Review: Curse of Brimstone Vol. 2: Ashes trade paperback (DC Comics)

February 12, 2020

The Curse of Brimstone is another of these "New Age of Heroes" titles that I wish had gone on longer, and furthermore, Brimstone was also serving to fill a genre gap largely untouched in the DC Universe. The second and final volume, Curse of Brimstone Vol. 2: Ashes, demonstrates well where Brimstone would have fit among DC's established heroes; with a Dark Nights: Metal sequel in the offing, maybe we can hope Brimstone will make another appearance.

[Review contains spoilers]

Notable among the issues collected in Justin Jordan's Ashes is an annual that guest-stars John Constantine and Swamp Thing, and also an issue with the Kent Nelson Dr. Fate. A number of characters are quick to point out that Brimstone, the demonic alter-ego of Joe Chamberlain, is not a magical being, which I think is important. Though Joe's stories often involve mutated beasts and body horror, his roots are in science-fiction, such that Brimstone can often avoid being too esoteric (as even some classic tales of Swamp Thing, Phantom Stranger, and Dr. Fate have been). Indeed, even in what's largely a John Constantine story with Brimstone and company along for the ride, Brimstone's aesthetic pulls Constantine out of the minutiae of spellcasting into more of a rock 'em, sock 'em horror tale, and that elevates both characters.

The Dr. Fate issue is, to be honest, something of a cheat, an issue-long, one-scene fight between Brimstone and Fate, essentially just an action issue. Bought on its own — despite good, gritty art by Eduardo Pansica — I might not have felt I got my money's worth. But (though the issue doesn't say so explicitly, at least in the trade), one can read between the lines that Fate's appearance here lines up with his troubles in Justice League Dark Vol. 2: Lords of Order, and that synchronicity is just about worth the price of admission. Justice League Dark (and Shadowpact), in previous iterations, has been an enjoyable magic character team-up but not scary per se; of late, however, James Tynion's been turning out downright spooky stuff. Between that and Brimstone, for one shining moment there's two effective horror books in DC's mainstream line when most of the time there are none, and this issue that suggests actual connection between them is very poignant.

Ashes finds the brother-sister team of Joe and Annie Chamberlain momentarily on opposite sides before they're reunited to battle the evil source of Joe's powers. The first two issues after the annual, Brimstone #9-10, are nigh perfect, as one of Joe's rival "agents" tricks him into letting Brimstone kill a town full of people to save Annie. Jordan makes the horror and suspense seem effortless, from the Twilight Zone-esque small town where everyone has amputated a body part for the agent Bel Dame, to the threat of drowning a truckload of migrants in cages, to a zombie-like horde beating Annie severely. Without real control of sound or pacing, comics horror lives or dies by disturbing storytelling and grotesque imagery, and Jordan and Pansica deliver here on both counts.

In the final story, we come to find that Infernal, the mastermind of this particular incursion from the Dark Multiverse, is an alternate-dimension Dr. Stein, carrying within the Firestorm matrix the dead bodies of Ronnie Raymond and Jason Rusch. This is an apt villain; along with Dr. Fate and a quick reference to Jason Blood earlier on, Brimstone joins a pantheon of DC "heroes" who've in one way or another been forcibly bonded with another being. In a Firestorm gone wrong, we see clearly what Joe could be (if not already), and that's a fine conflict that didn't unfortunately get more time to breathe. It's also a great use of Scott Snyder's Dark Multiverse concept, and notably one of the first mainstream villains, more than just a one-note character, to come out of that mythos who isn't a Batman analogue.

Another of my favorite aspects of Curse of Brimstone is the road trip vibe. First, Brimstone is often episodic like The Fugitive (or X-Files), with Joe and Annie rolling into some new horrifically damaged town every couple of issues. But I also liked when Joe and Annie split up, and then we found that Annie, with shotgun, had tracked down the serial killer Jack from Curse of Brimstone Vol. 1: Inferno — this felt very Y, the Last Man, with reoccurring characters showing up unexpectedly along the road.

Support Collected Editions -- Purchase Curse of Brimstone Vol. 2: Ashes

Admittedly, Justin Jordan's DC Comics work has never quite grabbed me, with good but not great runs on Superboy and Green Lantern: New Guardians (though I recognize his creator-owned work is extremely well-regarded). Curse of Brimstone Vol. 2: Ashes, however, is really good, another example of what DC creators can do given their own characters set against the backdrop of the DCU. I'd be remiss not to mention, too, that DC gives the last two issues of this book to artist Denys Cowan, a pretty big send-off; I can only hope that signals DC's intention to use "the Brimstone family" again, whether in Metal, Justice League Dark, or elsewhere.

[Includes original covers]

Summary
Review Date
Reviewed Item
Curse of Brimstone Vol. 2: Ashes
Author Rating
4 (scale of 1 to 5)

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