Writer: Si Spencer
Artists: Max Dunbar & Ande Parks
Publisher: DC Comics/Vertigo
Release Date: November 11, 2015
As dramatic and compelling tasks go, it’s hard to argue with fighting fires. Human versus fire presents an unambiguous conflict, a way to show heroism in a number of ways, and a scenario that allows for any number of tense situations. But for all of that intrigue, mass media has only produced a handful of television shows, comics and movies focusing on firefighters in the last 25 years: 1991’s Backdraft, 2004’s Ladder 49 and the television show Chicago Fire found out the list. Compare that with the number of police dramas released across media in the same period and a gulf emerges. Perhaps that deficit’s due to budgetary constraints; perhaps that’s due to a belief that the number of stories one can tell with firefighters is limited. Si Spurrier, Max Dunbar and Ande Park’s new Vertigo comic, Slash & Burn, aims to expand that range. A psychological thriller about a firefighter in a North Dakota city, this debut chapter keeps the conflagrations small for the time being, but its precise structure establishes a number of enticing mysteries.
At the center of the story lies Rosheen, a firefighter with a unique occupation given her feelings about fire. This dissonance isn’t readily apparent from the start, but some of the more oblique aspects of her narration pay off nicely at the end. The issue also includes a flashback to Rosheen’s childhood experiences at an orphanage, which the narration suggests will link up with the events of the present day—possibly in more ways that one. Spencer’s script also suggests that the series will explore the less-traditional effects of heat as well.
At times, Rosheen’s account feels self-aware: a reference to her penchant for “hurt[ing] the one you love” as making her both “a good-time gal and a femme fatale” proves knowingly hard-boiled for the issue’s first page. So, too, is the flirtatious banter made by a police officer investigating the burned-out storage facility that opens the chapter. Rosheen’s bond with Lucy, one of her colleagues, is more efficiently established through a handful of lines, direct art and a properly tense situation. And a taught statement about her family history—“Long story. It’d make you cry.”—seems more like foreshadowing given what’s revealed of her past and present.
Slash & Burn #1 Interior Art by Max Dunbar and Ande Parks
Max Dunbar and Ande Parks’ art is clean and neatly composed; at times, it resembles Gabriel Rodriguez’s work on Locke & Key in its attention to detail and to body language. And for all of the clean lines of the buildings, Slash & Burn captures some wonderfully strange details as well: a stuffed walrus in the setpiece that opens the issue as well as a cloth figure in the quiet, unsettling sequence featuring Rosheen at home alone that closes it.
Calling this issue a slow burn would head into the territory of potentially awful puns, but it would also be accurate. A volatile protagonist and an inherently volatile situation make for a good combination, and the questions this issue establishes in both its past and present timelines deliver a memorable beginning. And, perhaps, a new window on stories of people fighting fire.