Fire Power, Vol. 1: Prelude
Written by Robert Kirkman
Art by Chris Samnee and Matt Wilson
Lettering by Rus Wooton
Published by Image Comics
'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10
Serving as the precursor to the delayed Free Comic Book Day offering, Fire Power, Vol. 1: Prelude introduces readers to Owen Johnson, who journeys to China to discover the truth about his birth parents and finds more than just answers at an ancient Shaolin temple. Robert Kirkman, Chris Samnee, and Matt Wilson take readers along for a journey that long-time fans of martial art films will love.
Traveling across China to various Shaolin masters, Owen Johnson seeks to uncover the secrets of his birth parents who left him up for adoption in the United States. The familiar trope of the westerner traveling across the frozen Himalayan mountains in search of secret martial knowledge is one many readers will be familiar with, even if only from Marvel’s Iron Fist — the parallels to Danny Rand only continue with Owen being the 'chosen one' who would save the temple from a competing clan despite their apparent 'usurper' status, the promise of a fiery power that only they could wield with their hands, and a hot-tempered competitor who haunts their every step. What makes this graphic novel so worthwhile isn’t the fact that Kirkman and company are telling a new story per se — they’re not, at this point — but it’s all about the execution of this familiar series of narrative elements thanks to Chris Samnee, Matt Wilson, and Rus Wooton.
Fans of Chris Samnee will find much to love about his work in Fire Power. His linework varies between the simple and expressive from one panel to the next in what seems an effortless manner. What’s always impressive, however, are the ways in which he can add just a slight bend to a line in a character’s face to tell readers exactly how a character is feeling or what they’re thinking. This proves key as Master Wei Lun banned romance between the students, and so, the exchanges between Owen and Ling Zan would necessitate subtlety and poignancy.
Likewise, Samnee’s sense of panel composition to move the reader along feels like something straight out of a movie with the panel to panel transitions and mix of wide shots to close-ups. The moments before many of the action scenes utilized these panel-to-panel transitions to build the tension before the characters would cut loose in a flurry of martial battle. There’s rarely an instance where the story feels stagnant thanks to these visual storytelling elements. Even better are those moments when the minimalist line art combined with the deep ink work – almost invariably during the fast-paced action scenes – subtly pose the question “What would it look like if Jack Kirby and Joe Sinnott made a martial arts comic?” It’s a cool question to ponder, and Samnee offers a cool answer especially in the final battle scene when Owen cuts loose with his fire power.
Likewise, Matt Wilson and Rus Wooton find many opportunities to flex their creative muscles alongside Samnee. Wilson’s cool palette underscores the zen-like setting of the temple where most of this story takes place, but careful readers will note when he dials up the heat at certain points between Owen and his love interest Ling Zan. Of course, this is a martial arts comic interwoven with elements of the supernatural, so when Kirkman and Samnee give the greenlight for action, Wilson’s palette cuts loose with explosive power, paired with Wooton’s eye-popping sound effects that break panel borders to reflect breaking bones. While Fire Power refers to the supernatural fire-throwing ability Owen looks to cultivate, it also doubles nicely for the artistic talents this comic brings together.
While the art team deserves credit for their masterful visuals, Kirkman also earns praise for finding a refreshing way to tell an old tale. Kirkman’s portrayal of Shaolin master Wei Lun just toes the line of over-the-top in his love of western accessories, but he pulls back from letting the character veer into the realm of parody. It’s just one example of trying to offer readers a different take on what they would expect from a story of this type. Likewise, Kirkman makes the right decision to avoid the “great white savior” trope with Owen. While he does hail from the United States, he is originally from China and he seeks to embrace his Chinese heritage — not simply use it to enhance his own abilities or agency.
Overall, Fire Power, Vol. 1: Prelude provides an engaging story that comic fans of all types will enjoy as it sets the stage for Kirkman and Samnee’s new series. And while the first issue releases concurrently with this graphic novel, it’s well worth reading this book first, as it segues seamlessly into the story for Firepower #1 and provides all of the background readers will need to get the most of that first issue.