thomas Woodwind, your archetypal hard-as-nails, tech-savvy Ellis hero. You can see hints of Desolation Jones, Spider Jerusalem, and Jack Cross in his surly quirks and penchant for beating the hell out of people. He's been hired by the Heimdall Corporation to retrieve an experimental device with the transcription "SVK" — Woodwind's journey leads him smack dab into the world of corporate wetworks and surveillance technology gone haywire.
As I mentioned before, SVK is aware its UV text is its shtick. Heck, this fact is compounded by an essay by comic historian Paul Gravett about gimmick comics, an essay on augmented reality by Jamais Cascio, and a fake ad shilling the 21st century equivalents of the electronic computer brain and nuclear submarine. Who wants "a box of 50 Facebook Likes?"
Ellis peppers the script with a bit of metafictional comedy as SVK's comic book characters discover that they do indeed possess thought bubbles, those hokey brain clouds that have been almost entirely jettisoned in today's comics.
Realistically enough, the UV-sensitive thought bubbles in SVK aren't super-complex — they're mostly snippets of emotion and non sequiturs and other blobs of inchoate psychic bric-a-brac that remind us that being a telepath would be a crap job.
In the comic's best scene, Ellis uses the UV dialog for a moment of legitimate (yet self-consciously ridiculous) poignancy when a character is able to literally see the unspoken affection his cantankerous girlfriend has for him. The UV reader allows us to see that love in of itself is lovely, even if it's shared between two doofuses.
Despite the potential to reveal a shadow plot unseen by the naked eye, SVK reads fairly linearly and doesn't get too outlandish with the thought bubbles. At 40 pages, it feels like a primer for an even greater UV-sensitive tome, and — depending on your level of Warren Ellis completionism — the gimmick may not justify the price (for me, the comic and reader + shipping to NYC from the UK = $32). If you're going to splurge, it's best to think of it as a boutique comic.