There are a few topics that are difficult for any storytelling medium to effectively and respectfully approach, let alone convey. This is especially true in a world that so often demands things like trigger warnings, which in my opinion, often rob a narrative of its thematic strength of payoff. But that’s a discussion for another day (and probably another site). That all notwithstanding, Four Eyes: Hearts of Fire #3 succeeds where many of its contemporaries would fail, not only (and most importantly) by telling a compelling story -- in this case about underground dragon fighting during Depression-era America -- but by using it as a backdrop to discuss difficult real-world topics like domestic abuse, race relations, economic hardship, familial displacement and the violence that bruises the discussion and reality of each.
The framework of issue three sees our lead, the young Enrico, having to take time away from training his dragon, the titular Four Eyes, in favor of helping his mother’s new suitor, Mr. Jorge, with his produce cart, and thereby helping to feed he and his widowed mother. Unfortunately, Jorge is not just a vegetable peddler, but an avid hitter of both women and children, and a keen verbal abuse enthusiast. TL;DR - he’s a real piece of shit, this guy.
As is true of most abuse, it begets more abuse, as we see Enrico tumble into his own angered lashing out, this time, physically, at his dragon, and emotionally at the man who has taken him under his wing, the dragon-trainer Fawkes. As one might imagine, this drives a terrible rift between the two, which by issue’s end could prove fatal to many characters, human or otherwise.
As has been par for the course with this series thus far, the writing in Four Eyes: Hearts of Fire #3 is exceptionally affecting on nearly every level of plot. Now, while my concern for Four Eyes’ wellbeing may admittedly be like the feels one experiences when a dog or some other innocent creature is threatened on film, I am genuinely worried for the mental state of Enrico; more than I can remember of any comic book character in quite some time.
Kelly elicits this concern masterfully well, and without getting either too morose or maudlin in the process. Eliciting the feeling of the time in which his story is set, he makes Enrico, and all of his characters for that matter, feel trapped within the dire straits that many of them, in one way or another, have inherited.
The only part of the book that fell flat for me was the return of Enrico’s brother, whose sudden appearance spanned all of a page-and-a-half. And while it’s an interesting portent that will presumably play into an important plot turn later, here it felt inconsequential and ultimately something that could have waited until later to introduce. Saying that, everything else within this issue, and indeed this story thus far, has been so well manicured, it’s likely this is less a rare Kelly narrative misstep, and more a purposeful slight.
Rounding out the experience is, of course, Max Fiumara’s expressive art. Like Kelly is able to do with the dialogue, Fiumara does an incredible job capturing both the depressed feeling of the age, while beautifully (if also grotesquely) conveying both the innovation and hardship of an age: the automat where Enrico and Fawkes take lunch stands in stark contrast to the listless lines that snake through the modest markets, or into what appears to be a pawn site.
Of course, “contrast” is a big motif in the look and feel of this series, and in issue three he once again nails it, visually. His exaggerated figures (especially the oddly elongated Enrico) may take some getting used to for many readers, but their roughly chiseled look will grow on you quickly. They also look particularly haunting when cast against the rough and real, granite-like facade of his more structured backgrounds, which are perpetually overcast in a painterly veneer of monochrome “watercolor” brushstrokes. His sparing use of a rusty, old blood-like color (seemingly reserved for the elements that Enrico has been bequeathed by his father; i.e., his gloves, his dragon) makes those moments stand out, if not pop altogether.
Fiumara does take a few shortcuts this issue, however, mostly by way of repetition -- some panels he copies-and-pastes almost gratuitously -- and some of his art this time does waver in consistency. Still, this has got to be one of the most unique looking books on the shelves/online today, with a fascinating use of negative space married to gnarly, detailed character designs that I just can’t get enough of, frankly.
So yeah, I remain a firm fan of this book as this weird, amazing snapshot of a parallel world where dragons exist during the Great Depression, but are in no way its most terrifying element. If you’ve missed it so far, stop waiting and get caught up. You won’t be sorry you did.
[button btn_url="" btn_color="teal" btn_size="large" btn_style="default" btn_outlined="no" link_target="self" link_rel="" icon_left="" icon_right=""]Score: 4/5[/button]
Four Eyes: Hearts of Fire #3 Writer: Joe Kelly Artist: Rafael Ortiz Colorist: Max Fiumara Letterer/Designer: Thomas Mauer Publisher: Image/Man of Action Price: $2.99 Release Date: 3/30/16 Format: Mini-Series; Print/Digital