I want to try something for a moment: I want you to go to your closet/room/office and dig out a box from your comic collection. Now, I want you to randomly pull three single issues from that box, open them up and turn to the title page; if Nathan Fairbairn’s name isn’t on at least one of them…I owe you a Coke. Seriously, though, the guy has coloured everything from Scott Pilgrim to Batman to Young Avengers; the list goes on and on. He’s a long-time favourite of mine, so when Lake of Fire came up for review I was quick to jump on it; I couldn’t wait to see for myself what Fairbairn had in store for us as he took his first crack at creator-owned titles! If I am being honest though and keeping in mind that I possess the utmost respect for him as a colourist, he came up short as this was just a complete and total miss for me. The story begins in the year 1220 AD, at the height of the Albigensian Crusade (*a campaign erected by Pope Innocent III to eliminate Catharism in the south of France). In the middle of the night, a sleeping shepherd is awakened by his frightened flock; he rises confused and half asleep. Upon leaving his hut to investigate their urgent calls, he looks up in the sky and sees a giant (emphasis on giant) spaceship streaking across the sky just moments before it crash lands in the foothills of the Pyrenees Mountains. He investigates the wreckage of the ship and is almost immediately thereafter killed by a huge alien-cockroach (think the first MIB film). Elsewhere in the Languedoc, a fresh young knight is looking to swear fealty and become a soldier of God – the only problem is he's also the son of a Lord! A fool's errand campaign is erected to quell the newly knighted Sir Hugh's crusading aspirations, and a rag-tag bunch of Crusaders are sent to "root out heretics" along the borderlands - only instead of finding heretics, they find alien bugs!
At its core, this feels very much like a classic oddball-hero story; you know the kind I mean: rags to riches, underdog, Bad News Bears-esque type hero story. Ever-present, however, is a very dry, serious undercurrent that makes reading Lake of Fire at times feel analogous to those horribly boring young-adult novels your teachers made you read in grade school. I also had a really hard time coming to terms with the story; it just seemed like there were two separate competing plotlines, neither of which was very strong or interesting to begin with. The fault can be attributed to an overall purveying sense of detachment from both the script and the characters; there was very little substance to keep me reading when the writing got murky, which unfortunately was more often than not. Also, for such a weirdly specific plot setting/era of time, Fairbairn offers up little to no personal insights or clues as to why he chose to tell this story. It literally reads as if he fell asleep with an old history volume, was awakened from a dream and proclaimed "do you know what would have made studying the Crusades more exciting? ALIENS!"
Before there is any confusion, let me set something straight: Lake of Fire is not a bad book, it just hasn't figured out what it wants to be quite yet. There are brief moments of redemption, but largely it seems as if Fairbairn is still in the midst of a "feeling-out" process with his story and characters, unsure of exactly where he wants to take them or how he wants to get there. The good news is Fairbairn is a seasoned veteran with a multitude of talent; he has all the tools to turn this around. The best comics are often a marathon rather than a sprint, and I am confident that Lake of Fire will be the proverbial tortoise that slews the hare. It's either that or he's going to have an Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull-type situation on his hands, and we all know that there is no coming back from that kind of carnage.
[su_box title="Score: 2/5" style="glass" box_color="#8955ab" radius="6"]
Lake of Fire #1 Writer: Nathan Fairbairn Artist: Matt Smith Publisher: Image Comics Price: $3.99 Format: Ongoing; Print/Digital