Tripwire’s contributing writer Tim Hayes casts his critical eye over 2000AD’s Firekind out now digitally…
Writer: John Smith
Artist: Paul Marshall
Rebellion’s monthly sequence of digital-only reprints brought up from the archives rounds off its trio of John Smith-written stories with Firekind from 1993, and whatever pandemic-related holes in the publishing schedule may have brought the series to life it has at least put Smith’s name back in front of readers and in the 2000AD shop where it belongs. No three individual strips can really be a cross-section of that writer’s output, but following a trippy spiritual awakening in Revere and the slapstick splatter of Slaughter Bowl with Firekind‘s anti-corporate pro-environment science-fiction is a pretty good measure of the stand-alone stories 2000AD knew Smith could conjure for it in the early nineties when he was regular contributor. Less fortunately the episodes of Firekind were famously published in the wrong order in the original progs, so a new collection at least does the story the service of gathering it together properly. Plus you can judge for yourself whether or not Firekind might have crossed James Cameron’s path before he wrote Avatar.
Firekind does indeed involve a forested alien planet populated with violent wildlife, venomous plants and air full of toxic hallucinogens, plus visiting explorers who need to wear protective equipment in order to not be killed by the environment. We get only a glimpse of where the visitors come from, but their values become clear once a group of them turn homicidal in pursuit of the planet’s raw materials for their own use back home. By that point the locals, a race called the Gennyans, have an ally in the shape of another visitor and this story’s protagonist Hendrick Milhous Larsen, a flawed but honourable good guy despite Smith playfully giving him a name echoing Richard Milhous Nixon. Larsen goes on his own hallucinogenic trip when the local pollen rewires his brain, after which he goes native, siding with the Gennyans and the holistic society they come from.
The villains are capitalist asset-strippers and happy about it, but Smith and artist Paul Marshall make Firekind more specifically about colonialism too by giving the aggressors a wardrobe of double-breasted tunics, fur collars, dress uniforms and capes. The leader of the mercenaries is called Archduke Ruggerio Neumann and sits on a throne, so the story barely camouflages its issues with European monarchs and their genocidal exploitation of colonised territories on a planet closer to home. It’s also a good look for a sci-fi adventure story, with some of the high style Alex Raymond used in Flash Gordon, cruelty from a regimented military class. As a creative pairing Marshall and Smith are very much in sync, and no surprise that they collaborated again after this. The art’s clean lines, strong colour sense and visual drama – Firekind has splendid dragons – are a solid platform for Smith’s high-flying prose, which although less dense to read than Revere still talks about animist planetary all-spirits, cultural rituals, religious visions, gender identity and aboriginal rights, all under an overall message of self-determination. Marshall currently appears in 2000AD regularly, putting a modernised sleeker version of his 1990s style to use on sci-fi that generally aims a bit lower than this story, while Smith has for now left the comic behind altogether; Firekind deserves a place on the digital shelf to record that 2000AD got results by putting them together when it had the chance.
Firekind is out now from Rebellion
Environmental Consequences Tripwire’s contributing writer Tim Hayes casts his critical eye over 2000AD’s Firekind out now digitally… Firekind Writer: John Smith Artist: Paul Marshall Rebellion’s monthly sequence of digital-only reprints brought up from the archives rounds off its trio of John Smith-written stories with Firekind from 1993, and whatever pandemic-related holes in the publishing schedule
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