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Fireball #5
posted June 7, 1996

Creator: Brian Ralph
Publishing Info: Self-Published, $1, 1996
Ordering Numbers: None

It says something about the state of comics right now that out of the stacks and stacks of funnybooks I read in the months of August and September, the one I can't get out of my head is a self-published minicomic featuring wordless stories about giant robots. Most people who read and follow the minicomics scene are probably familiar with Brian Ralph's Fireball. But for those of you who don't know that much about minis -- particularly those of you who dismiss them outright -- the most recent issue of Ralph's minicomic probably didn't even register as a blip on the outmost edges of your comics-buying consciousness. And that's too bad: because aside from everything that's positive and negative about the comic itself, the fact is that Fireball fits the sensibilities of a large percentage of the regular comics reading audience.

The latest issue of Fireball I was able to pick up in a local comics store, #5, is broken into three stories. The first and third are incredibly brief, simple vignettes. The first is only three pages long: a giant robot is standing in the city, he gets shot in the stomach by a tank, and a number of faceless humans celebrate in and about his fallen body. The third is also brief: robot comes out of the earth, devours some policemen, tosses a bus into the distance and receives the worship of some faceless humans from a throne made of city buildings. One gets the sense that the entire run of Fireball is made up of "robots showing up/they are defeated or not" stories, and that the enjoyment is in the variation and execution of the individual story. Part of what makes these two shorts entertaining is that they look lovely. The robots are splendid old school metal clunkers with barrel chests, buildings hit by the robots snap in two like Styrofoam models, and brief action scenes like the tossing of the bus are fundamentally well-executed. It's like watching silent films with cheesy but stylish 1950s sci-fi production values.

The second story in Fireball #5 is longer and more impressive, most obviously because it's done in a scratchboard style that drives home even further the anachronistic qualities of the stories and the weight of the individual characters. The story, again a variation on the invasion theme, shows a masked wrestler winning a match over a human opponent and then stepping outside the building to stop another splendidly-designed robot who's wreaking havoc on the city. Ralph provides a wonderfully choreographed fight scenes: every action in the confrontation between wrestler and robot is made clear without belaboring a single point. One also gets the sense that size plays in these stories. Not only does the size of the individuals play a role, but the size of the arena in which that contest takes place is important as is the way the characters find a place within those arenas. The story ends with the promise of an even bigger arena and contest about to unfold.

This study of size as a psychological underpinning to a child's fascination with comic book icons evokes David Mazzucchelli's much-praised "Big Man." The second story in Fireball #5 has the same sort of pleasures to offer longtime comics readers that Mazzucchelli's story did. In a time when comics readers are clamoring for old-time stories, they could do much, much worse than look past the reams of four-color crap and at Brian Ralph's $1 dollar attractively matte-covered minicomic. While it's perfectly reasonable to dismiss the slight stories and subject matter (hey, some people just can't get into giant robot stories), looking past this comic because of format is your loss.

Originally published in The Comics Journal #190