Writer: Karl Kesel
Artists: Skottie Young (p), Joe Seung (i)
Publisher: Marvel Comics
The book opens with Johnny joining Mike Snow on a visit to the city morgue to look at the remains of a firefighter who spontaneously burst into flames, and we see Johnny displays a new ability, as he discovers he is able to follow the path that the flames traveled along the victim's body, and as such he's able to learn the man died when he inhaled the flames, and was essentially cooked from the inside out. Following up on Mike Snow's idea that this was not a simple case of spontaneous combustion we see Johnny agrees to look into the files of all the known villains who have the ability to control fire. However, a couple days later we see Johnny stops into the fire station where he lets Mike know that he wasn't able to find a match, and as such he's not really sure what else there is for him to do. However, when a call comes into the station about a fire at a nearby drug den, we see Johnny joins the crew as they race to the scene, and once there they see this is no ordinary fire, as the flames look to be actively pursuing the drug dealer who operated out of this building. As Johnny races after the fleeing drug dealer, we see the flames chasing him eventually vanish, leaving Johnny with a mystery of who is controlling these fires, and why a firefighter, and a seemingly unrelated drug dealer were targeted for death by this unseen attacker.
This issue doesn't really offer up all that much in the way of action, and the main plot advances very little, but we do get some solid character development, as we see how a single incident from their past have made a dramatic impact on the lives of two men. The idea that Johnny went on to become a beloved hero, while Mike Snow lost his one chance at the brass ring thanks to Johnny's reckless use of his power makes for an interesting relationship between these two characters. While it's clear there is a degree of bitterness & resentment in the air, the fact that Mike Snow isn't a vengeance driven lunatic makes for a refreshing change of pace. I mean Karl Kesel has set up a situation that is so familiar that one almost expects Mike Snow's mask of civility to fall away and we'll get a good look at the mustache twirling mad man who has been cursing Johnny's name for years. However Karl Kesel seems to be perfectly content to have the character come across as a well adjusted guy who isn't exactly Johnny's biggest fan, but is more than willing to let the "incident" be water under the bridge. Now his girlfriend on the other hand looks good for the villain role as she makes a couple comments that lead one to believe there's more going on than meets the eye, and the scene where she discusses the fate of the first victim certainly conveys an ominous feel.
Karl Kesel seems quite insistent when it come to the fact that Johnny Storm is not able to absorb fire, and while I have to say I join the firemen in their confusion as I'm positive I've seen Johnny boasting of this ability on numerous occasions. Still Karl Kesel is just as well versed in the character's history as myself, so I'll take his word for it. If nothing else it does add a new sense of danger to Johnny's power, as it's not like he can toss about his blasts of fire willy-nilly, as a missed attack stands a very good chance of starting a fire that Johnny is no longer able to bring under control. This issue does introduce a new ability to Johnny's arsenal, as we see he can read the path of a fire's progression, which offers up a pretty important clue about the one man's death, and I imagine this ability will have him on the speed dial of most fire investigators, as it would save them hours of back breaking work poking through the wreckage looking for the point of origin. This issue also give us our first look at the villain of the story, as it would appear Johnny finds himself doing battle with a living flame creature, though its abrupt disappearance would seem to suggest that it's not a separate entity but rather a creation of a third party whose control has a limited range. With Pyro dead, I must confess I really don't know of any villains who could pull off this trick, so I imagine it's a new, never seen before villain (or else Crystal is really desperate to get Johnny's attention).
Skottie Young brings a visually interesting style to the table, and while I have to say I'm not overly impressed by the rather loose, unstructured look during some of the quieter moments, during the action scenes the art is more the equal to the task. I mean the scene where the drug dealer is chased through the streets by the fire is a truly spectacular bit of art, and I must confess I was rather disappointed the see the chase ended so abruptly when Johnny arrived, as I would've loved to have seen Johnny have to engage in a little more aerial maneuvering. Speaking of Johnny I have to also credit the art for it's wonderful work conveying the flame effect that is key part of the character's look, as I love the almost fluid appearance of the flames, and the little power stunts that we're treated to in this issue (e.g. the flames verses water panel, the Spider-Man style half flaming face visual). On the other hand the art is a bit dubious when it comes to detailing the scenes where the story calls for emotional reactions to carry the scene, as the art isn't exactly all that diverse when it comes to its facial expressions, as it's two mainstays are the flat line, closed mouth shot, and the open mouth, the character is talking shot. There's also a somewhat worrisome moment where we see two different characters look like they were separated at birth, with the only real difference being one of them has red hair & a beard, while the other has gray hair & a mustache.
This issue falls into the trap that most five-seven part arcs tend to run into in that it's guilty of spinning its wheels a bit as the story builds toward it's climax, as it's gotten all the set-up material out of the way in the previous issues, but it's still a bit early to start in on the big climax. As a result most writers introduce a secondary story that can step forward to liven up this hard to avoid transition gap, and in this case it would be the tensions between Johnny & Mike Snow. The only problem is that Karl Kesel never really digs too deep, as we get a sense of the resentment that Mike Snow feels, as well as the guilt that haunts Johnny but the material backs off before the real emotional elements can be properly examined. In other words this issue is guilty of playing it a little too close to the vest, as it's developed an interesting character dynamic, but obviously Karl Kesel isn't quite ready to have these two really get into it, so what we're left with is an issue doesn't quite live up to it's promise. I do like the idea that Johnny is allowed the express doubts about what role he can really play in this problem, as this is a little outside his regular adventure.
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