DC’s Firestorm…There and Back Again.

I guess this incarnation, from DC's "Future's End" is more of a Nuclear Person, not so much a Nuclear Man.

I guess this incarnation, from DC’s “Future’s End” is more of a Nuclear Person, not so much a Nuclear Man.

On the Flash television show, one of the season’s main plotlines, the creation of the DC Comics character called Firestorm, the Nuclear man, just came to a very satisfying close. Like most of the show, the whole thing was clever and satisfying, and pretty much recreated the origin of Firestorm as it was originally presented. The character has had a huge number of changes, which is what the title of the post is about. I mean…if you are going to do something big on television like that…shouldn’t your other media be aligned to support it? Isn’t that just good common sense?

So…quick recap, for those that don’t read comics, or watch TV. Firestorm is a nuclear-powered super-hero with the ability to transmute elements. The Firestorm Matrix is a composite of multiple people bonded together, originally college student Ronnie Raymond controlling the body and professor Martin Stein giving direction as an additional consciousness. The TV show pretty much did that as their “go to” plot. Ronnie is an athletic engineer, Martin is a stodgy elder scientist…and the characters play like the “Odd Couple,” except they share a body, not an apartment. They can separate back into their own bodies, but pretty much have to fuse together into Firestorm once in a while to stay stable.

So…the comic hasn’t been like that for a long time. For a LONG time. Part of the reason I wanted to do a post about it was because I really liked the TV show’s return to core concepts that I thoroughly enjoyed. Another reason that I wanted to write about Firestorm was that I had to take Wednesday off from school, and imagine that in my absence, it was like a slow motion nuclear accident happening.

Another part is…it’s kind of part of Black History Month. some years back, DC comics made sweeping changes, introducing more diverse characters for some of their less well known heroes. We got a Latino Blue Beetle, a Jewish Lesbian Batwoman, and an African American Firestorm. Really.

Jason Rusch took over the identity after the death of Raymond during Identity Crisis, (the identity being housed in the nuclear powered Firestorm matrix) and combines with several partners including Mick Wong and his girlfriend Gehenna. That’s pretty important, because Jason Rusch is the same Firestorm that was recently (Dec. 3rd issue of Future’s End) very upset to have been combined with a woman in the Firestorm Form. That’s what I’m referencing above, with the art, in an abridged version of their internal conversation.

The Jason Rusch Firestorm as he initially appeared.

The Jason Rusch Firestorm as he initially appeared.

After the New 52, Jason and Ronnie were separate Firestorms, who could combine into a larger Firestorm. One being a jock, the other a geek, there was an attempt to preserve the “Odd Couple” feeling…but it didn’t function very well. The storytelling wasn’t that well conceived, and the plotline less than great. Lame antagonists, coupled with unlikeable characterization, and the book was cancelled. Not that even THAT concept doesn’t bear much resemblance to what’s on TV now.

Post New 52 Jason Rusch Firestorm.  He likes Yellow...a lot.

Post New 52 Jason Rusch Firestorm. He likes Yellow…a lot.

So yeah, that happened. New 52 Future’s End is a possible future of the current DC universe. In it, a number of hard to understand things happen, but in that continuity, Jason is STILL Firestorm. He fuses with Madison Payne, and it is her body that bursts into flames, like Ronnie’s does with Professor Stein. Jason is the “wise advisor” inside her head…explaining the image that I drew.

It’s the old model all the way. Madison doesn’t know the science in order to be Firestorm, but is in the “driver’s seat.” The expert is a disembodied passenger. Everything that made the first series work, and get adapted to TV….except none of it looks the same. That’s a bad, unfocused marketing call by DC/Warner Bros.

Madison/Jason Firestorm learning to fly.

Madison/Jason Firestorm learning to fly.

A charming page where the inexperienced new Firestorm has turned a cement truck into a teddy bear using nuclear transmutation.  Funny, and clever.

A charming page where the inexperienced new Firestorm has turned a cement truck into a teddy bear using nuclear transmutation. Funny, and clever.

Right? Wasn’t that neat?

You also see why this really couldn’t be a “Black History” month post. Sometimes Firestorm is African American, or part of him is, or heck, part of HER is.

I was kind of amazed at the kind of homophobic internal monologue for the combined Madison/Jason. If Jason can hear her thoughts, and she is thinking “straight girl” thoughts, why is he so freaked out? I mean…that’s what he would expect, right? The problem of not being able to separate back to their original forms (also something the TV show did) is stressful for losing your own identity. Jason has been Firestorm long enough to know he won’t lose his gender or sexual identity to the composite.

Also…if you scroll up…he used to combine with his girlfriend. We can presume that she’s a straight girl…being his girlfriend and all. That wasn’t an issue then….and comics haven’t gotten that much “edgier” or topical since.

Is the new Firestorm transgender? Or just a severe, nuclear powered Multiple Personality Disorder with gender dysphoria? These are all clinical psychology questions that I want to know about.

I’m not being funny, either. Well, a bit, sure. The thing is, I have a tiny percentage of students this year that are actively struggling with their gender and/or sexual identities (depends on the case). It would be very cool if there were an A-list hero, or B-list hero, that could be shown grappling with the same things. Heck, maybe that’s what DC comics was trying to do with the dialogue I have been taking shots at. I’d like to think that’s the case, although I know I’m being charitable there.

I’d also like to think that there were real supports in place for students that struggle with those issues, but there aren’t. Our school has one courageous teacher who sponsors a club called “the Rainbow Alliance,” which is a safe place where these kinds of things can be talked about, and kids can be “out” if they want. That’s pretty much it.

The black and white of my lead artwork.

The black and white of my lead artwork.

Earlier this week, when I just wanted to comment on how much I liked the classic presentation in the Flash TV series, I drew a DC Comics Presents Team Up cover about it. It shows the original character, in his vaguely Ronald McDonald looking outfit, squaring off against our hero and the Pony Torch at the behest of his nemesis, Killer Frost. Killer Frost has cold powers, and needs heat to continue to survive, so you see how they might be nemeses. This cover has the distinction of being the first time I’ve ever done a digital speech balloon, with digital lettering.

I didn’t like it…so I may not be doing that again. Initially, this was going to be the lead art for the day…but then I drew the color piece, and saw the tangential Black History Month connection, as well as the connection to a couple of my struggling students. Here’s the art:

In early eighties DC Comics Tradition.

In early eighties DC Comics Tradition.

The Pony Torch is also my only reference to Fantastic Four, which shipped this week. Initially, I was going to take some sort of cheap shot at the book, but on reflection, decided against it. As it is, I did it a week ago…very much in line with my beef toward the entire plotline.

So there you go. If DC is hoping to sell me Firestorm merchandise, who can say which iteration of the character it would even be? In the last year alone, they have given me three different options. In the interest of keeping the post short, and focused on the things I wanted to talk about, I left out numerous iterations of the character that have come and gone.

One think that’s positive that most versions of the character have had, since 2004? An educated, scientifically gifted African American young man is usually at least part of Firestorm. The characterization isn’t forced…that’s who he is. As we approach the Dwayne McDuffie Awards this weekend, and I consider many of my students’ ideas on what they “have to be” based on pop culture…maybe that’s essential part of the Firestorm Matrix that can’t be lost.

What do I know? I’m not a nuclear scientist.

Next Issue: Star Trek: The Next Generation! Space Cougars! Friday!


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