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Monday, March 13, 2006

A Brief History of Firestorm, Part Two

After last night's rundown, Firestormania continues unabated here on the ISB as we move into the second half of our nuclear-powered exposé. Tonight, it's a look at the foes who rise up to challenge his nuclear-powered heroic dominance. In a lot of ways, the villains are the most important elements of the series, as they provide the challenges that will define the hero. And after all, without his enemies, a hero has nothing better to do than sit around in his basement, and how successful would that be?

Oh. Right.

Well I'll brook none of that nonsense in this house, mister! IT'S CONWAY TIME!

Say Hello to the Bad Guys


My sentiments exactly, Ronnie.

For all its fun, Firestorm is very much a Villain-of-the-Month book, with themed bad guys showing up every Tuesday to keep Ronnie from getting to second base with Doreen. But even so, it's got a certain kind of charm to it. Especially with the way Conway set up all the villains along the same themes of identity that Ronnie and Professor Stein were dealing with themselves.

Firestorm's first super-villain and initial contender for arch-nemesis was Multiplex, an old rival of Professor Stein who got caught in the same explosion that crammed Ronnie and the Prof into a pair of poofy sleeves. But while they merge together via fusion to become Firestorm, Danton Black absorbs energy to split into multiple bodies--fission. See how Gerry Conway ties that nuclear jargon together?

Multiplex: He's not just an incredibly boring arch-nemesis, he's also educational!

Then there was Black Bison, who, like Ronnie, had to deal with a pesky know-it-all voice in his head and non-traditional headgear. Unfortunately for Firestorm, John Ravenhair's head-vox is a pissed off Native American who shoots magic out of a stick and wants a little bit more to make up for his people's suffering than loose slots and tax-free cigarettes. He's an all right sort of guy, though, once you get past the whole "I want to stab you while not wearing a shirt" thing.

Other VotMs include an inexplicable tussle with Pan, of Greek Mythology fame, along with appearances by Mindboggler and Slipknot, who wind up in the Suicide Squad, or as I like to call it, the Firestorm Villain Retirement Home. It goes about as well for them as you might expect. Mindboggler, if memory serves, was turned into a sentient computer program after being blown up, but Slipknot is adjusting to life with one arm quite well after finding Kobra in prison.

There's also the Hyena, who has a terrifying secret that I dare not mention here, as I didn't bother to read any of the post-Implosion backups in Flash.

The Zuggernaut's popularity eclipses even Firestorm himself, and therefore no appearances were available to review. Sorry, kids.

Okay, so now that the scrubs are out of the way, let's take a look at Conway's big guns. That's right:

KILLER FROST


Yes, Dr. Crystal Frost, despite being reasonably attractive, smart, and successful, couldn't even land a burger-flipping nerd like Martin Stein, which, of course, resulted in an icy vendetta when she got super-powers in the arctic. But she was a hit: If you go so far as to read through the lettercolumns after she appears (no doubt in search of DG Chichester's thoughts on Multiplex), you'll find readers clamoring for her return. One guy even goes so far as to claim that she's "THE Firestorm villain," but really: Her major competition is a guy named after a movie theater.

Still, they've got a point: To this day, she's the only villainess I've ever seen who manages to subjugate an entire city while wearing a corseted ball gown. And she's got the one thing that no other bad guy has to offer the world of super-crime:

A Sinister Master Plan Involving Burt Reynolds


Well, okay, it's "Curt Nolland," but no amount of clever Gerry Conway name-changing can hide the fact that that's the Goddamn Bandit. He even drives a Trans-Am!

By virtue of crazy Bandit-related crime sprees and an appearance in Crisis where she becomes smitten with Firestorm through the machinations of the Psycho Pirate, Frost is by far the most interesting Firestorm villain of the early years. Still, it doesn't take her too long to bite the dust and get replaced by her nigh-identical friend Louise Lincoln, who later ends up, as you may well imagine by this point, in the Suicide Squad.

For my money, though, the single best Firestorm villain of all time has got to be...

PLASTIQUE


She never held Jerry Reed for ransom or cursed Firestorm with lycanthropy, but Bette Sans Souci is unquestionably Firestorm's greatest nemesis. Why?

Because she's a Militant Canadian Suicide Bomber, and that's not a phrase you get to use often. Or ever.

Seriously, that alone is enough to make her probably one of the best villains of all time. Just go back and read her dialogue aloud while affecting an over-the-top, Claremontian Québécois accent and tell me you don't want to see her on a monthly basis: "DEATH EES MAH WAI-PON AN' LOH-VAIR!"

She also has the distinction of being handed the most ignominious defeat by our flame-topped pal, as he bursts in on a hostage situation and disarms her quite handily by dashing in...

...and turning her clothes to air.

He goes on to grab the bombs and chuck them out the window, which begs the question of why he didn't just turn the bombs to air instead. Scott gave me a line about the bombs being complex machinery and harder to transmute in the nick of time, but considering that Firestorm changes an entire semi-truck to water on day one of his super-hero career, I'm willing to bet that it has a lot more to do with the fact that she's a hot French chick.

Well-played, Ronald. Well-played.

11 Comments:

Blogger Michael said...

Hyena's terrible secret was that she was Doreen's sister, Summer. Yes, Summer Day.

3/14/2006 12:19 AM

 
Blogger David Cutler said...

There's something I can't wrap my head around, having never read a single Firestorm comic in my 22 years on earth. His villains... ice powers, explosive powers, stereotypical native powers... rope powers? How could any of these guys done dickity poop against a guy who rearranges atoms?

"Aha! I got you in my ice cage!"
"Yes, but now it's a beer tent."

"Aha! I got you in my noose!"
"Yes, but now it's a Twizzler."

Is this the Riddler Effect kicking it into high gear?

3/14/2006 4:31 AM

 
Blogger Diamondrock said...

You forget, David Cutler, that Ronnie Raymond was an idiot.

Even the Prof's smarts weren't enough to counterbalance *that*.

3/14/2006 8:54 AM

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It makes you realize that the series would have been better off if the explicit premise was that Ronnie was an idiot, say if he were the mentally disabled or severely low-IQ janitor at the nuclear plant targeted by the activists. Then you could have played out some pretty interesting class tensions, etc., maybe even had a kind of "Marty" subplot where the janitor kept turning into Firestorm just so he could be smart for a while, etc.

Cause Ronnie was basically, as Chris says, Flash Thompson--not massively stupid, just sort of a jock. But man, he acted like a moron given that he had power almost on par with Green Lantern.

I guess I liked this series simply because the basic concept--two people becoming one hero, with some of the interesting complications of that--was compelling enough in its own right, even with the stupid development of it by Conway.

3/14/2006 11:41 AM

 
Anonymous JR said...

I loved this series growing up, and it's still an outragously fun, quirky read. Issue 16 could've really packed a punch, if, you know, they hadn't blown the surprise ending right on the cover.

Firestorm's weakness (other than Ronnie's moments of denseness) was that his powers didn't work on organic matter. If I recall, Slipknot's ropes were made of an unnamed "natural fiber" which Firestorm's power didn't work on.

That's still gotta suck though, being so powerfull and getting your butt handed to you by a hemp rope.

3/14/2006 6:59 PM

 
Blogger Pope Impious XXIII said...

Hey, don't forget that Plastique dated Captain Atom for a while.. She was nuts, French-Canadian AND dating someone old enough to be her father.

3/15/2006 7:57 AM

 
Blogger Eric said...

For some reason that is lost to the mists of time, I thought Firestorm was really cool when he was on a couple of Hanna-Barbera cartoons. I suspect, looking at this article, that it was because he was fighting everybody else's villains, instead of his own. Looking at the Superfriends - The Legendary Superpowers Show (and oh boy is that a title deserving of mockery) episode listing, I see he's on shows with:

* Darkseid
* Brainiac
* Lex Luthor
* The Joker
* Penguin
* etc.

3/15/2006 3:06 PM

 
Blogger Chris Sims said...

Not only did she date Captain Atom, they got married. And really, being old enough to be her father's a little bit more palatable since he winked out of existence for 20 years.

3/15/2006 9:55 PM

 
Blogger Pope Impious XXIII said...

I'd forgotten about the marriage..
It must make for interesting conversations (or that should be "made" for interesting converstaions since he is now a part of a parallel universe where, if I read my covers correctly, he is macking on the Engineer.)

For him the 60s was only a few years ago. She was barely even born then. He's a red-white-and blue US Patriot. She was willing to kill herself to liberate Quebec. Real Felix and Oscar thing they had going.

3/16/2006 9:53 AM

 
Blogger Michael said...

When I used to buy my comics at the grocery store as a lad, I would see Firestorm on the rack and be drawn to his, as you say, totally ridiculous but uber-cool costume (mostly the flaming toupee) and think I should pick up a copy. I never did because other than him, everything else looked so...boring. Thank you for confirming my wise 10-year old decision making capabilities.

And Slipknot has to have the gayest costume every. Braclets and big billowing sleeves with the torso cut so that his nipples and rippling obliques are visible? Girl, please.

3/17/2006 3:19 PM

 
Anonymous SanctumSanctorumComix said...

FIRESTORM was cool for many reasons:

- EXCELLENT SUPERPOWER

- CLOD trying to USE that superpower

- BEST COSTUME since JACK of HEARTS

- The occasional hottie bat-shit-crazy villainess.

and MOST importantly...

One of the FIRST comics to place the NAMES of the CREATIVE TEAM ON THE COVER!

THAT was KUDOS!

Also, it reminded me of why, even though I loved the boook I dropped it by issue 23.

New (I'm not Pat Broderick) Artist - that didn't live up to my criteria.

Looking at some later issues I see ALEX NINO as a creator!
ALEX NINO?!?!
I would have totally stayed on the book if I knew he was coming aboard.

Crap.

I JUST found this out.
25 years later?!

CRAP!


Oh!
And Plastique CAN'T be French.
Her legs are shaved.

OW!!!
Stop hitting me with those White Flags!

HEY!!!
STOP!!!!
That loaf of Bread is stale!
It hurts!


YOW!!
NO! I'm ALLERGIC to SNAILS!!!
ALLERGIC!!!!!
AAAIiiEEE!!!!

*whimper* I...I surrender. *sniff*

~P~
P-TOR

word verification:
aqpouox

French term for
"Ste-rike him a-gaiin, moi bro-thairs!"

8/22/2006 4:42 PM

 

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