Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Focus on Firestorm: The Fury of Firestorm #1 (1982)

At last, I remove this particular sword of Damocles that has been hovering over my big fat, football shaped head for something like nine months now.  Below is the repeatedly promised second part of my series reviewing all of Firestorm's debut issues.
Up until the early 1980's, when a canceled comic was revived, the original numbering was picked up rather than starting with a new first issue.  This apparently had something to do with postal regulations regarding fees for registering a new publication.  It was cheaper for a publisher to revive an existing publication than to launch a new one.  Thus, when Green Lantern was revived in 1976 after a four year hiatus, it picked up with issue #90.  Blackhawk was revived twice, first for a mere seven issues that began with #244 in '76, then again with #251 in 1982.  When a character was granted a new first issue, the new series was given a slightly different title from the earlier volume.  For example, Teen Titans became The New Teen Titans, Swamp Thing returned in The Saga of the Swamp Thing, and the focus of this post, Firestorm, came back to newsstands in 1982 in The Fury of Firestorm.  This incarnation of Firestorm's title would prove to be the longest lasting to date, enduring to its 100th issue in 1990.
In the first issue's text piece, Firestorm's writer and creator Gerry Conway admits to not being to thrilled about the new title, especially the word "Fury."  He envisioned the Nuclear Man not as an angry hero, but as one who reveled in his powers and enjoyed being a super-hero.  That lighthearted tone is established in the very first scene of the new series, as a tired Firestorm attempts to take a nap a half mile above New York City, only to find that his control over his powers disappears when he's asleep, causing him to plummet comically earthward.
After the somewhat slapstick opening scene, readers are introduced, or re-introduced, as the case may be, to Nobel Prize winning physicist Dr. Martin Stein and Bradley High student Ronnie Raymond, the two men who merge to form Firestorm, as well as Ronnie's girlfriend Doreen Day and his schoolyard nemesis Cliff Carmichael.  From my rather limited reading of Conway's Firestorm, it seems to me that while Ronnie had a stable supporting cast, Professor Stein only ever seemed to have such friends and/or relations as were called for by the story at hand. We also meet two new characters who are to play important roles in the issue's story, Bradley High teacher John Ravenhair, and his great-grandfather, a shaman of the Native American Bison Cult.
Following a brief recap of Firestorm's origin and early adventures for those readers who may have blinked and missed Firestorm's first short-lived series, the story begins in earnest.  While Mr. Ravenhair takes his class on a field trip to the New York Museum of Natural History, great grampa, sensing that he hasn't long left to live, heads to Central Park to perform a ritual apparently meant to pass on his magical buffalo shaman type powers to his great grandson.  The old man's death comes sooner than he expects when he is attacked and killed by muggers before he can complete the ritual.  The unfinished spell transforms John Ravenhair into the super powered menace Black Bison, who runs amuck at the museum.  Pulling Stein out of a meeting, Ronnie initiates the transformation into the nuclear man.  After a brief tussle, Bison escapes, heading ultimately to the residence of Senator Walter Reilly, father of Lorraine Reilly, who will eventually become Firehawk.  Firestorm takes off in pursuit of his erstwhile teacher, but his search comes up empty.
Storywise, this is a solid, if fairly unremarkable, super-hero story, pretty typical of the times.  Conway does a decent job of balancing the demands of longtime fans who stuck with the character during the lean years and those new readers who might have picked up the book just because it was a #1.  He is, after all, a professional.
As opposed to Firestorm's previous debut issue, which suffered from an excess of Al Milgrom, the art by Pat Broderick is the best thing about this comic.  In fact, it will come as no surprise to those who know me well that this issue has my favorite art of all the Firestorm first issues DC has yet put out.  I have been a fan of Broderick's work since I first saw it on, if I remember correctly, a Batman story in Detective Comics back in the late 70's.  Since then, I've marveled at his beautiful work on books such as Captain Atom (which, though there's no indication of it in the credits, I suspect he had a hand in plotting, as the quality dipped pretty sharply pretty much the minute he was off the book), Green Lantern, and Ragman.  Ragman, by the way, was the first book I actually bought specifically because Broderick drew it.  Though, with a story by Keith Giffen and Robert Loren Fleming, I didn't regret the decision. 
You know, the most surprising thing to happen at this year's SPACE show was that I learned that there is at least one person out there who's actually reading these Firestorm posts and looking forward to more.  So, maybe there won't be such a long time before the next one.



    That has to be the bulkiest title of any monthly superhero comic I've ever seen (clunkier than even THE SECOND LIFE OF DOCTOR MIRAGE). No wonder it was cut down to just plain old FIRESTORM by the end of it's run.

    1. All the revivals I mentioned in the opening 'graph eventually underwent title changes. Saga of the Swamp Thing became simply Swamp Thing. The New Teen Titans, on the other hand, got saddled with a longer title, becoming Tales of The New Teen Titans when DC launched the direct sales only companion title, New Teen Titans Volume 2.
      So, its a good thing DC didn't decide to do a second, direct only Firestorm book. In that case, the newsstand version might have become Tales of the Fury of Firestorm The Nuclear Man. Now, that's a mouthful!

  2. Has Gerry Conway ever written a truly furious character? Batman maybe, but Conway's Dark Knight seemed more altruistic than anger-driven. Granted, Spider-Man was driven to the brink of rage several times during Conway's run, paricularly when Gwen Stacy died, but those stories were about Spidey overcoming his emotions and doing the right thing (like NOT beating Green Goblin to a bloody pulp).

    I ask because I know he's one of your favorite superhero scribes and you're read much more of Conway's comics work than I have. Ultimately, if Conway wrote a furious character, we can agree that Firestorm was not the one. Ronnie Raymond was way too light-hearted a fellow for the kind of angsty chest thumping that other superheroes demonstrated during the 80's.

    1. At Marvel in the 70's, Conway wrote at least a few issues of just about all their super-hero series. That includes that green-skinned epitome of fury, The Incredible Hulk.