Fans were intrigued to see a high-profile Firestorm book as part of last year’s DC relaunch. They were even more pleased to see that he was getting an a-list creative team. DC had pegged Gail Simone to co-write the book with superstar Ethan Van Sciver, and promising artist Yildiray Cinar would handle the art chores. Right before the New 52 kicked off, Firestorm had played a major role in Brightest Day, which ended with the character about to go nuclear and destroy reality. This cliffhanger was never to be resolved as Flashpoint came along shortly afterwards and rebooted the DCU. Brightest Day, along with memorable appearances on Cartoon Network’s Batman: The Brave and the Bold, made Firestorm a hot (ahem…sorry) character. Some fans liked the original Firestorm, Ronnie Raymond, while others preferred the newcomer, Jason Rusch. Simone and Van Sciver decided to split the difference and amalgamate both characters into the new Firestorm, just as the Brave and the Bold animated series had.
Fan interest, momentum, and a hot creative team were all on Firestorm’s side, but with May’s Fury of Firestorm #20 the book is getting the axe. So what went wrong? Well, for starters, Firestorm was plagued by reported creator conflicts. One can never be sure how much “news” reported in the nerdosphere is accurate, but the usually unquestionable work ethic of Gail Simone would hint at the fact that a woman who usually lasts years on a book would not leave without some kind of creative drama with the DC higher-ups. From the very beginning, the book seemed directionless. Instead of being filled with a sense of humor and wonder traditionally associated with the character, there were heavy handed themes of imminent Armageddon.
Firestorm was presented as a monstrous entity, and Jason and Ronnie seemed to be stereotypical shadows of their former characters. Ronnie was too much of an insensitive jock, while Jason was the unlikable brain. These were character types, not true characters. They each transformed into a different version of Firestorm, robbing the character of one of his most enduring traits. It was fun to watch the hero’s interactions in his own mind, whether it was the original combo of Ronnie and Martin Stein, or Ronnie and Jason. Now, the book was more about the horrible power of nuclear energy. Firestorm had to go up against those that would attempt to control him. Like most of the other failed New 52 books, there was a shadowy government agency and dudes in armor running around, and it was all instantly forgettable. Simone has made her reputation on rich, complex characterizations, so the lifelessness of Firestorm and his supporting cast was an unpleasant surprise. Was it editorial interference that made these characters dull and uninspired? Simone’s quick exit would point to this being a distinct possibility.
With Simone gone, Joe Harris stepped in to co-write, but it seemed to be too late. Simone’s fans went with her (as they are known to do…right, Bat-editors?) and the book plunged to the lower end of the sales chart. Those that stayed were treated to a pretty joyless affair, as Jason and Ronnie struggled with their powers and each other, and had to fight new Firestorms. There was no time for human moments, just teeth clenching, melodrama, and explosions. “Oh, no a Firestorm. It’s a monster. WE MUST STOP IT!” over and over and over. It appeared that DC felt that “modern” meant tragic, as Firestorm was a hero constantly fearful of himself. There was no fun. Even some of DC’s horror titles had a sense of fun and adventure. Animal Man had some laughs, as did Frankenstein, but not Firestorm, a hero who, despite his immense powers, was introduced with a sense of whimsy. DC didn’t take into account how earlier incarnations of Firestorm that attempted to strip the character of its fun side also died on the vine. Think back to the melodramatic Russian Firestorm of the late ‘80s or the more serious Jason Rucsh stories of the early 2000s. Those books died for a reason, and the lessons of those cancelations weren’t learned.
All that changed when Dan Jurgens came on board with Fury of Firestorm #13. Jurgens crafted tales that allowed for Jason and Ronnie to interact in a humorous fashion after the characters were again merged. Stories now were about Ronnie trying to win his homecoming game while his school was being threatened by villains instead of readers being forced to watch the formerly fun heroes transformed into Fury, a nuclear nightmare. The art was reminiscent of the days when Firestorm was introduced. It was a nice read and a breath of fresh air from the hysterical characterization of previous issues.
Yet, it went against DC’s New 52 mission statement which is about (in theory) creating postmodern ideas of heroism and super-hero adventure. Firestorm now looked almost identical to the character Gerry Conway created in the 70s, and his adventures now seemed readable but inconsequential, a pastiche of Silver Age simplicity that existed side-by-side with the modern titans of the New 52. While Jurgens’ Firestorm was a well-meaning attempt to find the character’s roots, it seemed out of place, and failed to revive fan interest.
DC needed to get back to what made Firestorm work in the first place instead of trying to create a new purpose for a character that is now almost 40 years old. Internal conflicts and humor are built into the character, and are what made him so appealing. Geoff Johns was sending the character in the right direction but was derailed by the reboot, and Gail Simone was hamstrung by editorial interference and her immediate departure all but killed the book. DC never did anything to try and get Fury of Firestorm into a place where people would be curious about the changes to the character. When they clumsily reverted Firestorm back to something resembling his original form, it was out of place and too late.
One positive is that DC seems determined to find a place for the characters that get the axe. Maybe this time, a creator will be able to work on the character without being hampered by editorial meddling. Only then will Firestorm shine again.