After the Fire (2010)
By: Tristan Jones on April 5, 2011  |  Comments ()  |  Share 
Cover Art
Writer: Tom Waltz
Art: Guiu Vilanova
Colourist: Jon Alderink
Publisher: IDW
After reading, and being thoroughly impressed by Silent Hill: Past Life recently, I decided to check out some of the other works by writer Tom Waltz. Sure, I'm a Silent Hill fan, but Past Life was less of a Silent Hill story and more of a gothic period horror and even in my own biased feelings towards properties I love, I can still see good writing when it's there just as clearly as I can see average and terrible writing, and given how strong the script for Past Life was, I figured I'd take a look at what else was out there.

I remembered I'd seen Waltz's most recent creator owned title, After the Fire, solicited in Previews not too long ago (I think it was within the past year) so decided to seek that out. Bizarrely, it was appearing in back-order listings in most of the local comic shops but after looking around and finally checking with those at IDW itself, I discovered that the title was published digitally only and available through iTunes as an iPhone or iPad comic via the IDW application. Unfortunately, this obviously limits the audience to those with iOS devices and even then, the readership is likely to be only a small percentage of those users, and with the multitude of games and various other bits and pieces available, the 7.99 USD price tag might put a few people off. However, what you are getting is a full length graphic novel, which would normally retail for a fair bit more, with really great art and a solid revenge story that feels like a combination of Ghost Rider (the comics, not the Nic Cage abortion), Kevin Bacon's Death Sentence and Michael Mann's The Keep (take that how you will).

After the Fire throws you right into the thick of things on the first page. Detective Shane Collins dies as his house burns down around him, barely managing to save his little girl, but very quickly we discover that the fire has been deliberately lit, and that it was meant to kill both Shane and his daughter, but before the man responsible can finish off the little girl, the police arrive and the man flees. We soon discover that Shane's death goes higher than what initially appears to be an underworld revenge hit and as Shane's partner, Frank, chases up details revealed by Shane's surviving daughter, Shane is given the opportunity to tie up loose ends of his own in the afterlife. What follows is a grimy cop revenge story with a strong supernatural slant that has a genuine old school feel to it.

I know there's a mentality out there that comics published digitally are the "straight-to-video" of comics, which is kind of understandable given the quality of many comics that go down that publishing avenue, but that doesn't automatically mean everything published direct to digital should be looked down on. After the Fire is a solid title - not outstanding, but definitely worth a read and has an audience that I'm certain is unaware of its existence. It's my understanding that After the Fire didn't meet enough pre-order sales (something the comic industry relies on) to warrant publishing "physically", which is a shame because the book really is far better than a lot of the other books that see print these days. I will admit, when the book was solicited, I wasn't overly impressed with the cover chosen (which is also the cover image used in the digital file) - it just didn't really stand out the way a cover should, especially for a creator owned property which should ideally draw as many people as it can right there. As is usually the case though, you should never judge a book by its cover.

The artwork by Guiu Vilanova, who also worked on IDW's A-Team: War Stories comics (the one about Murdock) and Dynamite's Raise the Dead comics, is great. His rough-around-the-edges style and slightly exaggerated character work goes perfectly with Waltz's script to bring the characters to life and really allows you to get a true grasp on how the characters sound, and his control over action sequences is equally as impressive. His work is hard to fault - his attention to detail and facial expressions are great, and I can't really find a reason for anyone not to like it. His use of color (and I'm assuming Vilanova does his own colors here, as I couldn't find any other credits to indicate otherwise) is simple but very effective the whole way through, and noticeably so during a number of key action sequences. It's not necessarily mind-blowing artwork, but it is cool and does stand out from the majority of independent books out there and I think if something perhaps a little more dynamic, or something more indicative of the nature of the book had been chosen for the books promos and cover, it might've helped the book reach the numbers it deserves.

The story Waltz tells isn't really breaking any new ground, but at the same time, it does what it does well. There are moments where it feels like there's a battle going on between Frank and Shane over whose story this is actually telling, as both stories are good and well presented, it's just that you get to know both characters very well and you kinda wish the story focused more on one than the other. Personally, I'm leaning towards Frank, as he's probably the most relatable given the transformation Shane takes - it's kind of like how Cronenberg's The Fly is very much a movie about Seth Brundle, but much of the narrative focuses on Gina Davis's character once the pieces are in place. As I said, both stories are good and I'm sure most people reading it won't mind, that's just my two cents on things.

As was the case in Silent Hill: Past Life, Waltz's dialogue is really tight. All the voices are extremely clear - tone and inflection are both easy to ascertain and Vilanova's expressive characters really bolster it to the point of crystalline clarity (although, there is one moment that struck me as a little odd and actually kinda creepy in the back seat of a car, but I'll let you read and decide for yourself). It's certainly clear that Waltz knows both the genres he's brought together here, as the characters are all perfectly written for this kind of book, and I could very easily see him scripting something like Ghost Rider or a Death Wish book extremely well. His villains are exactly the kinds of douche bags you want to see dead without being melodramatic stereotypes, and the emotive core of both the protagonists and the story itself is presented just enough to balance things out and not become unnecessarily soppy when many others do. There are a couple of moments that see Shane in the afterlife I could possibly done without, but that's largely because I was leaning in favor of Frank's story - if you're there for Shane the whole way through then those moments are totally justified.

I think at the end of the day, what you have here is a perfectly competent book that's well worth checking out, especially if you're into supernatural revenge stories or cop revenge stories. I kept thinking the whole way through reading it that it felt like a cool Eighties action horror flick - something I would've watched on VHS back in the day like Maniac Cop or Pumpkinhead (though admittedly not so much an action flick, but you get the idea). As I said, I think with the proper marketing push this book could've seen shelves and sold all right as an actual book, but I am glad that IDW at least found some avenue to get it out there, rather than just ditching it altogether.

I'm giving the book 3 and a half out of five (actually 3 and ¾'s), as these sorts of stories aren't usually my cup of tea, but I'm glad I checked it out and I did have fun reading it. I can definitely see that it's something a lot of people will get a solid kick out of too. Look for it using your IDW app on your iOS, or through the iTunes store.
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