A while ago, when I thought I was going to write more reviews in one sitting than I had time for, I started the paragraph below regarding the new Firestorm title. It’s remained unpublished until now:
“I’d have to say that so far The Fury of Firestorm is the title I’ll most likely pick up the second issue of out of DC’s recent releaseorama. Moreover, with all the discussions of race amidst the grinding of the New 52 hype machine, this promises to be a comic with relative subtle social consciousness that I’d like most to discuss in the future with Team WGI (Don Conley hadn’t read it yet and only mentioned that he hoped they’d have changed the sleeves on the costume once and for all).”
I owe Don an apology for an argument I didn’t even put forward. What was I thinking?!? Well, let’s get into what I was hoping for.
When reading about author treatments before the New 52 titles were released, I think most of the proposal drafts or rejections I read about online from the various news and gossip sites were about Firestorm. Not too surprising. The idea of Peter Parker as average kid (Ronnie Raymond) fighting crime with his teacher (Professor Martin Stein) was decided to be stale after a while, so the character went through the first of many revamps in the late eighties and hasn’t stopped since. No matter how many revamps or additional characters are added, Firestorm has stayed kind of a mess for decades, to be honest.
And so, having re-re-reimagined our hero, Gail Simone and Ethan Van Sciver took elements from all the revamps (Jason Rusch, multiple Firestorms, Stein out of the picture, and even some of the political elements from John Ostrander’s run). They also might have taken a page from the “Brave and The Bold” cartoon’s version of the hero with Rusch and Ronnie Raymond reluctantly working together, promising to have a rocky relationship similar to Marvel’s early depictions of their characters whenever they worked together or fought (often doing both). Or think of Christopher Priest’s best work on Black Panther and Quantum and Woody if you’re looking for a reference that’s slightly more up to date. And by the way, all those examples were better than what I’ve read over the last six months.
The plotting, scripting, and characterization from issue #2 on have been a mess, though there were signs of this even in the first issue that you could have just attributed to Simone and Sciver finding their collective voice. It turns out that they have just about dumped everything from the prior books into this one, going from revelation to revelation so quickly that it feels like one of those indie books from the 80’s 90’s that figured they were going to get cancelled, so they might as well plow through everything they want to say.
We start at issue #1 with Raymond and Rusch arguing with each other as the government closes in on Rusch, a genius student who was selected by the now deceased Dr. Stein to take part in safeguarding the Firestorm Protocol (infinite power in a “magnetic bottle or whatever), which he does by hiding it in his school locker. Yeah the weak points were early on like I said, and they haven’t been improved on yet. There are apparently government agents, or agents of a rogue government fraction, or some group or other , after the formula/genie in a bottle/whatever. Rusch apparently knows how to use it and become Firestorm, which he does for the first time when terrorists are killing everyone in the school.
Why he didn’t give himself the power sooner is anyone’s guess, besides the fact that if he hadn’t waited till now, he couldn’t have transformed Raymond, who was right next to him, even though several others didn’t transform and one got turned into Killer Frost, and are you frustrated yet?
And then Rusch and Raymond fight each other and whenever they do this, they turn into the Hulk-like character Fury. This was clever, given the title, and I was curious at first. It’s six issues now, however, and we have no idea why they can do this or what Fury is. At this point, if the writers aren’t interested in telling us or even dropping a hint, then why should I care?
From issues #2 to #6, the two Firestorms flee the school, have their parents turned over to this alleged national security group, take on a laughing group of soldiers called the (*urp*) Hyenas, are told that Professor Stein was a terrorist, get their friend shot, somehow take on another nuclear menace without killing said friend or anyone else with fallout, confront the organization who kidnapped their families, end up working for the very shadowy organization, and in their first mission for said organization, fail to take down another Firestorm before an entire stadium is destroyed.
I could end the review with the word balloon above, but let me go on a little more.
Whoever the woman is in charge of everything, she’s written (inadvertently or not) to be really, really bad at it. She wants the Firestorm power for her organization, so she has operatives kill civilians, kidnaps Raymond and Rusch’s family, sends operatives after them, looses a radioactive agent who happens to be her husband, which leads to a moment where you might sympathize with the character. That goes out the window when she starts staying things along the line of “Whoever said possessing the power to destroy the world several times over was dumb.” She then frees the family, apparently lies and offers them a job (which they buy and accept, more on that later) and somehow thinks it’s a wonderful idea to play with nuclear fire by sending the superkids untrained and unprepared to fail to stop a rougue Firestorm from blowing up the stadium I mentioned above. You remember that, right?
Okay, you’re up to speed.
At the core, the problem with the series is bad writing. I blame less Simone and Van Sciver and more editorial for kicking Simone off the book and blowing an opportunity to have the two writers work together and make the rivalry dialogue between Raymond and Rusch (I’m steeling R&R for a band name when I’m done writing this) work beyond the first issue.
Then we get a scene in issue #5 of people in the doomed stadium thinking the terrorists with guns are part of the concert (I don’t know whose political sensibilities are on display here, but I think that’s an insult to the post 9/11 world, National Security and one’s intelligence whether you’re left or right wing in thought).
The dialogue between Rusch and Raymond had early potential, especially with the viewpoints of the writers working together. Though I’m not sure who was writing/plotting what, Simone has presented a liberal point of view in columns, Van Sciver is conservative and came from a poor background. Call me stupid, but I felt there was potential for more life and heart beyond the first issue’s pages.
Instead, in issue #2, we get a weird monologue from Raymond about fearing nuclear holocaust and emergency broadcast tests as a kid (is this in the 80’s?) and throughout the rest of the issues is contrived dialogue used with the singular purpose of keeping the two main Firestorm characters at each others throats beyond realistic limits as we plod through a story that attempts political intrigue that is impossible for the reader to feel, especially when your main characters activate their powers in a way reminiscent of TV’s The Wonder Twins.
I mourn the book’s lost potential. To me, it was there for a minute, but it seems lost. Did DC mess around with this book too much? Will new writer (scripter?) Joe Harris add anything, or is it going to remain a mess? On a last note of hope, I have to admit that the only constant through the past six issues has been the artwork, both Van Sciver’s covers and the interior art of Yildiray Cinar, both of which I like. Mainstream aficionados will love that Van Sciver will be doing interiors in future issues. I just don’t know if that’s going to help me stay with a book that looks like it’s already ready for another revamp that doesn’t work.