THE CURSE OF BRIMSTONE #1 by Justin Jordan, Philip Tan, and Rain Beredo
Art
Characterization
Plot
Summary
THE CURSE OF BRIMSTONE #1 is a fantastic opening issue for what I hope to be a long-running series. Though it has some similarities to Marvel's GHOST RIDER, the story's plot and setting manage to highlight the plight of small towns across America. This is a strange, wonderfully dark premise with an amazing lead character and even better art.
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Small towns are a forgotten setting in superhero comics. While Superman’s life may have truly begun in Smallville, his greatest adventures always take place in Metropolis. These characters take to massive urban landscapes where they can save the most lives. What, then, of the rural countryside? Has farm country been forsaken by the metahumans and gods of the DC Universe? As we learn in THE CURSE OF BRIMSTONE #1, superpowers are very real in Small Town America. Though from the start, you have to ask yourself: are they really a blessing? Warning, there are potential spoilers below!

Joe Chamberlain worries about his home, York Hills. After the mining and the factory work left, his town has fallen to the verge of death. With no money or a reliable mode of transport, he and his sister must rely on their father’s meager disability checks. Joe only wishes for a way to put York Hills on the map. One night, as Joe drives through the woods outside his hometown, a mysterious stranger appears and promises Joe a way out. People will remember this dinky little mining town as long as Joe takes a simple deal. After shaking that stranger’s hand, though, Joe’s life bursts into flames as he becomes Brimstone!

The Search for York Hills

THE CURSE OF BRIMSTONE #1
THE CURSE OF BRIMSTONE #1 page 1. Image courtesy of DC Entertainment.

The most surprising aspect of THE CURSE OF BRIMSTONE #1 can be found in its characterization. When you look at the concept, a literal man on fire, there doesn’t seem much room to grow. In fact, the parallels to Marvel’s Ghost Rider character are fairly apparent in this origin story. However, Joe Chamberlain as a character instantly inspires interest thanks to writer Justin Jordan’s work. Much of this stems from his own bereaved selflessness.

He has accepted the fact that he will never leave York Hills. He isn’t smart or talented enough to get out. However, that doesn’t stop him from wanting his sister to shoot higher or his town to get better. His hope in others takes on a unique twist that feels more grounded than the selflessness of Superman. This helps make Joe a character that I want to know so much more about as the story continues.

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Man on Fire

The smaller roles don’t quite stand up for themselves yet in THE CURSE OF BRIMSTONE #1. Joe’s father and sister still only feel like archetypes at this point, even though they have plenty of room to grow. With this in mind, though, I never felt like Jordan short-changed me. All of these smaller roles build up to create a powerful portrait of York Hills. In the best BATMAN stories, Gotham City feels like just as much a character as the titular hero. In THE CURSE OF BRIMSTONE #1, Jordan gives us a living breathing entity that we grow to care about. On the one hand, it feels like a bear trap, keeping these people stuck within its borders. On the other, it has a calm and neighborly feel. We quickly understand why Joe Chamberlain wants to protect this town, which makes the stakes of this story stand out.

THE CURSE OF BRIMSTONE #1
THE CURSE OF BRIMSTONE #1 page 2. Image courtesy of DC Entertainment.

THE CURSE OF BRIMSTONE #1 has the chance to feel very cliched. As I said, the similarities to Ghost Rider are there. However, I never felt like we were treading familiar territory. We spend a lot of time with Joe Chamberlain before he ever gets his powers. We experience his family life and the thriving organism that is York Hills. Some readers may not enjoy this slow burn, but I thought it worked beautifully in this issue. This narrative is meant to introduce a brand new character into DC canon. Joe Chamberlain doesn’t have the long history or following of the company’s other characters. Jordan brilliantly opens with a very human story so that when we finally do reach the superhero stuff by the end, we care about these characters and settings to continue forward.

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Turning on the Afterburner

I also have to give Jordan kudos for the way he introduces the mysterious stranger. We know nothing about this villain, but I liked that Jordan takes the time to sell his character. This man is given a lot of dialogue throughout the issue. This allows Jordan that opportunity to play with this character’s personality. The mysterious stranger gets to play salesman to Joe, and by the end of their bargaining, we can see why Joe accepts his deal. The man is suave and entirely earnest and, in this story, he never does anything truly villainous. He uses a mysterious ice-based monster named the Hound to do it for him. Jordan trickles enough scenes with this villain throughout to give readers a nice sense of impending dread. These sequences also help pick up the plot, keeping it from only being a slow walk through a small town.

THE Curse of Brimstone #1
THE CURSE OF BRIMSTONE #1 page 3. Image courtesy of DC Entertainment.

Philip Tan’s stunning artwork graces the pages of THE CURSE OF BRIMSTONE #1, and can I just say how impressed I am with his style? There are two worlds in this issue. There is the simple, grounded reality of York Hills, but there’s also so much more. Magic and horror lies just beneath the surface. Tan goes to great lengths to differentiate these two sections. The York Hills moments look far more realistic and textbook “comic art.” However, even these sections are highlighted by energetic linework. The magic sections, though, surprised and wowed me. Suddenly, the world twists and shatters into a mosaic of flame and stone. The panels disappear completely, giving way to Joe Chamberlain alone with his devilish benefactor. Everything that Tan does in this issue is simply brilliant.

Final Thoughts: THE CURSE OF BRIMSTONE #1

The level of quality shows through in the colors by Rain Beredo. With a fire-based character like Brimstone, a monochrome palette is expected. Typically, this means a lot of warm colors and heavy blacks. Anticipating this, Beredo does something genius. He undersaturated the warm colors throughout the rest of the issue. The reds, yellows, and oranges (unless directly tied to Joe Chamberlain) are muted, while the blues and greens come across as vibrant. This makes the eventual arrival of Brimstone’s flames more of a palette cleanser. It eases readers into the character while simultaneously creating a dichotomy between the real and magical worlds.

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THE CURSE OF BRIMSTONE #1 might just be my favorite new arrival from DC’s “New Age of Heroes.” Considering that this includes excellent titles like SIDEWAYS and THE TERRIFICS, that should tell you something. THE CURSE OF BRIMSTONE takes a hard look at rural life, something few other DC series highlight. This focus speaks to a whole new population of readers, and it’s done so well. Justin Jordan, Philip Tan, and Rain Beredo absolutely hit it out of the park with this new book. I cannot wait to see where Joe Chamberlain and his demonic alter-ego go next.

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