Meltdown: Book 1
Writer: David B. Schwartz
Artist/Letters: Sean Wang
Cover artist: Chris Bachalo
Publisher: Image Comics
Price: $5.99 US/$6.80 CAN
The title of this two-issue limited series doesn’t refer to the protagonist’s super-hero identity but rather what the heat-based hero is going through. David B. Schwartz is just the latest new writer to offer up a realistic, mature and dark vision of a super-hero. We see so many of these stories these days, it’s difficult for new ones to stand out, to come across as something more than cliched. Schwartz’s story manages to stand out, just a little. This isn’t a typical super-hero story. It’s a tragedy about a man who’s been denied his dreams, his desires and a dynamic destiny. The grounded narration is compelling. The artwork is well done, but it’s inconsistent. Of course, this is purposeful, done for the sake of the storytelling, but I don’t think the approach works as intended.
Cal was a regular kid… or at least he longed to be a regular kid. He was born a little different, always feverish but never really sick, per se. As he approached adulthood, he realized he had powers. He absorbed heat, controlled it and could direct flame. Robbed of other options when his unique nature became public knowledge, he turned to the only life available to him: that of the super-hero. Being the Flare was never what he wanted, and when he does achieve his heart’s desire, his powers take that away as well. And there’s more bad news on the horizon…
On the inside front cover, the creators thank comics artist Bernard Chang for the suggestion of using multiple art styles for this story. It’s clear what was meant. Earlier scenes revolving around Cal’s childhood are rendered in a softer style, evocative of Mike (Gravity) Norton’s work, whereas the scenes set in the present, as he engages in a brutal and climactic battle with his arch-enemy, are brought to life in greater detail and with a harsher edge, reminscent of Darick (The Boys) Robertson’s style. Those two modes alone are so sharply different from one another that it looks as though different artists rendered them. It makes for an inconsistent look that’s a little bit jarring. I realize the intent behind the shifts in style is to enhance the storytelling and differentiate among periods in the Flare’s life, but it took me out of the story a bit. Perhaps if I’d known about the technique before I began reading, it might not have been as distracting. Furthermore, the more cartoony approach to the Hall of Heroes flies in the face of the down-to-earth quality of the narration and plot, making that segment of the book look needlessly like satire. Overall, I do like artist Sean Wang’s storytelling. The design for the Flare’s costume has a real-world look to it. It looks like a super-hero costume from the movies instead of the skin-tight spandex we normally see in super-hero comics.
Once again, I find myself wondering why, in this day and age of the rise of the graphic novel, storytellers and a publisher would release a story as two oversized issues rather than a single, more affordable graphic novel. The format’s more marketable to a mainstream, non-comics-reading audience and has a longer shelf life than floppy, episodic issues. Image has demonstrated as of late it’s not afraid of the original graphic novel as a viable publishing option, and it’s a shame Meltdown — clearly intended as a finite, one-off story — didn’t join that line of OGNs.
In the opening scenes, Cal’s special nature is described as an illness, and though he later sees his powers as a curse, he realizes he’s a superhuman figure, not a patient. But it turns out he was wrong and that everyone else was right. I’m reminded a little of Phenomenon, a film starring John Travolta. Though his special abilities are brought on by an illness as well, he sees them as a blessing, as a means to transform his life from something ordinary into a dream come true. In Meltdown, Cal’s story is the opposite. He longs for the ordinary, and in the absence of that, he longs for purpose. There’s none to be found, and the tragedy makes for an engaging read. 6/10