Firestorm was always an odd sort of hero for me because as powerful as his abilities were, what made the character interesting was the fact he was a physical manifestation of dichotomy. The first Firestorm was a fusion of the young Ronnie Raymond and the old Dr. Martin Stein. Youthful creativity combined with experienced wisdom proved a great strength, but also a weakness in colliding youth’s rebellious nature with the elder’s need to conform. Firestorm was a character brought together only to be torn asunder and back again. This type of character is tasked with the difficult challenge of arcing simultaneous development of two separate individuals in addition to their combined identity as “The Nuclear Man.” This led to some inconsistent storytelling, and although he was extremely powerful, Firestorm was incapable of graduating to the head of DC’s AAA roster.
As we fast forward to the New 52’s “The Fury of Firestorm: The Nuclear Men,” Gail Simone’s vision for the revamped Firestorm coalesces with the most recent manifestation: the combination of two youths at odds with race, class, intelligence and lifestyle: Ronnie Raymond and Jason Rusch. Simone’s answer to the combined nature of Firestorm’s persona is apparently to keep them as separate Firestorms, independent of each other and equally powerful. This obviously makes it easier for the individuals to grow on their own timelines, but completely evaporates the “need” for them to work together despite their massive differences. The cover art by Van Sciver is all too revealing of the nature of this new Firestorm as even separate Firestorms can still combine to form an even more powerful entity, but when they do, they lose all individuality – so think Potara Earrings or Fusion Dance from DBZ. It remains to be seen if this “separate, but equal” and “combined, yet negated” aspect of Firestorm’s character will pay off with some good old fashioned storytelling, but I know I’m pretty confused just outlining the basics and I haven’t even gotten to the story yet.
As for that story, wow, talk about leading with some vicious antagonists and some appalling atrocities to cement them as the worst kind of scum and villainy. I realize the New 52 is going for “edgy,” but the first couple of pages are pretty shocking, and that’s exactly where Firestorm’s story needs to go in order to be more interesting and perhaps cover up any continuity issues that result from the complex nature of his character. Unfortunately, when the villain’s story contrasts with the introduction of Ronnie, Jason and their instant disdain for each other, it simply does not impact with the same level of poignancy, because at the end of the day, their hate is based off of the superficial, and they come off as squabbling children. The violence factor takes an additional step up once the villains search Ronnie and Jason’s high school looking for the final Firestorm Matrix (oh yeah, I guess there’s a lot more than 2 out there, somehow).
Firestorm #1 is not the best of the New 52 that I have read, but it is easily the most involved. There are so many layers of plot and subplot, point and counter point that it’s an awful lot to digest in one read. I highly recommend this issue to those who desire provocative context in addition to the subtext of the fictional stories they read. A complex character is great, but requires resolute dedication on the part of the writer to maintain a high attention to continuity and balance with all aspects of that character. I still see plenty of potential pitfalls in Firestorm’s future from overindulgence in Star Trek jargon to an extremely erratic plot evolution, but so far so good for the nuclear men and their hot tempers.