I was pretty excited to be reviewing my first-ever DC publication for AiPT! As someone who has not typically been up to date with major events at the Big Two, including Dark Nights: Metal, this seemed like a great story for newbies like myself. And at first, this really lived up to the hype. But somewhere along the way, typical Big Two shenanigans reared their head.
Initially, it was the premise of the whole story that got my attention. A struggling family in a rural town, attacked by a supernatural force, originating from an unwitting deal with the devil gone horribly wrong. An internal struggle to retain one’s humanity. Concepts of sacrifice for and love of one’s family and neighbors, things we don’t see or hear too much about in this day and age, especially in the medium of comics. The protagonists of the story, twins Joe and Annie Chamberlain, are quite likable and their day to day challenges are what any average person in America can relate to. Arguably, one of the most powerful moments is when one of the characters talks about how Gotham and Metropolis have all the attention and how cities like York Hills, the setting of this story, get ignored and are slowly fading away from consciousness. What’s not to like?
Unfortunately, that is all in the first three issues. After that, the series deteriorates into a “villain of the week” style format, where the traveling siblings come across a new town, with new threats, and Joe has to cling to his humanity and decide if he’s a “good guy” or if he should succumb to the darkness, while Annie anchors back on the side of the angels. The tantalizing potential was in the direct approach and possibilities around exploring people’s feelings living in small-town America, and how the situation across the country in real-life is for them, through the vehicle of comics. Perhaps the story could have used the supernatural element with the Salesman (the primary villain) to serve as a vehicle for the desperation that some of these folks had to put food on the table and survive. But after the initial three issues with Joe going through that struggle, it’s quickly forgotten and things turn generic and inwardly focused on Joe, a character who hasn’t given us much reason to care about him. We move away from York Hills, away from the neighbors they supposedly cared so much about, and just jump from city to city without any real mourning seen. This ultimately ends up becoming a generic, run-of-the-mill action story.
The bigger missed opportunity though was in using York Hills as a symbol for the smaller comic franchises, plots, and even imprints that become lost in the shuffle while “everyone focuses on Gotham and Metropolis.” When you put it this way, the blown opportunity and missed meta-textual commentary for talking about the state of comics and perhaps DC in particular is enough to drive you nuts with frustration. The “Salesman” could have easily been a stand-in for one of the “Big Two” who want small-time writers to “sell their soul” so to speak, and then the writers take the deal only to realize that they don’t have any control of their own destiny and are forced to contribute to massive “events.” Unfortunately, I have a feeling that Jordan wasn’t really thinking about this when writing this series.
The visuals are yet another frustrating part about this book. While there is some great consistency and a distinct look and appeal for the Chamberlain family initially, with the right balance between “down-time” visuals and “in-action” visuals, after issue #3 with the full-time departure of Tan there are no less than five artists who cram their work into three issues. Some of the artists elect to go for the “rough” look while others prefer crisp and clean, some elect to fill their books with nothing but splash shots, others have different ideas of the proportions of the features of our sibling protagonists, and still others don’t give us an indication of the amount of time that has passed. In general, I don’t think any artist ever makes an effort to show the sun, which in turn doesn’t help us figure out the passage of time, which also takes away even further from the realistic appeal that seemed to be promised in the first issue.
The Curse of Brimstone is a series that had incredible promise, both from a symbolic perspective and from a real-world relatability viewpoint. But in both cases, the book ends up going down the generic action/fight scene galore route, with the inner struggles of our heroes relegated to just a minor footnote serving no other purpose than to set up the action (rather than the other way around). This may not be the “DC Ghost Rider,” but it doesn’t take the easy opportunity to distinguish itself as something so much more. Pick up the first three issues individually, but pass on the rest of this series.