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‘Fire Power By Kirkman & Samnee, Book 1’ (review)

Written by Robert Kirkman
Art by Chris Samnee, Matthew Wilson
Published by Image Comics

 

Fire Power, the latest ongoing series from writer Robert Kirkman and artist Chris Samnee, remixes kung fu action with traditional superhero comics and adds a shot of suburban family drama.

Image Comics has released the new hardcover collection Fire Power: Book One from Kirkman and Samnee with support from colorist Matt Wilson and letterer Rus Wooton. This edition compiles material originally published in the Fire Power Volume 1: Prelude OGN and the first twelve issues of the monthly Fire Power comic from Image. The 448-page volume also contains more than 30-pages of supplemental material including a cover gallery and sketchbook featuring commentary from Kirkman and Samnee. The story blends martial arts and super-heroics as it unspools chronologically across three chapters.

The first chapter, reprinting the Prelude OGN, introduces Owen Johnson, a Chinese orphan raised by Caucasian parents in America, who sets out on a journey to China to learn more about his birth parents. His search leads him to the remote Temple of the Flaming Fist where he trains with the shaolin master Wei Lun. As his martial arts education and initiation into the temple’s many secrets progresses, Owen discovers that he possesses the Fire Power, a legendary ability to cast fire balls, which links his parents and the temple’s mysterious history to a greater destiny.

The subsequent two chapters, comprising issues 1 through 12 of the ongoing comic, jump forward 15 years to find Owen has settled down as a mild-mannered husband and father of two who restores and sells antiques, having left the temple and his destiny far behind him. But Owen keeps one eye over his shoulder as former friends and foes alike emerge to draw him—and the Fire Power—back into their larger drama.

The tonal shift between the Shaw Brothers style martial arts story of the first chapter and the suburban family drama of the second hits abruptly before settling into the groove of the story. Kirkman and Samnee tune their dial to a spot between a fantastical The Karate Kid and a grounded Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings.

Samnee solidly controls the mood and flow of the story with his layouts. His varied, multipanel grids give plot sequences the familiar feel of an action comic zooming into and out of the story as necessary. Meanwhile, he introduces manga elements into the mix to energize his action sequences, tweaking his grids with angled panels that make those pages erupt like shattered panes of glass and reinforcing his portrayal of Asian martial arts.

Matt Wilson brings Samnee’s panels to life with a soft, bright palette and washes of color familiar from his previous work on Vaughan and Chiang’s Paper Girls.

Workhorse Image letterer Rus Wooton adds dramatic punctuation to Samnee’s action scenes and story moments alike.

Kirkman populates Fire Power with an engaging blend of distinctive characters.

Owen is a likeable and sympathetic protagonist wrestling with power and responsibility in classic superhero fashion. He struggles to lead a normal life with his family and to keep his past from impacting the life and relationships he’s worked hard building over the years since he left the temple. His mentor, Wei Lun, is a wise-cracking wise man with an affinity for street wear and modern consumer electronics that defy the traditional image of a Shaolin master. There are no stereotypical, Fu Manchu style villains here either. Instead, Kirkman presents characters whose motives and actions are often more complicated than they first appear, sometimes turning enemies into allies, sometimes straining even the closest of relationships.

Fire Power doesn’t break any new ground in its remix of chop socky, family drama, and standard superhero fight comics.

Kirkman and Samnee borrow proven and familiar elements from their inspirations, but the whole is never greater than the sum of its parts. Longtime fans of kung fu action might not find anything new here.

However, newer comic readers looking for an alternative to the glut of standard superhero comics available and older fans seeking the comfort of the well-executed familiar will find much to enjoy here.

 

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