As this story begins, we meet teenager, Billy, seated ‘in the psychiatrists’ chair’, so to speak. He is in session with an unnamed female counselor, an exercise that he clearly regards as a waste of his time. At first glance, he’s your typical, casebook adolescent. Surly, impatient, ill-tempered. Essentially troubled. The initial juxtaposition between her questions and his ‘inner monologue’, which serves as the narrative, are amusing and enlightening to the reader, whilst leaving the therapist in exasperated ignorance.
It becomes apparent that perhaps this Billy is entitled to feel hard done by. His circumstances are pretty grim; He lives on the wrong side of a ‘no-hope’ town. His father, an abusive alcoholic, is a heavy burden on this put-upon kid. And his Mother is long departed. Billy’s fascination with fire along with some destructive tendencies, have doubtless provided distraction and relief from his everyday woes, whilst ultimately creating another heap of trouble for him. Hence the counseling. Although his therapist’s efforts to make any kind of breakthrough, seem destined to fail.
At first glance, my expectations from these comics were not high.The premise of this story seemed quite generic. A pyro-technic teenager isn’t exactly a fresh theme. The art whilst drawn cleanly, seemed a little plain, the backgrounds are not brimming with detail, and the colour palette doesn’t burst with vivid hues. There seemed little in the way of ‘action’. And initially, I found Billy’s narrative lacked the necessary distinctive voice.
Of course, first glances aren’t quite where it’s at. Brad Burdick and Fabian Cobos have created a story about a teenage boy first and foremost and its Billy, the individual, that one is drawn to. As the story develops, his voice becomes clearer. There’s a strong focus on his anxieties and the necessary empathy is sincerely evoked. Likewise, his town is a rundown, drab urban landscape with nothing to glamorise. So, quite simply, they don’t. This story has firm foundations in an ‘everyday’ world and the authenticity of Billy’s circumstances add a real impact to the explosive cliffhanger, as the first issue closes.
Subsequently, when this tale enters it’s second phase, one palpably feels the acceleration in pace; the manifestations of extraordinary abilities; the revelations of clandestine organisations; the logic behind secret programs; the motives of covert operatives. Yet the widening plot and adventure is kept firmly in orbit around Billy, the human being.
Along with this expansion, the story counterpoints Billy’s continuing quest with flashbacks that examine how he came to be the type of inflammatory character he is today. The use of location in the artwork to amplify the resonance of this backstory, is deftly rendered. As the momentum builds and the world of Billy the Pyro widens, there’s greater opportunity for expression within the art; a broader colour palette; the introduction of new characters and locales; lots more action. And Cobos takes every opportunity to evoke emotions from the cast.
As the second issue closes, we watch Billy arrive at an important personal conclusion. It’s noteworthy that at that moment, the reader has a genuine appreciation of the events and traumas that have brought him to this point along with a thorough understanding of the choice he now makes. As they say, Billy’s adventures are just beginning.
Have you read Billy the Pyro? What did you think of it? Let us know in the comments section below, or else you can find this title at alternacomics.com and on comixology.