Wednesday, April 4, 2012

GUNFIRE #1 - May 1994

Deadly Homecoming
Credits: Len Wein (writer), Steve Erwin (penciler), Brian Garvey (inker), Bob Lappan (letterer), Martin Thomas (colorist)

Summary: Following his father’s funeral, Andrew van Horn is harassed by Slater, a representative of one of his father’s business associates. Slater wants Andrew to turn over his father’s mystery project, and after Andrew’s initial rejection, he returns with armed thugs. With the help of Andrew’s friends Benjamin and Yvette, Slater is chased away. However, Yvette is soon kidnapped, forcing Andrew to rescue her as Gunfire. After finally reaching Yvette at a Van Horn Industries construction site, Gunfire is confronted by the armored Ricochet.

Irrelevant Continuity: Gunfire debuted during DC’s 1993 “Bloodlines” annual crossover event. (Deathstroke the Terminator annual #2, to be precise.) The gimmick is that each issue introduced a “New Blood” character, making every installment a surefire collector’s item. This worked about as well as Marvel’s 1993 new character annual stunt, although DC did get Hitman out of the deal.

I Love the ‘90s: Gunfire’s hairstyle looks like it could be anything from a mullet to a ponytail to (horror!) a rattail, depending on the angle it's drawn.

Review: When Rob first told me about the New Blood kid Gunfire, my initial thought was, “Great. Another superhero with a very big gun, low-grade rage, and a girlfriend with breasts bigger than her head.” -- Opening statement in this issue letters page, presumably written by some member of the editorial staff.

So, we’re deep enough into the ‘90s for a comics company to be openly cynical about the lone, gun-toting vigilante archetype. DC didn’t seem to jump on to this fad as quickly as the other companies, so by the time they finally had to cave in they were apparently willing to avoid many of the clichés. This is still a book called Gunfire, though, starring a character with the ability to “agitate the molecules of solid objects…then fire them off in short bursts like bullets” essentially making his gimmick a Gambit meets the Punisher riff. Regardless of the creative team’s efforts to make him unique, time isn’t going to be kind to this concept.

Now, how is Gunfire different from Punisher, Solo, Grifter, Cable, Huntsman, Cyborg X, Trencher, Deathblow, Maverick, Chapel, etc? Allegedly, Andrew van Horn has a social conscious, putting him at odds with his predictably evil capitalistic father, Gunther. Having inherited his father’s company, Andrew must reconcile his family’s business practices with his personal beliefs. (I said “allegedly” earlier because the social conscious aspect of the character never comes up in the actual story, but it’s mentioned repeatedly in the letter column.) So, he’s starting off with a bit of an Iron First/Green Arrow/Iron Man riff. Obviously, at least some variation of this has been done, but I don’t know if it was ever attached to a gunman character before.

Another attempt to pull Gunfire away from the clichés is to emphasize his status as a rookie superhero. This could easily introduce a different series of clichés to the book, considering the number of titles dedicated to neophyte heroes still learning the ropes, but Wein has avoided a few of the more obvious ones in the first issue. Andrew’s best friend and girlfriend already know about his superpowers, and they’re even actively involved in creating his superhero persona. Yvette is far from a whiny shrew, although she’s predictably kidnapped and used as bait by the issue’s end. I’m not sure what other non-cliché qualities she might have, aside from the more modest proportions the editors seem so proud of, but the series is young. Her thick French accent can be tiresome, though, especially if you’re the kind of reader inclined to ridicule Chris Claremont’s accents. Looking at the cover, there’s apparently been some form of miscommunication regarding Yvette. At no point in the interior of the comic is Yvette depicted as Asian. Gunfire’s pal Benjamin is Asian, however, making me wonder if the characters’ ethnicities somehow got mixed up and improperly communicated to the cover artist.

The plot of the first issue cuts back and forth between Gunfire’s rescue mission and the events that led to him donning the superhero disguise. There’s very little to pick apart; Len Wein’s written and edited comics for a long time and he clearly knows what he’s doing. It would be easy to mock the fact that Slater’s men can’t recognize Gunfire as Andrew van Horn, even though his modest mask exposes his mouth and red hair, but it’s no more absurd a disguise than Green Lantern or Robin’s domino masks. I don’t know what exactly happened in the “Bloodlines” annuals, but I’m assuming there’s a good reason why Wein is skimping over the origin of Gunfire’s powers. Instead, we’re introduced to his supporting cast and offered some insight into how the Gunfire persona was created. (Gunfire’s armor is crafted by Benjamin out of ceramic, which honestly doesn’t sound very impressive to me).

Gunfire is still lacking in much of a specific personality by the issue’s end, but he’s thankfully not a one-liner spewing ‘90s tough guy. He’s just designed to look like one. And even if that design was passé within a week of the comic’s release, Steve Erwin’s pencil work has aged much better. There’s a bit of an Image influence in the inking, but the story is clearly told and the characters all look realistically human. The final product isn’t quite what you would expect, which possibly worked against the series. Traditional superhero fans probably didn’t want another gun guy, and gun-crazed vigilante fans probably didn’t want a Bronze Age-style superhero book. The countdown to the “Fat Lady Has Sung” letter column editorial has begun.

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