Coming off the heels of the Dark Nights: Metal story arc, a new group of superheroes emerges to deal with the aftermath. Is it good?
In this start to a brand new series, but building off the events of Dark Nights: Metal, a new metahuman named Janet Fals reveals the story of how she became the fighter known as Firebrand. A former paramedic brought back to life by the corporation Civil Solutions, she must feed her new heart, called the “Conflict Engine,” by fighting every 24 hours.
Her work at the nearby VA hospital to retain some of her former self is interrupted one night by the demon bounty hunter Alden Quench, who has come to take the conflict engine back to his master — or so we think. Before he can take it, another group of metahumans emerges to stop him, but the consequences of their fight have ramifications that could extend to the entire multiverse.
Is it good?
I have to start with a confession: I have not read any of the Dark Nights: Metal event books, so I definitely had some major googling to make sure I was up to speed on the event. However, I ended up doing a ton more googling than I had anticipated, trying to double-check that I hadn’t missed something. For a book introducing a new team, as a reader it made me feel like I was supposed to know a whole lot more than I did.
Let’s start with the good stuff: Firebrand, aka Janet Fals, is a (potentially) queer woman with a strong moral compass, trying to do good in the face of changes that were made without her consent. Her first thought is for the innocent people around her even in the midst of a fight. We’re given a lot of details in her backstory that seem like they could lead to interesting developments further into her story.
However, we don’t really get a chance to connect to her more thanks to the large number of plot points crammed into this issue. 6 new characters are introduced, but aside from Firebrand (whose is sketchy at best) the rest are thrown in with nothing more. I actually googled all of their names to make sure they weren’t established characters, and discovered that the team chose to use existing DC character names, but with entirely new identities. So that was confusing. We get two big fights, and a final reveal of another major player. It’s a lot to cover in a single issue that’s supposed to be establishing part of the new age of DC heroes.
This isn’t helped by the writing, which is a strange mix of styles from Steve Orlando. The first few pages are almost entirely Janet telling us her backstory:
It’s very tell instead of show, and there’s also no sense of why Civil Solutions used the conflict engine to bring her back to life, or that that matters at all for the future of the story. There’s a lot of what feels like old school comics technique here, and here it feels more old-fashioned than vintage. For the rest of the issue, it’s entirely dialogue, but there is still a lot of tell not show. Characters describe what is happening on the page, some of the dialogue exchanges have slang strangely stuck in, but it’s just not very smooth.
The characters aren’t helped by their design by artists Ryan Sook and Cory Nord. Firebrand’s for the most part works and the conflict engine looks very cool, with her skin split to show the engine’s power beneath. However, sometimes there are what look like exhaust ports coming out of her shoulders, but they don’t appear consistently. And Quench, well, let’s just look at the evidence:
Randy “Macho Man” Savage
I mean, this has to be intentional, right? There’s no way that isn’t an homage but it’s not explained at all! Not that Quench fell in love with wrestling when he was on Earth, or that demons really dig cowboy hats and fringe, just a random Macho Man lookalike running around trying to steal people’s hearts.
The other new characters aren’t recognizable; actually, they are strangely generic. Elligh looks like he stepped off a D&D page, Viking Judge is fittingly like a vengeful Valkyrie, and Neon looks like a goth wizard with his hair across his eyes. From interviews at 2017’s New York Comic Con, Steve Orlando described Neon as a blind artist, but you don’t get any clue of that in this issue, so it just looks odd.
While the book has a lot of action, nothing really hooked me about it. I didn’t feel connected to the story or the characters and while I fully admit that part of that is due to this just not being to my taste, I think there are some fundamental problems that take what could be a cool idea and make it just fine. I was interested in trying this book because I’m a fan of Steve Orlando’s other work, and I love a female lead, but this just unfortunately didn’t work for me. It’s definitely challenging for a new reader to step in, which is tough for a #1 issue.