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‘Wildfire’ #1: When Good Genes Go Bad

‘Wildfire’ #1: When Good Genes Go Bad

Wildfire #1Wildfire

Written by Matt Hawkins
Art by Linda Sejic
Published by Image Comics 

Wildfire is a comic about a controversial topic that’s been prominent in the news recently: Genetically Modified Organisms. The comic takes place in Los Angeles amidst a disaster set in motion by the release of a GMO. As anti-GMO advocates in the United States are pushing for laws requiring the labeling of genetically modified foods, Matt Hawkins wants to ask questions about both sides of the debate as well as to tell a disaster story. Wildfire is an interesting comic with a good premise but a flawed opening issue.
The comic begins with an uncontrolled wildfire blazing through the heart of Los Angeles, threatening most of the city. Three days prior to this, a researcher named Beth Silva is appearing on TV. She runs a private laboratory sponsored by a fictional biotech company called Biogenesis. In a televised debate with an anti-GMO advocate, she loses her temper and accidentally discloses that her laboratory is working on a fast-growing strain of food. However, all of the crops are still in experimental phases and die as rapidly as they are grown. With the press demanding to see what they’re working on, they hold an exhibition and decide to use a modified, rapidly growing Dandelion seed. The public showing of this GMO sets in motion the disaster in Los Angeles.

Given that this comic touches upon such a heated issue, it’s inevitable that it will provoke strong reactions. Matt Hawkins has said that he wrote the comic after intensely researching both sides of the issue and deciding that both sides were lying and manipulating facts to serve their agendas. It’s hard to tell where exactly he falls, though the fact that he’s telling a disaster story about GMOs gives the reader a pretty good clue. The comic doesn’t really question the claims of the anti-GMO crowd, and some of the facts that are cited are pretty quickly dispelled or at least found to be in dispute with some quick internet browsing. It’s possible that Hawkins isn’t endorsing these views, or that he’s even deliberately depicting them as falsehoods; only subsequent issues will settle that question. It wouldn’t necessarily be bad for the book to have a set political stance, though there would be a lost opportunity to explore both issues.

The comic has a lot of promise, both as a disaster story and in providing insight into man’s relationship with nature. However, some of the storytelling decisions Hawkins makes are not quite believable. One can accept that Dr. Silva would be pressured into making a demonstration of the rapidly maturing plants, but it feels implausible that she would test a plant that the research team had not experimented on. Safety issues aside, it would create a further PR disaster were it to fail in a public venue. No scientist would stake their controversial research on a new experiment with a television audience, no matter their commitment to the work they’re doing.  The story could yet recover from this, but readers need to see believable behavior from scientists in subsequent issues.