|At long last--Firestorm returns. Cover art to Extreme Justice #5 by Marc Campos.|
In the series Extreme Justice, a Justice League of America spin-off, writer Dan Vado and artists Marc Campos and Mozart Couto chose to again bestow Nuclear Man status upon Ron Raymond. They revealed in the #0 issue that Ron had developed some form of leukemia and it had the strange side-effect of making him burst into nuclear fire above the city of Pittsburgh. The Extreme Justice team arrived to try to help, followed by Martin Stein as the elemental version of Firestorm. Having lost touch with his emotions, Martin intended to re-merge with Ron, absorbing his memories and consciousness into his own so that he could again look at the universe with a sense of wonder. Of course, Ron declined, but Martin chose to cure him of his leukemia, allowing him to remain Firestorm and serve alongside Captain Atom, Blue Beetle and the other team members.
I remember picking up issues four and five of the series, wherein most of the Firestorm-related action occurred, but I hastily dropped the book soon afterward because it truly wasn't the version of the character I wanted to read. Oh, sure, I bought one more issue of the series--number eight--that reinforced my opinion that whoever DC thought Firestorm was, he wasn't my hero anymore. They made him an underwear model--nicknamed "Ron Ray"--and they made him an active, then recovering, alcoholic. That chain of events--that led him to getting kicked off the Extreme Justice team right around the time the book itself got canned--culminated in a nauseating, totally uncharacteristic two-part "solo adventure" by Robert L. Washington III and Randy DuBurke in Showcase '96 #6-7 that had Ron entering rehab and featured precious little to remind me of who Ron and Firestorm ever used to be. Then and now, I honestly don't know what DC was thinking in changing the character so drastically, probably in a knee-jerk reaction to what was happening to the rest of their heroes during the decade. Superman died, someone broke the Batman, Green Lantern destroyed the Corps, and oh yeah, Firestorm turned into a raging alcoholic! So after a fashion, they turned the Nuclear Man into a cheap knockoff of Michael J. Fox in "Bright Lights, Big City." They darkened him up. Was that the best they could do?
|Firestorm teams with yet another character to help him use his powers.|
Why was DC so evasive about using the "Firestorm Matrix"? Did they truly associate everything John Ostrander did in exploring the Matrix with why the book had been canceled years before? Or did they believe the existence of the Matrix made the book too cerebral? More likely, they believed--perhaps rightly--that the Firestorm character could never be popular enough to again be a solo feature, so instead they attempted to couple one not-quite-popular-enough-to-carry-his-own-book hero with another not-quite-popular-enough-to-carry-his-own-book hero, in hopes their combined popularity could lead to a limited or even a full-time team-up series. I think it was Geoff Johns who first explored the idea of teaming him with Ray Palmer, the Atom, and it's really an inspired choice beyond the fact that he's named after something that Firestorm is able to manipulate. Throughout the Day of Judgment crossover, Professor Palmer advises Ron in an effort to teach him chemistry concepts he's apparently forgotten after prolonged separation from Martin Stein. However, the role of sidekick becomes something of an insult to the Atom, whom DC introduced 17 years before Firestorm. Still, I guess they thought ol' Ray had nothing better to do than sit on a younger character's shoulder and recite chemical formulae.
|One of the Firestorms-that-almost-was, in a never-resolved cliffhanger. Art by Doug Mahnke.|
|Firestorm joins another failed team. At least the art (by Tom Grummett) is pretty.|
After this entire period of experimentation during which his development often felt rudderless, what remained for the Ron Raymond iteration of Firestorm to do? One thing that DC proved beyond a reasonable doubt in the years since his title's cancellation was that they honestly didn't know what the hell to do with him. Nobody wanted to really touch the "elemental" version of Firestorm because of his insane power level and his having been developed from a character who was a senior citizen. Nobody wanted to really touch the "Firestorm Matrix" that John Ostrander had developed, probably because the concept seemed too complex to DC's writers--and when someone did have the sense to tackle it, they made the idea even more deliriously complex. And everyone who touched Ron Raymond as Firestorm seemed to want to make him something he wasn't--a model, a drunk, a newbie, a loser.
So of course, somebody at DC editorial decided Firestorm had to die.
Next: The Blistering Tale of the Firestorm of Earth-Eight!