A Brief History of Firestorm, Part One
Last week I mentioned that I was so enthused by Firestorm: The Nuclear Man #23 that I went back and started reading through his earlier adventures, starting with his first appearance and working my way through the first few years of Fury of Firestorm. Now, I realize that most of you don't spend your days staring idly at sixty-odd long boxes of back issues like I do, but if you too have been gripped by Firestormania, don't fret. Over the next two days, as a public service, the ISB presents a primer on everyone's second-favorite flame-headed super-hero, starting tonight with the installment I just had to call...
The first thing you're going to notice about Firestorm is that he doesn't make a whole lot of sense, but really: With a costume as ridiculous--yet totally awesome--as that, you're pretty sure where you stand going into it. Essentially, he reads like a Marvel character in the DC Universe, which probably came as a breath of fresh air back in 1978. It's no surprise, though, considering that he was created by former Marvel Editor-in-Chief (and creator of the Punisher) Gerry Conway and Al Milgrom, who would go one to write one of the classic Hulk rampages of all time.
Firestorm's most distinguishing feature, aside from the fact that his head's on fire, is the fact that unlike most super-heroes, he actually has a triple-identity, made up of two average folks who fuse together to form one Nuclear-powered super-hero. Unlike, say, Moon Knight, who only thinks he's four guys.
Most important, of course, is high schooler Ronnie Raymond, who has the unique distinction of being the only character I have ever seen to be a jock that gets picked on at school by a nerd.
Yes, Ronnie's high school nemesis is Cliff Carmichael, a science geek with dire sideburns who gets his kicks calling Ronnie an idiot and never once gets a chin-check for his trouble. Every time Ronnie goes to clock him, something interrupts, usually in the form of Doreen Day, teenage Farrah Fawcett simulacrum and the hottest girl at Bradley High. She spends most of her time throwing herself at Ronnie and sporting a wardrobe that seems to consist solely of diaphanous blouses that occasionally have liquids spilled on them.
Ronnie, who isn't exactly the sharpest knife in a bag of hammers, fails to get the point, constantly wondering if she likes him despite the fact that she all but invites him over for a quick roll in the hay after Trig. So yeah, Cliff probably has a point there. He's so oblivious to her advances, in fact, that he feels the need to impress her by--in a perfectly logical string of events--falling in with a group of terrorists who want to blow up nuclear power plants of the greater New York area. Ah, young love!
Enter Professor Martin Stein, a Nobel Prize-winning nuclear physicist who somehow managed to avoid getting his doctorate. He's working in the plant when Ronnie and the Coalition to Resist Atomic Power show up (Yes, that's right: their organization is known as CRAP, and yet someone still sold them dynamite), and one explosion later...
...Stein finds himself sharing his body with a naked teenager whose head is on fire. Just another Tuesday in the DC Universe.
Usually this sort of thing results in a career of ill-fated bank robberies that end with the Flash punching you into orbit, but it turns out that Ronnie and Stein are both decent folks, so Ronnie whips up a costume and goes to stop CRAP's evil plan. Incidentally, two-time Professional Bowling Association champion Mark Hale informs me that in an installment of Ask the Answer Man, Bob Rozakis said Al Milgrom based Firestorm's costume design on what he thought a fourteen year-old boy would think up. And what he chose was poofy sleeves. AL MILGROM = GENIUS.
For the remainder of the series, Stein spends most of his face time as a disembodied head, floating around and chatting with Ronnie and generally giving the Justice League the impression that maybe they shouldn't have extended membership to the guy with atomic restructuring powers who constantly talks to himself and turns things into plastic pumpkins. Stein does have his moments, however, like the time he loses his job and has to rely on Ronnie to hook him up with some employment:
Keep in mind, this man is a Nobel Prize-winning nuclear physicist. But I guess if sovereign princess of a mythical island of Amazons has to pull a double at Taco Whiz in between Justice League meetings, this sort of thing can happen to anyone.
The best thing about Martin Stein, though, is that for the entirity of the first series, he has no memory whatsoever of being Firestorm when he's split from Ronnie, so after dealing with Multiplex or whatever, Ronnie changes them back to their civilian identities, hands a confused Stein a few bucks for cab fare, and sends him on his merry way. Stein, who is understandably worried by his constant blackouts, especially with his sensitive scientific work for the government, even hires a private eye to follow him around before dealing with his problem in the only way he can.
He gets blind stinking drunk right before Ronnie changes them into Firestorm.
Truly, that is his finest hour. Well, either that or the way he reacts to Ronnie telling him that Lorraine Reilly (in her pre-Firehawk days) has the hots for his secret identity:
Next! A hero is defined by his villains! Firestorm? Well, he's probably more defined by his flaming hair than his punch-out with the Black Bison. Be here tomorrow when the ISB takes a look at Firestorm's Rogues Gallery!