Storm Warning 6: From the Ashes...The Firestorm of Earth-8!

Hi, heroes!

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.
Well, actually the death would occur in Identity Crisis #5 (December 2004), when a group of super-heroes including Firestorm, Shazam, Vixen, and Shining Knight were on the trail of the sinister Shadow Thief. The villain used the Shining Knight's mystical sword to pierce Firestorm's body, triggering the equivalent of a nuclear core breach that led to a tremendous explosion. Of course, several months before creators Brad Meltzer and Rags Morales revealed this event, another pair of creators, writer Dan Jolley and artist ChrisCross, combined their talents for the newest Firestorm #1 (July 2004), telling the tale of Jason Rusch, a African-American teen in Detroit who mysteriously obtained the power of Firestorm during an errand for a local thug. It was only in the series' sixth issue that the connection was explained, that the explosion released the "Firestorm Matrix" which then found a new host in Jason.

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.
After the first seven issues, I'm not sure whether there was an outcry by fandom to return to aspects of the original Firestorm, or if Jolley already planned to address specific plot elements.  The eighth issue by Jolley and new artist Jamal Igle was a quantum leap forward from the previous issue, with the reintroduction of original now-and-then cast member Lorraine Reilly, the original Firestorm's ex-paramour Firehawk. The narrative would expand to include Louise Lincoln, the second Killer Frost, whom Jason would modify with his restructuring power in an attempt to cure what he only saw as a sick human woman. Her powers returned and enhanced, she nearly defeated Jason, who had to let his partner of the moment go or else face killing him. When Lorraine caught up with him again, he decided to merge with her, to her shock and dismay. When the Matrix absorbed her, it triggered a tremendous explosion. Her own superpowers, having been triggered by a similar situation as had birthed Firestorm, supercharged the Matrix and returned Ron Raymond as Firestorm, with both Lorraine and Jason "on the inside."

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.
The six-part storyline I can call "The Return of Ronnie Raymond" in issues #8-13 captured the essence of what made the original series so much fun, heaping on original supporting cast members and original villains. By re-introducing the original Firestorm, Jolley and Igle showcased what was so special about him, contrasting both his abilities and his very character with the "new guy" Jason. Yes, it felt like the last lap before truly saying farewell, but if this were the way Ron Raymond were going to go out, well, there were much worse ways to go! Jason defeated Killer Frost by restructuring her body back to what it was before, upsetting Ron but insisting he didn't have much of a choice. They discovered Firehawk destabilized the Matrix and had to fission, after which Jason still found Ron in his head.

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.
More than we knew!

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.
It was wonderful to see Stuart Moore appreciated the rich history of the character, and events spinning out of Infinite Crisis #4 enabled the Professor to be re-integrated into the Firestorm Matrix, partnering with Jason as he'd done with Ron years earlier. In the two-part milestone "Building a Better Firestorm," spanning Firestorm #21-22, Firestorm had been effectively destroyed, and it was only due to the intervention of Stein that Jason did not perish with his partner and friend Mick. The storyline directly addressed Stein's whereabouts in recent years and presented an even greater possible teacher-student relationship between Stein and Jason than the one between Ron and Jason several issues previous. Jason implored Stein to join him, and together they rebuilt Firestorm from the ground up. Moore may have gone a little exposition-heavy, but he hit all the right notes, appealing to old and new Firestorm fans (including an homage that directly conjures the Ron Raymond-Martin Stein days of yesteryear) all the while paving the way for something new.

"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.
One year after the end of Infinite Crisis, Jason Rusch was bonded with Lorraine Reilly again, but this time, thanks to the "ideal merge" with Stein having effectively rewritten the rules, the duo couldn't physically separate by more than a mile without causing an immense explosion. Reilly was now a U.S. Senator, taking over the same district as her father. Jason had transferred from Lowrance to Columbus University in New York, where Stein was now a professor of physics. Prior to Firestorm #23, the first issue of the new era, Prof. Stein was kidnapped by persons unknown, so the first arc through #27 became a search for Stein. Jason and Lorraine found that he had been kidnapped by the Pupil, who was intent on discovering as much as he could about Firestorm. They freed Stein and defeated the Pupil, after which the imperfect merger was negated. Finally--finally--the path was clear, and the next issue, #28, would feature the new Jason Rusch-Martin Stein merger. And another new Firestorm.

"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.
Moore and Igle's final issue, #32, served as an epilogue with Jason and Martin dealing with dire weather-related phenomena caused by their having transmuted organic matter in the previous issue. It's a nice coda to the series, with resolutions among the major cast members. It still isn't clear whether the secret of Firestorm's creation was a plot point for a future arc if Moore had continued to write the book, or if it was mere setup for the then-upcoming Countdown to Final Crisis series, in which Firestorm would play a role. The late Dwayne McDuffie took over for Moore on the final three issues, taking Firestorm wholly out of his element and setting him against Darkseid's legions because the Firestorm entity contained one-fourth of "The Life Equation," which Darkseid saw as a threat to his own Anti-Life Equation. In the final issue, #35, Darkseid separated the Professor from Jason, and took him back to Apokolips. Then, Jason fused with Gehenna and the two of them left in pursuit. It was a hasty, contrived exit that led to Firestorm's involvement in Countdown, in which his involvement was nigh-incomprehensible, with Desaad stealing his power.

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.
Unfortunately, DC never saw fit to release much of the series in graphic novel collections--only issues #23-27 are in a collection, Firestorm the Nuclear Man: Reborn. A few issues more have popped up during Brightest Day, albeit in 100-page collections alongside other heroes, but it's highly unlikely we'll ever see the collections this series truly deserves--especially in light of where DC now seems intent on taking the character.

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!



  1. Don't be too hard on Dan Jolley. Dan DiDio was the driving force behind most of the decisions on the title while Dan was onboard.

  2. Very true! Dan DiDio is all about "diversity" isn't he? Ryan Choi Atom, Jamie Reyes Blue Beetle, Jason Rusch Firestorm...gotta kill all the old generation to make way for the new guys! *rme*


  3. Gary - As always, FANTASTIC write-up! Like you, the Professor is probably my favorite Firestorm character.

    To answer your question about Gehenna, yes she was the silent merged partner in the Dwayne McDuffie JLA issues. During that era she was used best in an anthology special (80-page giant, maybe?) where Firestorm and Green Arrow were thrown back in time and met Mrs. Frankenstein. Crazy stuff, but good usage of Gehenna.

    Again, nice job!

    The Irredeemable Shag


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