Monday, 3 October 2011

The Fury of Firestorm, the Nuclear Men #1 review

Ronnie Raymond is Firestorm. And Jason Rusch is Firestorm. And together they're Fury.

Oh dear. One of my favourite concepts in comics - kid with crappy home and school life becomes a colourful, fun superhero- is blown apart as instead of one likeable Firestorm, we get two idiot ones.

First there's Jason Rusch, whose prejudices about high school athletes get him into an argument with football hero Ronnie Raymond. Ronnie isn't quite as obnoxious - Jason reckons he needs his social consciousness raising - but he doesn't half rise to Jason's bait.

When a terrorist attack on their school leads Jason to grab a 'magnetic bottle' entrusted to him by the late Dr Martin Stein, and both become versions of Firestorm, Ronnie becomes a regular Mr Angry, hitting out at Jason. And that's when they combine into the massive creature, Fury, who talks like a goon in a bad Forties gangster movie.

The terrorists, meanwhile, are left alone at the school, and decide to blow it up ...

Now there's a cliffhanger I won't be back to see resolved. All the charm of previous Firestorm series, whether Ronnie's original or Jason's later one, is dumped by a comic wearing its 'edginess' on its sleeve. Terrorists cut a man's throat in front of his family before blasting them too; torture, and likely stab to death, a scientist; fill a school guard full of holes; murder the football coach; slaughter one of Ronnie's team-mates. The shootings we see, the throat slashing is off-panel, but the father is shown in silhouette, bright red blood streaming.

The comic is rated T for teens, and maybe kids raised on shoot-'em-up computer games love this kind of thing. Me. not so much. The bad guys run riot through this comic and while they'll no doubt all get their comeuppance - one is hurt by the Firestorm transformations and may well become a new Killer Frost - by then, plenty of innocents are dead. I'm pretty much OK with bad guys meeting a sticky end, and heroes dying heroically, but I can't stand ordinary folk being dragged into situations and murdered, just to show how bad the bad guys are.

The gang leader is one Cliff Carmichael, whom longtime fans will recall was originally Ronnie Raymond's nemesis, the school bully who, in a flash of originality on the part of Firestorm creators Gerry Conway and Al Milgrom, wore glasses. He didn't need to kill folk to be scary - he had muttonchops. And he later became the Thinker in Suicide Squad.

As for the 'can a black guy and a white guy get along for the greater good?' angle, it feels forced, as if someone had just seen The Defiant Ones for the first time and decided to try the concept as a superhero.

In terms of this being a reimagining of the Firestorm concept for DC's New 52 Initiative, I'm confused. Martin Stein, originally one half of the Firestorm matrix, is supposedly dead by the time this comic begins. On a screen in a Mysterious Evil Lady's office we see images of other Firestorms, meaning the hero has certainly been around previously. So given that this isn't a reinvention from Day One, why not simply have Ronnie and Jason continue on from the end of the recent Brightest Day series? I suppose there's no rule book to say a jumping-on point has to be a total new beginning, but to my mind a fresh start would make most sense.

The book is co-plotted by Ethan Van Sciver, who's a very good penciller. His partner is Gail Simone, who also does the script and wrote the excellent, just-cancelled Secret Six. That book had plenty of twisted moments, but they were always criminal on criminal. The best moments in this book show Jason and Ronnie having supper with their respected single parents, their school personas put away for the night. Otherwise, this is page after page of unpleasant people yelling, bitching and killing.

They're all very nicely drawn by Yildiray Cinar, though. There's an appealing naturalism to the school scenes, a banal horror around the murders and an intensity after Jason sparks the Firestorm transformation with one magic word. The designs of the three new Firestorms, likely the work of DC's Costume Committee,  are less appealing, being unattractive variations on the glorious Milgrom original. They look their best on Van Sciver's cover, but they're still not great.

This was one of the new DC titles I was most looking forward to, but it's turned out to be one of the biggest disappointments. Instead of Firestorm as a meeting of minds, it's a meeting of asses.

17 comments:

  1. Wow, this makes me wonder what's been going on with Gail Simone lately. She used to be excellent at balancing dark and light moments in her stories. But between the ultra-violence in Batgirl, and now this, I don't know.

    Eric

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  2. She's trying, but I think her heart isn't in to it as much as it was in Secret Six.

    Poor Gail, stupid Didio!

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  3. Dale,

    You're probably right about that. But, my goodness, is there an editorial mandate for splattered brains for every T book out there? I never thought of Firestorm as being a grim-n-gritty character.

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  4. While I agree with Martin's assessment of Jason and Ronnie, I have trouble with the complaint about bad guys killing innocents. Sadly, whether in fiction or not, bad guys kill people. Whether it ought to have been shown in such a manner is a separate question but to my mind bad guys can't be blamed for being... well... bad.

    Just me two penn'orth.

    Meantime as it's Gail Simone, I'm willing to give this title the benefit of the doubt and stick with it for a while.

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  5. True Gary, but it's the depiction that's the issue. As famous horror director's favorite theory about that was "less is more." You allude to the act happening or had happened ,as opposed to gratuitous violence.

    After all isn't having to imagine the worst happening a lot better than actually seeing it?

    This book deserves better, and so does the Firestorm character. Here's hoping it doesn't tank...but it might.

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  6. Gary, a lot of this is subjective of course, when we're talking about what should and shouldn't be depicted in comics, and how it should be portrayed. If those same acts of violence occurred in a mature rated book, staring a character known for gritty stories, I would be fine with it. But to attach violent acts to a Firestorm book "feels" wrong to me. Obviously, feelings are not a good barometer for questions of taste, but what else do we have to go on without the CCA, and a DC rating system that seems inadequate at best?

    Eric

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  7. Eric & Dale - I really, really, don't want to come across like some sort of troll here so please don't take offence! :)

    Martin said "I'm pretty much OK with bad guys meeting a sticky end, and heroes dying heroically, but I can't stand ordinary folk being dragged into situations and murdered, just to show how bad the bad guys are." and that's the bit I didn't agree with, not the graphic depiction of the violence which I said was a separate question.

    Ordinary folk are dragged into situations in fiction and they die, sometimes (as Martin suggested) to reinforce how terrible the bad guys are, sometimes to advance a plot point, sometimes simply to evoke a reaction in the reader, and often a combination of these.

    Martin says he doesn't like that while I'm suggesting that from a story point of view ordinary folk are just as fair game as criminals. Bad guys are just that: bad which means that they will, unfortunately, kill people.

    For what it's worth, Dale, I agree that things left to the imagination are always better than what you are shown, particularly when it comes to horror movies. But again, I wasn't commenting on the depiction of the violence in Firestorm, rather Martin's comment about ordinary folk.

    Hope Martin doesn't mind us taking up his comment space! :)

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  8. No problems Gary, comments make me happy. I'd be joining in but am at work, catching up after a rather arduous dental appointment this morning. I get your point of view, and it's very fair. But there's just so much violence against innocents in this book ... I think I failed to mention the family's block getting blown up, too.

    Back later!

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  9. Gary, don't worry about it. You simply have a different opinion, and you have been expressing yourself most respectfully. Nothing wrong with that in my book.

    I'll only add that it seems like the bad guys kill many more innocents then they used to. Modern heroes don't appear to save lives as much as seek vengence on the wicked after the fact. Doesn't seem like a balance of the scales, really. Is there a way to establish the modern villian as a threat without having them kill on panel?

    Eric

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  10. No one in any other place, real or imaginary, than in comic books, does anyone say "Sweet cheeks".

    That alone is sufficient reason not to pick up Issue #2.

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  11. I felt the battle between the white kid and the black kid was forced. After all, they're being hunted by bad guys!

    I really like Yildiray Cinar's art - and his inks are intriguing on this book. So for that reason alone, I am going to give issue 2 a go. But the plotting seemed very forced to me.

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  12. I used to like Firestorm - I always felt he was DCs answer to Nova - but this version...no, no thank you. Far too whiny, far too teen angst, and oh yes, far too violent. I must confess I havent kept up to speed with whatevers happened to the previous 'hosts' of Firestorm but I wish theyd kept them.
    Surprised at Simone's writing. But maybe I shouldnt be...a once cool writer has gone off the boil.
    Not my cup of green tea.

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  13. I agree Martin, this comic was missing something. I'm going to stick with it (seeing as how I subscribed to it) because I'm certain Gail will deliver something fantastic as the series goes on.

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  14. This sounds like a bit of a mess and another problem with this half baked reboot.

    Isn't it better if you're starting afresh to have one Firestorm, not two kids and a dead guy who somehow merge into a Super Duper Firestorm?

    There's a lot of continuity hanging around here which is going to confuse the new readers this reboot is supposed to attract.

    Not surprised by the 'sweet cheeks' comment - there was stuff in the Batgirl comic that made me cringe.

    I've realised a lot of my problem with Gail's writing is I thought a lot of the weaker elements were there for irony - now I realise it's just bad writing!

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  15. It's worth bearing in mind that Gail Simone didn't write this alone ... I'm pretty sure that the impetus for this angle is co-plotter Ethan Van Sciver's and I'd be amazed if he didn't have a pass at the script too.

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  16. Martin-If that's the case, then everybody should save their money and drop this title immediately. I'm not interested in EVS's opinions on race relations, nuclear power, or pretty much any subject. There is a man who should just be quiet and draw pretty pictures.

    Eric

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  17. I don't know much about EVS's opinions, but whatever they are, it's not a given they'll appear in the comic, surely?

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