In 2003, as part of an initiative from Image Comics to launch a new line of classic superheroes with a modern approach, writer Phil Hester (The Darkness) and artist Andy Kuhn came out with "Firebreather," featuring the super-powered son of a divorced dragon super-villain and human mother. The miniseries was well received by readers and critics, and was eventually followed by a one-shot, but a monthly series was nowhere to be found.
Hester and Kuhn stopped by CBR News to talk about "Firebreather" and growing up -- in more ways that one.
"Firebreather is Duncan Rosenblatt," Phil Hester explained, "a 16-year-old high school student who also happens to be half-human, half-giant-monster-dragon, and he really doesn't have any idea what he wants. His folks are divorced and he spends the school week with his human mother and the weekends with his father, Belloc, who is basically Godzilla with the mind of Dr. Doom. His Mom wants him to keep getting good grades and meet a nice girl. His Dad wants him to follow in his city-stomping footsteps and become king of the monsters. Duncan wants to please both on some level, and like all teenagers, rebel against both, too."
The new series picks up Duncan's life a few months after his last appearance, in "Firebreather: The Iron Saint." "The first issue takes place on the eve of 16th birthday," Andy Kuhn said. "At this point in his life, Duncan is beginning to feel his oats, as he slowly begins to navigate his way into the world of adult humans, and ageless monsters."
Hester continued, "Duncan's still in high school, his love interest is about to graduate, his best friends are still outcasts, his Mom still frets over his fitting in, Belloc is still pressuring him to come to the dark side, and Colonel Barnes and his high-tech strike force are still overseeing the U.N. mandated terms of his parents' divorce."
The writer promises action, comedy and drama in the fashion that fans of '"Firebreather" have come to expect. "We'll see something of an ultimate resolution regarding Duncan's relationship with his father," Hester said. "Duncan will be thrown into the violent world of Belloc's enemies through a sort of tournament of monsters in which he's forced to participate. There are changes in Duncan's love life and changes in Duncan's Mom's love life. Duncan will become more accepted by the students of his school, but eventually finds even acceptance has limits. Also, we'll finally address how a sixty-foot tall monster successfully mates with a human female."
The most significant change to the character, however, will be his new frequency in reaching readers. Said Hester, "The only thing preventing 'Firebreather' from being a full-time endeavor was Andy's busy schedule. "
"I have always wanted to do more 'Firebreather,' but until recently it just wasn't financially feasible," Kuhn explained. "Paying the bills would always win out over artistic integrity. This last summer I decided that if I keep putting it off, I'll never, ever do it. I revised my budget to include Top Ramen for every meal, and voila, a 'Firebreather' ongoing series is born."
"We pledged early on to never do the book with fill-in artists," added Hester, "so we had to wait for his schedule to clear up. Now it has and Image has been very supportive in getting things rolling again."
In a comics landscape where the concept of teen heroes has been revitalized by the successes of the Teen Titans and Young Avengers, Firebreather is an easy fit. His origins, though, have a greater connection to that revitalization than meets the eye. "Andy and I pitched a 'Young Avengers'-type book called 'The Crew' to Marvel about nine years ago," said Hester. "It featured teenaged versions of Cap, Scarlet Witch, Wolverine, The Thing, and She-Hulk who were clones created by AIM to study super-heroes up close.
"They escaped and went on the run. It actually got some traction with Chris Claremont and we thought we were very close to actually having a book. Andy and I whipped up some teen clone villains to face off with The Crew. We cooked up a teen Dr. Doom among others, but the most compelling was a teen Fin Fang Foom," Hester said, referring to the giant dragon-like character.
"Ultimately, Marvel passed on The Crew," continued Hester, "but we loved the idea of a monster kid trying to make it in the human world. We scrapped everything and hit on the idea that this kid could be of mixed species heritage. The idea that his Mom and Dad would be divorced was the angle that made this something more than just a goofy idea. I think that dramatic tension and the humor of the absurdity of the situation make 'Firebreather' a unique book."
A lot of time has passed since Firebreather first debuted, and in that time there has been changes in both the creators and how they view their creation. Said Hester, "The overall plot we concocted for him long ago hasn't changed, but I actually am the parent of a teenaged boy now. He's just thirteen and doesn't breathe fire, but I haven't been a teen for over twenty years, so now I'm seeing the dynamic from the other side. I'm the monster Dad now, I guess. Anyway, I can see now that even, kids who are extremely well behaved like my boy still get a little rebellious streak flowing.
"I wrote the original series with the notion that Duncan just wanted to fit in, and now I have the perspective to see that any teen in Duncan's position would probably rebel against both the human and monster mores that he's subjected to."
A new view on the character is also something Kuhn is taking. " I am always trying to refine the characters and figure out what works in the drawings and what doesn't. One of the things I'm doing differently this time around, is I changed the runes on his costume. In the first series, in typical comic artist fashion, I just made them up. This time around I looked up actual Celtic runes, and their meanings. When Duncan finally gets into costume, it'll actually mean something. We don't give it away right away, but trust me, the payoff is going to be really cool."
"We want to appeal to anyone who digs exciting comics," Hester said of his target audience. "We want 'Firebreather' to feel like the best Spider-Man books. I feel like there are a lot of good books out there for adults and some really good books for younger, pre-teen audiences, but not a ton of stuff being produced for smart kids in their early teens. Our book is accessible to everyone, so we're laying off the strong language, but that aside, we're going to try and portray adolescence as accurately as possible."
Kuhn's view is a bit more narrow. "My target audience is Phil and myself, and that's it. I just want to make the kind of comic book that I'd like to buy and read. I know that it's shooting for the moon, but I look at a book like 'Bone' by Jeff Smith and that's kind of my model for what I think 'Firebreather' can be. It's a book that can be enjoyed by a wide age range of readers because it doesn't talk down to any of them."
FIrebreather's future won't necessarily be confined to the printed page. Hollywood has been interested in Duncan exploits. "Paramount let the initial option expire," said Hester, "but we got calls from producers the very day the deal expired. We're close to a new option that would be very exciting. I hope to be back here telling you about it in matter of weeks."
"Firebreather" #1 hits the stands May 14, 2008.
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