When last we left our intrepid hero Ronald Raymond, he'd been through the proverbial blender. Split off from his partner, Professor Martin Stein, who'd become a Fire Elemental and gone off to explore the deepest reaches of space, he learned to once again harness his own atomic powers and become Firestorm anew, without having to merge with another being. He became an alcoholic and recovered. He became the "dumb jock" hero writ large, requiring other heroes like Oracle and the Atom to help him with his restructuring abilities. He rejoined the JLA and was even about to be featured in a new series that would've included several other beings in a re-exploration of the Firestorm Matrix. Then, plans changed, and DC instead decided to kill him in 2004.
|If you can't make 'em marketable, kill 'em. Cover to Firestorm #6 by ChrisCross.|
While I liked the idea of a new Firestorm series, I wasn't totally sold on the concept as told by Jolley. While it'd been previously established that the Firestorm Matrix could absorb others into it, it had never before wholly transferred to another being who was not Ron or Martin. I did, however, enjoy the novelty of Jason needing to merge with other unrelated individuals to form Firestorm. The situation was vaguely similar to the early days of Ron and Martin's fusion, wherein Ron was fully aware of what happened when he was Firestorm, but Martin suffered amnesia. Each person involved in the merger would suffer from memory loss upon being separated from Firestorm, which was convenient--almost too convenient--to many stories' central plot. Also, each new individual in the Matrix now functioned like a battery for Jason, who had to be careful with his power output or else he could "burn out" the other person, killing them. (Disgustingly, this event occurred once, and blessedly only once, in the series, in issue #3.) The most interesting merger of the period involved a crossover with Jolley and artist Leonard Kirk's short-lived creation Bloodhound, where Jason combined with a criminal, resulting in a demonic-looking Firestorm creature controlled by that criminal while Jason became the one apparently at risk of dying.
|Jason Rusch is the new Firestorm. Nice face tats. Cover to Firestorm #1 by ChrisCross.|
From here on in, I was on board 100%--in spite of a distressing answer to a question I asked Jolley some months earlier at San Diego Comic Con 2004. Some Firestorm fans may remember seeing coverage of the DC Universe panel that Friday, July 23, when I asked one of the last questions of the panel. Would Martin Stein return in Firestorm? The writer had a one-word answer for me: "No." But of course, Ron Raymond would be a pretty good substitute, right?
|A tale of two Firestorms. Cover to Firestorm #10 by Matt Haley.|
Ron and Jason found they were both able to form their own version of Firestorm, and issue #11 developed a "teacher-student" relationship between the two men while Ron hoped to meet up with his father in Pittsburgh. They arrived at Ed and Felicity Raymond's home, but Dad and Stepmom weren't there, and before a reunion could occur, Firestorm again had to rush into battle in Detroit against Typhoon and Multiplex. Those villains were in turn following orders from a surprising face: Cliff Carmichael, Ron Raymond's high school nemesis, who'd years ago enhanced his own brain, become the Thinker, and briefly joined the Suicide Squad. Firestorm defeated him by dissolving the cybernetic enhancements in his brain, but shortly afterward Ron again dissipated from the Matrix. Jason's future was wide open, and he'd learned and grown tremendously from his experiences with Ron. Unlike when the character had been shoved down DC fans' throats, after issue #13 it felt like the torch had finally been passed.
|Not a new #1, but DC wanted you to think it was. Cover to Firestorm #14 by Matt Haley.|
Citing having to devote increasing attention to new projects, writer Dan Jolley announced his leave from Firestorm in January 2005. He stated he was excited with what he would have been writing in the series' second year, but had to leave the book in editor Steve Wacker's capable hands. Soon after that announcement came another series of articles heralding the arrival of former DC/Vertigo and Marvel Knights editor Stuart Moore as the new writer, effective with June's issue #14. In interviews, he emphasized that Jason Rusch would remain the book's protagonist, and that he would delve into the character's more scientific aspects, making him a student at Lowrance University and giving him a job at STAR Labs, as well as introducing a new villain called the Pionic Man in his second issue. Here, although Jason doesn't have to merge with another person to become Firestorm, he can when he needs, fusing with a scientist to help him defeat the aforementioned villain. Then, there's this matter of some type of spirit at the fringes of the galaxy speaking of "Firestorm" and "Ronald." Hmm...
Over the next few months Moore continued the mystery of who sent the Pionic Man against Firestorm and he introduced Gehenna, an girl artificially aged to adulthood who'd become a major factor in Jason Rusch's life to date. The series was hit by crossovers with DC miniseries Villains United and The OMAC Project before the big crossover event of 2006, Infinite Crisis, hit. During this arc, the mysterious space entity stood revealed as Martin Stein, the Fire Elemental version of Firestorm, which made me stand up and cheer. (Take that, Dan Jolley!)
|The league of extraordinary Firestorms? Jamal Igle conjures Uncanny X-Men #136.|
"Building a Better Firestorm" easily ranks among my top five stories featuring the character; unfortunately, Firestorm himself escaped back to Infinite Crisis for its remaining three issues without anyone ever really exploring the new dynamic. The most worthwhile thing we learned about Firestorm in that event miniseries was an interesting echo of pre-Crisis on Infinite Earths continuity, where there were often different versions of mainstay DC characters across multiple alternate realities (Earth-2, Earth-S, Earth-Prime). Fittingly, writer Geoff Johns revealed that in the pre-Crisis multiverse, Jason Rusch would have been the Firestorm of Earth-8, alongside that Earth's Green Lantern, Kyle Rayner. (Of course, the Earths were all combined into one in the aforementioned Crisis series.) Then, all series in the DC line jumped forward with the "One Year Later" event, and the status quo shifted yet again.
|Brian Stelfreeze brings Firestorm's covers to life.|
"In My Father's House," this Firestorm incarnation's final major arc, took all of what Moore had been planning from his first issue and drove the overall storyline to a grand climax. Looking back, it's likely that the writer had an inkling that this arc would be his last, as it ties up the main arc so neatly while allowing just a few nuggets out there to transition to whatever subsequent writer that might pick them up. Yes, the story featured the merger I wanted, and it was used superbly in a way that screams "more!" but there was so much else to recommend "In My Father's House" to longtime Firestorm fans, like the return of Mikhail Denisovitch Arkadin as Pozhar, transformed this time as result of a nuclear accident in Russia. Thankfully, Mikhail seemed to have spent quite a bit of time studying English since his last appearance! But the nods to older Firestorm stories didn't stop there, because this five-part arc functioned as a direct sequel to the first mega-arc in The Fury of Firestorm #14-18 & Annual #1, featuring the return of Hewitt Industries.
If you'll remember from my fourth "Storm Warning" entry, Henry Hewitt developed a plan to turn himself into a nuclear engine of power similar to Firestorm, first experimenting on Lorraine Reilly and turning her into Firehawk before he himself became Tokamak. Hewitt apparently died in that earlier story, but in fact he was able to survive, and began a series of cloning experiments. He "merged" Firestorm-style with one of those clones, becoming his own son, "Victor Hewitt." He raised another of his clones, Gehenna, as his own daughter, while employing other clones as "Dollies," his footsoldiers. His aim this time was simple: to use his strategically-placed Dollies to create an unparalleled, worldwide nuclear disaster to teach humanity the error of their ways, while at the same time giving himself incredible power. The final battle included all of the major players in Moore's stories to date--Jason, Martin, Lorraine, Pozhar, Gehenna, the Pionic Man, Tokamak and the Pupil--and concluded when Jason used his abilities to fission Hewitt from his cloned "son's" body. Before his weak body passed, Hewitt confided a secret to Firestorm: that he knew why Firestorm existed, and after he died Jason never would.
|Firestorm faces Tokamak, in Moore & Igle's finale. Cover by Brian Stelfreeze.|
The downward spiral continued in McDuffie's Justice League of America, where the bad sadly outnumbered the good. While it was a good idea for Batman to draft the new Firestorm into the League, and a pleasant enough idea to have the new Firestorm face the Shadow Thief, the villain who "killed" Ron Raymond, the series underscores the problem of featuring the character in a team lineup. Firestorm is already a "team" unto himself, and other heroes can't really "see" the other person he's bonded to, so it makes his own internal dynamic difficult to present when there are seventeen other characters to deal with. From what I've seen in Justice League of America: The Injustice League (the only collection I own featuring Firestorm in the League), we don't even know who is merged with Firestorm! (However, if I had to guess, I'd say it's Gehenna...anyone wanna confirm?)
Similar to the era that preceded it, DC's recasting of Jason Rusch as Firestorm had its share of problems. The best stories came up when embracing the character's rich history, like the brief return of Ron Raymond during Jolley's run, and especially the return of Martin Stein during Moore's. Unfortunately, DC showed tremendous aversion to actually using Stein once he returned, giving him next to no part in Firestorm's involvement with 52 (the less said, the better) and only really giving us one good storyline with him as part of Firestorm before taking him away again for Countdown. The Professor is truly my favorite character in the Firestorm mythos, so the book was at its best when he was involved and the quality fell precipitously when he wasn't. On the plus side, Jason Rusch, whom I never really liked under Jolley, matured and developed tremendously under Moore, who fleshed out his family life and gave the character a relatable quality he previously lacked. And the interplay with both Stein and Lorraine was always solid. Stuart Moore and Jamal Igle should particularly be praised for their nineteen issues (excepting the fill-in here and there). I've met Jamal at Pittsburgh Comicon and told him so--but sadly, I didn't get to say hello to Stuart Moore last year at New York Comic Con. (Maybe next year?) When Firestorm was good, it was really good, and became a must-read, top-of-the-weekly-pile event.
|To date, the only Firestorm graphic novel collection. Ever.|
And that's a terrific cue for an exit.
Next: In Brightest Day, In Blackest Night. (No, Green Lantern's not taking over!) The finale!