Billy’s outlook on life is pretty straightforward; adapt or die, a blinkered world view cruelly shaped by his environment and life experience. Coming from a rough neighbourhood, a broken home, and fearful of an abusive, alcoholic father, Billy uses arson as a way of expressing his rage. His weekly visits to a psychiatrist have done nothing to dissuade him from engaging his dangerously misanthropic tendencies, which threaten to spiral out of control. Unknown to him, an innate and volatile ability lies dormant beneath the surface, waiting for the appropriate trigger to manifest itself. Aware of Billy’s potential, a mysterious group known as G.A.P.R.I. offer to help him control his power before it’s too late…
For the most part, ‘Billy the Pyro’ is not exactly ground-breaking stuff, his opening story arc bearing more than a passing resemblance to that of Elizabeth Sherman from Hellboy. Billy is portrayed as a fairly stereotypical disaffected teen, an elongated and awkward looking red-head bedecked in a hoodie. He is cynically dismissive of any attempts to help him; such attempts are usually met with a petulant display of disrespect, or misplaced anger. There are differences, the main one being his belligerent attitude, which only exacerbates confrontational situations, and a flawed justification for his actions, both of which make him a fairly unlikeable character at this juncture.
Writer Brad Burdick does offer some mitigating circumstances, though. The city he inhabits is populated by weary, impoverished and desperate people. It’s an oppressive and desolate world, captured nicely in Fabian Cobos’ artwork through the use of a bleak colour palette and stark shadows. His home setting is particularly dark and threatening, where his father, too, appears to be on a path to self-destruction, unable to accept the death of his wife, for which he holds Billy responsible. In this context, is Billy simply a product of his environment, making the best of a bad situation?
There is perhaps a further layer of symbolism in his flat number being 22. Perhaps his acceptance of the status quo is based on the theory that he’s damned if does, damned of he doesn’t: a catch 22, if you will. If he changed his ways and and adopted a more tolerant approach he would surely not survive in this world, whilst continuing along his current path he is destined to become even further maligned by society.
The set-up leaves two fairly obvious routes available to the character; the path of redemption where his power will be harnessed for good, or a vengeful path, using his power for more malevolent purposes. It’s an interesting opening issue, with plenty of potential to be explored.
You can grab yourself a copy of Billy the Pyro #1 (as well as the second issue, which we’ll be reviewing shortly) on ComiXology.