July 20, 2020

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The Unneeded Obligation of Fire Power: Prelude by Robert Kirkman and Chris Samnee

Origins Are Just No Fun Anymore


Art by Chris Samnee

The emotional flatness of Fire Power Volume 1: Prelude makes this a comic that is a task to read. Robert Kirkman, Chris Samnee, and Matt Wilson seemingly go out of their way to produce the least offensive and also least risky comic that they can. A mishmash of so many other Kung Fu and spiritual quest stories; this book becomes a guidebook for anyone else who may want to do this kind of story in the future.

Orphan child? Check.

Hidden temple? Check.

Antagonistic rival? Check.

A love interest? Check.

A rough-hewn but good hearted-mentor character? Check.

Sure, there’s only so much that you can do with this kind of story and Kirkman writes all of it but no more. As Owen tries to find his past in an ancient martial-arts temple, he finds that the truth of who he is may be something he doesn’t want to learn. It’s an old story that Kirkman and Samnee fail to dress up in any unique way.

Art by Chris Samnee
Samnee has developed into one of the great visual storytellers in comics, treating each panel as an individual instant of time within the greater narrative. In his work, every panel tells a story in itself. This gives him the ability to be as detailed or as minimalistic as the moment requires. Technically everything that Samnee is doing here is near perfect— the ways he stages scenes convey both physical and plot movement, creating a momentum that this story desperately needs. Samnee is one of those artists who can identify the “moment” of a panel, visually finding the heart of the story beat and putting it to paper. It’s amazing how many comic artists flounder around a page, failing to convey anything more than a plot point.

While Samnee is able to find the moments, he struggles here as he tries to find any pulse or blood for this book. He moves through each page with an all-too steady pace. Each panel and each page reads with the same intensity as the page that came before it and every one that comes after it. One thing happens after another with no sense of build-up, tension, teasing, or reflection of the story. Fire Power is a comic that exists to serve some expectation of an origin story and isn’t able to find any footing other than that for all of the effort that Kirkman, Samnee, and Wilson put into it. This is thrown together with the passion of an average TV show recap on a website, trying to tell us what happened without any panache or attempt to make something more than a plot summary. Prelude lacks any passion in its pages. Samnee turns out page after page of solid storytelling that fails to convey any real emotional commitment to Owen’s struggles.

Art by Chris Samnee
Kirkman’s writing suffers as it drowns in cliches and surface-level emotions. None of these characters exists with any kind of agency or meaning outside of what we already know they have because of what kind of story this is. Owen is a searcher and a believer but he’s an enigma because he’s not given anything more than a base motivation in this story. He wants to find out who he is because he’s adopted. That’s Superman and Spider-Man. That’s Luke Skywalker. Owen is the prototypical hero of these kinds of stories, driven by a mysterious past while he tries to find a purposeful future for himself. He just wants to be loved; is that so wrong? Ok, it may not be wrong but it is hardly a compelling reason to care about him on this quest.

Fire Power #1 offers a far more compelling issue, one that could have been a mysterious, cool and engaging introduction to this world if it wasn’t for the tone-deaf exposition of the Prelude comic. Picking up fifteen years after the events of Prelude, the issue finds Owen with a life completely divorced from what we’ve seen, already with his own family and living the life of a quiet suburban dad. This is the true start of whatever story Kirkman and Samnee want to tell and it’s painfully obvious that they’re much more invested in this than they were in Prelude. You can read this issue without knowing the other stories and be caught up in the hint of Owen being more than he appears or the mystery of Owen’s past coming back to haunt him. The excitement that those missing details could generate could easily drive their eventual reveal and been so much more powerful to have learned where these characters came from rather than having to have it all spelled out in such a lumbering manner.

For Samnee’s first real book in a couple of years, the disappointingly mixed-bag launch of Fire Power demonstrates that good intentions (a $9.99 introductory trade followed up by an FCBD first issue (with a series launch to follow next month)) can make for lousy comics. Skip the trade for now; buy it and stick it unread in a longbox somewhere and dive into the comics themselves. Prelude is a paint-by-numbers origin story that listlessly moves through its paces after it checks off the required plot points. It borrows and borrows and borrows from so many stories that came before it but adds nothing to this tradition of storytelling. Fire Power Volume 1: Prelude takes but it doesn’t give anything back.


Art by Chris Samnee, written by Robert Kirkman
Fire Power Volume 1: Prelude
Written by Robert Kirkman
Drawn by Chris Samnee
Colored by Matt WIlson
Lettered by Russ Wooton
Published by Skybound/Image Comics