If there is one comic character that seems perfectly suited for an action figure line, it’s DC Comics’ Firestorm, with his flaming head, flashy costume, atomic-esque bands and dual personas.
While his profile has been considerably raised in recent years thanks to appearances on the Arrow and DC’s Legends Of Tomorrow TV shows, for much of his 40 years of existence, Firestorm The Nuclear Man was more like The Nearly Man instead.
Forty years ago this month, Firestorm made his debut in his own series (Firestorm The Nuclear Man #1), courtesy of co-creators Gerry Conway and Al Milgrom.
Those familiar with the creative team will recognise their Marvel credentials and logically expect that their past successes would help them with their DC creation. However, even they were no match for the “DC Implosion” at the time, which resulted in a company-wide cutback and left poor Firestorm without a title after just five issues.
On paper, the concept of a super hero formed by two contrasting personas – football jock Ronnie Raymond and Nobel Prize-winning physicist Martin Stein – sounds promising.
Alas, Firestorm failed to sizzle despite the various revamps he has been through. Still, the fact that he has lasted 40 years means that the character still has legs.
When Ronnie met Martin
Firestorm was created when an atomic explosion fused Ronnie and Martin together to form a “nuclear being”.
A chance encounter brought the two individuals together – Martin was overseeing an experimental nuclear power plant while Ronnie was with a group of protestors picketing outside the plant.
A twist of fate saw Ronnie and Martin winding up together in a room full of dynamite set to blow the plant sky high!
But instead of killing them, the explosion merges Ronnie and Martin into a single entity, Firestorm, with Ronnie physically in control and Martin providing an “advisory” role.
The Firestorm Matrix
This sort of merger was subsequently dubbed the “Firestorm Matrix” – a combination of two people fused together by a Firestorm-like explosion.
Collectively, this pairing was perfect, effectively proving that two heads are better than one.
The ongoing banter between Ronnie and Martin provided a comic relief element that had been absent from 70s comics.
While the first Firestorm series barely scratched the surface of the character’s potential, George Perez’s rehashing of the Nuclear Man’s origins via back up tales in The Flash (#289-#304) reignited interest in Firestorm.
The man behind Firestorm’s dual identity is Conway, a very big name in the 70s, mainly due to his work on Spider-Man – he is famed for scripting Gwen Stacy’s death and co-creating the Punisher.
It was evident that Conway wanted to replicate the infamous “Parker Luck” in Ronnie, judging by his struggles juggling his studies while fighting crime.
After surviving the DC Implosion, Firestorm’s second series, Fury Of Firestorm The Nuclear Man, was quite an enjoyable read, thanks to the lighthearted story telling, myriad of villains and a sidekick-cum-love interest in Firehawk – the female version of Firestorm.
What made 1980s Firestorm interesting was the proliferation of super villains (Plastique, Black Bison, Typhoon, Tokamak, etc).
With minimal support (guest appearances) from DC’s main characters, Firestorm’s adventures were usually self-contained and focused on key social issues – ranging from teen challenges to street crime, which was probably the vibe that Conway was going for.
His biggest effort to boost Firestorm’s status in the DC universe came in 1980, when the hero was accepted into the Justice League of America in Justice League Of America (vol. 1) #179.
While much has been said of the Ronnie-Martin chemistry, the bond was not without its challenges.
What started off as a mentoring role eventually led to paternalistic ties as Martin gradually exerted his maturity on Ronnie’s impulsive behaviour. Eventually, the drama between the duo became too overused and readers needed a fresh perspective.
There were several attempts at reinventing the Ronnie-Martin-Firestorm trinity, with the first (1987’s Fury Of Firestorm Annual #5) involving the fusion of Russian nuclear superhero Mikhail Arkadin (aka Pozhar) with Ronnie, but controlled by Martin’s disembodied amnesiac mind.
This unholy trinity came during John Ostrander’s notable Firestorm stint (which was unfortunately marred by poor and inconsistent art), where Firestorm attempted to destroy all nuclear weapons belonging to the US and Soviet Union.
Notably, this defiant act of war against the world’s super power nations marked Firestorm’s first major act within the DC universe.
Ostrander later experimented with another Firestorm incarnation, revealing that Firestorm is a “Fire Elemental”, and dumping Martin from the Firestorm equation completely (Firestorm #85, 1989). This Firestorm comprised Ronnie, Mikhail and Svarozhich, a Soviet clone of the previous Firestorm.
The changes also extended to Firestorm’s modus operandi – he concentrated his world-saving exploits on environmental disasters, and spending a lot more time with Sango and the Orishas, Nigeria’s elemental gods.
Eventually, Martin made a comeback to take over Firestorm completely, freeing Ronnie and Mikhail in the process.
With Martin at the helm, Firestorm (both character and publication) went into temporary limbo (for more than a decade) until the next revamp via a new co-host in Jason Rusch.
Rusch to the head
With this new combination, Martin was handed an even harder challenge, as the 17-year-old Jason had a checkered background.
Initially, Jason was the sole occupant of the Firestorm matrix due to Ronnie’s sudden “demise” during the Identity Crisis event. However, his inexperience led to him seek Martin’s return to co-host Firestorm with him.
This partnership brought Firestorm through a few major DC crossover events, including Infinite Crisis, 52, One Year Later, Blackest Night and Brightest Day, all of which, unfortunately, hardly did anything to raise Firestorm’s status.
The New 52
The post-Flashpoint revamp offered a clean slate to Firestorm and focuses on the pairing of Ronnie and Jason, with the former shouldering the more intellectual side of driving Firestorm, which results in the on-off conflicting views.
One interesting development in Firestorm’s powers is his newfound ability to create Kryptonite – which makes him a valuable asset/pawn to those keen on eradicating the Man of Steel.