Sunday, August 5, 2018

Angel Fire #1

The Fairer Sex
Angel Fire #1

How NOT TO Do a superpowered girl book...

Writer – Dan Mishkin
Penciller – Roberto Flores
Inker - Rich Perrotta
Letters – Joe Biondi & Tony Serrata
Colors – Mada Design
Editor – Tony Bedard
Created by – William Tucci
June 1997

After several months of “good” comics, I figured it was time to dip back down into what the Crapbox really excels at: mediocre to horrible comics. And what better way to do that than to spend a month culling through the box of books that star female leads for titles you most likely haven’t heard of.

First out the gate is this little number, Angel Fire #1. Produced by William Tucci’s Crusade comics and with Tucci taking the creator credit, the book is a bland mess that fails to thrill or titillate. That cover shows the book marketing itself as full of hot babes and fast action, and it tries very hard to deliver that.

However, the art isn’t quite up to snuff and the story fails to gel. Let’s talk about the art first. Roberto Flores has appeared in a few other titles, mostly feature stories in Batman ’66 books and a few Marvel one-off stories. He’s not horrible at drawing, but in this book he appears to be melding the weirdly over stylized figures produced by someone like Humberto Ramos with the Danger Girl physiques of J. Scott Campbell. And he needs to work on his proportions. A lot. In short, his own personal bent at penciling the human form looks derivative of two other, better artist and in a more larval stage than a new book should show.

We end up with an underwhelming story and questionable art. Let’s jump in so you can judge for yourself. And by jumping in, I mean make it past that obnoxious cover photo of the girl with the motorcycle. You really have to wonder what the plan was with all that white background. Certainly the logic had to be to drop it out and put something in behind her, I hope. And as for her supposed “alluring, come-hither-to look,” if that was her best take they should have gotten a better model. She looks a bit like how my ex-wife used to look when she was mad I didn’t take out the trash on garbage day.

Moving on though, we start the story…and by start, I mean we are given an overlong exposition piece on the inside cover that explains the origin of our main character to a brief extent. As a storyteller, I’m instantly annoyed by this. I don’t want to be spoon-fed the history of Anastasia Pizer, bad-ass, ex-government agent who gained superpowers from black-ops experiments and then left Project ANGEL for the “real world.” I want to find out this information through the natural flow of the story being told in the graphical medium.

There’s this period where you “date” a book, and by that I mean you get caught up in your own ideas of what it is about and allow the story to open up naturally in front of you. You discover things you like about the book and hopefully grow a desire to see more of its unfolding fiction. Maybe you’ll love the book, but that happens after investing time. This is our First Date with Angel Fire and as we say "hello," the book uses that opportunity to tell us her life history.

This shows a lack of confidence by the author in their own storytelling ability. Otherwise, you’d let us discover all this background through, you know, reading the comic.

Enough of that, back to our first panel, which shows our heroine Anastasia, who apparently owns a bar, ducking as a muscle-bound Hell’s Angel-type tosses a yuppie over her head in a room already embroiled in a full-blown riot. She’s got the internal monologue running, counting off all of the bad decisions she’s made in her past and generally the writer is doing a good job of setting things up. Had that prior page not existed, this might have been a good hook to pull you into the story.

As I’ve stated, you can see the overly lumpy musculature that Campbell would put into his men alongside the oddball stances Ramos would pose his characters. The influences these two must have had to Flores’ work become clearer as we move through the book, however there is an unfinished element to certain panels that I’ll point out.

This being Anastasia’s bar, she goes over to show the biker bruiser who’s boss, and does so by lifting him completely off the ground with one arm. This looks so unrealistic. Look at her feet positioning, like she is still in mid stride while doing this. 

And I have to mention that odd Yosemite Sam face in the inset panel. The art choices in this range from normal 90’s “hot babe” pose panels to these bizarre cartoon caricatures and, while that typically doesn’t phase me, there are some that cross the line of “why?”. This is one of those.

While Anastasia holds the brutish biker up by his crotch-piece, in steps this dashing guy named Warren, who acts like he and Anastasia are old friends. He makes sure she’s got a good hold on Bobby Dupree and then he whacks the guy with a wooden barstool. 

This wrecks several other parts of the bar putting him at odds with Anastasia who has to pay for all this wanton destruction. As the two go at it verbally, Bobby gets up and starts over the bar at Warren, ready for round two. 

That shadowy figure from the side tackles Bobby and…disappears. No, really. We move to Anastasia getting helped out by this unknown dew-ragged strange who tries to come off as over macho-ing all the macho-ness going on. And no, he’s not the guy that tackled Bobby, as Bobby is clearly looking off panel at who pushed him aside at the bottom left of this page.

The book is just a rambling fight at this point and I really don’t care about anything that is going on. None of these characters are interesting and the stakes in this brawl, where a person can be held aloft by the front of his jeans and then sent careening across the room like a line drive from a swung barstool, are so ludicrous that it comes off as an empty action filling pages.

Even this build up to Anastasia’s super power, with all her glowy eyes and light-emitting fists…

…that ultimately is used, not on a person, but on a wall of the bar…

…and makes a smallish hole that we are supposed to be impressed with even though our only glimpse of it is that prior page. Either that or we are supposed to glean how impressive it is given the reaction of everyone splitting out of the bar. Okay, I get the implied impressiveness of this display of power, but I would get it more if Anastasia’s arms in that top panel didn’t look deformed, ending in hands that were the size of canned hams. Do they even make canned hams anymore? Well, something sufficiently twice the size of normal fists is what I’m getting at, if my visual metaphors are somewhat aged.

Some of you may state that I’m picking on penciler Flores and that given the artwork of the time in which this was published, his line art was pretty much par for what was selling. I will agree. The 90’s stylebook typified excesses in awkward poses and poor proportion from nearly every major player who entered the industry at the time.

I feel the cause of this was the extravagances of the 80’s leading directly to a feeling in the next decade that the only way to top what had come before wasn’t by telling similar great stories, but was by taking the existing stories and one-upping them in some way. Angel Fire fits into that template.

Sadly all that bombast goes to waste on Anastasia. She’s generic. Her powers produce no thrills or unexpected twists. The brand of action the book shells out is bland, forgetful and uninspired. The artwork looks like any other quarter-bin books from the same era. There really isn’t anything to make the book memorable.

Like this part where Bobby and Warren bury the hatchet in the wake of Anastasia’s power punch. Because it is all played for laughs, the bit comes off as cliched. Bobby says he was in mortal danger, but we know by the toss off nature of this jokey bit that it isn’t taken seriously. I think the book is looking for that “Danger Girl” vibe and just missing the mark horribly, because while those Campbell books are forgettable at least they are fun while you are reading them.

Let’s rush through the rest of the story and get this issue over with: Warren reveals he knows Anastasia’s clouded past, which would have been a better way to find out her background than the exposition in the frontispiece. It’s still exposition, mind you, but at least here it is in character voice and pertinent to the story while telling us something about Warren at the same time. I suppose the paragraphs up front got added because if you read this book without it, you might think Warren was the main character of the tale.

Warren waves Bobby off and lays this info on us…

He then tells Anastasia why he’s come, which is some James Bondian BS about a stolen superweapon called …”Angel Fire”…

Meanwhile this Kingpin-like crime boss, who I’m reading with a Russian accent because his operative is named Valentina, discusses her recent failure to obtain the Angel Fire. Perhaps that’s because she chooses to wander around in see-through black lace tops while having the goofiest looking feet this side of Rob Liefeld that she failed. Lucky for us this is just two pages with her boss sending her back out to obtain the superweapon, this time okaying force instead of trying to purchase it.

And while that is going on, Anastasia meets with “Sharkey,” who used to supervise her secret spy missions. She goes to get the dirt on Warren Peace, who ends up being NOT the guy he said he was. Sharkey has no idea who he is, and when a call from Warren comes in Anastasia calls his bluff. Warren tells her that he’s found the Angel Fire and only by showing up can she learn more about him and it. With that…

…she’s off in a flash of oddly rendered motorcycling to meet with the mysterious Warren.

The Russians that have the Angel Fire start a demonstration of the device’s abilities to some prospective buyers, who are unimpressed at first. 

Okay, that part came off with the right amount of humor. And the book finally starts to have a conflict that has some weight to it. The bad guy is using Anastasia as his “demonstration.” Now we get to wonder if Warren set her up.

Our girl is waiting at the docks as Warren asked when suddenly the docks explode.

Yeah, just showing up to something you think will be a setup with no planning or strategy is pretty stupid. I wish the author had thought to make you act as kick-ass as his introduction of you had us believing you would be. And LOOK at those feet. What the heck? Sadly, you come off as not very professional for someone who was “the best in the business.”

Angel Fire makes its appearance next, some kind of helicopter drone that shoots green blaster bolts…meh. Not impressed. I am impressed that she can even walk in those weird ass shoes Flores had put on her feet. Haven’t seen such inappropriate footwear since Jurassic World.

Warren turns up, oddly not the heelish turncoat we expected him to be. He pulls Anastasia from the river (bad shoes and all) and then finds a warehouse for them to hold up in.

Then the Angel Fire drone blows the roof off the building (which is filled with aircraft fuel. Good call, Warren.) Leaving them both exposed…

…only for the drone to drop a rope ladder for Warren, who is now revealed to be Anatoly-Russian spy and bad guy, and the drone isn’t remote piloted, but has Valentina in the cockpit (which doesn’t explain the part where she was trying obtain it but failed earlier) and the pair of them look to now be gunning for the fish in the barrel that is Anastasia Pizer.

Given my enthusiasm for the book, I hope they succeed.

For me, Angel Fire was a misfire.

The art aped books that I’m not super into and the story didn’t go far enough to establish why we should like and root for our main character. About the only thing the book got right was knowing it needed a twist villain to generate some audience interest. Even that was spoiled by too much foreshadowing and revealing his turn in the first issue. They could have strung us along for a few books, with us getting to know and like Warren, then sprung his true allegiance at a point of maximum impact.

This book needed more…something. More plotting, more art practice, better pacing…something. It’s easy to see why this fire sputtered out after issue number three.


  1. Longbox Junk at its. . .er. . .finest? I can definitely see this artist desperately worshipping at the Campbell altar, especially in the faces. And that cover. Photo covers of sexy babes on comics are almost always hilarious to me because they pretty much say "This comic sucks, but LOOK! IT'S A REAL GIRL!" The "Just wanna get paid." look on the model's face is probably the best part of this comic. Thanks for another great review!

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