“Slash & Burn #1 introduces an intriguing concept and an even more intriguing protagonist, but — with a few slips in execution — it stays at simply enjoyable. Too many subplots, bulky dialogue and a weak sense of place all take away from the issue, but there’s no denying Si Spencer and Max Dunbar have a strong handle on their core character and conflict. Many an excellent series has come from an okay first issue, and “Slash & Burn” looks like it could be one of those.
“Slash & Burn” #1 does an excellent job of introducing its pyromaniac firefighter protagonist, Rosheen. From her childhood in an orphanage to her skills as a firefighter to her relationship with the mayor to her brief flirtations with a new detective to her consuming fixation on fire, “Slash & Burn” #1 shows all the different pieces of her history and personality. However, as the previous sentence might suggest, there is quite a lot going on. Between piecing together her history and understanding what’s gone wrong in the present, none of the elements gets a great deal of page time. I do wish one or two of the subplot scenes had been saved for issue #2, but I can understand why the creative team put so much on the table in issue #1. A concept like “pyromaniac firefighter” could sound one-note in the solicits, so an issue as full of hints as this one helps to make it clear there’s plenty more going on.
However, when diving into Rosheen’s rhapsodic love for fire, Spencer has a tendency to overwrite. In descriptions like “the overwhelming schmaltzy cliched strings of kerosene,” “my belly’s full of wriggling fire ants and dirty charcoal scorpions” and “A fumbling backseat teenage necker. A first-prom, last-dance clumsy Baptist boy of a blaze,” Spencer goes for three adjectives or two ideas where one of each would suffice. The imagery itself is pretty and visceral — I particularly loved the scorpions bit — but this could have used some editing down. With so much clutter, I lost the poetry of the phrases.
In addition, though North Dakota may not be a glamorous or iconic location, I would have liked to see a greater sense of place in this book. There are some passing references to a nearby reservation, but — aside from that — it looks and feels like any other generic city location in comics. Dunbar and inker Ande Parks don’t give “Slash & Burn” a unique atmosphere or feel.
That said, their work is effective. The action is readable, and the characters are expressive. There’s plenty of joking and teasing in “Slash & Burn” #1, and Dunbar and Parks capture the accompanying smirks well. My favorite panels come near the end of the issue, when Rosheen saves a homeless man from an explosive trash fire. Everything from her body language to the angle of her jacket is full of energy. Colorist Nick Filardi also makes the explosion feel massive, with deep reds and electric white-blue.
All told, “Slash & Burn” #1 started off on a good note. With time to spin out all its backstory and subplots, it could build into a really satisfying series.