Stranger Things: Into the Fire #1 Review: A Formulaic Return to a Familiar Franchise

It's difficult to overstate the success of Netflix's Stranger Things, with a large portion of its accomplishments being attributed to the fact that the series came seemingly out of nowhere and leading to an overnight sensation. Despite being relatively unknown in 2016, the cast have all become not only sought-after performers, but also finding themselves passionate followings. Sadly, it appears that Dark Horse Comics is learning the hard way just how difficult it is to replicate the success of the series, as the first entry in their latest miniseries, Stranger Things: Into the Fire, delivers their latest underwhelming foray into the mythology of the Netflix show.

Taking place years after the events of Stranger Things: Six, two of the former test subjects of the nefarious Dr. Brenner continue to pursue fellow victims who escaped his villainous facility in search of answers. When the pair do track down an old companion, they discover that they've had run-ins with an unexpected individual, which will drastically alter everything they continue searching for.

Part of the reason that Stranger Things has amassed such a following is that it offers audiences a variety of enjoyable elements, with some viewers connecting with the sci-fi and horror genre fare, while others connect with the characters and their relationships, and some consume the program merely for its embrace of the '80s with each episode feeling like you're traveling through time. The end result is a unique alchemy that has resulted in the series becoming one of Netflix's most popular programs.

Unfortunately, the mere notion of a comic book series being developed that was devoid of any of those elements dooms it from the start. With Into the Fire, we're given a story that further explores the sci-fi and horror elements of children being subjected to experiments and, even though we've seen some of these characters in a previous comic book, they still lack the chemistry or connection between the characters seen in the proper television series. In that regard, Into the Fire starts at a disadvantage that it may never overcome.

Writer Jody Houser is clearly doing her absolute best to craft a compelling narrative, with this being her third limited series for the comic book franchise, though the nature of these four-issue series forces an expedited story that fails to allow the reader space to connect with any of the characters, already knowing they have little to do with the actual series that fans hold so dear. Even with this being the second comic focused on a pair of returning characters, so much time has passed both in the narrative and since the previous series' release that we have little attachment to them, despite being our protagonists. Artist Ryan Kelly does a sufficient job penciling the book, yet nothing about the issue's art leaves a lasting impression.

After the entirely unexpected success of the show's first season, the second season was another hit with fans, yet one episode, in particular, didn't entirely sit well with viewers. In that installment, Millie Bobby Brown's Eleven left her friends in Hawkins, Indiana and connected with other subjects of Dr. Brenner, and, while the adventure serves narrative necessities, the outing left many viewers disappointed that we left behind our beloved characters thus sacrificing one of the series' biggest appeals. Most of Dark Horse's forays into the world of Stranger Things have evoked similar reactions, as fans are given something that looks somewhat familiar, yet feels entirely inconsequential. This isn't to say that these stories are necessarily poor in quality, more that they continue to be unimpressive and fail to capture what makes the series so magical.

Stranger Things: Into the Fire might not be a groundbreaking adventure, but fans who have connected most strongly with the sinister backstory behind Dr. Brenner and the exploitation of gifted children will likely find something to enjoy here, as will those who potentially struggle to empathize with the series' heroes yet see the potential in the concept. Devout fans of the franchise, on the other hand, will more likely be left feeling frustrated yet again with Dark Horse's franchise spin-offs.

Published by Dark Horse Comics

On January 8, 2020

Written by Jody Houser

Art by Ryan Kelly

Colors by Triona Farrell

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Letters by Nate Piekos

Cover by Viktor Kalvachev

Disclosure: ComicBook is owned by CBS Interactive, a division of ViacomCBS.