Originally supposed to be a bonus, three-day before OGN for the new “Fire Power” series, “Fire Power” Vol. 1 now stands as the true opener to the series a month out. Does it work? Come on, even if the story were bad, it’s more Chris Samnee art. Of course it works.
Written by Robert Kirkman
Illustrated by Chris Samnee
Colored by Matt Wilson
Lettered by Rus Wooton
ALL-NEW series created by ROBERT KIRKMAN (THE WALKING DEAD, INVINCIBLE, OBLIVION SONG) and Chris Samnee (Daredevil)!
Owen Johnson’s journey to China to learn about his birth parents eventually leads him to a mysterious Shaolin Temple. The students there study to rediscover the Fire Power, the lost art of throwing fireballs. A power they claim will be needed soon to save the world. Will Owen Johnson be the first person in a thousand years to wield the FIRE POWER?
Whet your appetite for adventure with the PRELUDE OGN, just in time for the debut of the new ongoing series with FIRE POWER #1 on Free Comic Book Day the following week!
Robert Kirkman and Jonathan Hickman, besides being creators who I seem to mix up constantly when glancing at their names on books, share one major thing in common: they really love messing with readers and publishers’ expectations on how a book should come out. While Hickman loves to play with publishing as an extension of form, Kirkman’s approach is more marketing driven. Books that suddenly drop, series that suddenly end with fake solicits, and now, a series with a prequel OGN that was supposed to drop three days before the official “Fire Power” #1. This approach begs us to ask whether or not this volume is necessary for readers, and thus a burden to floppy readers, or a bonus meant to be additive but not required.
Having not read “Fire Power” #1 — it’s not out as of writing — I can’t make any conclusions about the issue working without the prologue but, having read “Fire Power” Vol. 1, I can safely say that the prologue feels sufficiently detached so as not to be a burden on the ongoing story. Before I go further, spoilers ahead though if you’re wondering whether or not to pick it up but are planning on reading the main series — again, Chris Samnee art should be all the sell you need.
The story of “Fire Power” is fairly standard for the martial arts genre, at least insofar as most Americans are familiar with it, myself included; having little experience with actual East Asian martial arts films, I can’t comment beyond Hong Kong cinema being the ur-influence on the American craze. This might, then, seem like another Doctor Strange situation but Kirkman and Samnee successfully avoid many, if not most, of the harmful stereotypes and Orientalism that is seeped into those older films while still paying homage to them and to their tropes.
“Fire Power” Vol. 1 opens on these gorgeous, silent pages of our main character, Owen Johnson, hiking through treacherous mountains on some unknown journey. We don’t know why but we do know he’s got a photo of a family that, we assume, is somehow related to him. The motif of fire and the theme of discipline make themselves known through, well, a fire and Owen’s response to his moment of weakness with his trash. At first, we think he is searching for the school so he can learn, as the genre has taught us to believe. We learn later that is not the case and that him learning is a means to an end, though not a begrudging one. The first sign that things won’t follow the standard script is in Master Wei Lun’s appearance, speech and trope awareness. He clearly has an affinity for American culture, blending it into his attire and speech, but not to the point that it’s forced or like he idolizes it. Hell, he even tells Owen his name is stupid and boring.
He fulfills the “wise master” trope but his wisdom comes not from being “other,” as is too often the case, but instead from being, well, wizened. He’s lived and trained for decades and his school’s particular philosophy, as well as martial art, is unique. Rather than shun modernity, he incorporates it into the school where it suits him and where it doesn’t. It’s surprising they have a cell signal because it’s the top of a mountain in a secret location. Master Lun messing with Owen about the water tasting like candy is funny because what is, and what is not, unusual about the temple is unclear and the lesson for Owen is to know the difference between when he’s being serious and when he’s taking him for a lark. People can generate heat with their hands, the first master turned to stone and there is an actual dragon, presumably, locked away in the temple so it wouldn’t be a surprise to know that the water was somehow sweeter.Continued below
Moreover, Owen isn’t your bratty protagonist character which is a breath of fresh air. He takes lessons to heart and isn’t looking for an easy answer. His big failure three-quarters of the way through the series is a result of his personal issues and not an impatience for more power or a chafing against “stuffy tradition.” It was a moment of weakness, when his discipline wavered. He is, however, clearly American which comes out in the skepticism of the more mystical aspects as well as a slight haughtiness that ebbs and flows. He’s also an Asian-American protagonist rather than a White-American one.
I know I haven’t really talked about the art or lettering but that’s because Samnee, Wilson and Wooton are such a dream team I don’t know where to begin. Kirkman definitely stepped out of the way and let Samnee drive the book’s feel. The dialog is punchy and snappy but there is never too much of it, which has been a problem in some of his other works. Supporting this is Wooton’s lettering, which is small and kept out of the way without being illegible, integrated into the pages with a deft hand, allowing Samnee and Wilson to fill our eyeballs with amazingly choreographed training and fight scenes. They’re snappy and impactful and I could read and re-read those pages for hours, hearing the fight in my head and admiring the artistry of the fights.
Because Martial Arts are an art. They contain ideology and approach just as any other art does and the “Fire Power” creative team captures that. Just as pointillism is different from abstract impressionism, and painting is different from illustration, the fictional school of the Flaming Fist’s moves are different from the Walking Scorpion strike by virtue of approach, methodology and ideology. This is communicated through the ways the characters hold themselves during the fights and how they think outside of it in addition to the actual fighting. Samnee impresses upon us when a fight is serious and when the fight is very one-sided through body language and facial expressions, when one person is highly experienced in a particular field and when someone has great aptitude for a field.
While, ultimately, the story itself is very familiar, the execution is done to near perfection, creating a fantastic story that can stand alone, but as prologue to an even greater story. By the end, the stage is set for the main thrust of the series, having provided multiple avenues that can be picked up on while providing a satisfying whole. It may not be strictly necessary to enjoy and understand the upcoming series, but the book and the context it provides gives added hype to “Fire Power” #1 and solidifies it on my pullist.