Firebrand #1 (February, 1996)
“Ashes to Ashes”
Writer – Brian Augustyn
Artist – Sal Velluto
Letterer – Ken Lopez
Colorist – Trish Mulvihill
Assistant Editor – Chris Eades
Editor – Rob Simpson
Cover Price: $1.75
Firebrand? Who’s that? Last time we talked about a Firebrand here, I think we were discussing the All-Star Squadron! Well, this is a book that I’d dug out of the bins a few months ago, mistaking it as part of the Bloodlines “push”.
The cover immediately jumped out at me, and the character on it looked really cool. What’s more, I’d either forgotten that this book was a thing… or, never knew it was!
So… let’s get to diggin’!
We open with a pair of detectives sitting in a car discussing addictions and obsessions. Ya see, there’s this one guy named Leo who is afraid to give up smoking, because he knows he’ll just start stuffing his face if he were to stop. The other guy, Alex, has a hard time letting go of old (missing/abducted children) cases… possibly (definitely) stemming from his inability to save his sister some time back. This is really well presented, and the conversation feels natural.
Alex eventually hops out and heads into his apartment building. Once inside, he hits his answering machine… first message is from his brother Javier. It’s clear that they’re, at least somewhat, estranged. Actually Alex appears to be pretty distant from his entire family. Anyhoo, Javier implores Alex to give their dad a call.
Onto the next message… it’s a man, mocking the detective, claiming to be the “link” connecting all of the missing children. Once the message ends, well…
We join Alex in the great hereafter… he’s bathed in light, and bears a flaming scar on his chest. He is called to a closed door… by his sister’s voice. There’s another explosion… likely signifying what actually happened to his sister, then she emerges. She tells him that her death wasn’t his fault… and also, that it’s not his time to die.
Three months pass, and Alex finally comes out of his coma. He is welcomed back into the land of the living by his brother, Javier. Seventy percent of his bones were shattered… and yet, somehow… he survived.
Javier continues, explaining that Alex had basically been rebuilt from the ground up with experimental polymers, acrylics and techniques… likely costing upwards of $12-Million. Well, I don’t think a detective is going to be able to come up with the scratch for that… and lucky for him, he doesn’t have to! Ya see, he’s got himself a benefactor.
Head of this experimental project, Doctor Newton P. Lovell enters the room to check on his patient. While chatting, Alex gets a bit antsy… he event tries to get out of bed… which leads to a fairly gruesome panel.
We jump ahead another two months… and Alex is walking with the aid of a pair of canes. Doc Lovell leads him to an R&D room so he can finally meet his secret benefactor… Noah Hightower, a “richer than God”… uh, I was gonna say “industrialist”, but I’m really not sure what his background is. Could be “old money” for all I know. This was 1996, maybe he was the first guy to put ads on a Geocities site. Either way, we learn that Hightower had a child go missing some 25 years ago… so this favor might not be without its strings.
Alex waits for the other shoe to drop… and it eventually does. Ya see, Hightower informs him that with all of the procedures they’d performed on him, he’ll have about 85% of his mobility back… but there is a way to bring that up to 100%… and higher! It has to do with a costume… but, you probably guessed that by now.
To his credit, Hightower leaves the decision to Alex. He won’t hold any ill will toward him if he decides to pass on the opportunity. Alex offers that he will think on it, and think on it hard.
A couple more months later, Alex is walking completely on his own… and is being visited by Leo… who, gave up smoking… and did gain a bunch of weight (nice touch!) reveals that he might have a lead on the mad answering machine bomber what bombed via answering machine those seven months ago.
Alex peeks out the window and notices that some dude is trying to break into Leo’s car… and so, Leo rushes out to stop ’em. Alex notes that the hospital’s crack security staff is “three retired guys who play cards all night” (I think we’ve all met those guys) and suggests calling in some actual back-up.
Once outside, Leo is jumped by a bunch of skinheads. Alex realizes there’s only one way he can save his buddy, and so… heads over to the R&D room to “suit up”. Moments later, he rushes outside to take the fight to the baddies.
He taps a button on his chest plate (which is exactly where that scar was after the blast) and finds himself struck by this flaming lightning bolt, bathed in green smoke.
Now, looking sorta like a member of Ghost Rider’s cast, he is able to wipe the floor with the skinheads.
Since he’s not yet a seasoned superhero, Alex/Firebrand lets most of the bad guys escape. He’s left in the parking lot with his buddy, and some of the hospital staff rushing onto the scene.
Lemme share something somewhat personal… if you’ll indulge me, of course. Recently I’ve had to decide on my Masters Degree path. Those who know me, know that my higher education career started about a decade too late… and my Bachelor Degree took me an extra year or two to earn. When I started, I knew I wanted to pursue psychology… but wasn’t prepared to commit to anything more specific.
In the six-years it took me to earn my degree, my focus shifted a few times… and I ended up with a choice between pursuing a Masters in Forensic Psychology… or School Psychology. I’ve written before about how a particular Forensics assignment actually led me to starting this blog… though, if I’m being honest… it wasn’t so much the assignment, it was my obsession with it. My inability to “let it go”.
Up until a few months ago, I’ve waffled… even put off my return to school, because I just couldn’t commit to one path over the other. While School Psychology is the “smart” play, and is something I’m pretty passionate about, I just couldn’t shake the feeling that my “calling” was in Forensics.
After much soul-searching, I ultimately came to the conclusion that I’d be far more effective as a School Psychologist… or maybe, just effective period in that role. I, like the star of this series (and the reason I’ve droned on for the past skatey-eight hundred words), Detective Alejandro Sanchez… have a problem letting things go. Though, I don’t have any trauma to blame that on!
Now, with that out of the way… what’d I think of Firebrand? I really dug it! Alex is a complex (and, to me relatable) character, and I find myself wanting to learn more about him. We only get a little bit about him… actually, we only get a little bit about his benefactor, Hightower. Both fellas I’d like to learn more about!
The Firebrand design is pretty cool… though looks like it would be a pain to draw. I also wonder how he’d look in a hero-lineup… can’t really picture him standing next to Superman or anything. Again, not sure if he has an “off” switch as of yet… dunno if he can go back to his flameless form, or even back to his Sanchez-civvies.
The art here was good, and fit the tone of the story. I mentioned it during the synopsis, but I loved that Leo was depicted as having gained weight after giving up smoking. Great attention to detail there!
Overall… I really enjoyed this. This is, unfortunately, the only issue of the run I have at the moment… and it’s a book that I very rarely see “in the wild”… actually, I’ve only seen it the once! If you happen across it, I think you’ll have a good time with it. This is, unsurprisingly, not yet available digitally… so, if you want it, you’re gonna have to git to diving! I think you’ll find that it’s worth the trouble.