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Superman: Distant Fires

A review

by Bruce Bachand

Superman: Distant Fires is an Elseworld story that begins in the near future. The prologue launches the reader into the story with a flurry of action, destruction, and massive loss of life. The writer is Howard Chaykin, the art is created by Gil Kane amd Kevin Nowlan, and the coloring/separations are finished by Matt Hollingsworth. Distant Fires

The scene is the planet earth. The nuclear arsenals of the world powers have been completely unleashed upon the planet. Near-complete annihilation is the result. A few pages into the story we see Superman (with no costume) burying Lois next to Jimmy and Perry in the remains of Metropolis.. Somehow, without explanation, we are told that Superman survived but only with the result that he has lost his powers as a consequence.

Plants and vegetation have mutated along with the surviving pockets of humanity that Clark encounters. He is visited by his now-deceased friends in visions, is approached by 10 foot rodents, and experiences intense loneliness and despair. Clark assumes that he is the lone survivor of yet another world calamity. Only after leaving Metropolis does he find some friends who also survived the events of recent. It is Diana, the former Wonder Woman, who chances upon him. She leads him to a community of fellow ex-heroes, also now powerless, who have built a new hope for the future in their midst. We see guest appearances in the story by Wally West (the Flash), the Joker, J'onn J'onnz (the Martian Manhunter), Metallo, the Cheetah and others. An important character in the story is Billy Batson (aka: Captain Marvel). In Distant Fires, Billy Batson is already an adult…the only indication that it doesn't take place in our current era. He is a former lover of Diana and is not thrilled in the least that "Superman" has swung into town.

The story tells of the struggles of the community to grow, learn from, and adapt to the post-nuclear environment of their past and present. Love and marriage, heartache, rage, betrayal, rebellion and confrontation pave the way for the rest of the book. Distant Fires is a story that builds firmly for it's 64 pages. The ending is shocking and violent, yet sealed with a seed of hope. Surprise and mourning close the final pages of the tale of Distant Fires.

Now for some personal comments and critical observations. The premise of the story, generally speaking, is quite enticing. It is unfortunate that the details of the story cause the whole thing to breakdown substantially.

To be fair, I must say that I like the style of Howard Chaykin's writing. He handles dialogue reasonably well but is even stronger in his narrative ability. His use of language is inviting rich, and relevant to the context for which he is writing. Despite the many specific points where I feel that the story is simply implausible, the manner in which the story is composed is firmly grounded.

Let it be said that I have never been a fan per se of the artwork of Gil Kane. It is not that I don't think he has talent. His work simply doesn't "connect" with me for the most part. His work on DISTANT FIRES is pretty decent, though, with spots of roughness (e.g. his rendering of Kryptonite the cat is very two dimensional and flat at times). Noteworthy, though, is his work on Clark, Diana, and Billy Batson. They look virile, alive, and full of passion. My favorite is Kane's version of the Joker. He looks like an old used car salesman with a hint of genius mixed in! I must note that the son of Diana and Clark does not look like EITHER of them. In fact, he looks so unlike his parents that one might think that he is adopted! The action scenes are adequate, the best being between Diana and Clark. Overall, the art is competent but not especially distinctive from this readers' perspective.

The same can't be said for the coloring /separations. My impression is that the book is, for the most part, dull and drab in the inking department. Hollingsworth seems too reliant on earthtones. Only on page 54 do we begin to see things really brighten up at all. The result is that an overall bland lifelessness permeates the book. That is one of my main critiques; Distant Fires looks lifeless and flabby. Surely Hollingsworth could have done something more compelling and rewarding for the eyes to feast on. It should be said that the separations are excellent throughout the book.

Let me shoot out a number of specific qualms I have with the story and the details around its telling. I warn readers that I will include "spoilers" in my remarks.

Why in the world have the mutant earthlings changed so much in a period of mere months of fallout? Why are there no "women" mutant humans ( look for yourselves)? What did Clark eat that was miraculously uncontaminated? With everyone knowing the basic consequences of nuclear fallout, how did the air manage to be free of radiation that literally would have swept the planet and remained intact FOR DECADES?! Two words: nuclear winter. Why was J'onn so easily killed when his powers should also have returned? The Cheetah survived and not Green Lantern? You mean to say that their was NO WAY that the heroes could have prevented the nuclear assault? Are we really to believe the ending? What kind of a father would literally abandon his own son when the situation did not demand it? (This is really absurd to anyone who is a father.) Are we really to believe that no other couples had children in the heroes' community who also could have been sent away? Why would a cat grow to be large but show NO OTHER SIGNS of radiation poisoning? Wonder Woman dated Captain Marvel? (A boy! Give me a break!) We are to believe that the mutated humans were in any reasonable mental state to negotiate a peace treaty that they would actually abide by? The thought that the Man of Steel would be one of the lone survivors of a full-scale nuclear attack is compelling. My main point of contention is that the story, as told, is simply implausible and unconvincing.

No explanation is given as to why a series of nuclear detonations would cause Superman to lose his powers, nor is any attempt made to explain the loss of powers of the other surviving ex-heroes. As far as I'm concerned, this seriously undermines the basic premises of the storyline. At what point does Superman lose these powers? How does he survive the assault when even the oceans have been vaporized completely? If he somehow survived how did the Cheetah survive these same specific challenges? No mention of a bunker or anything is given.

The romance between Diana and Clark is the one truly redeeming part of the tale. It is inspiring, full of tenderness, and is wholly believable. I have always thought that Diana better suited Clark than Lois. Chaykin has written this with heart and soul bared.

In conclusion, I must say that I founds Distant Fires to be a waste of $8.50 plus taxes. I had been looking forward to buying it for a month. I read a positive review of it The Daily Planet newsletter ( a newsletter I really enjoy and respect). A third of the way into the story I knew that I should have bought the JLA First Year books instead. Distant Fires is an excellent concept that somehow didn't translate well from the planning stage to the final book that I bought. I would give this story a rating of 6.9 out of 10. This is the review of one disappointed reader.


I want to say a word of thanks to Rabbit for the opportunity to contribute to "FANZING". It has been about 26 years since I read my first comic book back in Saskatchewan, Canada. FANZING is a great idea and I appreciate the chance to offer my meager thoughts.

Editor's note: The only "meager thought" here is that contributions to Fanzing aren't heartily desired! We welcome Bruce Bachand to the staff of regular contributors. If you'd like to join Fanzing, let us know.

 
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