Matt Hawkins and Linda Sejic build up “Wildfire” #1 by taking nothing more than a controversial topic from today’s headlines and extrapolate it down one possible (if extreme) outcome, and in doing so also build up a fascinating and frightening story. Genetically modified organisms are seen by some as a path to saving the world and by others as a means that will destroy, so Hawkins succinctly summarizes this debate with a couple of real-life quotes on the first page, and then turns his fictional characters loose to further explore it.
On one side is scientist Beth Silva, who is researching and developing GMOs with funding by a large corporation known as Biogenesis. On the other is activist Gerald Lerner, who actively campaigns against GMOs. This is simply and beautifully set up in the form of a television interview by reporter Michelle Crawford where the two sides are identified and their beliefs defined, making things immediately clear to readers. The only scene prefacing the main story is a brief but ominous and apocalyptic double page spread whose meaning can be pieced together upon reading the rest of the issue.
This fictional debate not only shows each side’s position and situation, but also serves as a catalyst that actually furthers the story, rather than being inserted as just an expository sequence. The GMO controversy is the main topical issue that’s examined, but Hawkins also brings in other current topics like government oversight and media manipulation, and the name Biogenesis, while in its impersonal context means the development of new living organisms, evokes the recent Major League Baseball scandal involving Biogenesis of America. It’s a fascinating discussion because of its close-to-home nature, and because both opposing opinions are well-developed and analyzed in the course of the discussion.
Hawkins appears to side with the anti-GMO camp, as Silva gathers her team and prepares a media demonstration of their research that hides its failures that remain unknown to the public. That’s not to say he puts the protestors in a totally sympathetic light, though; their actions in fact may very likely have caused the exact cataclysmic situation that they’ve been trying to prevent. There are no big explosions, no fight scenes, no military strikes, and no big sci-fi hocus pocus; it’s instead about ideology, and the everyday world of backroom meetings and skewed public disclosures that make the story’s understated turning point no less tense or suspenseful.
Sejic keeps the story firmly grounded in reality, as well; save for the opening spread, there’s really nothing that in the story that needs to be drawn larger than life, so she doesn’t try. Instead, she competently conveys Hawkins’ story, with little distraction or pizzazz. The foregrounds are delineated clearly, while the backgrounds are often blurred, which adds a sense of depth to the art that makes the everyday environment of this story seem all the more lifelike.
The story slows a bit when Hawkins steps away to focus on the assistant of Silva’s daughter and his younger teenage sister, which has no seeming relevance to the rest of the story, at least what’s presented this issue. Overall, though, “Wildfire” #1 makes an engaging statement on current events, and doesn’t really have to reach all that far to explore a seemingly possible and legitimately disturbing consequence.