A Firestorm Problem?

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I’ve made it clear several times that my all time favorite superhero is Firestorm. This stems from my days as a early comic book collector in the early 1980’s. Over the years I’ve come to look at this character, that resides in the DC universe, as the runt of the litter. The most powerful character to always get the worst hand in the deck. Please bare with me as I kidnap take you on a journey. (Warning: Spoilers lay ahead)

Firestorm_v.1_01Firestorm was created in 1978 by Al Milgrom and Gerry Conway as the answer to the Marvel problem DC was having. They wanted a superhero that was young and flashy. Something that was eye catching and had a science fiction feel to it. So, this duo came up with Firestorm: The Nuclear Man. Back then, the cold war was real and there always seemed to be some terrorist looking to get there hands on a nuclear weapon. Firestorm was created by a nuclear accident that fused two people into one, Ronald Raymond (High School Jock) and Dr. Martin Stein (Physicist).

While the first volume ended after 5 issues in 1978, the second volume began again in 1982 and lasted 100 issues. Firestorm’s popularity grew as he became a member of the Justice League of America which also lead to a animated role in the Super Powers cartoon. I remember getting the toy and thinking it wouldn’t get any better than that. After he played a critical role in Crisis on Infinite Earths, the readership for DC in general began to decline and multi book crossover became the norm. Firestorm was losing steam after Conway left the book in 1986.

This lead to a different writer (Ostrander) and different people who controlled the Firestorm matrix. This is where everything becomes dicey. Stein “dies” and Ronald shares the matrix with Mikhail Arkadin. Then after a few years of that crap, Stein comes back and takes over as the true “Elemental” Firestorm and the series ends at 100. From here, in different books, we find out the Ronald has leukemia and is cured by Stein (who has been living in space) which allows him to be the original Firestorm again without Stein.

COLD!!!!Years later Ronald’s Firestorm dies in action and his power is somehow absorbed by Jason Rusch, a young brilliant African American student, who takes over the the matrix alone. This starts volume 3 of Firestorm which does not last long. Before the New 52 starts we find out the Jason and Stein end up merging to become a stable version of Firestorm.

Then everything is reset during the new 52 where Ronald and Jason are separate Firestorms created by Stein and his God Particle. They can also merge to become an ultimate form. This book also didn’t last.

Again, runt of the litter consumed with bad ideas and bad concepts. He had a tendency to shine in books that were not his own. I liked Jason Rusch because he was so smart that there was no need for Stein in his version of Firestorm.

Why am I saying all this? Well, this brings me to current times. DC’s highly anticipated, Legends of Tomorrow debut last night with considerable hype. One of the main characters is Firestorm whom we saw in The Flash television series.

So let’s play some catch up with that. Firestorm in The Flash was Ronald Raymond (scientist) and Dr. Martin Stein (Physicist). In season one, we spend most of the season figuring out who and what Firestorm is. There is a real clever mystery about it too and we even see Jason Rush (Stein’s student) for like an episode. At this point I’m thinking, I know what’s going to happen, if they kill off Raymond, then Jason will be the next person in line just like the comics. Let me be clear, the writing on this show has been superb.

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So what happens? (Spoilers from here on out)

They kill off Raymond and the next person in line is Jefferson Jackson in Season two. Who? Jefferson was a character in the early run of Firestorm as Ronald’s best friend. A fellow High School basketball player (with an afro too). In The Flash, Jefferson is a star quarterback that gets injured by the particle accelerator explosion and somehow becomes a viable option to merge with Stein in the matrix. The problem with this, for me, was that they used a typical black story trope of an athlete kid that lost all his options and cant go to college now instead of using the genius black kid in Jason Rush that we rarely ever see in any television show (outside of Urkel in Family Matters).

Jax (what they call him) is a stereotypical black kid, much like the new Wally West in The Flash. So when we talk about how people of color are portrayed in Television, Film, and books, you can see why this is a little disconcerting.

Ok, last night. In Legends of Tomorrow we see that Time Master, Rip Hunter selects eight people to hunt down Vandal Savage and he awaits for their answer. Stein is down to go and Jax isn’t. Understand that Firestorm doesn’t exist if both of them are not involved. Dr. Martin Stein drugs Jax (via roofie in his drink) and kidnaps him in order to make the quest. First of all, this is uncharacteristic of Stein. Secondly, the white man – black man dynamic of the former kidnapping the latter to go on a voyage is NOT GOOD WRITING.

It further proves my point that Firestorm is the runt of the litter and with writing like this, the character will never get any respect. Also, this move reduces Jax to sidekick status to Stein. The power dynamic is now reversed even though Jax ultimately controls the matrix they share. Have I confused you? Good. Because this shit is confusing.

I should’ve changed the title of this entry to, How to Destroy a Perfectly Good Character in Less Than a Thousand Words.

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Order, Chaos, and Super Heroes

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The funny thing about nerds is that we tend to argue about the finer points of comic book logic that really has nothing to do with reality. This includes, but not limited to, things like the exact science of time travel or feminism in comic books. In the end, you would be surprised to see how many dudes actually believe that time travel is possible before believing that a female superhero can be legitimized. However, the point of order and chaos in the super hero genre is something that is highly debated.

Before we begin there are a few prerequisites that need to be met so you can understand why I’m taking you down this road (otherwise you’ll have to take my word for it) You need to be familiar with Justice League Unlimited, more importantly, the episode “Clash” which features a huge battle between Superman & Shazam. You will also need to have read Kingdom Come by Mark Waid and Alex Ross to understand the connection. Finally you should’ve seen the movies, Man of Steel and Captain America: Winter Soldier.

Let’s Begin.

There were two superheroes that I didn’t care for as a child: Superman & Captain America. As a young dark-skinned Latino, I found it hard to really connect with any of these larger than life white men. I lived in the Bronx and the ideals of Truth, Justice, & the American Way was something that didn’t resonate with me. However, I understood that both characters represented a set of ideals and no matter how corny I may have found it, these ideals defined the type of heroes they are. They’re both boy scouts created during a time when people needed something to believe in.

The comic book industry has changed over the last 25 years with superheroes being more present in our daily lives with movies and animation. Over that time, we have seen the evolution of how superheroes are written and marketed. Batman became darker and more violent which seemingly led DC Comics to go down that road because it makes more money. But how would this effect Superman?

In 1996, Kingdom Come addresses this issue. What if the line between order and chaos were blurred where people can’t tell the difference between hero and villain? It was Superman that lead the charge back to order. His “antiquated” ideals saves the world from its inevitable end because its all about finding another way to save innocent lives. It is this very idea that many people argue over when it comes to the Man of Steel. Do we want an updated version of an iconic hero that has been in our psyche for decades that blurs this line?

3727914-3353225879-CAPTAIn 2005, Justice League Unlimited was a wildly popular animated series on the Cartoon Network. It’s 30 minute episodes set the standard for current DC Animation. During that season, the viewers were witnessing a massive story arc where Lex Luthor (of course) was pulling all the strings. In the episode called, Clash (written by the late Dwayne Mcduffie) we see Shazam join the Justice League with much joy and adulation. He is touted as a boy scout much to Superman’s chagrin.

“I thought I was the boy scout” is the perfect line in this episode and when I re-watch it now, I realize that the changing of Superman began more than 10 years ago. While I try to stray away from interpreting someone else’s work, I really believe that McDuffie saw the writing on the wall and wrote a story where Superman was no longer the symbol of truth and justice. I would like to think that he had the question in his head, what if Superman’s line was blurred? Thus the fight between the two ensued that in the end it was Shazam quitting the JLU stating… “You don’t act like heroes anymore.”

Fast Forward to the age of the New DC 52 (which is soon ending) and the movie, The Man of Steel. We can talk all day about the science of this movie. We can debate on the massive amounts of damage during the battle of Superman & Zod. In my opinion, the ending is not debatable. Have we evolved Superman to the point where he no longer represents those ideals of the past? No matter your answer, we’re in a time where Superman had no choice but to kill.

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Then I think about Captain America, the last boy scout. He still represents what America should be and not what it is currently. This is something that I failed to see as a child. In Captain America: Winter Soldier there was point in which Steve Rogers had to choose what he wanted to do with his friend, fight to the death or leave his fate up to Bucky? Either way, he was with him to the end of the line. His faith in his friend and his ultimate ideals was the reason he survived that battle. He found another way.

So where does that leave us? Is it Batman that has the better set of ideals leading into Batman V Superman? Are we willing to subscribe to the thought that there’s a blurred line between order and chaos or should we adhere to the notions that a hero is more than just the sum of abilities, but rather the ideals the character upholds?

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