Scott Snyder – writer
Hayden Sherman – artist
Ronda Pattison – colorist
Andworld Design – letterer
“It is dangerous to be right in matters on which the established authorities are wrong.”
― Voltaire, The Age of Louis XIV
Wildfire is the first story for the Dark Spaces anthology with former Batman writer Scott Snyder scripting and Hayden Sherman, who may be most familiar from partnering with Michael Moreci on Wasted Space, and Ronda Pattison (TMNT) bringing the line and color art respectively. The story follows the five incarcerated women who make up Crew 513 in California’s Forestry Firefighters, a program that recruits convicts who may receive a sentence reduction while “earning” a mere $2 to $5 daily for providing a valuable service at the risk of their health and lives. If it sounds like exploitation that’s because it is and the program and others like it in other states are heavily criticized and rightly so.
Snyder’s script drops us into the middle of the action with Sherman and Pattison providing dramatic imagery of a hilltop mansion with a blaze and smoke filled sky above it followed by a panoramic view of the mountainous forest on fire then zooming in on the women of Crew 513 who are somewhere this hellscape. Against this destructive backdrop impartially threatening everything in its path we’re introduced to the crew: Ruby Ma Ning, Sawyer, Zinn, Ramos, and Brooks. Of these five, Ruby and Brooks are the most important figures. As crew CO, Ruby, AKA Ma, is the authority figure making sure the other women do their job and that they all get out alive. Brooks is the newbie and with a sixty year prison sentence for a non violent crime and a justifiable grudge against the man who set her up. As the wild card with nothing to lose she jeopardized Ma’s control with a brazen proposal to pull off an ostensbily perfect crime that could set them all up for the rest of their lives.
There are exciting elements of action in the writing to be sure though it’s the character driven drilling down into the characters’ emotional aspects which make this such a fascinating read. The story cuts between their battling the fire and glimpses into Ma’s personal life in the present with a secret challenge looming over her and a past that haunts her still. Snyder has Ma musing that what makes for a good CO isn’t being a mother or friend but rather it’s creating structure and watching over them. Sherman and Pattison create a powerful double page spread depicting Ma fighting the fire while illustrating her interior thoughts about the dismal prospects these four women face in their futures. It gives her pause to question the role she’s playing as a cog in the wheel of sprawling system that stacks the odds against women like these four under her watch. Will Ma continue being an authority figure fronting for cruel system or will she say to hell with it all and risk everything? Will she succeed or fail in protecting these women? I’d cheer for these women to pull this off regardless but now that we’re several weeks into a post Roe America I can’t help but imagine them — pun intended — on burning everything to the ground.
Hayden Sherman may be most familiar to fans for their work with Michael Moreci on Wasted Space from Vault. Sherman’s layout work makes exceptional use of the blank page to convey the scope and scale of both the landscape setting and Crew 513 fighting to save it as well as the inward and outward emotional spaces these women occupy. Small close up panels of the women create a striking juxtaposition against a fiery mountainous view. On another page Sherman uses an expanding ring layout that subtly underscores a happier future that Ramos and Zinn envision after release back to the free world. Contrast this with the double page spread composed of stacked horizontal panels that implies Ma’s perception of their future is repressive. There is a captivating energy in Sherman’s linework which for me has a bit of a Frank Quitely vibe to it. It’s especially apparent in the way it’s used to animate the figures and describe their faces.
One might expect the coloring in a comic set against the backdrop of forest on fire to be dominated with a range of incandescent reds, oranges, and yellows. Ronda Pattison does make use of those bright hues while adding purples, blues, and greens in cool and warm tones both to evoke emotion and make the warm colors pop even more strongly. This insightful use of color makes for the perfect complement to Sherman’s art and the emotional tones of Snyder’s script.
Dark Spaces is the first comic in an initiative to create original series spearheaded by former Batman editor Mark Doyle. In addition to being senior Batman editor, Doyle edited Vertigo titles and created Black Label. All of which is to say Dark Spaces and the eight series to follow are titles worth your consideration if you appreciate original content.