While I’ve long appreciated writer Robert Kirkman’s accomplishments, attitude, and approach to comics, his previous series never quite clicked with me. I tried Invincible. I tried Oblivion Song. And yes, I tried The Walking Dead. And while I enjoyed bits of each of those series, none of them hooked me in the way I was hoping. Ultimately, I decided Kirkman’s work might just not be for me. Which is totally fine, but felt odd given how much I enjoy the wavelength on which he thinks about and creates comics.
However, I think I’ve finally done it: I’ve found the Robert Kirkman book that’s made for me. Fire Power, Kirkman’s collaboration with artist Chris Samnee, colorist Matt Wilson, and letterer Rus Wooton, is a rip-roaring, martial arts adventure with heart – and that makes it a story that’s right up my alley.
Samnee’s Strengths Make Fire Power Sing
I’d previously sampled Fire Power on Free Comic Book Day 2020. Kirkman and co. released the series’s first issue as a Free Comic Book Day book, and they released a $10 prelude trade paperback earlier the same week, giving readers the option to (inexpensively) delve further into the story they’d just picked up for free. (Again, that Robert Kirkman guy has some neat ideas about how to release comics.) With that in mind, when I recently found Fire Power on the shelves at my local library, I grabbed the first two volumes – the prelude and the first volume of the series proper. And I actually ended up reading volume two first, because I wanted to continue the story I’d started reading in 2020.
I don’t know that doing this was the quote-unquote best way to start the series, but it worked for me. I found myself so drawn into protagonist Owen Johnson’s family, world, and mysterious backstory that it took me a couple issues’ worth of content to realize the volume had no chapter breaks. Instead, I just rolled with the story’s turns and pacing, expertly set by Kirkman and Samnee.
And make no mistake – as much as I’ve written Kirkman’s name here, Samnee and Wilson do more than their share of the heavy lifting to make Fire Power sing. In fact, I think most of the reason that this book hits for me, in ways other Kirkman books haven’t, is down to the way in which Samnee seems to be driving much of the story’s layout, pace, and tone. On Fire Power‘s best pages, Kirkman does what he needs to do, providing zero to three word balloons per panel, and then just gets out of Samnee’s way. Which is a smart move when you’re working with one of the best artists in the business. Samnee is a noted blog fave, and Fire Power gives him a chance to show off two of his big strengths: dynamic action scenes (mostly fights) and expressive character moments. In typical Samnee style, he nails the big and the small (with maybe a minor hiccup in an action scene involving a car). Most importantly, he makes the story both gripping and fun to read.
While Trope-y, Fire Power’s Prelude Still Connects
Volume two ends on a couple different cliffhangers, which made circling back to volume one more exciting (to fill in some of the missing context on those cliffhangers) but also a bit annoying (Owen’s family life, and especially his relationship with his wife, was a big part of what I liked about volume two, and I knew that wouldn’t feature at all in volume one). Still, I figured I’d dive in and see if Fire Power had staying power for me.
Again proving that they know what they’re doing, Kirkman and Samnee chose to open the prelude volume of Fire Power with no less than eleven(!) textless pages, letting Samnee and Wilson introduce readers to Owen Wilson via an arduous mountain trek to the Temple of the Flaming Fist. There, we meet an eclectic (and somewhat familiar, if you’ve already read volume two) cast of characters who become Owen’s master, his rival, and his friend-turned-something-more.
While that might sound like a played-out story (and perhaps is why the Fire Power team chose to release this volume’s story all in one go), Kirkman, Samnee, and co.’s execution makes it fun, heartfelt, and fast-paced. Again, this volume’s story rushed by, while at the same time allowing me to connect with all its characters. (Especially Owen’s master Wei Lun, who is easily the funniest and best character in the volume.) After a dramatic resolution, which did not actually fill in all the context I was expecting it to, Fire Power volume one moved to the present day and arrived at the very minute before volume two began.
Ultimately, I Think Fire Power Has Staying Power
Together, these two volumes have made a fantastic start to the story of a man who was involved in something important, turned his back on it to build an entirely different life, and is now being drawn into his past again. The re-emergence of Owen’s past is set to affect him, his wife, his children, and even his old friends and enemies in ways that none of them entirely comprehend. This, perhaps, is the real reason I liked Fire Power as much as I did: it’s about a man who is very much in the middle of his life and has to look back at and confront his past, while also protecting the family he has built in the present. This tension, of what’s more important, past or future, runs throughout both volumes one and two (in volume one, it comes from the reveal of Owen’s parentage). It is a solid hook upon which to set a “secret martial arts” story, and that genre is a great one in which to utilize Samnee and Wilson’s particular artistic talents. Maybe it’s no wonder, then, that Fire Power is a hit for me, given it combines so many elements I truly love.