No, not the sound of bullets, I like Gunfire the 1994-5 comic book and its eponymous protagonist. I’m aware that’s a minority view. Gunfire is usually, and not unreasonably dismissed as a weaker version of Gambit, but without Remy’s accent or charm (for the many people who can’t stand Gambit, I presume it’s just “without the accent.”). Nevertheless I enjoyed it, and rereading it recently I figured out why.
First, the backstory: Gunfire was one of the new superheroes created in DC’s 1993 Bloodlines crossover event, wherein uninteresting Alien knockoffs arrive on Earth, feed on people and unintentionally transform those with a functioning metagene into superhumans. The attempt to infuse new blood into the DCU was largely as ineffective as Marvel’s 1993 attempt, but it did produce a few spinoffs. One was Gunfire.
In the Deathstroke annual (by Len Wein and Steve Erwin), Andrew van Horn and his father Gunther become victims of one of the ETs. Dad dies, or so it seems. Andrew gets the power to turn an ordinary object into a ray gun by agitating its molecules and firing them as an energy blast. Andrew goes after Slade Wilson but when he learns the real enemy, the two guys team up to fight the alien.
If Andrew came from an ordinary family, that would have been it. He wasn’t looking to become a superhero at all; most likely he’d have hung up his armor and used his gift for party tricks.
But Gunther van Horn wasn’t an ordinary dad, he was a weapons manufacturer into mad-science, cutting-edge superweaponry. A whole bunch of bad guys would like to grab some of that sweet stuff, particularly those who already paid Gunther for it. Andrew had no idea about this side of Dad’s business, but it’s his company now; when bad guys start attacking, he fights back. As his powers don’t make him bulletproof, he does it in armor, and Gunfire is born!
As written by Wein, Andrew’s not out to save the world or go out on patrol to find crime (he does intervene when he stumbles across one): he’s just protecting his company, his family, his employees, his friends. When Andrew agrees to work with the cops, it’s because they’ve figured out his identity and threaten to bust him for his Gunfire activities, not because he has a burning desire to battle evil. It seems like what an average, decent guy would do in the same situation, and that’s what I like about it.
No question Gunfire’s powers are limited, but Gunfire’s the first to admit he’s not a world-beater. That’s why he relies on his tech (a targeting visor rather than Hawkeye-class marksmanship, for instance) and his friends Ben and Yvette serving as “the man in the chair.” They provide him with intel, monitor his surroundings for trouble, alert him to when the cops are showing up (this was more novel at the time than it is now). The set-up fits with the idea Andrew, if not completely out of his league, is in well over his head.
The stories were fun for the most part. High points included a villain in one issue whose meta-ability is to drain bodies. Suck out your bones, he can shoot off calcium missiles; suck out your stomach, he can spit stomach acid in someone’s face. It’s grotesque and ridiculous, and I loved it. Then there’s Blow-Out, a supposedly topflight hit man who turns out to be something of a chump.
The 13th and final issue, though, was a little disappointing. Gunther, it turns out, had a meta-gene too and has turned into the unkillable terrorist Ragnarok. His big plan is to use Andrew’s tap-Earth’s-core-for-power project to blow up the world, but we never learn why. And the ending has Gunfire contemplating joining the JLA so maybe that not-a-hero vibe would have gone away. But I suspect the stories would still have been enjoyable if the book had lasted.
As we don’t have Wein’s distinctive touch any more, I’m not feeling bad Gunfire has faded into oblivion. I am annoyed that he became one of the second stringers comics love to sacrifice to prove how bad-ass things are getting (Prometheus cuts off his hands in Final Crisis).
But for a while, at least, he was fun.
#SFWApro. First two covers by Erwin, bottom by Ed Benes.