Each weekday, Tim will take a look at what we know about each of the upcoming 52 new comics from the September DC relaunch, one series at a time. Today: THE FURY OF FIRESTORM!
The Concept and Characters: In true superhero comic book fashion, Firestorm, as unique as his visual look was, began as a derivative character. As creator Gerry Conway himself has explained, the original impetus for the flame-haired superhero was simple: “what if Flash Thompson got bitten by the radioactive spider instead of Peter Parker?” Thus, in the Bronze Age of DC comics, Ronnie Raymond, certified jock, gets involved in a pseudo-scientific accident that grants him superhuman powers. But not alone.
What made Firestorm radically different from Peter Parker (or any other superhero) was not just his flaming hair, or his puffy sleeves, or his off-center, asymmetrical insignia, it was that Firestorm was a hero created from the gestalt of Ronnie Raymond and Professor Martin Stein. Raymond was the impulsive youth and Stein was the wizened mentor. Raymond controlled the physical body of Firestorm, while Stein, lacking corporeal form when in hero mode, provided telepathic advice. It was an innovative approach to the innocence vs. experience theme, and though Firestorm lasted only a few issues in his original series, he soon returned in The Fury of Firestorm, the Nuclear Man, which lasted into the triple digits.
But during that lengthy run, the mythology around Firestorm became increasingly complex, and he shifted from a compelling metaphor for innocence vs. experience, for physicality vs. intellect, and turned into, literally an elemental force. The transformation happened over several years, and writers like Gerry Conway and John Ostrander played around with the character and the setting and the general premise of the series long before the elemental shift.
In the decades that followed, Firestorm never again regained the prominence he once had in the DCU. He was killed off. Then resurrected with a new protagonist in command: Jason Rusch, young black intellectual. His series lasted a couple of years, but never gained widespread attention. Last year’s Brightest Day series featured a clear attempt to do something to reinvigorate the Firestorm brand, pitting Rusch and Raymond against each other before bringing them together and then ending with a ticking time bomb of a high-concept. In a matter of hours, Firestorm himself would explode, and it was up to Rusch and Raymond to stop it!
The new Fury of Firestorm series debuting in September looks to jettison all of that history. This will be a fresh start for the characters and the concept, with the press release talking about “two high school students, worlds apart” who are “drawn into a conspiracy of super science.” The two students are named: Jason Rusch and Ronnie Raymond. In pre-relaunch DC continuity, Raymond was at least a decade older than Rusch. Now, they will be peers. And by the looks of the cover, the Firestorm identity will be a force of nature right from the start. Maybe not literally an elemental, but something primal.
Firestorm’s classic powers of flight and matter manipulation may not even show up in this new series for all we can tell. This looks to be an entirely different take on the core concept. Something more akin to the super-powered Aladdin twins summoning a genie from the lamp than a spin on Flash-Thompson-gets-powers. Or any of the metaphors that followed.
The Creative Team: This one’s co-plotted by Ethan Van Sciver and Gail Simone, scripted by Gail Simone, and drawn by Yildray Cinar. I’ve professed to never quite latching on to Simone’s narrative rhythms, but the collaboration with Van Sciver’s an interesting one. Van Sciver, known most for his work with Geoff Johns on the rebirth of both Green Lantern and the Flash (though Van Sciver was far better suited for spacefaring adventure than speedster tragedy), is a long-time comic book artist, but he’s not usually thought of as a writer. He did begin his career writing and drawing the long-forgotten Cyberfrog, though. So it’s not like he has never written a comic before.
As an idea guy, and enthusiastic new-Firestorm fan, which seem to be the roles he’s put himself into for this collaboration, he could be just the injection of energy Simone needs to do something appropriately unique with this series. Then again, his guarantees of awesomeness aside, it’s still difficult to guess at what this series will really be about, and whether or not the relationships between the characters will be as compelling as what we saw in the 1980s version.
Yildray Cinar is better suited for this series than he was for Legion of Super-Heroes. Cinar isn’t a subtle artist, but this doesn’t look to be a subtle series. He draws bold characters making grand gestures, and that’s the right approach for both high school melodrama and nuclear-powered monstrosities.
Recommendation: Skim through the first issue. Van Sciver and Simone are unlikely to grow this series into something special if they don’t nail the concept right from the start. If the first issue has a bunch of teenagers talking, then a giant flaming monster appearing at the end, it’s a bust. If issue #1 creates a window into a world of nuclear-powered heroism, if it establishes a sense of mystery and potential tragedy, and if it escalates the conflict early and pits characters against one another, then it has a chance to grab the audience. If it’s about more than just two kids and their fire-headed genie, then it might be worth a Buy It, after all. Sadly, I suspect it will be closer to just another average DC comic, and you can probably just go ahead and Skip It.
Tim Callahan writes about comics for Tor.com, Comic Book Resources, Back Issue magazine, and his own Geniusboy Firemelon blog.