So I finally picked up for myself that Firestorm The Nuclear Man trade paperback DC Comics released several months ago. Normally, I don’t tend to buy reprints of material I already own (my…um, dozen or so versions of House of Secrets #92 notwithstanding), but I was in the mood to read a little somethin’ archival, and Firestorm is one of my favorite superhero series, and the trade’s cover is pretty sharp-looking, and I’d like to have these stories printed on nice white paper.
It’s fun stuff, a little rough around the edges and maybe trying a little too hard to push the Spider-Man formula of “put-upon high schooler is also an awesome superhero,” but still an entertaining read that has aged reasonably well. With a new Firestorm series heading our way this week, it’s nice to look back at where the character began.
For instance, I’d forgotten just how callous Ronnie Raymond (one half of Firestorm’s alter egos) was to Professor Martin Stein (the other half). When merged together as Firestorm, Stein was the disembodied voice who advised Ronnie, who was in control of their physical form. However, when the two would split apart into their civilian identities, Stein wouldn’t remember his time as part of Firestorm, attributing his time-loss to blackouts and such. And, of course, this leads to all kinds of personal and professional problems for Stein, which Ronnie just kind of brushes off with an “ah, well…it sure is great to be a superhero!”
I know this is eventually resolved…in the second Firestorm series from the 1980s, Stein is aware of his dual life, but…I don’t recall exactly when or how this is resolved. It used to be I had these comics pretty much memorized, but it’s finally to the point where it’s been so long since I’ve last read them, they’re almost like new to me again. At least, in terms of specific plot points, since, as I described, I remember general things about the series and characters. Anyway, I thought that was a neat twist for a superhero…not just having two different people squeezed together to form one hero, but by having one of them not remember his superhero life, and the other not have enough of sense of responsibility to realize what he’s doing to his “partner.”
The other aspect of this series that I enjoy is the reversal of the typical “jock versus nerd” conflict, where Raymond (a member of the school’s basketball team) is constantly harassed by Cliff Carmichael, the school brain. I’ve written about Cliff before, and…man, I kinda miss that particular conflict. I seem to recall a time or two where Cliff and Ronnie actually, if briefly, get along, which was a nice touch, adding a little extra dimension to the typical high-school rivalry proceedings. But, like I said in that previous post, Cliff ends up becoming a supervillain or something and it always struck me as an unsatisfying closure to what was a (relatively-speaking) normal adversarial relationship.
But, back to specifically discussing this trade paperback: it also includes a story intended for the original series but never published, save for the copyright-establishing-but-not-intended-for-general-distribution Cancelled Comic Cavalcade. Or, as the trade’s back cover would have it:
Anyway, the story is presented in black and white, and features plot elements that, if my aging and increasingly unreliable memory serves me, were repurposed into the Firestorm back-ups that ran in Flash. (Some of the back-ups are reprinted in this book as well, but not the ones I’m thinking of, it seems.)
Also, the “next issue” blurb at the end of the sorta-unpublished issue #6 promises the appearance of “The Reptile Man.” I was going to say the Reptile Man never did appear, but a quick Googling pulls up this Firestorm Fan Page, which (along with a couple of Al Milgrom’s pages for #7) links to an audio interview with Firestorm cocreator Gerry Conway and states the Reptile Man eventually became Batman villain Killer Croc. Huh. (Also, I would have sworn on a copy of DC Comics’ The Bible treasury edition that Killer Croc predated Firestorm…but nope, first appeared in ’83.)
So that’s a lot of words just to say “I like Firestorm,” but hey, I do. And I’m hoping I’ll enjoy this new series as well. And with any luck we’ll see more Firestorm paperbacks…I think some of Pat Broderick’s best work was on those early issues of Firestorm’s 1980s revival, and I’d like to see that art on paper that isn’t thirty-year-old decaying newsprint, for the sake of my forty-two-year-old decaying eyesight.