As Dark Spaces: Wildfire #1 introduces us, California wildfires used to be a once a decade occurrence. Now, it’s a constant threat. It’s replaced earthquakes as the true natural disaster of the Golden State. Over the last decade, I’ve gotten the text probably half a dozen times: “Grandma’s been given an evacuation order”, or “We’re evacuating ahead of time, keep us in your thoughts.” The state of California’s prison system uses prisoners to fight wildfires for poverty wages. Before last year, paroled felons who participated in this program weren’t even allowed to use these skills to join civic departments.
And so we meet Crew 513, a group of four prisoners and their minder, Ruba Ma Ning, called Ma by the women in the group. The story is a familiar one, but framed with a flash forward: A burning house, with 900 million dollars robbed, and five dead bodies. The first issue, particularly with the initial framing, provides a unique setting and feel to a well-tested formula. Apart from Brooks, whose infamy and crime provides the base for the heist, all of the characters are solely depicted in who they are now and what they want instead of dwelling on their crimes. It doesn’t dwell on any lurid details or even give hints about who they were, a refreshing look at a story focused on the prison system.
What really caught my eye in this opening issue was the art. The art indulges in the awe-inspiring terror of wildfires, showing the roaring, intense infernos in devastating fashion. At the same time, though, the quiet moments in between tense moments show a familiar, tight-knit group working through hell. Of particular note is Ronda Pattison’s colors. The reds, oranges, and purples give an atmosphere that is affected by the burning world around it, with blues and greens interrupting the world of the fire camp when people leave or something from Brook’s past life intrudes.
As a first issue, Dark Spaces: Wildfire #1 has both characters and art going for it, but what it does lack is anything but setup. We know where this will end up, but the first issue gives us little in the way of conflict and telegraphing what might be the downfall of the crew. Even Ma, the head of the Crew, is in on the heist with no need for convincing. I’m a fan of heists, I know something will go wrong, obviously, but what the first issue does is a lot of exposition and the promise of what’s to come by showing us the ending.
Overall, I’m left interested, but perhaps maybe not gripped from the first issue of Wildfire. It’s a fantastic setting for a thriller, with fantastic art and colors that give the story an intense atmosphere, but I’m left with just wishing I had the second issue to see how it’s going to deliver on its action.