Writer: Karl Kesel
Artists: Scottie Young (p), Joe Seung and Pierre Andre-Dery (i)
Publisher: Marvel Comics
The book opens with Johnny Storm taking the defeated Firefox into custody, but we soon discover the fight we were treated to last issue was all a sham, and that Firefox was really tabloid journalist Sheila Donner working with Johnny in a staged fight designed to create a sense of false security for the real villain. We then see while Johnny acts like he's enjoying his recent success, and spending some time enjoying the company of his new fight-fighting friends, we see Sheila Donner sets about tightening the screws, as her investigation has caught one of these people in a lie. When she confronts the liar over the phone, we see she gets the proof she had been looking for, and she quickly calls up Johnny with this new insight. Meanwhile the Human Torch is busy helping the firefighters deal with a blazing grease pit of a restaurant, but when the place becomes a raging inferno we see Johnny has to call upon an ability that he essentially denied having previously, as he absorbs the flames of the fire into himself, and then discharge this excess flame high above the city. We then see Johnny gets the call from Sheila, and this has his racing back to the station house, where he finds the villain has already been there & gone. However, Johnny is able to unearth a clue that lead him to the villain's hidden lair, where he makes a surprising discovery about the identity of the flame-controlling villain.
This issue does make it a bit difficult to ignore Karl Kesel's direct influence on the events, as the book opens with the revelation that the entire fight we were treated to in the last issue was all one big fake out, and that it was staged so that the real villain responsible would rest easy, as they would believe that Johnny Storm would be off the case. However, the reason why this plan doesn't really work all that well is because the book made it clear that the person responsible simply wasn't all that concerned about Johnny's efforts to catch them, as they carried out a very public attack in full view of Johnny. Now if the villain had shown some sign that they wanted credit for the attacks or that they had some message that they were looking to deliver with the attacks, than I could see how setting up another villain with a lame duck motivation would act to key off the real villain, which it turn might have them perform some rash action that would make them easier to catch. However, once again the material up to that point showed next to no sign that the real villain was looking for public acknowledgement for their actions. In the end the false climax ends up feeling like it was inserted into the story simply to trick the readers, and while I'll concede that I fell for it, I'm not overly fond of tricks that serve no other purpose that to throw the readers off the track.
The last page does act to reveal the true villain of this arc, and I have to say that I'm not overly impressed by the big revelation, as it's the person that I had pegged as the big baddie pretty much from the very start. Now I will concede that I was a bit surprised by the involvement of another character, as I had been somewhat impressed by how Karl Kesel had avoided the obvious motivation for why Johnny was brought on to the case, so the revelation that this character is working hand in hand with the villain was surprising, but also a bit disappointing. Now perhaps this character has only recently learned of the other character's role in the attacks, and that they are simply siding with the villain out of loyalty, or fear for their own safety, but the final pages of this issue certainly make it seem like this pair are working together. Now I guess I could openly question just how much excitement can be drawn from this final page, as pitting Johnny against a flame-based villain doesn't seem to pose much of a threat, though if this villain's partner is not a willing one, than I guess they could make for an easy target that Johnny would be compelled to protect. If not than here's hoping the battle moves to a location where the danger to others is able to provide the excitement, that is lacking when Johnny is the only one targeted by the flame-based villain.
Skottie Young is an artist who has clearly placed a higher degree of focus on making his work high energy, instead of realistic, as his figure work & facial expressions are wildly distorted. However unlike many who have adopted this style there is a degree of consistency to the art, as Johnny Storm looks the same from panel to panel as do all the various characters that populate these pages, so clearly an effort is being made to maintain a consistent look. I'll also give the book full marks for it's ability to capture the fire effect, and the visuals that involve fire have a wonderful fluidity to them, and one has to love the sense of power on display when Johnny absorbs the flames into himself, and then unleashes them into the sky. There's also a nice one-page shot of Johnny racing to the scene where he believes a woman is in danger, and while I was a bit disappointed by the big reveal of the mystery villain, I will concede that the final page does a pretty solid job of making the character look quite dangerous. On the other hand there are scenes where I find the cartoonish qualities of the art serve to undercut the more serious elements of the story, as the scene where the reporter is questioning the villain, and manages to catch them in a lie is almost too over the top in it's delivery. I did rather like the Rebel Without a Cause style cover image though.
I realize that red herrings are part of the game, but I don't like it when it's so apparent that the only reason something was done was to throw the readers off the scent. I mean the whole plot twist involving the fake super-villain never really explains what Johnny was looking to accomplish, as why exactly would this make the slightest impact on the real villain. In fact the only thing this false villain plot thread managed to accomplish was to string out the big reveal until the end of this issue, and given the surprise identity of the real villain is hardly a surprise to anyone who had been paying attention earlier, the fake villain idea feels even more contrived. There's also a bit of obvious backpedalling in this issue as Karl Kesel has Johnny reverse a statement that he made in a previous issue, as the character absorbs the flames of a fire, and then takes the time to say that he said he couldn't absorb fire earlier because it takes considerable effort for him to do so. In any event, this is a somewhat enjoyable issue, but it does feel a bit padded for what it is.
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