Ronnie Raymond is Firestorm. And Jason Rusch is Firestorm. And together they’re Fury.
Oh dear. One of my favourite concepts in comics – kid with crappy home and school life becomes a colourful, fun superhero- is blown apart as instead of one likeable Firestorm, we get two idiot ones.
First there’s Jason Rusch, whose prejudices about high school athletes get him into an argument with football hero Ronnie Raymond. Ronnie isn’t quite as obnoxious – Jason reckons he needs his social consciousness raising – but he doesn’t half rise to Jason’s bait.
When a terrorist attack on their school leads Jason to grab a ‘magnetic bottle’ entrusted to him by the late Dr Martin Stein, and both become versions of Firestorm, Ronnie becomes a regular Mr Angry, hitting out at Jason. And that’s when they combine into the massive creature, Fury, who talks like a goon in a bad Forties gangster movie.
The terrorists, meanwhile, are left alone at the school, and decide to blow it up …
Now there’s a cliffhanger I won’t be back to see resolved. All the charm of previous Firestorm series, whether Ronnie’s original or Jason’s later one, is dumped by a comic wearing its ‘edginess’ on its sleeve. Terrorists cut a man’s throat in front of his family before blasting them too; torture, and likely stab to death, a scientist; fill a school guard full of holes; murder the football coach; slaughter one of Ronnie’s team-mates. The shootings we see, the throat slashing is off-panel, but the father is shown in silhouette, bright red blood streaming.
The comic is rated T for teens, and maybe kids raised on shoot-’em-up computer games love this kind of thing. Me. not so much. The bad guys run riot through this comic and while they’ll no doubt all get their comeuppance – one is hurt by the Firestorm transformations and may well become a new Killer Frost – by then, plenty of innocents are dead. I’m pretty much OK with bad guys meeting a sticky end, and heroes dying heroically, but I can’t stand ordinary folk being dragged into situations and murdered, just to show how bad the bad guys are.
The gang leader is one Cliff Carmichael, whom longtime fans will recall was originally Ronnie Raymond’s nemesis, the school bully who, in a flash of originality on the part of Firestorm creators Gerry Conway and Al Milgrom, wore glasses. He didn’t need to kill folk to be scary – he had muttonchops. And he later became the Thinker in Suicide Squad.
As for the ‘can a black guy and a white guy get along for the greater good?’ angle, it feels forced, as if someone had just seen The Defiant Ones for the first time and decided to try the concept as a superhero.
In terms of this being a reimagining of the Firestorm concept for DC’s New 52 Initiative, I’m confused. Martin Stein, originally one half of the Firestorm matrix, is supposedly dead by the time this comic begins. On a screen in a Mysterious Evil Lady’s office we see images of other Firestorms, meaning the hero has certainly been around previously. So given that this isn’t a reinvention from Day One, why not simply have Ronnie and Jason continue on from the end of the recent Brightest Day series? I suppose there’s no rule book to say a jumping-on point has to be a total new beginning, but to my mind a fresh start would make most sense.
The book is co-plotted by Ethan Van Sciver, who’s a very good penciller. His partner is Gail Simone, who also does the script and wrote the excellent, just-cancelled Secret Six. That book had plenty of twisted moments, but they were always criminal on criminal. The best moments in this book show Jason and Ronnie having supper with their respected single parents, their school personas put away for the night. Otherwise, this is page after page of unpleasant people yelling, bitching and killing.
They’re all very nicely drawn by Yildiray Cinar, though. There’s an appealing naturalism to the school scenes, a banal horror around the murders and an intensity after Jason sparks the Firestorm transformation with one magic word. The designs of the three new Firestorms, likely the work of DC’s Costume Committee, are less appealing, being unattractive variations on the glorious Milgrom original. They look their best on Van Sciver’s cover, but they’re still not great.
This was one of the new DC titles I was most looking forward to, but it’s turned out to be one of the biggest disappointments. Instead of Firestorm as a meeting of minds, it’s a meeting of asses.