Writer: David Schwartz
Artist: Sean Wang
Publisher: Image Comics
Editor's Note: Meltdown #1 will be released in December and is now available for preorder.
I don’t even know where to begin my accolades for Meltdown #1, a prestige format series coming from Image later this year. Well, I guess I’ll keep it simple and start at the beginning!
Meltdown has an opening similar to the film American Beauty, with our hero Cal, a.k.a. Flare, explaining his current situation: “They say that when you’re about to die, your entire life flashes before your eyes. I can tell you that it’s absolutely true, and I speak from experience. My name’s ‘Caliente.’ ‘Cal’ for short. I’m a super-hero. And I’m about to die. This is my story.” To tell you the truth, I wasn’t too impressed with the opening. It was a little too theatrical and gimmicky, leading me to believe I was about to head into a preachy 48-page epic. Nothing could be further from the truth, thank goodness! David Schwartz has crafted a slick, involving, emotional tale that is only made better by Sean Wang’s awe-inspiring artwork. It’s a super-heroic biography that gets it right, painting Cal as a human being first, then a super-powered wunderkind. Meltdown has laughs (“Maybe then I wouldn’t have to be here, wearing a ridiculous leather costume in the middle of August in Miami.”), tears (as Cal learns he can’t conceive with his wife due to his powers), and introspection on the nature of costumed heroics (“I did all the grunt-work, while the more established heroes hounded all the glory”). All I could think about was how this comic really communicated the essence of being a super-powered human, something that Marvel and DC have lost sight of in the midst of Civil Wars and Infinite Crises. I care about Cal and his travails, and I can’t wait to see what comes next from this excellent mini-series.
Everything about Meltdown has to do with heat, whether it concerns Cal’s body temperature and powers, his hot temper, or his heated passion for Amara. Fittingly, Amara is a feisty red-head with more than a few similarities to Mary Jane Watson (should we take their eventual break-up as a commentary on Spider-Man?). She is also the catalyst of the tale, as many female love interests become in heroic entertainment. When Amara learns that she can’t have a child with Cal due to his heightened body temperature, she is devastated, which causes Cal to leave. The best transition of the issue is at the point when Cal leaves Amara, as he “freed her to find a better man, a better life.” The panel displays Cal taking off into the air with a fiery stream trailing behind him. The following page almosts presents the same scene; the only differences is the costume Cal wears and the change of locale. He says, “That’s the problem with getting too close to someone. The pain can be unbearable, and here I am, doing it again.” What we realize is the pain he is talking about currently is coming in the physical variety, from his arch-nemesis Maelstrom. Throughout the issue, scenes of insight into Cal’s history and the events leading to his current situation are mixed with his presumably final battle with his main foe. The action scenes between the two enemies are beautifully orchestrated and illustrated, but they pale in comparison to the shocks and revelations that come hot and heavy (no pun intended) for Cal after his break with Amara. I won’t reveal exactly what happens, but there is one scene that will remind you of Civil War in a couple of ways (though much more emotionally involving), as well as final page that will have you cursing Schwartz and Wang for making you wait. I have to wait even longer, darn it!
I haven’t seen anything previously from Schwartz, but after Meltdown, I think he is a writer who understands what comics can do, and I hope we see more from him real soon. The pace of this entire issue is pulse-pounding without being too fast, and, considering that much of the issue is Cal’s flashback on his life, that is a real accomplishment. Main characters are rendered with realism and engaging humanity, except when Schwartz creates caricatured players to prove a point or make us laugh. One of the more interesting minor characters is Neuron, the “most brilliant mind on the planet,” who is unable to help Cal with his childbearing problem and his life-threatening condition. There is no magical cure, secret dimension, or technological wonder that can help Cal, showing that the super-heroic world that he frequents is our world, one where real problems don’t have an "Easy" button. For me, that is the greatest accomplishment of this comic. Schwartz very easily could have meandered into the unbelievable worlds we see week in and week out at our local comic shop, which is not necessarily bad. I’d love to live in a New York frequented by the Fantastic Four! But, from an originality/human connectivity standpoint, Meltdown delivers the goods, creating a super-hero epic with true heart and passion.
But, Schwartz’s words wouldn’t have had as much power without the incredibly rendered artwork by Wang. His excellence in Meltdown revolves around his appropriate touches on each and every page. The tone of his art changes with the tone of the story, which creates an involving visual experience throughout the issue. The fight between Flare and Maelstrom has realistic grit, the early tales of Cal and his crush on Amara have an almost cartoon-like/manga feel, and his early days of costumed heroics have the clean lines that are typical of JLA. The moment in the first issue when Cal finally snaps is communicated to us as much with visual cues as with the scripting. The full-page panel showing the height of Cal’s rage leads to a gritty depiction of destruction and despair throughout the remaining twelve pages of the issue. After seeing Wang’s work in Runners and his work here, I realize that he is an artist with overwhelming talent that needs greater exposure.
Hopefully, people will take heed when I say that this is a must buy once this series hits the comic stands. You can’t ask for more from a 48 page super-hero comic, even though you will feel kinda bummed about Cal’s situation at the end of the issue. But when you think about it, being depressed about Cal is a great thing. It means that Schwartz and Wang have made us care about a character we didn’t know 48 pages ago, and for a super-hero comic in this day and age, that is a tremendous achievement.
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