THIS ADVANCE REVIEW OF ‘FIRE POWER: PRELUDE’ CONTAINS MINOR SPOILERS.
by Kate Kowalski. There are no shortage of myths that surround Man’s fascination with fire and his desire to wield it. Most of them involve some sort of trickery or theft—Prometheus’ escapades come to mind, as do Maui’s. As myth has taught us, Man does inevitably wield fire for himself, but will he ever be able to control it… or will fire ultimately control him? Enter: Fire Power, a new mystical world from Robert Kirkman, Chris Samnee, Matt Wilson and Rus Wooton where the power of fire is harnessed not through invention, machine, or ruse, but through practice, will, and determination.
Fire Power, as its title might imply, kicks off with a bang—not just in execution, but in ambition. Fire Power: Prelude, our introduction to Kirkman & Samnee’s crazy new story, comes courtesy of an incredibly generous graphic novel-length story that establishes a few crucial ground rules before Fire Power #1 even begins.
Prelude opens on a mountaintop overlooking a frozen blue tundra, a notable contrast to the book’s combustible title. It’s here where we find a man standing silent amidst this wondrous cinematic scope, his only companions being the tundra’s vast silence and space. Matt Wilson utterly lands this opening, allowing heat and warmth to bleed over white snowcaps via a setting sun, utilizing the same color palette as found in a fire our focus character builds only one panel later. There is no dialogue to be found in the book’s first eleven pages, nothing for our eyes to latch onto in this expanse besides the sun, the fire, our trudging hero, and an old family photograph—which lends insight and intrigue into this man’s motivations. However, upon our hero reaching his destination, this powerful silence is finally interrupted by an elderly monk rocking both traditional robes and a pair of Air Jordans.
At the top of this summit we are properly introduced to our weary traveler, Owen Johnson, as well as an eccentric monk named Wei Lun. Hidden in this frozen wasteland, it turns out, lies a temple oasis filled with hundreds of bald monks meditating and training in martial arts. The shaggy-haired Owen immediately proves himself to be skilled in a fight but he’s still treated as an outsider—being socialized in Western customs after being whisked away to America by adoptive parents many years ago doesn’t exactly endear the Chinese-born Owen to his new fellow students.
Prelude then goes to work introducing a fairly stock group of characters: Wei Lun slides into the Old Master role, wise and wily. Then there is Ling Zan, a female fighter who quickly becomes Owen’s closest ally (and potential love interest). Enter the bully, Ma Guang, who tests not only Owen’s physical abilities, but his honor. The story follows its tropes dutifully—Owen eases quite naturally into the Chosen One role—up to and including a beautifully rendered and quite familiar training montage that allows Owen to both prove himself to his contemporaries and assimilate to life in the temple.
It’s here where Fire Power finds its rhythm. It’s a formula, one many fans of martial arts films will recognize, but Prelude has enough bits of originality and flourishes in it to keep the story’s gears from grinding too loudly. There’s an arsenal of Chekhov’s guns locked, loaded, and ready to go off at any given moment: A mysterious secret lying behind a locked door; a prophecy surrounding a Master long considered dead; the dark answers to Owen’s real parentage, which will inevitably lead to more questions. Two of these intrigues involve the book’s eponymous superpower and a villainous enemy clan, which culminate into an epic battle scene. This sequence features the first truly violent images in the story, something that’s clearly meant to prepare us for even higher stakes to come.
In fact, every one of the fight sequences contained within Fire Power: Prelude—the aforementioned epic battle and the comparably friendly duels between Owen and his peers—are incredible. Chris Samnee’s lines are packed with power; they’re chunky yet disciplined, sharp and fluid, lending weight and force behind every elegant strike and sweeping kick. We see the evolution in Owen’s abilities occur in real time through the inked movement in these fights.
Samnee’s linework is also evocative of an older style, reminiscent of the newspaper strips and Dick Tracy comics that inspired him in his youth. This old-school stylistic depiction of an Eastern story creates a dichotomy reminiscent of the blended cultures found in our American-born, Chinese martial artist hero. It’s a fusion not dissimilar to the Western/Horror blends of genre that recall Robert Kirkman’s most famed work to date. And like The Walking Dead, Fire Power promises to build an expansive world defined and strengthened by this duality. Fire Power’s prelude does fall prey to classic tropes (though it displays a reassuring self-awareness when Wei Lun name-drops The Karate Kid). But its own sense of adventure and curiosity, powered by a whiplash ending that I will not spoil here, does hint at a far more complex and original story ahead.
The choice to publish such an ambitious introductory chapter first instead of revealing Owen’s past through flashbacks (or a subsequently released tangential comic) is notable. Fire Power: Prelude is unconventional in its release strategy, unconventional even in its seemingly straightforward approach to storytelling. The punches thrown by Kirkman & Samnee have a familiar rhythm, but there’s no way to defend yourself from all the talent that’s clearly on display. Fire Power is peak artistic power that lands a roundhouse kick directly to the temple of myth itself.
Skybound Entertainment / Image Comics / $9.99
Written by Robert Kirkman.
Art by Chris Samnee.
Colors by Matt Wilson.
Letters by Rus Wooton.
7.5 out of 10
‘Fire Power: Prelude’ was scheduled for an August 5 release when this article was published. It is available now.
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Check out this 10-page preview (!!!) of ‘Fire Power: Prelude’ OGN, courtesy of Image Comics!