Before we begin, I want to thank writers Michael A. Burstein and Bob Greenberger for their invaluable/helpful contributions to this article and its research. Thanks guys, seriously.
A lot of heroes have trouble at times balancing between their two lives. They’ll be on a date and then the Green Goblin or the Parasite will tear through the city and they have to think of some excuse the girl or guy will believe, or they’ll have to skip work and figure out if they still have any sick days left, etc.
Well, imagine how much more difficult it would be if you not only had to balance your own two lives, but the life of another person entirely. If you can imagine that, you can kind of picture what it’d be like to be Firestorm.
So let’s start.
RONNIE AND MARTIN — THE ORIGINAL ODD COUPLE
Two divorced men, one is messy, one is neat … no just kidding. The duo we’re speaking of is Ronald Raymond and Prof. Martin Stein.
Created by Gerry Conway and Al Milgrom, FIRESTORM featured these two men coming into each other’s lives in a rather unique way. Martin Stein was a Nobel Prize-winning scientist at the top of his field, working at the Hudson Nuclear Facility in New York. Ronnie Raymond was a high school student living in New York. He was a good guy and a pretty good football player, but in terms of grade he was never up to par (which I can relate to, having been very disinterested in most of my classes before college). Ronnie had won the attention of a smart and pretty girl named Doreen Day. And this particular girl was the object of desire for a grade A student/jerk named Cliff Carmichael, who immediately decided that Ronnie was his rival. Ronnie felt like Cliff made him look stupid and decided he had to figure out some way to impress Doreen so she’d think otherwise (an amazingly realistic portrayal of the limited mind of many teenage males, sadly).
A new experimental nuclear facility had gotten the attention of many a protestor. Ronnie decided to join this group, feeling it would show he was both politically savvy and sensitive to major issues. The group was called the Coalition to Resist Atomic Power (or C.R.A.P., if you will) and was led by Eddie Earhart, who was actually using the group as a cover for criminal activities.
While this was going on, Professor Stein was having troubles of his own. He was in charge of the nuclear facility’s design, having engineered the place to be completely safe and automated. But at the last second, his former assistant Danton Black entered the room. Black was a petty man whom Stein had fired when he’d been a miserable lab assistant. He now claimed that the experimental facility was HIS design and that Stein had stolen it. The plant was to be delayed in its opening while the matter was investigated. But Stein refused to this happen, fearing that no matter what explanation was given, it would cause the public to believe that the only reason a nuclear plant was delayed was because his promise of it being "safe" plant was obviously a false one. As soon as he was alone, he began the plant’s automatic activation sequence.
It was here that Ronnie Raymond finally came into Martin Stein’s life. It turned out Earhart was actually planning on blowing up the plant, pinning the crime on Ronnie who he intended to leave behind in the explosion. Stein stumbled onto Earhart and his group and tried to ward them off, aided by Ronnie who refused to be a part of anything that risked actually hurting people. Stein and Ronnie were over-powered and knocked out. They were left next to the reactor, with the bomb lying beside them. Moments later, Ronnie woke up just seconds before the bomb went off. The explosion breached the reactor and caused an atomic blast.
You’d think these two men would be goners due to the whole atomization/disintegration thing that happens when a human being is caught in ground zero of such a blast. But instead, the nuclear energies somehow fused them into a new being of incredible power, a glowing being of atomic energy with flaming hair. What’s more, he heard Prof. Stein’s consciousness in the back of his mind. Stein seemed almost unreasonably calm considering the situation. He even had enough poise to explain to Ronnie that the young man was the dominant persona of the matrix that made up their composite being because Ronnie had been the only one conscious during the blast.
Ronnie realized that this new fused body he now inhabited had quite a few abilities. He could fly and had great strength and resiliency. He could emit energy blasts from his hands (which he called his "fusion blasts") and alter his molecular state to become intangible. He could phase through solid matter. And most interestingly, he could perceive atomic structures and manipulate inorganic matter as a result.
Unbeknownst to Ronnie or Martin Stein at the time, Danton Black had still been in the facility and had likewise been caught in the blast. Rather than become a fused entity with anyone else, he gained the ability to absorb energy from outside of himself and then use it to split off into two people. The more "duploids" he created, the smaller they all were, due to the fact that he couldn’t create mass from nowhere. He would call himself Multiplex and be a regular enemy of our composite hero.
Which leads us back to Ronnie and Martin. Believing he needed a cool outfit (wouldn’t YOU think that if you were a teenage guy and suddenly had incredible super-powers?), Ronnie used his matter-rearranging abilities to create a costume out of the air molecules around him, based on a design he quickly thought of in his mind. Years later, Grant Morrison would comment that this costume made Firestorm look like a "Las Vegas performer", but you have to admit, it was certainly eye-catching.
RONNIE: “Since I’ve got the powers of some crazy kind of super-hero, I might as well have the duds to match! What is it you call the aftermath of an atomic explosion? A firestorm! That’s it! That’s what I’ll call myself — FIRESTORM, THE NUCLEAR MAN!”
After bringing Earhart to justice, Ronnie saw his reflection and freaked out when he saw the flaming hair and the face that was obviously not his, with glowing eyes and somewhat different features. Through force of will, he reverted back to normal, forcing Martin Stein to separate from him in the process. Helping Stein off the ground, Ronnie realized that the professor had no memory of their time together as a fused entity.
And so it began. Whenever he saw there was trouble, Ronnie would duck into a corner and will himself to become Firestorm. There would be a flash of light and he would be in his super-hero body. And wherever Martin Stein was at that time, he’d simple vanish away as he was transported to wherever Ronnie was, forced to join in the fusion. Stein was a valuable ally to Ronnie when they were combined into Firestorm. Thanks to Stein’s vast scientific knowledge, Ronnie was able to use his transmutation powers very effectively as the professor told him how to alter and combine inorganic matter to achieve desired affects. But each time they separated, Stein would have no memory of what he’d been doing for the past several minutes or hours and had no idea why he’d randomly woken up somewhere else with Ronnie Raymond close by.
Eventually, Ronnie explained the whole situation to Martin and the two began a strange friendship. Although Martin felt he was doing good as Firestorm, and now remembered his time spent fused with Ronnie, he still had to deal with the fact that, no matter what he was doing, at a moment’s notice he could be transported away because somewhere else Ronnie had spotted trouble and simply reacted. Although, if he was ever a witness to trouble himself, he was able to cause the transformation himself and Ronnie occasionally had to experience what was usually Martin’s frustration.
Firestorm had been part of the "DC EXPLOSION" that was meant to introduce a whole slew of new comics and characters. Sadly, sales and related things led to DC having to go back on this, and fans called what happened next the "DC implosion" as various new titles vanished, Firestorm included. Gerry Conway started putting Firestorm in back-up stories of FLASH comics. And since he was also the writer for the JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA, he had Firestorm join the team after impressing Superman.
In the new Firestorm series, Conway tried to add a "Spider-Man sense of fun” that he felt had been lacking in the old series. While fused, Martin and Ronnie would often banter and argue in rather amusing ways, as Stein would be trying to rein in the well-meaning, but occasionally over-reactive teen. This rather unique secret identity gimmick made Firestorm a favorite among many fans. We all have that mentor, teacher, parent who gives us a hard time and pushes us but who we know means the best. Firestorm had that all the time he was a super-hero. As Ronnie, he was just a kid, but as Firestorm he couldn’t ignore Martin Stein’s voice in his head, telling him to chill out or yelling at him when he over-reacted. By the same token though, he was never alone, as Martin was there to offer advice and help when he needed to.
Martin Stein eventually got more character development. It was revealed that he’d been a man desperately trying to rebuild his reputation after personal difficulties such as a drinking problem and troubles with his wife who later left him. It was also revealed that two of his students had been named Crystal Frost and Louise Lincoln. Crystal Frost had quite a crush on him back then, which would later come back to bite him when the girl became the villain Killer Frost. In this new light, it was clear that Stein’s refusal to let an investigation delay his experimental plant’s activation had not been arrogance so much as a desperate need to prove himself again.
And it turned out there was more to Ronnie’s family then met the eye. Apparently, Ronnie’s birth name had been Ronnie Rockwell. But his father had been testifying against a gangster named "Shoe" Shine. Shine bombed the Rockwell’s car, killing Ronnie’s mother, so his father Ed had them placed in witness protection program. For whatever reason, only their surnames were changed and apparently they couldn’t have moved that far away from their original home because it was stated more than once that the Rockwells had merely lived elsewhere in New York. Hmmm. Sounds like something to retcon/revise slightly if anyone ever has the inclination.
Firestorm had a small personal rogues gallery. There was Multiplex, as mentioned before. There was the Hyena AKA Doreen’s sister Summer Day who became a half-human, half-hyena vigilante. Later, her psychiatrist became the second Hyena, a villainous, vicious hyena man. There was also the Weasel, who was … well, a villainous, vicious weasel-man. There was the water-based shape-shifter Typhoon, able to control the weather. Typhoon was interesting in that he was very motivated to reunite with his children, who had been separated from him by his ex-wife. He actually made his first appearance in CANCELLED COMICS CAVALCADE and had a different origin, but when he was later introduced they altered his character a bit and this seemed to retcon away the earlier appearance.
There was Killer Frost (real name: Crystal Frost), who was succeeded by a second Killer Frost (Louise Lincoln), both of whom were villains wish ice-based powers who needed to feed off the heat energies of others, injuring or killing them in the process. Crystal Frost had an unhealthy obsession with Martin Stein. After her death, her friend Louise convinced herself that she would give Crystal a second life by continuing her career as the new Killer Frost. There was also Slip-Knot, a deadly killer who used nooses as his trademark. And Plastique, an explosive-themed villain who, years later, would reform and become the love of the hero Captain Atom.
Cliff Carmichael continued his attempts to discredit or get the better of Ronnie Raymond, turning his annoyance at Ronnie into a serious obsession. A few times, he came close to realizing Ronnie was actually Firestorm, but never actually hit the conclusion in his mind. At one point, he cut the strap of Ronnie’s football helmet, hoping he’d get hurt during the next game when the helmet came loose. But the helmet was used by Cliff’s cousin Hugo instead and when it came loose, it led to the kid getting paralyzed during a game.
Cliff was traumatized by his failed revenge hurting his cousin instead. He went to a rooftop and contemplated suicide. A storm was raging and decided his fate when the winds knocked him off the ledge. Firestorm flew up and saved Cliff. This event led the authorities to conclude Cliff was unstable (which Cliff didn’t help when he continued to blame Ronnie for his misfortunes) and he was sent to an institution.
What happened next? We’ll get to that.
One attempt by Firestorm’s enemies to create a villain actually wound up giving him an ally. Lorraine Reilly was genetically engineered into the being Firehawk. Although she was not a fused entity, she had abilities very similar to Firestorm. The two became allies and were involved romantically for a time.
While his villains may have seemed second-string to some, none could deny Firestorm’s own obvious power. During a fight with the JLA, Ronnie showed how deadly he could be when he was able to hold off the entire collection of heroes on his own, even using his transmutation powers to imprison Superman in a Kryptonite cage (and here some folks thought Batman was the only Leaguer who could give the whole team a good fight, ).
Ronnie eventually went to college in Pittsburgh, where Martin Stein got a job as a teacher. The two divided their time between classes and JLA meetings. Ronnie was a rookie on the team, but was also able to pull his own weight and had some good stories lent to him. When the Red Tornado realized he was not merely an android, but an elemental spirit housed inside an android body, Ronnie was the only Leaguer to learn this truth and helped Reddy come to terms with it all. Also, whenever there was a team-up between the JLA and their counterparts the JSA, heroes from a parallel world called Earth-Two, readers got to watch Firestorm make many amusing attempts to flirt with the tough-as-nails Power Girl.
The JLA disbanded, reforming into a new smaller team that was based in Detroit. Firestorm did not join this team and became a solo hero once again (if you can accurately describe a composite being as a "solo" hero). As time went on though, interest in Firestorm began to flounder. He was a fun young hero, yes, but it was beginning to feel to some people as if he would stay that way and not grow up.
During DC’s CRISIS ON INFINITE EARTHS story, Firehawk got herself a new costume and Ronnie had to deal with a Killer Frost who was temporarily in love with him. After The Crisis, Firestorm had a new rival. In the new continuity, heroes from parallel worlds such as Earth-2, Earth-4 and so on now lived on the JLA’s Earth. Captain Atom was one such being. In the new history, he appeared just soon before or soon after the events of the Crisis (depending on which timeline you pay attention to) and became hailed by the media as a man with atomic abilities. Firestorm became quite jealous of the attention, saying he’d been under that same label for quite sometime and could Captain Atom rearrange matter as he could? Thus began a rivalry of sorts between the two heroes.
John Ostrander wound up using some of Firestorm’s old baddies in his SUICIDE SQUAD title. The series featured "Task Force X", affectionately referred to by its members as the "Suicide Squad." The team was a government-sanctioned cover force that utilized super-criminals as agents, sending them into missions where they needed firepower but didn’t want to risk either valuable/loyal agents or being found out by the public. By using criminals who were offered shorter prison terms in exchange for their services, the government risked no one deemed "valuable" and could also disavow any action that the criminal took.
Slip-Knot joined the Squad, only to lose an arm later. Multiplex joined the Squad and then was seemingly killed by the villain called Parasite. Some fans who’d were upset about the changes Ostrander later made to Firestorm (which we’ll get to soon), considered these events in SUICIDE SQUAD as proof that the man simply hated the Firestorm characters as a whole. I think that’s a bit of cynical and bitter judgment to make, but at the same time I can understand the sentiment (and maybe you will too, as you read on).
Cliff Carmichael later volunteered for a meta-human experimentation program. His experiments involved use of the "thinking cap" that had enhanced the brain-power of the Golden Age villain known as the Thinker. Cliff studied the tech and made chips based on it that he then implanted into his brain. As a result, Cliff (sometimes referred to as Thinker II) became a literal "cyber-punk", with genius-level intellect and limited mind-control abilities. He joined the Suicide Squad himself afterwards, eventually betraying the team and then escaping. He wouldn’t be seen again for a number of years.
Eventually, John Ostrander took up writing chores for Firestorm’s comic. In later years, Ostrander would become known for doing series in which he tried to make characters of incredible power and focus on how emotionally interesting they were. For instance, he was the writer of the long running Spectre series and Martian Manhunter series. With Firestorm though, rather than take the previously established character and try to work with what was there, he decided to throw things onto their side and surprise everyone with something different.
Martin Stein realized he had a brain tumor, possibly due to the radiation effects of constantly merging with Ronnie into Firestorm. He and Ronnie spoke about his oncoming death and Martin mentioned that he wanted to do one last great act for humanity before he died. He convinced Ronnie that the Cold War needed to be stopped somehow. Deciding to take matters into his own hands, Firestorm demanded the destruction of all the nuclear weapons in both the U.S. and Russia or else. After fighting the Justice League and local forces, he was confronted by a Russian metahuman whose powers were also nuclear based. His name was Mikhail Arkadin, though he went by the codename of Pozhar.
During their battle in the Nevada desert, it was decided by the government that Firestorm was a threat that needed to be taken care of and a nuclear bomb was dropped. But neither Pozhar nor Firestorm were killed.
And here’s where things start to get tricky.
Somehow, a new Firestorm was created. Whereas before Ronnie and Martin had been the two who made up the "Firestorm Matrix", this new being was composed instead of Ronnie and Mikhail. This new being was mentally controlled by the amnesiac Martin Stein from a far distance away and he had an aloof, alien personality. The new Firestorm then went on with his work and to say the following stories were "politically charged" would be an understatement, as Ostrander tackled many of the issues that concerned America during the Cold War.
The new Firestorm was, as said, not just some super-hero. He was a philosopher, seemingly detached from basic human emotions. A parallel could be made with how Marvel’s Silver Surfer originally behaved. One excellent example of the new Firestorm’s personality was shown in a Neil Gaiman story published in SWAMP THING ANNUAL #5. The hero was asked by government agent Sarge Steel to stop a falling satellite from striking Earth and causing a lot of damage. Gaiman described this new Firestorm as “a man who was no longer a man. His humanity had been burned away long since; and the heart that blazed inside him was a heart of flame. If it was a heart at all.”
Firestorm attempted to use his abilities but found that they were counter-acted (he was unaware there was an elemtental spirit aboard the satellite). Rather than rush to discover what else he could do or call in for help (or at least even warn people to evacuate the area), Firestorm went to a phone and simply told Sarge Steel that he was sorry, but he was unable to do anything (he also made it a point to tell Steel that he had been doing the man a favor and took orders from “no man”). When Sarge Steel asked where the satellite was now, Firestorm merely remarked that it was probably still falling towards Earth and hopefully would land harmlessly in Tampa. About that very moment, the thing hit Tampa with the force of a large meteor. Firestorm didn’t rush to see who he could save or what he could do. Instead, he simply continued speaking on the phone, asking “Did you hear that, Steel? That was Tampa. I fear I must tender my apologies. I trust your luck will improve in the future. Good-bye.” And with that, he flew off before Steel could even suggest to him that he try to help out. Firestorm wasn’t interested in what was going on or why the satellite had countered his powers. It wasn’t his problem.
Many fans were outraged that a character they had known for years had been altered into someone completely different. Others who felt this way at first came to think that this was an interesting way of injecting some life into a declining series. I spoke to sci-fi writer Michael A. Burstein, multiple Nebula and Hugo award-nominee, on this matter and asked him his opinion as a big Firestorm fan. He commented that while he was originally upset, he came to believe that such a change was necessary for Firestorm to evolve as a character.
I believe a parallel can be made to when DC had the Green Lantern Hal Jordan replaced with Kyle Rayner. Some hated it, some found it interesting, but the biggest thing was that at least people were talking about the title again. The same was true when Ostrander changed Firestorm. However, the buzz died down and it was decided the series would end with its 100th issue.
By this last story, some truths finally came out. Firestorm was not just a super-hero. He was an Earth elemental. Or at least, he’d been meant to be.
Try and follow me here. First, let’s backtrack to some years before when Alan Moore was writing Swamp Thing. For you who don’t know, Swamp Thing was originally created as yet another man-trapped-in-the-body-of-a-monster story. Alec Holland was a scientist who died when his lab was set ablaze. His body on fire, he’d leapt into the swamp to douse himself and the swamp waters apparently reacted with chemicals he’d been working with, turning him into a plant-like creature called the Swamp Thing.
When Alan Moore came onto the book, he flipped things around by revealed that the Swamp Thing was not Alec Holland. Alec Holland was dead. The Swamp Thing was in fact a plant elemental that had been born that night and taken on Holland’s memories, just as each plant elemental was born when a man died in fire, taking on their traits in order to give them a sense of humanity. Years later, Neil Gaiman would show that apparently a doll called Brother Power had been consumed in fire by a lightning strike and inadvertently given birth to a rogue elemental based on its form.
It was revealed thus that Firestorm was an elemental as well, a fire elemental that had been supposed to be born when Martin Stein died in the nuclear blast. Martin Stein was supposed to be reborn as the fire elemental (unlike Swamp Thing, who was born with merely the traits of Alec Holland but was not truly him), but something went wrong. Ronnie got thrown into the mix and threw things off. Ostrander then had things "set right" by having Martin Stein (cured of his brain tumor now) fully come into his identity as a fire elemental, a singular changed being who did not need a second person to be part of the Firestorm matrix.
At the end of the series, Ronnie and Mikhail were left depowered and Stein, as the new elemental Firestorm, took off into space to find his place in the cosmos. Which, if you think about it, is a bit strange for an EARTH fire elemental, but whatever. Maybe DC had simply decided to take the Silver Surfer personality parallel (don’t you love alliteration?) even further.
BACK IN THE SADDLE
For a time, Firestorm was not seen (except for an odd cameo in DC’s WAR OF THE GODS story). A couple of years later, Ronnie turned up in the pages of EXTREME JUSTICE, a Justice League spin-off that featured a team led by the aforementioned Captain Atom. It was revealed that while he was no longer a super-hero, Ronnie was still touched by the legacy of Firestorm, but in a tragic way. Apparently, he’d developed cancer as a result of the radiation that had remained in his body even after being separated from the Firestorm matrix.
And then something bizarre happened. During a chemo-therapy session, Ronnie felt his powers reactivate and once again became Firestorm, but this time without the need of anyone else to be fused with him. Martin Stein, still an elemental, came back to Earth, having sensed this change in Ronnie. Together with Captain Atom, he cured Ronnie’s sickness and left him with the ability to become Firestorm whenever he wanted to, all by himself. Stein then left for outer space again and Ronnie was left on Earth, a super-hero once again.
Sadly, EXTREME JUSTICE, the comic Ronnie now starred in, didn’t seem to understand what to do with his character. Michael Hutchison himself has commented that it felt like they were re-using old ideas. First there was the whole cancer storyline, which seemed rather akin to when Prof. Stein had had a brain tumor. Later, Ronnie became an alcoholic, which seemed to harken back to when readers found out that Martin Stein had that very same problem. The title did introduce the original idea that Ronnie became an underwear model … which was weird …
Finally (and thankfully) EXTREME JUSTICE ended. After that, Ronnie made a few cameos here and there in other titles. His problems with alcohol were not mentioned and it was understood that he was now taking college classes again, making a special priority to study science so that he would know how to better use his powers (now that Stein was no longer in his head, it was a lot harder). He showed up in Kurt Busiek’s POWER COMPANY series and made a memorable appearance in DC 1 MILLION. He also was seen in a JLA story in which the hero called the Atom (real name: Ray Palmer) was attempting to teach Justice League reservists and lower-tier members how to best operate in certain combat situation where simply hitting the bad guy wouldn’t work. In the story, Power Girl, Steel, Firestorm and others were shown an explosive device and asked what could be done to deactivate it. The heroes all argued about the possible measures that could be taken, when Firestorm then suggested first looking for an "off" switch, which it turned out was the correct answer. Even without a professor to back him up, Ronnie had the right instincts for the game.
Speaking of the professor, he did show up again. While teaming up with what seemed to be a robotic Green Lantern, Ronnie found himself on a planet that was being terrorized by a “god of fire.” You guessed it: Martin, still an elemental. Apparently, the good Professor had now lost all his humanity. With Ronnie’s help, he regained his footing and decided to become a proactive outer space protector in order to make up for his actions.
When the JLA was lost in the past and believed dead, a program Batman had installed into his computers later activated, bringing together a group of individuals that Batman had considered as a fine replacement for the previous League. Firestorm was among the recruits and enjoyed being part of the League again, remembering his old days during the team’s "classic era." Eventually, he left to focus on his studies and his solo career.
A while later, there came the story IDENTITY CRISIS. This story is renowned for having shaken up quite a few things in the DC Universe. And it had a very direct effect on Firestorm.
Seeking out the identity of a killer who was apparently targeting the family and loved ones of certain super-heroes, Firestorm joined with Captain Marvel, Vixen and the Shining Knight in trying to capture the villain Shadow Thief. During the chaotic fight, the Shadow Thief grabbed the Shining Knight’s sword (a blade enchanted by Merlin himself) and stabbed Firestorm with it. The mystic blade did more than cut Ronnie, it breached his body’s energy field. Realizing this was causing a chain reaction, Firestorm looked up and desperately pleaded to the heroes that they tell Loraine Reilly (Firehawk), Martin Stein and his own father how much he loved them. He then flew as high as he could get and exploded in a blast of nuclear energy.
Ronnie was gone. Lorraine Reilly retired her Firehawk identity, out of grief and shock over Ronnie’s fate. Things looked bleak.
CHANGING OF THE GUARD
Jason Rusch was a kid living in Detroit with barely any money. His mother was out of the picture and his father was an occasionally abusive man who was still dealing with feelings of inadequacy and resentment due to a nuclear accident he’d suffered at work that left him disabled, feelings he took out on his son. Jason was a good kid though, despite his hardships. He was determined to work his way into college and get involved in science, no matter how long it took.
When he lost his job at a restaurant, Jason panicked and thought for a moment that he was about to lose his one chance to get out of his house and make something of himself and for his future. He went against the advice of his friend Mitch and wound up borrowing money from a local criminal. It wasn’t long however until he realized his mistake and became a marked man.
And THAT is when things got complicated. One second, Jason thought he saw a shooting star. The next, he was hit by a bundle of energy and transformed into the NEW Firestorm. But that wasn’t all. While half of his mind existed in the real world, the rest of his consciousness perceived a mental representation of the Firestorm Matrix itself. He saw that he was now a fused entity, created by the merging of himself and the same criminal he’d taken money from.
After reveling in his new powers for a while, Jason wound up in a fight and then discovered to his horror that his unwilling partner was dying. Somehow, being the second half of the Firestorm Matrix meant that his life energy was being fed upon and eventually it destroyed him.
After that, Jason found himself flung into the world of super-heroics. Whenever he wanted or needed to become Firestorm, he’d find someone nearby and "borrow" them for a while, fusing their forms into him so that he could resume his super-hero identity. After what had happened in his first experience, Jason was careful not to spend TOO much time as Firestorm, lest he risk injuring any of his recruited partners. While they were fused, the partner would be in full command of his will and could communicate with Jason telepathically, as Martin Stein had with Ronnie. As soon as Firestorm separated again, Jason was fully aware of what had happened but none of his partners remembered the experience of the merging or even the few moments of their life leading up to when Jason had found them.
Now, Jason did not have the exact same abilities that Ronnie and Stein had possessed as Firestorm. Like I said, Jason could fuse with ANYONE he wanted to. Secondly, unlike Ronnie, Jason was able to manipulate organic matter as well as inorganic. Other than that, it was the same package as the original Firestorm entity. Flight, fusion blasts, intangibility.
Jason was approached a couple of times by the Justice League who were investigating Ronnie’s disappearance and why this Detroit teenager seemed to have similar powers. At one point, the new Firestorm flew up to the JLA Watchtower and met with Batman and the Martian Manhunter. The Manhunter did a scan and said he found no trace of Ronnie’s mind. They explained about what had happened to Ronnie during the battle with the Shadow Thief and that they believed their old friend to be dead. And somehow, his displaced energy had fused with someone at random.
Jason shifted between wanting to enjoy and let loose with his new power and wondering about if he now had the responsibility to live up to a legacy. The issue was brought to a head when he was approached by Lorraine Reilly, who was investigating him in her effort to learn the full truth of what had happened to her old friend. No sooner had Jason spoken to Lorraine than Killer Frost came into the picture.
Suffering from cancer, the villain tricked Jason into curing her of the disease and let loose as she now felt more powerful than ever. Realizing he needed to become Firestorm again, Jason acted on instinct and fused with Lorraine. But he didn’t become Firestorm. Instead, he and Lorraine both took a mental backseat in the Firestorm Matrix as, to everyone’s shock … Ronnie appeared in Jason’s place, dressed in his classic costume.
Apparently, a remnant of Ronnie had indeed remained in the Firestorm energies Jason wielded and the process of merging with Firehawk had re-awakened him. When Firestorm separated, only Lorraine and Jason were returned to their physical forms. Ronnie’s body had been disintegrated, so he now only remained a voice in Jason’s mind. Their were two side-effects of this: 1, Jason could now become Firestorm at will; 2, while in their super-hero identity, Jason and Ronnie could switch places as to which of them was in control of the body.
Killer Frost eaves-dropped on a conversation the new Firestorm seemed to be having with himself (he was speaking with the mental voice of Ronnie) and quickly realized that, although she still didn’t know who this NEW Firestorm was, the original had been Ronnie Raymond and that he was alive inside the new hero’s head. Killer Frost then called up Cliff Carmichael, who had been conducting experiments on both Typhoon and Multiplex for months to make them more powerful.
Now, readers had seen Multiplex die years before, killed by the Parasite. So some readers immediately cried out that this was a mistake in continuity and simple ignorance by the writer. But let me suggest an alternative, considering how much respect Dan Jolley had been showing for the past otherwise. This new Multiplex was never unmasked before us (he was even wearing it when Cliff was experimenting on him). Although it seemed to be Danton Black, his powers were different. His duploid remained the same size he was, no matter how many he split off. And he was now energized, such as when he displayed enhanced strength. I surmise that it’s possible Cliff Carmichael either cloned Multiplex or recreated him somehow. This would also explain why Cliff was not aware of Ronnie’s dual identity until Frost told him. Multiplex had known for years and so you’d think he would’ve mentioned it once during those months of having Cliff poke and prod at him.
Whatever the case, when Cliff found out that his old enemy Ronnie had also been his rival Firestorm, and that Ronnie was mentally alive inside the "new guy’s" head, he went nuts and immediately hunted the hero down. With Typhoon and the new Multiplex at his side, Cliff engaged in a heavy no-holds-barred battle with Ronnie and Jason.
The new Cliff and Multiplex
During the fight, Jason realized that Multiplex’s duploids were not actually alive. He then used his transmutation abilities to destroy them, not caring about the mental feedback that this caused the true Multiplex. Although he realized Jason was acting half out of panic, Ronnie decided to take the reins and took over. For old readers, it was a thrill and for new readers it was an education, because Ronnie showed that he was a true hero, wading through the battle with the experience of a man who’d been doing it for years and whose powers were second-nature. Jason realized he’d been acting too much on baser instincts, that being a hero meant you had to better than that.
Sadly, Ronnie seemed to be working on borrowed time. In the mental realm of the Firestorm Matrix, his body started vanishing and Jason feared that he was dying as his original partner had. He wanted to shut down the Firestorm entity and turn himself back to the human Jason Rusch in order to give Ronnie a chance to "recharge", but Ronnie said that wasn’t an option. Cliff Carmichael had used his telepathy to confirm who they both were and was crazy enough to go after their families. Cliff had to be stopped and he had to be stopped now and if Ronnie died in the process, that was just how it had to be.
RONNIE: “He’ll go after them, I know he will. I’ve seen it happen before. We don’t know how long it’ll take to FIX me – if I even CAN be fixed. And by the time we find him again, my parents could be dead. Or YOURS.”
JASON: “But he was KILLING us! And LOOK at you! I can’t let this happen — I can’t let you do this to yourself!”
RONNIE: “Jason … Listen to me. Doing this … BEING this. It’s not like a job you can just walk off of, It’s like you’re a soldier in a WAR. Do you hear me? You get what I’m saying? … There’s a secret to doing work like this. Y’know, work that might KILL you? … Don’t THINK about it. Just concentrate on getting this one thing RIGHT. Never mind the rest … This is what we do. This is what we are. We’re FIRESTORM.”
Using his transmutation powers, Firestorm liquefied the cyber-circuits in Cliff’s brain, causing the villain to go into a catatonic state and very likely causing brain damage. The threat was over but Ronnie started fading away. He wasn’t scared or regretful. He’d done the right thing.
JASON: “I can’t do this without you, Ronnie!”
RONNIE: “You CAN, pal … You just needed … a kick in the pants, was all.”
Ronnie then smiled and saluted as he vanished away from the mental world of the Firestorm Matrix.
RONNIE: “Besides … who knows? This might not be the end … right?”
And then he was gone in a flash of light.
Jason visited Ronnie’s father afterwards. He explained who he was and all his experiences, including his son’s sacrifice. When he left, Jason felt a new sense of purpose. He was not just some teenager lucky enough to be a hero. He had a reputation and a tradition to uphold. He would never forget Ronnie, a person he’d known for just over a day, and even altered his costume slightly to more closely resemble Ronnie’s old duds.
“My name is Jason Rusch and my life is changing. I’m not sure exactly where it’s going — haven’t been sure for a while. But now — now I think I finally know how to get there.”
NO REST FOR THE WICKED
Jason went on with his career as Firestorm. Although he was now able to transform into Firestorm by himself, he would still occasionally merge with someone if he felt their knowledge would be helpful or essential. On the flipside, he lost his ability to be intangible. He got a job at S.T.A.R. Labs for a while, only to later be laid-off when the Detroit branch closed, leaving him once again without funds and desperate for a way to finance a college career.
And then the villains came. Recently, many of Earth’s super-villains had organized themselves into "The Society." Apparently led by Lex Luthor, they went around persuing new personal agendas. At one point, they captured Firestorm and used him as a power source. The hero escaped later but due to the Society’s manipulations, his friendship with his best friend Mitch was now seriously strained. The kid couldn’t catch a break.
And before he could even get his bearings, he found himself recruited by Donna Troy, sister of Wonder Woman and a former Teen Titan. The events of INFINITE CRISIS were happening all over the DC Universe. One of those events was a spacial anomaly/vortex occurring in the center of the universe. Donna recruited several heroes, Jason included, and they went out into space to tackle it, merging with his best friend Mitch in the process. And it was out there among the stars that Jason (with Mitch as his mental partner) met a flame-haired, rather aloof entity who introduced himself as "Firestorm" and looked at the young hero curiously as he said: "Ronnie?"
Martin Stein was back. Introductions were quick and then the battle resumed. Apparently, Martin had seen the oncoming crisis from afar and had also had a vision of something terrible in Jason’s future. Determined to prevent this, he killed several Thanagarian soldiers he’d fought and taken captive and then had set out to meet the new young hero.
SIDE-NOTE: We know that before the original CRISIS ON INFINITE EARTHS, many DC heroes had counterparts on other Earths. Power Girl of Earth-2 was the counterpart of Supergirl of Earth-1, Jay Garrick was the Flash of Earth-2 while Barry Allen was the Flash of Earth-1, etc. During INFINITE CRISIS, it was revealed that in the original multiverse, before the Earths were all merged together, Jason Rusch had lived on the previously unheard of “Earth-8″ and would have become that world’s version of Firestorm if things had continued that way.
During the chaos of the space battles, Jason was seriously injured. Mitch’s spirit was apparently killed in the process and it looked like Jason was about to suffer Ronnie’s fate. But Martin Stein intervened and the two began to merge.
In a mental realm, Stein explained that together the two of them would become the NEW Firestorm, merged together just as he and Ronnie had been in the past. He also decided they needed to guide the nature of how this new Firestorm was going to be.
MARTIN: “Ronald died under unusual circumstance … But essentially, he could no longer contain the energy within him. In a way, he had become a true nuclear reactor. Just as I, in my wanderings through the void, lost a great deal of my former humanity … The longer a person wears the mantle of Firestorm … the less HUMAN he becomes … We must be very careful in the process of rebuilding. The power of Firestorm is infinite — in theory. But in practice, infinite power would burn a man out in the wink of an eye. So the crucial decisions are not which powers to grant ourselves but which to give up.”
First, Martin streamlined Firestorm’s abilities, making his absorbtion of solar and stellar energy more efficient and ensuring he wouldn’t have to feed off the energy of people merged with him anymore.
As before, Firestorm would have flight and fusion blasts. The costume would now be functional, with exoskeletal support: microfibers and relays to the joints to channel the energies more effectively. Transmutation remained but the ability to alter organic matter would taken away, as it was tricky and caused feedback problems. Also, Martin decided it would be better if they weren’t able to become intangible, as he believed that a side-effect of this was that the hero became mentally as well as physically apart from the world around them. On Jason’s suggestion, he allowed the fiery hair to remain, as it "looked cool."
Martin made himself and Jason the "default" partnership needed to create Firestorm, he also left the backdoor open that they could merge with someone else if they needed to, though preferably for short intervals so as not to cause any problems. What’s more, there would now be a smoother mental connection between them so that they could exchange information more easily.
Martin briefly pondered on his strange ability to see flashes of the future due to subatomic wormholes that existed in the Firestorm Matrix, but did not state whether or not he was tabling this ability, keeping it or simply wasn’t sure how to affect it/change it one way or the other.
It was done then. The new Firestorm was born, with Jason in the driver’s seat and Martin the mental voice of wisdom. Martin smiled, saying he felt like he’d come home and certainly many readers agreed.
Sadly, it was not to last.
ONE YEAR LATER …
What happened at the end of INFINITE CRISIS has yet to be revealed. But recently, DC has pushed all their titles one year into the future of their storylines. When we read FIRESTORM: ONE YEAR LATER, we found a few changes. Apparently, Professor Stein is missing. And Firestorm is now created by the merging of Jason and Lorraine Reilly, with Lorraine now taking the role of the mental guide. But this wasn’t like before where one of them could be in a different state and start the merging mentally. Both had to remain no more than within a mile of each other’s presence or else they’d risk mutual death apparently. This has caused a relationship even more strained than Ronnie and Martin’s, as the two reluctant partners can’t have their own lives without consulting each other and needing to remain near each other.
Now that it’s one year later, Jason is no longer the rookie he had been before. He’s got over a year of experience under his belt now (though he’s by no means a perfect hero either, of course). Sadly, another result of jumping ahead one year is that we seemed to have skipped over Jason having to deal with the idea that his best friend died in space becuase of being merged with him. Hopefully this will be touched on in future issues.
How this new merger happened and where Professor Stein is are mysteries to be explored and explained soon enough. I, for one, am thrilled and interested to see what happens next.
And if anyone at DC is reading this (whether they be writer or intern or fictional character who was somehow transported into our universe), I want to ask YOU a few questions. Why are there no Firestorm trades? With all the TPBs coming out these days, surely there should be a trade collecting the original Firestorm origin story and some of the significant storylines over the years. Surely a trade featuring the origin of Jason’s incarnation of the hero would only attract even MORE readers into his wonderful title.
And by the way … a hero who can only be created by the merging of two people, two reluctant partners … tell me that isn’t something you can sell to Hollywood! It’s the ultimate buddy film (sci-fi style)!
FIRESTORM Vol.1 #1 – First appearance of Ronnie, Martin, the original Firestorm entity, Cliff Carmichael and Danton Black.
FURY OF FIRESTORM #1 – First appearance of Lorraine Reilly.
FURY OF FIRESTORM #17 – Lorraine becomes Firehawk.
FLASH Vol. 1 #290 – Martin finally learns the truth behind his blackouts and becomes aware of his partnership as Firestorm.
FIRESTORM Vol. 2 #60 – Cliff attempts suicide and is institutionalized.
FIRESTORM ANNUAL 5 – Ronnie merges with Mikhail to become a new Firestorm, controlled by the amnesiac Prof. Stein.
FIRESTORM Vol. 2 #93 – Martin finds out he was supposed to be a fire elemental.
FIRESTORM Vol. 2. #99 – Cliff becomes “Thinker II.”
FIRESTORM Vol. 2 #100 – Martin becomes the cosmic elemental version of Firestorm and leaves Earth. Ronnie and Mikhail are separated and left powerless.
SUICIDE SQUAD Vol. 1 #48 – Cliff joins the Suicide Squad.
EXTREME JUSTICE #3 – Ronnie regains his Firestorm powers.
EXTREME JUSTICE #5 – Ronnie is cured of cancer.
IDENTITY CRISIS #5 – Ronnie killed by the Shadow-Thief.
FIRESTORM Vol. 3 #1 – First appearance of Jason as he becomes the new Firestorm.
FIRSTORM Vol. 3 #6 – Jason learns about Ronnie’s fate.
FIRESTORM Vol. 3 #9 – Ronnie returns, only to fade away in issue #13.
INFINITE CRISIS #3 – Martin meets Jason.
FIRESTORM Vol. 3 #21-22 – Martin and Jason merge into a new Firestorm entity.
FIRESTORM Vol. 3 #23 – “One Year Later” and Lorraine and Jason are merged as the new Firestorm.
And there ya go! Hope you enjoyed this article. Sorry for the delay. Next up on the plate is my first Marvel profile: CAPTAIN AMERICA AND BUCKY. Afterwards, we shall do a profile on DOCTOR WHO and then … well, we’ll see.
Alan Kistler is a comic book historian who has been interviewed for documentaries by Warner Bros. Pictures and FUSE TV. To see his archives/blog or contact him directly, check out his personal web-site.