My usual routine of repeatedly smashing my head against a wall in protest of life’s many cruelties was interrupted the other day when I was asked to review the comic Toxic Storm. “Hmm”, I thought. “I haven’t reviewed a comic… ever. But I read a fair few of them! This could be an interesting experience for me.” And I was right! Just take out the word “interesting” and replace it with the word… “frustrating”. There are a lot of good ideas behind this comic and I get the sense the writer, Adam Cheal, is trying to tell a good story with good characters. But to quote Yoda, “Do or do not. There is no try”. And right now that metaphorical X-Wing is sinking into the swamp.
So, what’s the story? Well, Simon Fisher is sent to San Quentin prison after his ex-girlfriend falsely accuses him of rape. He makes friends with fellow inmate Caleb Fontana, who happens to practise the dark arts (as you do). He teaches Simon all of his knowledge of the occult and uses it to get revenge on fellow inmates, which ends up causing Simon to be sent to the gas chamber by a corrupt judge. However, Simon uses the occult to transform himself into a living toxic gas cloud (*obligatory fart joke removed*) in order to get revenge on all who wronged him. As origins stories go, this sounds pretty decent, but I feel that there are two ways to tell an origin story in comics today: very quickly, no more than a page or two, best done in flashback, or very slowly, multiple issues, prolonged storyline. Here, the origin story is told in one issue, and, with so much ground to cover, it feels rushed. More than rushed, it’s feels garbled, like a little kid telling you what happened in a sugar-induced haze: “And then the man went to prison and then he made friends with a occult guy and then they made rats eat somebody and he transformed into toxic gas and then–” There’s no pacing. The story never stops to take a breath. It’s like the writer just wanted to get the origin story out of the way.
Then there’s the plot holes. Near the end of issue 1, Simon says: ” I don’t know if I was ever human. I’ve always been a monster living as a man. Now the man’s gone.” This makes no sense! Simon was wrongly convicted. He’s done bad things in the meantime, sure, but he certainly wasn’t a monster before then. So this line has zero logic to it – it’s cool, sure, but wrong for the character; in fact, it contradicts a key fact of his existence. There are many other examples of this and I could go on and on… so I will, briefly. At the end of issue 1, Simon is chucked in a maximum security insane asylum. There a scientist, Dr Susan Parsons, is inexplicably given a lot of prominence as she asks Simon about his past. He then notices a crack in his glass cage and breaks free. What’s wrong with this, I hear you say? Susan never appears again. She is only their for Simon to tell his life story to and then disappear. I normally wouldn’t mind but the comic implies that she’s important. And for that matter, how did the crack appear in the glass? We never see it happen, so was it always there? If so, why didn’t Simon break out sooner?
In issue 2, Caleb (who is now the focus for some reason) is released from prison after an FBI agent named Jack Storm (unless your name is Richard Castle, it should be illegal to name a character something like this) tries to get him to make contact with Simon in the hopes of drawing him out. And here’s where it gets weird. Jack has an evil voice in his head that tells him what to do. Why? No idea. Is he schizophrenic? Is it another personality? Is he possessed? Does he just have a lot of dark thoughts? Never explained. It really is perplexing. And then he is given a super suit that allows him to shoot energy blasts. Just go with it.
Meanwhile, all Caleb wants is to be reunited with his daughter. and we knew this from the previous episode when Simon said “All he really cared about his daughter, Lilly”. And, yes, she was never mentioned again. But things take a turn for the even weirder when Simon turns up… about 20 pages in. Yeah, I thought he was the main character? No? Okay, fine. Maybe you can explain why he can turn back to almost human? Oh, yeah, I forgot to mention, in the first issue, when Simon transforms into a toxic gas he appears as either a cloud of green gas or a green gas monster type thing. Here, he looks exactly the same as he did before he transformed only green-er and can even wear clothes that appear out of nowhere. When did he learn to do this? Anyway, he turns up to ask Caleb if there is any chance of him becoming human again. Caleb then tells him that there is a gem in Venezuela that might help him. That’s convenient! So Simon goes (and that’s the last we see of him this issue) and Agent Jack Cliché turns up in his super suit, convinced that Caleb double-crossed him and the issue ends.
Which brings me to another problem. On the page with the writer and illustrator credits etc, there are little pictures of some of the characters with their names on them. Okay, fine. But in this issue there was one character called “The Gimp” (Tarantino would be well within his rights to sue!) which we NEVER SEE! What is the point of telling us about a character that hasn’t turned up yet? It’s, again, frustrating.
In issue 3, Simon makes his way to Venezuela where he finds a cult of cannibalistic “heathens” who are protecting the stone he needs. As he takes the stone a massive demon from the underworld, who the cannibals worship, turns up and… lets him keep the stone. I’m serious. He doesn’t fight Simon, he doesn’t try to stop him in anyway, he’s all “Yeah, sure. Take the gemstone of unbelievable power. What do I care?”. This is a bigger let down than the final fight in the first Hulk film. This shows a basic ignorance of proper story structure. On his journey towards his goal, the hero must encounter OBSTACLES! This is story writing 101! While this is happening, Jack “No really, that’s my real name” Storm and Caleb are fighting in Caleb’s daughter’s apartment. “Can’t stand the heat? Get outta out of the kitchen.”, “I’d rather die than help you!” and “I call upon my inner power to repel your flames and reverse your evil” are just a few of lines of dialogue from this sequence that made me despair. Jack beats him and later Simon shows up and the two of them have a showdown. Suddenly, the evil voice in Jack’s head asks to take over his body, to which Jack agrees. But then Simon hits him with an energy blast from the gemstone and nearly incinerates Jack, before running off to find Caleb. But then a burned hand burst out of Jack’s super suit, indicating he may still be alive! Dun dun duuuuun!
“But what about the artwork?”, I hear you cry. It’s pretty good… that’s it.
So that was issue 1-3 of Toxic Storm and dagnabbit, it’s not good. Awful is too harsh a word; schlocky is closer to the mark. It’s like a DVD of an action film you get with the Mail on Sunday or any one of Steven Segal‘s movies. It’s cheap and clichéd, but if you’re willing to completely and utterly turn off your brain, you might find something to enjoy. Now if you will excuse me, I have something important I need to get back to. *Thud*, *Thud*, *Thud*.
But what did YOU think of Toxic Storm? Was it cool, action packed and awesome? Or just, well, a bit stupid? Why not say so in the comments or on Twitter? If you do I’ll stop banging my head on the wall!