When you take a look at the small/independent press racks, there are some really, really good titles, and then there are some that are simply abysmal. It is the nature of the beast that is the small press- sometimes all it takes is a half-baked idea, a little time and money, and you too can have your own comic book. Problem is, sometimes the reason you haven’t gotten your comic idea published by an existing company is that you really have no business making comics in the first place!

So you have your outstanding, undiscovered talent on the rise, you have your wanna-bes who are really making a comic simply because they can afford to, then you have your entrepreneurial talent – someone with a good idea that doesn’t quite fit the mold of any other publisher out there. In my eyes, these are the true gems of the independent press – while the larger houses do produce good material, typically they follow some very specific formulas – rarely is there anything really truly different.

I think that Heroic Publishing falls into this latter category. I recently had the chance to read the first four issues of the latest volume of Flare. Never heard of it before? Well, neither had I. Nonetheless, Flare has been around in one way, shape, or form since 1988. Flare has had 37 issues over four different volumes, and is four issues into its latest volume, which got started up late last year. Like many independent press books that have persisted this long over the years, there is a small but devout fan following. These people clearly saw something positive about this series, so that is reason enough to at least give it a look!

Cast of Characters

Terri Feran, known as Flare when in the union suit, is the daughter of a superhero during World War II. Called The Kriegerin, Flare’s mother was a German patriot who fought for her homeland against the Allied aggressors. Eventually realizing the evil of the Nazi’s vision, Flare turned against the rulers of her country and joined the Vanguard of Freedom, and helped to destroy the evil that was consuming her country.

Flare and her three siblings, Olga, Tomas, and Phillip were created by a German scientist, who sought to create a race of supermen to exact vengeance on the world for Hitler’s fall. Flare was eventually sent out to destroy the League of Champions. Flare, like her mother, saw the light, and turned against the Nazis who created her.

Flare’s power comes from the light around her. She can absorb and store light energy, which powers her abilities. She can fly, has enhanced strength and durability. She also has photo kinetic powers which allow her to create all forms of light in many imaginative ways. This ability has caused some to refer to her as the Goddess of Dawn.

Olga, called Sparkplug, Flare’s younger sister, has been featured in a short, back-up story in each issue of the current volume. Sparkplug’s powers are similar to Flare’s, except instead of light, Sparkplug can create electrical energy. The have two brothers – Philip, the youngest, a shape shifter, who sadly was killed by Flare after he murdered a member of the League of Champions. Tomas, empowered with super strength, has been missing for some time.

Terri Feran is a one-time jean model, with a good deal of celebrity outside of her hero gig. While there are those that would love to have her return to that life, she has no desire to be looked upon as a sex symbol once again, instead wanting to focus all of her time on keeping the city safe. She is something of a socialite – being very active in the social circuit is very important to her. She also has a fiery temper – she flies off the handle with the slightest provocation – something her opponents have seen time and time again. She has a good heart, though, and doesn’t let her temper cause her to do things she would end up regretting too much.

Thoughts

I think the first thing that came to mind while I was reading Flare was “old school.” Flare seems very much to be written for an audience who read comics in a simpler time, and still kind of have a soft spot for that style of comic writing. Yes, at times, the dialogue is a little bit cheesy, and the plot devices can be somewhat simple, but that actually adds to strengthen the book. There is quite a bit more “sex appeal” than you would find in a comic of decades past – a good amount of partial nudity and sexual innuendo – so while the layout and storytelling style are of an older age, the content really isn’t. So don’t be giving this one to the kiddies!

One thing I found exceptional about this title was the strength of the serial storytelling. I have found myself criticizing the lack of this ability in comic writers today, and it is nice to see that it still exists out there, somewhere. Something a lot of writers forget when they are writing these massive, six-issue storylines is the fact that these issues are bought one at a time. When writing a serial story, it is important to make certain that each and every part can stand on its own, and is interesting not only because it is part of a greater whole, but because it is an entertaining story in of itself. Wilson Hill has shown himself to be the rare master of this concept. Despite the fact that each of the four issues of the latest volume are part of a larger story arc, each one of the issues stands completely on its own. If you pick up any issue, you quickly get a good sense of who each of the important characters are, and what is actually happening in the story. And unlike the drawn out storytelling style that is so popular today, something of worth happens in each and every issue! I am sure you have experienced the frustration waiting a month for the next part of a story, and not feeling like the wait was worth it – that the latest issue was little more than filler. I am a big believer that comic stories with 5 issues of set-up, followed by a payoff issue are inherently weak. They might be a good story if read in a collected format, but it is short-changing the reader of the serial story.

The artwork, thus far, has been a tad bit inconsistent. This can be explained pretty easily, however – there already has been a couple different artists working on the regular storyline, as well as different artists working on the Sparkplug back-up stories. While the work inside each story is generally very good, the art style of the more solid lead story tends to clash a bit with the typically weaker art on the back-ups. I have to say that that the work by Gordon Purcell and Terry Pallot on the first three issues were pretty well spot-on for the look and feel I thought a book like this should have – a more modern look with an “old-school feel.” J. Adam Walters took over the main story with issue 4, and is set to do the next issue. I have to admit I didn’t like his take on the characters quite as much. While the panel-layout is certainly solid, and the character presentation is consistent, I just didn’t like the look he was going for. Particularly how he handled hair – while it is a very “retro” style of art, I felt it took it just a tad too far. The hint of old school in the art was enough for me – I wasn’t looking for total regression! Perhaps it will grow on me by the time next issue rolls around.

The production quality of this book is off the chart. Simply holding an issue of Flare in one hand, and holding an issue of your favorite Marvel book in the other will speak volumes. The Flare issues have actual weight – despite being a standard 32 pages, they have a feeling of substance. The cover and paper are of an appreciable weight, and the print quality is outstanding. No ads either – another big plus. All at $2.99 – keeping the price below that magic $3 mark that usually turns off 90% of the comic buying public.

Bottom Line

It is a good read, and worth asking for next time you are at your comic shop. It is pretty easy to order a copy on the Heroic Publishing website as well – though, I would imagine, as with all independent publishers, they would prefer it if you inquired about it at your local shop first. If the comic stores don’t know people are interested in a book, then they don’t end up ordering any. And since I am all about supporting the small press, any little thing we can do to help out is all the better! Also on the website, a number of preview pages are available, if you would like to get a small taste of Flare before buying. Also, this year Heroic Publishing will have a Free Comic Book Day submission, the Flare portion of which will reprint the Flare story from the second issue of the current volume.

Flare captures a good many things that are missing from comics today. There are a lot of comic writers working on some major titles that could take some very serious lessons from the way that Wilson Hill structures his stories. There is something to be said for a deeper, more mature story, but we have gotten those in comics today at the expense of the format that was most appropriate to the medium. Comics should not only be accessible to those who read on a monthly basis, but also to people who might occasionally pick up an issue of their favorite title. If comics ever want to grow beyond the direct market once again, it needs to find a way to get that back.

Credit Where Credit is Due
Flare
is
Written by Wilson Hill
Art by Gordon Purcell, Tery Pallot, and J. Adam Walters,
Colors by Mike Estlick and Tom Luth,
Letters by Albert Deschesne,
Created by Stacy Thain, and
Published by Heroic Publishing