Professor Walton Honderich participated in a government prison program and committed an act that led to the death of his friend, the brilliant physicist Marc Lepore, and resulted in unimaginable torment for an entire class of people across the United States.
The GARD idea is weird enough, and Rollins is a good enough storyteller, that the narrative remains unpredictable. That keeps things interesting when Walton's endless self-recriminations get to be too soggy. In truth, this book's greatest weakness is its protagonist. Walton was once a brilliant young scientist, but he's never stopped regretting his involvement in the GARD program — and although Rollins suggests this regret is what's turned Walton into a washed-up alcoholic, it's hard to imagine any better fate for such a sad sack. His fellow scientist Marc may be more evil, but at least he's not a sap ... Whoever it was at Tor, Rollins' publisher, who decided to print The Furnace on uncoated stock was really onto something. The butter-colored, textured paper immediately imbues the book with a sense of artistic portent and indie idiosyncrasy. A slick surface would have accentuated the cleanness of Rollins' style, making it seem sterile and mass-produced, but the slight roughness offsets his sharp lines nicely. Even if you're not inclined to meditate on punishment and human nature, The Furnace's visuals make it a page-turner.
The Furnace is written by Prentis Rollins, whose bio outs him as a 25-year veteran of the comics industry. Rollins is an illustrator by trade, and the art of The Furnace is all his doing. Art-wise, the book is visually very pleasing: the panels are cleanly laid out in a manner that makes the story’s progression easy to read and follow; the characters are visually distinct, the backgrounds full of life and movement. It’s very nice: the kind of quiet competence that doesn’t draw attention to itself and takes a long time to perfect ... The narrative, though. Unlike the art, the narrative is not particularly impressive. Not, at least, to me. It feels shallow, reductive, and self-indulgent, without a real emotional arc: the narrative of a flawed man wallowing in his moral failures because he doesn’t have the strength to accept them and move on ... As a story, it’s shallow. Its conclusion offers a sense of redemption, but it’s unearned redemption. It feels self-indulgent, and it leaves me equal parts annoyed and enraged ... I really can’t recommend The Furnace. But I suspect it will appeal to people who can see themselves in Honderich and his choices, and who have more sympathy for his self-indulgent self-flagellation and its effects on the people around him than I do.
This ambitious solo effort by Rollins, a frequent Marvel and DC comics artist, offers an unsettling cautionary critique on the misuse of technology to further the marginalization of society’s 'undesirables.' An aging physicist visiting 2052 New York City, Walton Honderich recounts his participation in a prison program that rendered supermax criminals silent and unseen ... Rollins’s strong worldbuilding lends his narrative a creeping sense of prescience, sending a provocative message about what modern society is capable of bringing about, and at what cost.