FLASH Facts: Firestorm

The Nuclear Man with the head that can heat up a frying pan.

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When I was a kid, one of my obsessions was the DC Super Powers toys. These toys are what made me into a Flash fan in the first place. While pretty much everyone else had the format where you would push their legs together and they would punch, with Flash, you pushed his arms together and his feet started running. I never had too many of these figures - I grew up in a Marvel house - so for Christmas, when I wanted DC Super Powers, I got the full line of Marvel’s Secret Wars. They, as it turned out, were super cool, as well, except for Captain America*.

Anyway, of the DC Super Powers figures I had, Flash was my favorite, and Firestorm was my least favorite. I just didn’t like him, but I could never really say why. His toy looked no better or worse than the other Super Powers figures I had, but he never clicked with me.

Maybe part of it was that he was the first guy I ever saw wearing what I commonly call the Gambit mask; the junior high wrestling headgear that makes no sense to me in terms of fighting crime. This type of headgear became very popular in the ‘90s with characters like Gambit, the Rob Liefeld character Shaft and a slew of others. Maybe it was the combination wrestling headgear and domino mask (in the comics he did not wear a domino mask, but he did use a lot of mascara, so maybe they were going for that look?). I don’t know. Either way, we should get to the point of these posts: a chance to learn who these characters are outside of the excellent TV series The Flash.

Coming onto the scene in 1978 in his own book, Firestorm: The Nuclear Man, readers were introduced to high school dummy Ronnie Raymond and Nobel Prize-winning physicist Martin Stein (no dummy, he). Caught together in a nuclear accident, Raymond and Stein fused together, sharing Ronnie’s body. This was a win for Stein, an older man who loved pepperoni pizza, but was tired of the heartburn that came with it, but a loss for Ronnie, who hated watching Quincy, M.E. every week.

A main focus for the book was the banter between Ronnie and Martin when they came together as Firestorm. This banter kept the book alive for five entire issues before it was canceled. In reality, for the book to have been canceled with issue five, it had to have been canceled before the first issue shipped. This was the case - DC Comics was having a bad go of it in the late ‘70s and was forced to axe 40% of their titles, including Batman Family, Showcase and Welcome Back, Kotter. With Firestorm: The Nuclear Man already having a sixth issue ready to go, DC broke it into three parts and published it as a backup story in The Flash issues 294-296. Firestorm became a regular backup feature in The Flash, as well as a member of the Justice League. His fan base grew.

In 1982, things were going better for DC Comics, so they gave Firestorm another go. The Fury of Firestorm proved to be very successful for the company, lasting 100 issues (with a name change back to Firestorm: The Nuclear Man at issue 65). This series, having actual time to develop the characters, showed readers a Ronnie who was unsure of himself, a Martin Stein learning to live a life outside of the lab and the perils of the nuclear arms race, all while dealing with supervillains like Multiplex** and Killer Frost***. When Ronnie went to college in Pittsburgh, Martin Stein got a job as a professor at the same school. Considering Ronnie wasn’t a very good high school student, it is safe to assume that he wasn’t going to a great college, so for that school to land a Nobel Prize-winning physicist, it must have been a huge feather in their cap.

Firestorm co-creator and writer Gerry Conway, whom we have discussed previously, wanted to keep the book light. He wanted The Fury of Firestorm to have a sense of fun, something he didn’t get to do during his time writing Amazing Spider-Man. It worked, and Firestorm became one of DC’s bigger characters of the ‘80s. He started showing up on cartoons, toy lines and promotional materials. He even got to share the front cover of the first issue of DC’s major event series Crisis on Infinite Earths with Superman and Cyborg, two other big money makers for the company at the time.

This is where Firestorm, I think, started to run into trouble. Along with restarting DC Comics continuity, one of the main reasons for Crisis on Infinite Earths was so that DC could integrate characters from other companies that they had purchased over the years. The most famous of these characters was the big red cheese himself, Captain Marvel, but DC also had the Charlton Comics characters sitting there, just wasting away****. This included Blue Beetle, Peter Cannon, Thunderbolt and Captain Atom. Firestorm was, in terms of powers, at least, very similar as Captain Atom, and when DC decided to have Cap on the new, post-Crisis Justice League, this kind of meant that Firestorm would be pushed to the side. Again, this part is all speculation on my part, but if you look at the major events in DC Comics after Crisis on Infinite Earths I think you’ll see a whole lot of Captain Atom and very little Firestorm.

To add to this theory, Conway abruptly left DC in 1986 (also discussed in an earlier Flash Facts) and still holds a bit of a grudge with the company. If I had to guess, and since I’ve written all this put and my backspace button doesn’t work, I have to, I think Conway was not a fan of DC’s post-Crisis plans, leading to issues between him and editorial. Again, this is all my theory, but Conway has, in a few interviews, stated that, having learned to write comics during his time at Marvel, he and DC editorial often butted heads. Conway also had a great love for DC’s Golden-Age characters, many of whom would be gone after the reboot.

With Conway gone, DC handed The Fury of Firestorm over to John Ostrander. Ostrander wanted to make the book darker, grittier. This was something DC, riding high on the one two punch of The Dark Knight Returns and Watchmen, was more than happy to hear. Martin Stein, dying slowly from a terminal illness, suggested to Ronnie that they do something about all those damn nuclear missiles. Ronnie agreed, and Firestorm demanded that the US and USSR get rid of their nuclear arsenals, or he would do it for them. Obviously, neither country was keen on this idea, leading to Firestorm battling the Justice League, and then a Russian hero called Pozhar.

Pozhar was the Soviet Union’s answer to Firestorm. He was a nuclear powered Soviet hero ready to defend his home from the aggression of the Amerikan***** swine!

Firestorm faced off against Pozhar in the Nevada desert. Seeing this as a no-win situation, the US government dropped a nuclear bomb on both heroes. The explosion fused the two together, creating a whole new Firestorm. This new Firestorm was actually controlled by Professor Stein. This version of Firestorm didn’t last all that long, though. In 1989, John Ostrander introduced a new concept to Firestorm. Firestorm was now a fire elemental formed from Ronnie Raymond, Pozhar and a Soviet clone of the original Firestorm. Professor Stein was still around, but not controlling this new version. The new Firestorm took up a new cause, environmentalism, as well as a new look. 

Going with my theory again, I wouldn’t be shocked if this was a move by DC/Ostrander to try and make Firestorm different from Captain Atom, but I could very well be super wrong. Ostrander, most famous for his work on Suicide Squad, has never been afraid to change things up in his stories. This is part of what made his Suicide Squadrun so amazing - you honestly didn’t know if any of the characters were safe.

Fans didn’t take to the new Firestorm, and the book was canceled a year later, with issue 100. At the end of the series, it was revealed that Professor Stein was always destined to become the Firestorm elemental, but Ronnie got in the way (way to go, Ronald!). Ronnie and Pozhar were released from the elemental, leaving Stein in charge of the form. This Stein-only version ended up stuck in deep space after saving the Earth. Aside from two appearances, Firestorm and Ronnie Raymond would not show up for years. The elemental Firestorm returned to Earth during the DC event series War of the Gods then showed up again in Extreme Justice #5. Turns out that Ronnie had leukemia and somehow, his chemotherapy gave him his Firestorm powers again, wrestling headgear and all. The elemental Firestorm showed up and, with the help of Captain Atom (see what I’m saying!), cured Ronnie of his cancer. Why the two didn’t then go around the world curing everyone suffering from leukemia, I have no idea. I sure as hell was not going to read a comic called Extreme Justice. DC trying to jump on the success of Image Comics was so sad to watch. Why is Blue Beetle, who was literally too fat to fit into his costume just a few months before this came out, in a McFarlane Spider-Man/Spawn pose!?

Jesus, DC, sometimes you make it so hard to be a fan.

Anyway, Ronnie was Firestorm again. He would show up pretty often, and even rejoined the Justice League in 2002, but the Ronnie-only version of Firestorm was not as powerful as he was when combined with Martin Stein. In order for Firestorm to properly use his powers, he needed the smarts of a physicist, someone who actually understood how molecules and other science stuff worked. Ronnie didn’t have those smarts, but he did his best.

His best got him killed. During the… we’ll say controversial (I want to say “terrible,” but there are those who love it for some reason) Identity Crisis, Firestorm’s containment field (his costume and skin) were breached when Shadow Thief stabbed him. Firestorm flew as far away from people as he could before he exploded. RIP Ronnie.

The fallout of the Nuclear Man made its way into the body of teenager Jason Rusch. In 2004, Jason would get his own book (drawn by one of my favorite comic artist, Chris Cross).

In 2004 the internet must have been obsessed with something else because I don’t remember a lot of assholes complaining that the new Firestorm was a black kid. Today I feel like we’d get a full week of racist bitching about it. Who knows.

Either way, Jason Rusch was here to breathe new life into the concept of Firestorm with his own title and everything. Firestorm #1 hit shelves and was a pretty well-received book. Jason was seventeen, living in Detroit with his abusive father, and trying to save money for college by working as a courier for a drug dealer. Can I take a detour here? Can we go ten years without creating a black superhero who starts off as a criminal? That would be so great if we could just cut that shit out for a while. Thanks.

As I was saying, Jason was on a job for his drug-dealing boss when he gained his powers, and he then accidently killed his drug-dealing boss. Still, Jason learned to control the powers and started to become a pretty good Firestorm. Then Ronnie came back.

Ronnie was fused within Jason, the last remnants of his soul existing within a seventeen-year-old boy (cheeky). Ronnie was around just long enough to help Jason really grasp the power he inherited. Ronnie’s essence faded away, seemingly gone forever.

The elemental Firestorm, having sensed a new Firestorm running around, returned to Earth just in time to save Jason’s life. Professor Stein agreed to give up his elemental form to merge with Jason, creating a new Firestorm body.

During the Blackest Night series, when all of DC’s dead heroes and villains returned as zombies (a really good story by the way - you should check it out if you haven’t), Ronnie Raymond returned, all dead and zombie-like. Zombie Ronnie fused himself with Jason, creating a zombie Firestorm. He then killed Gehenna, Jason’s girlfriend******, turning her to salt.

When the zombies are defeated, Ronnie and Jason separate. Ronnie is alive again, and very confused. He has no memory of his death, or the events of Blackest Night. Jason, on the other hand, remembers all too well being forced to help kill his own girlfriend. During the follow up series Brightest Day when Ronnie can’t remember Gehenna’s name, Jason punches him and they form into Firestorm. It becomes clear that Ronnie was lying - he remembers killing Gehenna, which makes his pretense that he doesn’t remember her name REALLY creepy. That is just messed up. Either way, Ronnie and Jason learn to work together, but not before thinking that they erased the universe (they didn’t), and Professor Stein is killed by an evil Firestorm called Deathstorm, who I think was super cool looking.

Not too long after these events, DC did the Flashpoint storyline, in which Flash changed reality by going back to save his mom’s life, then went back and stopped himself from saving her, and in the process recreated all of existence. This recreation included a “new” take on Firestorm.

In the New 52 universe Ronnie Raymond is back in high school and, during a terrorist attack on the school, runs into fellow teenager Jason Rusch, who happens to have a vial filled with something that his teacher, Professor Stein, called the “God Particle”. As anyone would do during a terrorist attack on their school, Ronnie and Jason decide to ingest the “God Particle” (I’m guessing they figured it would get them really high - I never read the book) and they each became Firestorm. Then they merged together and became Fury. Then back to Firestorm. Ronnie works as the muscle of Firestorm, while Jason is the brains. Professor Stein continues to try and create new drugs for teens. The book for this latest version of Firestorm, titled The Fury of Firestorm: The Nuclear Men, was canceled in 2013.

On the hit CW show The Flash (I find it difficult to figure out ways to easily transition from the comics to the live action series without it sounding like something from a promotional video), we were introduced to Ronnie Raymond pretty early. He was dead, killed in the tragic accident that also created Flash. Happy for us all, but especially happy for Caitlin Snow, Ronnie wasn’t dead. He had merged with Martin Stein, who happened to be working on something called F.I.R.E.S.T.O.R.M. I really hate that the show felt the need to have the name stand for something. I can’t remember what it stands for, and I don’t care enough to look it up. They should have just had Cisco name him.

Anyway, Ronnie and Professor Stein showed up as Firestorm, and Team Flash helped them learn to control their powers. In season one, Firestorm helps Flash beat Reverse Flash. At the start of season two, we learn that Ronnie died when Firestorm helped Flash shut down the singularity that was threatening to destroy all of existence. Stein has been having some… issues without Ronnie being around. Lucky for Team Flash, they found a replacement in… Jefferson Jackson? Who the hell is Jefferson Jackson?

Jefferson Jackson, in the comics, was a friend of Ronnie’s when Ronnie was in high school. From what I can find, Jefferson appeared eleven times in the comics, where he was never given a full name. In fact, in his eleven appearances, sometimes he was called Jefferson, and sometimes he was called Jackson. Was this a case of Gerry Conway and his editor forgetting the character’s name, or was his name Jefferson Jackson, but never fully said in the comics? We may never know.

Why the writers/producers of The Flash decided to use Jefferson Jackson instead of Jason Rusch, I have no idea. I did a quick Google search and couldn't find any articles mentioning the reasoning behind not using Jason.

As with the comics, I’m not a big fan of Firestorm on the show. I like Professor Stein, but the show doesn’t have the budget to do Firestorm right, and even if they did, he just isn’t a character I’m interested in. Plus, look at how cheesy he looks...

The new Firestorm doesn’t look much better.

He’s wearing a jacket that appears to have a rubber toy stuck to it. Give him a real costume! Don’t get all lame with this - go full out!

I do think, going off this single episode and his work in Attack the Block, that Franz Drameh is a better actor than Robbie Amell, so at least we have that now. I’m hopeful that on Legends of Tomorrowwe’ll get a better version of Firestorm, but I’m not holding my breath.

*All of the Marvel’s Secret Wars figures came with a shield that had a lenticular image in it - it would show the face of the hero, then when you moved it, what they looked like without their mask. This included Captain America. Instead of his actual shield, he came with one of the lenticular shields. I hated it. I wanted his real shield! Instead, the toy has a shield that reveals his secret identity? Why would he carry that with him!

** Multiplex appeared in season one of The Flash.

*** For more info on Killer Frost, see the Flash Facts: Team Flash.

****The Charlton characters were the characters Alan Moore originally wanted to use for Watchmen. DC shot the idea down, so Moore created rip-off versions of them (Dr.Manhattan = Captain Atom, Rorschach = The Question, Night Owl = Blue Beetle, etc…)

*****I miss the days in comics when someone with a Russian or German accent would have ‘k’ in place of ‘c’ for words. So weirdly cool.

******Gehenna was a superhero herself, as well as the clone of Firestorm baddie Tokamak, aka Victor Hewitt.