Each issue of The Blue Flame is delightful and mysterious in a way that seems so particular to single-issue comics. In equal measure, writer Christopher Cantwell and artist Adam Gorham poke at an underlying, cosmic mystery while leaning into the brutal, often breathtakingly sad, relationship between two estranged siblings in Milwaukee.
That trend continues in this third issue, which begins with one of the biggest surprises of the series thus far…
SPOILERS AHEAD for the The Blue Flame #3!
A time jump! After keeping the chronological structure steady for the first two issues, Cantwell jumps ahead seven months at the start of this issue.
The narrative still bounces between Milwaukee, where Sam Brausam (known as the Blue Flame) is recovering from an attack that killed his vigilante companions, and an alien planet where Blue Flame is (simultaneously?) standing trial on behalf of the human race.
But Sam now lives under the care of his sister Dee, who has to balance his needs with her own. She is eight months pregnant and still struggling to make ends meet with her partner. The relationship between these three characters is easily the most compelling part of the book. Cantwell sheds light on Sam and Dee’s relationship prior to the attack and shows how sullen he has become in the months since the attack.
Mostly confined to his bed, Sam only moves around to use the restroom or wash away his sorrows at the local bar. He needs Dee, but resents how much he needs her. In space, he is similarly homebound — or, well, essentially imprisoned by aliens — but feels purpose as the avatar of humanity, tasked with defending the Earth from an alien tribunal set on eliminating it.
The scenes set in deep space, which colorist Kurt Michael Russell portrays with mesmerizing purple and orange hues, are the most visually ambitious parts of the story — and also its most mysterious.
I read the Blue Flame’s cosmic journey as a kind of immature fantasy, where Brausam can soothe his fragile ego and heal from his devastating injury, but they easily could be real. Perhaps his consciousness is shifting between Earth and outer space. Part of me wonders if the obvious homage to space cowboys like Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon is no accident. Maybe Brausam’s fantasy is being built with the stories and characters he idolized as a child.
Without much knowledge of how the cosmic trial interacts with Brausam’s plight on Earth, the comic reads like a double feature of some pulp adventure paired with a Chris Ware slice-of-life story. But the stories feel intimately familiar, even if the connection is not as clear.
The effect is something not far off from how Tom King has handled Strange Adventures, which literalizes the gap between Adam Strange’s life at home and his manicured retelling of his adventures in space by having one artist (Mitch Gerads) handle the Earth scenes and another (Doc Shaner) draw the space scenes.
The genius of writer Cantwell and artist Gorham’s approach, which emerges more starkly this issue, is that each version of Blue Flame is as important as the other. The cosmic defendant and paralyzed vigilante occupy the same headspace, even if they sound and often act different. They’re pieces of a whole.
How the creative team chooses to resolve that mystery will hover over the rest of this comic, but Cantwell’s deep understanding of the characters is a reminder that the specifics of the resolution may not entirely matter.
Whether Blue Flame’s space adventures are a fantasy or not, his relationship to Dee and grief for his teammates is as real as anything between the borders of this comic. That story is this comic’s North Star and keeps it feeling as relevant and urgent as anything else on the shelves.
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