The next digital-only release from 2000 AD brings us a dash of fantasy, John Smith style – release the dragons, it’s Firekind.
According to John Smith, Firekind was originally commissioned when asst-editor Alan McKenzie contacted Smith to write a story involving dragons to up the fantasy credentials of the comic.
John Smith, in typical John Smith fashion, had other plans…
“Alan McKenzie rang up one day and said he thought there weren’t enough fantasy strips in 2000AD. He asked if I’d write a dragon story. Like the whore I am, I agreed on the spot. But when I started to think about it, I realised what a naff proposition the whole thing was. I’d read a few Anne McCaffrey books and she’d pretty much got the whole dragon thing sewn up, so I didn’t want to do a rehash of that. I always try to come at things from a different angle, so I thought I’d write it as a hard SF story instead.” – John Smith – From Thrill-power Overload by David Bishop & Karl Stock.
The story centres on a human xeno-botanist, Larsen, who travels to the alien jungle planet Gennyo-Leil, where the atmosphere is pure toxic hallucinogen. He works hard to gain the indigenous people’s trust but all that’s spoilt when a group of mercenaries/poachers turn up.
And if any of that sounds like Avatar the movie, you wouldn’t be far wrong… although Smith, of course, had the idea a full 16 years before the movie came out.
It’s very much hard sci-fi, with Smith mixing the fantasy dragons with a tale of environmental warnings, the planet striking back against those that would do it harm. It’s full of all the familiar John Smith ideas, all that wonderful imagination at play on what might be considered something of a throwaway story, yet reading it in collected form shows it’s anything but.
In a fully-realised world from the pen of Paul Marshall, we get colonialism, eco-awareness, spirituality, the pervasiveness of capitalism and commercialism, all against a world where the native culture of hallucinogenic drug use, produced by the Lantrisants, a leech-like animal that attaches itself to the dragons, and a drug that’s prized and hunted by the mercs/poachers invading the planet.
Reading it in this new collected form shows us, yet again, that Smith was a creator whose words and ideas were incredible imaginative things, and with Paul Marshall matching him every step of the way, Firekind really is a book that you should check out.
Firekind – by John Smith and Paul Marshall, letters by Steve Potter.
Published by 2000 AD on 1 September in digital format
Originally serialised in 2000 AD Progs 828-840 (1993)
Now… extended preview time…