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SYFY WIRE Robert Kirkman

The Walking Dead's Robert Kirkman turns up the heat for new fantasy series, Fire Power

By Jeff Spry
FP Hero

Robert Kirkman, the brains behind The Walking Dead comic book series, wrapped up his zombie opus with artist Charlie Adlard last July after 193 issues and a whole lot of blood and gore.

He hasn’t totally walked away from walkers, though, as Kirkman is still deeply involved in AMC's The Walking Dead TV show and its spinoff, Fear the Walking Dead. On top of that, he’s also juggling multiple projects involving adaptations of his comics Invincible and Oblivion Song, and a new TV series called 5 Year, set just before a doomsday meteor strike.

However, Kirkman is still very much a comic creator, and one upcoming project in particular that’s generating a significant amount of heat is Fire Power, his new fantasy adventure series from Skybound/Image that follows a young man's quest to learn the ancient Chinese art of fireball throwing. Teaming up with Kirkman on this martial arts fable is Daredevil artist Chris Samnee.

Fire Power_FINAL Cover

Fire Power #1 strikes on July 1 alongside a 160-page prelude graphic novel that delves further into the legend of the story's hero, Owen Johnson. His odyssey to discover the truth about his birth parents leads Owen to a mysterious Shaolin Temple where disciples try to resurrect the Fire Power, a lost talent that might be called upon to save the world.

SYFY WIRE spoke with Kirkman to discuss the evolution of Fire Power, moving on after the end of The Walking Dead, working with a talented posse of artists, marking a new era in his comic book career, and whether he'd love to toss a few fireballs just for the fun of it.

After the chat, check out our 10-page preview in the full gallery below!

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What was the genesis of Fire Power, and how long has this story been simmering?

In some rough form, it’s probably been dancing around my head for a decade, although it seems like just a few years. Most of the time when I think of a concept it’s kind of the first opening scene that really pops into my head and I build from there. So the opening scene of a guy trudging up a snow-capped mountain to get to a temple and when he arrives, the master of the temple is standing there in a pair of Air Jordans with a Walkman around his neck, that’s just kind of the nugget I had for a long time.

It wasn’t until Chris Samnee reached out after many, many years of me pestering him to get him to work with me, saying that his contract at Marvel was up and he was looking to possibly do something with me. I told him that rough martial arts idea I had might be something cool to do, and we started fleshing things out together from that point.

Was it hard to extract yourself from The Walking Dead to start something new and fresh?

Not really, I’ve been lucky enough to be working on many projects around Walking Dead, otherwise, I’d be completely depressed just because that’s a very dark universe to be inhabiting for a long time. So being able to bounce into Invincible or Super Dinosaur or any of the other things I worked on during The Walking Dead, it always gives me a good break. I feel I’m pretty good at bouncing from project to project and not being too bogged down in the mindset of those projects. 

It’s interesting because Fire Power is the first book that I really got knee-deep in after Walking Dead had ended, so it definitely marked a new era for me. Most every other comic book I worked on in the gaps around Walking Dead just because Charlie Adlard is so fast and we ended up producing so many issues. 

So it was like do a little Outcast, go back to Walking Dead. Do a little bit of Oblivion Song, go back to Walking Dead. Do a little Invincible, go back to Walking Dead. Now that that’s not been the rotation, it’s a little freeing and allows me to spend more time working the projects out, which is kind of cool.  

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Fire Power has a relaxed, old-fashioned spirit to it. Was that something you and Chris were striving for, or did it emerge as an organic outgrowth of the plot?

I think what I’m going for is that there’s an inherent appeal to superhero stories. There’s something about superpowered people and the story tropes that come with that that are very familiar to comic book audiences. Martial arts as a subject has a lot in common with superhero stories, and so with Fire Power, I’m trying to tell a traditional superhero kind of story even though it’s not a superhero comic.

If it’s feeling like an old-school Marvel comic from the '80s or the '90s, there’s a little bit of an attempt to accomplish that. I want it to be a very compelling, somewhat breezy action story that has a lot of drama and intrigue to it. I’m trying not to bog things down with any large dialogue scenes or anything too dire. This isn’t a dark world. There’s not a lot of horrific, crazy, violent things that have happened in some of my other comics.

How would you best describe Fire Power’s plotline and the hero’s journey of discovery?

It’s the story of Owen Johnson, who is adopted at a young age. He’s Chinese American and he decides he wants to find out what his roots are. He has a photo that he was given that was supposedly with him when he was found as a baby that’s of his birth parents. He uses that photo to go off on an adventure to try and find his parents. 

Along the way, in that journey, he gets drawn into this martial arts world and eventually learns he’s destined to wield this mystical Fire Power that no one’s been able to master for a thousand years. Spoiler alert for the [graphic novel]: It’s entirely possible he masters it! Once he does that it’s very clear that he’s destined to use this power to somehow save the world. And this is not something he wants to be a part of. He just wants to go back to St. Louis and raise a family and live a normal life. It’s about one man’s struggle against his destiny to try and live a normal life.

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Is fireball-throwing a superpower you’d instantly gravitate toward if it were possible?

In the spectrum of flight and invisibility, fireball tossing doesn’t seem to be that practical, but it sure is visually cool for a comic book.

How did the decision to release Fire Power #1 with a prelude graphic novel come about?

There’s an inherent barrier for any new concept or new series. Anyone who’s a big comic book fan who’s been reading 30 years of Spider-Man is going to want to read Peter Parker’s next adventure more than they’re going to want to dive into something new. And the reason for that is because it’s hard to relate to those new characters and it takes time to get invested in that story. 

So I thought that by having a prelude OGN and a first issue available on the same day, it gives you nine issues worth of material for less than $10. In one day, you’ve almost got a whole year of the comic book to read. And I’m hoping that lowers that barrier of entry and allows readers to get invested in these characters and get to know them and inhabit that world.  

Hopefully, Owen Johnson is just as appealing to them as Peter Parker in a very short amount of time. That’s the goal here, so we’ll see if we pull it off.

How would you characterize your collaboration with artist Chris Samnee, colorist Matt Wilson, and letterer Rus Wooten on this project?

It’s very rewarding for one. I’m working with the best of the best here. Rus is one of the best letterers in comics and has worked on a wide range of properties and has a unique voice on all of them, so it’s great to have him on board for another one of my series. Matt is top three, top five colorists in the industry. He’s also been working with Chris Samnee for over a decade so they’ve formed a partnership that’s almost legendary in comics. 

Knowing that you have this team working alongside you, as a writer, it allows you to really push your limits. With these guys at the helm, I’m throwing caution to the wind and writing whatever comes to me knowing they’re going to be able to convert these stories in an easily discernible way. To tell this action-packed, epic story is very freeing because many of the limitations were lifted because of the quality of this team.

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Where did your research process and worldbuilding take you on Fire Power?

You know, things like The 36th Chamber of Shaolin. There are a lot of great classic martial arts movies I’ve watched in the past that we’ve done a lot of rewatching on and other touchstones I want to make sure I’m familiar with. There’s also more modern things like Kill Bill that had an influence. I did some research on Chinese martial arts and different structures that are present in that world to get some real-world experiences separate from movies and TV shows and comics that I’ve experienced. 

But also there are lots of elements to this that come from superhero comics and action movies that aren’t martial arts-based and different things you wouldn’t necessarily expect that’ll be popping their head up. Possibly some horror elements, maybe a bit of conspiracy theory thought. Some cool stuff like that that will work its way into the book as we progress through the series and get deeper into the run. So I’m pulling inspiration from all kinds of different places, not just the martial arts world.

Fire Power seems like a slam dunk for a TV or film adaptation in the future. Are there any rumblings about that?

Sure, there’s tons of possibility, tons of talk, tons of chatter. It’s also something at the forefront of my mind when I’m working on these projects. I’m very focused on making Fire Power the best comic it can be.

That said, I’ve done Super Dinosaur, Invincible, The Walking Dead, Outcast — these things are all getting adapted or have been adapted, so there’s always talk about these things. It’s very likely there will be some form of Fire Power adaptation in the next few years, but if there’s anything going on behind the scenes it’s in the very early stages.