The Curse of Brimstone #1
“Inferno, Part 1”
Writer: Justin Jordan
Artist/Cover artist: Philip Tan
Colors: Rain Beredo
Letters: Wes Abbott
Editor: Jessica Chen
Publisher: DC Comics
Price: $2.99 US
With this new creation, writer Justin Jordan and artist Philip Tan delve into a socio-political reality of rural life in America and beyond, but surprisingly, this comic book, at least so far, isn’t all that political from a partisan perspective. This script is going to speak to a lot of people. While I live and work in an urban area, the Canadian province in which I live is suffering from population decline and a struggling economy. While I don’t find myself in dire straits like the characters in this story, it’s incredibly easy to connect with the despair tempered with hope for change. The socio-economic ideas Jordan explores here are important ones, and not something one typically finds in mainstream super-hero comics, so the first chapter of The Curse of Brimstone was a refreshing change of pace in that regard. What hampers it somewhere, though, is the over-declaration of the plight of the backdrop and insufficient information on the real premise that emerges at the end of the issue.
Joe Chamberlain is stuck. He can’t get a job because he doesn’t have the cash for reliable transportation. He loves his hometown of York Hills, even though it’s falling apart all around him. It’s been abandoned by the industries that once sustained it, and anyone with the resources to leave have done so. Joe’s dad is on disability, and his sister is studying to become a nurse, but the family doesn’t have enough money to scrape by. When a stranger shows up and offers Joe a solution to all of his family’s problems, he’s far too quick to accept without inquiring of the price.
Philip Tan has always boasted a dark and rather fluid style, and it suits the downtrodden aspects of this story as well as the supernatural, horror elements that arise later in the issue. I was reminded at times of the style of Tom (The Spectre) Mandrake as well as that of Ben (30 Days of Night) Templesmith, with some Frank Miller influence showing itself as well. However, I find Tan’s art to be inconsistent at times, and his darker leanings often makes it difficult to discern what’s happening on the page. Joe’s transformation at the end of the issue is one such moment, as is the town sheriff’s encounter with the mysterious antagonist (the design of which should have been established much more clearly). I get that the creators are trying to foster an air of mystery and menace, but it also leads to a little confusion.
Jordan’s script effectively conveys the sense of hopelessness that defines York Hills, how the economy collapsed and it was forgotten by the rest of the world. In fact, Jordan conveys those qualities a little too effectively. Our protagonist repeats the refrain over and over and over again, and any one of his speeches would have been enough to make the point. The writer could have opened up some room for the plot to move forward a little more, beyond the initial acquisition of his curse and powers.
That being said, Joe’s frustrations and sense of being trapped are powerfully resonant. As the world moves further and further away from rural living and resource-based industries toward urban existence and a knowledge-based economy, towns like the fictional York Hills are all too real, as are people like Joe and his family. I was surprised that this script didn’t include partisan political sentiment, as York Hills is depicted as the sort of former coal-mining town that was such a big part of the narrative in the 2016 presidential election in the United States. However, I found it refreshing that politics didn’t enter into the equation here, because the fact of the matter is no politician can legitimately deliver on a promise to resurrect industries such as coal in the 21st century. It’s a sad economic reality, but despite that sadness, it is, in fact, reality.
Jordan’s selection of the name of this new title’s central character is curious, as DC has already established a character named Brimstone in its super-hero universe in the past. Debuting in Legends in the late 1980s, Brimstone was a near-mindless, nuclear monster created by Darkseid’s Apokalyptian technology. There appears to be no link between the original incarnation of DC’s Brimstone and this new one, and it seems to me it would have been relatively easy to chose a different moniker. Nothing really rises or falls because of it, but it just struck me as an odd choice.
It remains to be seen if that socio-economic concept will remain at the heart of this title, but I certainly hope it does. It’s what sets this comic book apart. Jordan has crafted an intelligent yet grounded story here — or at least a backdrop against which that horror story will unfold. However, the far more interesting “horror” is the questionable viability of a community such as York Hills. 6/10