The New Firestorm

Firestorm #1
DC Comics – Dan Jolley (w); Chriscross (p); John Dell (i)It seems like everyone has been clamoring for a Firestorm relaunch for the longest time now. Frankly, I’ve never been able to figure out what the big obsession with him was, but admittedly, the bulk of my experience with the character comes from the DC Superpowers figure I had when I was in grade school. And, to tell you the truth, even then I thought his puffy shirt was a little… fruity.

The problem though is that Firestorm is such a thoroughly B-list (at best) DC hero that I don’t think anyone in their right mind expects him to be able to pull down sales sufficient to sustain an ongoing series for any appreciable length of time. Oh, sure, there’s a small, very vocal group on the internet calling for his revival, but when you get right down to it, there’s a small, very vocal group on the internet calling for just about anything that the human mind can imagine. But I guess DC heard enough complaints on the convention circuit that they decided to finally give Firestorm another chance. But this time, thank God, he left his puffy shirt at home.

Jason Rusch is a young man in a bad situation. Struggling to bankroll enough money to put himself through college, he waits tables at a local family-style restaurant. That, in and of itself, is not so unique. However, Jason’s handicapped father (he’s missing his left hand) is physically abusive towards him to the point that his injuries sometimes prevent him from being able to do his job. Such is the case on a day that changes Rusch’s life forever.

Sent home from work because the restaurant’s manager feels that customers would be uncomfortable being served by a man whose face is swollen on its entire left side, Jason worries how he will raise enough money to make his first tuition payment. Desperate, he works out a deal with local hood Stevie Golek to work as a courier for some packages whose contents are best left to the imagination. Later that night, while en route to the delivery point, an explosion in the distance distracts Jason and his vehicle spins out of control and into a ditch. Groggy and with a fresh bruise for his already swollen head, he awakens a short while later, and panicking over the lost time, hurries to the drop-off. However, when he arrives, he finds a gunfight in progress. Taking cover, he makes eye contact with a dying man, at which point the space between them is filled with fire and when the flames subside, Jason Rusch is gone and only Firestorm stands in his place.

First off, you have to give Jolley credit for several things, not the least of which is writing a book starring a minority character that doesn’t resort to “street” dialect, a concept that just never quite comes off right. I know it seems sad to say that Jolley should be commended for not writing his protagonist as a stereotype, but characters of African descent that use proper grammar seem to be a rare thing in comics. Additionally, his first issue isn’t anything like what I expected it to be, with the titular character not appearing until the final, splash page and the issue as a whole containing absolutely no superheroics. It’s just nice to see that, in general, Jolley chose to sidestep the quick and easy path (because, as we all know, that leads to the Dark Side) when writing this book.

However, this is not to say that the book is wholly without problems. First of all, the hero is now a different guy entirely and — gasp — he’s black! So I’m sure there will much wailing and gnashing of teeth over that, as one of the two would be more than enough to send fanboys into conniptions, but the one-two punch of an all-new, all-ethnic version of a pre-existing hero will probably cause heart attacks in some of Firestorm’s more portly fans. Compound that with the fact that this issue contains no explanation for the absence of Ronnie Raymond (the original Firestorm) and Dan Jolley is undoubtedly going to be getting some angry e-mail this week.

I’m afraid mostly that the biggest obstacle to this book reaching its audience is the pacing. Jolley is certainly taking his sweet time getting things done, as the hero doesn’t make his appearance until the last possible moment and if the first issue is any indication, he won’t be flying about and slinging nuclear fire anytime soon. And while Brian Bendis has proven that you can tell superhero stories in that style and still be successful, it should be noted that he’s mostly doing it on books starring A-list characters (which come with substantial built-in reader bases). Dan Jolley doesn’t have that luxury here and it seems to me that if you’re going to try to hook new readers on a book starring a character that they more than likely have no sentimental attachment to, you really do need to start things off with a bang so they want to come back next month for more.

All in all, it’s not a bad issue; it’s just that it’s not exactly an optimal first issue. Jolley’s already facing an uphill battle, trying to sell new readers on a character that few have any genuine affection for and he hasn’t made life any easier for himself by neither placating the Firestorm fans nor getting into the meat of the story fast enough to hook readers for whom this is their first experience with the character. I wish him well, I really do, as I think the book shows potential. I’m just not so sure that it’ll survive long enough to realize it.

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