Monday, March 10, 2008

Explosive First Issue

March 1978 brought this first issue of Firestorm the Nuclear Man to newstands everywhere. Here, Gerry Conway (listed as both writer and creator...but it's unclear, there's no penciller...did Conway draw as well? Anyone know?) introduces the first new DC superhero we had seen in some years.

Ronnie Raymond is a high school student (tho he and all his peers are drawn to look like adults...hey, it's the end of the Silver Age, after all) who's recently transferred to a new school. Ronnie's more of a jock than an egghead, though still a nice guy...and he's trying to win the attention of Doreen Day. She's already noticed him, though, and was interested enough to check the teacher's seating chart to learn Ronnie's name.

But school smarty Cliff Carmichael is jealous and sets out to make Ronnie look bad, goading him into fighting in the lunch room and trumping all his question-answering in the classroom. That night, Ronnie sees an interview with a protester at a new Hudson nuclear power plant, and decides that taking on the business of activism will show Doreen he's not "some dumb kid."

Of course the protesters are actually bomb-toting terrorists in disguise and Ronnie ends up overpowered and left for dead at the new power plant. He wakes up to find himself near the plant's atomic pile, where he sees the unconscious Professor Martin Stein, the plant's creator, and a very large bomb.

Ronnie is trying to get the bomb out of the plant when it goes off...

...and his life is changed forever, when he and Stein are fused together into a new being, capable of reading and changing the atomic structure of any material. Stein appears in Ronnie's head like the "voice of reason", providing information and guidance, though having been unconscious at the time of the "fusing", Stein is not the dominant personality in their combined make-up.

This first issue shows us the accident and Firestorm's self-discovery of his newly-formed powers and abilities. The new hero fashions a costume for himself with those new powers and is able to stop the terrorists from blowing up another plant. Unbeknowst to him, there's another who was at the site of the blast...who we'll learn more of in future issues.

As this issue ends, Ronnie finds that he can seperate himself and Professor Stein, and he puts the confused Stein into a taxi cab, not yet explaining their new-found relationship.

I always liked Firestorm, possibly because he quickly was welcomed into the Justice League of America, the first new hero to be inducted after I began reading (okay, Zatanna technically became a member after I learned of the League, but in the issues immediately proceeding my regular purchase of the title. more about that another day).

I was particularly sorry when Firestorm was accidentally run through with the Shining Knight's sword during Identity Crisis. I suppose it was the magic nature of the blade which kept Firestorm from transforming it into rubber or gas and saving himself. As a result, Firestorm's containment shell was breached...and he sacrificed himself to prevent his fellow heroes from dying in the resulting atomic blast.

Later, a new Firestorm came on the scene, whom I'm not as familiar with. I'm sure the character is great (an opinion bolstered by how many fans of Ronnie Raymond continue to protest him loud and long on the internet!), but I thought it was a pretty cheap shot on Meltzer's seemed like just one more death in a series that featured a little too much of it and added a whole new level (mindwipes, rapes, secrets and lies) to the shiny JLA age in which Firestorm debuted.

We miss you, Ronnie, but still love those old adventures...and look forward to seeing how you fit into Rip Hunter's plan to repair a damaged timeline.

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