REVIEW: Ashes: A Firefighters Tale

Written by Mario Candelaria with art by Karl Slominski, Publisher: Z2, Release Date: 10/07/2015

There is nothing quite as awe-inspiring as a firefighter.  Whether its saving people from burning buildings or rescuing cats from trees, their heroism is etched into our consciousness, their bravery without doubt.  But what happens when the challenge is something greater than a fire that needs put out? When it is easier to give up because the person you fail to save is yourself?  This is the main focus of Ashes: A Firefighters Tale from Z2 Comics.

Matt is a firefighter on the rise.  He is extremely good at his job, living up to his father’s reputation, following in the family business so to speak.  Matt has it all,  a job he loves, friends who are like family and is generally a good guy attracting young ladies eyes.  He is even on good terms with his ex, with whom he has a little boy. That all changes on one call out.  In attempt to save a life from a burning building, he instead loses something which he feels is worse than his life, his leg. Waking up in hospital, he discovers he has not only lost a leg, but has indeed lost everything.  Being a firefighter was more than just a job, it was his identity.  Without it, like Samson without his hair, Matt loses his self-respect, forced to ride a desk at the station and becoming more and more withdrawn and isolated from friends and family, who try to help as best they can.  But you can only help those that want to help themselves, which is the first of many lessons Matt has to learn.

The book is written by Mario Candelaria who produces a life-like dialogue for the characters involved.  There is a genuine sense of emotion throughout the book, whether its care from the nurse who believes Matt will walk again, the father who tries too hard or Matt who runs the gauntlet of emotions from joy downwards and possibly back again. Where the script works, the overall storyline isn’t anything that we haven’t seen a number of times in different media.  Taking a quick look through the storyline, it’s easy to dismiss the books as a clichéd comic book version of a Hallmark film.  You know the type?  Whilst this may be true for some areas, the good outweighs the bad.  I found myself genuinely rooting for Matt, shaking my head at his stubbornness amongst other things.  This then is the skill of Candelaria who manages to get the reader to care.

Artwork is supplied by Karl Slominski, who has opted for a black and white approach.  This wouldn’t normally engender the work to me, but here it works well, casting the world in its starkness, the contrast of a fire set against the similarities of the desolation of ruined building and broken lives.  Pace is controlled using various panel sizes and layouts with the real action scenes actually being the conversation pieces rather than the action pieces, which seem to be relegated to just a means to an end.  If I had any major qualms, I would want more varied expressions  for the characters and for Matt in particular as this his story.

With the tone of the book, there is a tricky balance to set.  If Candelaria takes the depression element too far, the reader will lose interest and if there is any escape, the outcome may come across as trite.  If the depression element is not strong enough, then a hard-fought victory doesn’t feel like a substantial reward for the characters involved and the reader.  Candelaria tries hard to strike the right balance, but I do think Matt’s depression could be stronger.  It would have made me care about him more.  I understand that everyone is different, so it may be that it is the right mix for you.

As it stands, Ashes is a good character piece, with strong dialogue and an art style that matches the tone set be the script and the challenges that are set out.

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