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THE FURY OF FIRESTORM, THE NUCLEAR MAN #1

Writer: Gerry Conway
Penciler: Pat Broderick
Inker: Rodin Rodriguez
Colorist: Gene D’Angelo
Letterer: John Costanza
Editor: Len Wein
Publisher: DC Comics
Cover Price: 60 Cents
Current Near-Mint Pricing: $4.00

Previously in The Fury Of Firestorm, The Nuclear Man:  Originally debuting in 1978, Firestorm’s first series fell prey to the ‘DC Implosion’ (a line-wide contraction of DC’s publishing output that led to cutbacks in staffing and a cancellation nearly half of DC’s monthly titles), cancelled in mid-story with #5.  Fortunately, Firestorm’s creator, Gerry Conway, was also the writer of Justice League Of America at the time, allowing him to add the Nuclear Man to the JLA roster and avoiding the dreading comics limbo.  By 1982, DC’s fortunes were on the uptick again, and Firestorm ended up first as a backup feature in the pages of ‘Flash’ and then graduating to the pages of his second solo book.

Of course, it’s just another day for Ronnie Raymond and Professor Martin Stein.  In fact, it’s been a busy one, and Ronnie’s balance of school, football and superhero activities has left him more than a little bit exhausted, so much so that he decides to reduce his mass to near-nothing and take a nap on a passing cloud.

That goes badly, but at least our nuclear duo learns that Ronnie being conscious is necessary for their continued well-being, gestalt-wise.  Quick-thinking saves them from going splat on the pavement, but an encounter with the NYPD gets tense quickly, and Firestorm makes a break for home.  One of their homes, anyway…

As first issue intros go, it’s pretty solid, taking into account the need to give us a clear view of the status quo for our characters while acknowledging that Firestorm never really left the spotlight.  (His solo book was cancelled in December of ’78, while he joined the League in the summer of 1980, approximately 17 months later.)  Of course, there’s more than just the wheres and whens to go over, as Firestorm seems consciously designed to give DC a Spider-Man style high-school hero, so we establish what Ronnie’s life at Bradley High School is like…

The Spider-Man parallels continue with Cliff Carmichael, who is totally NOT Flash Thompson, you guys, and who is a much more sinister and openly vicious figure than Peter Parker’s bully.  (Whether that’s due to additional menace on his part or just the changing times of New York in the 80s, I dunno.)  This page also features no fewer than THREE future Firestorm villains, including the one from later this ish.  While Ronnie gets used to the idea of high school sucking, Professor Stein takes advantage of some quiet moments in his lab to gather his thoughts, dictating them into a tape recorder (and, just coincidentally, walking us through a thumbnail sketch of Firestorm’s first series, four years earlier.)

Multiplex, Killer Frost and the Hyena appear here, reinforcing the curious use of Firestorm’s villains and supporting cast in the CW DC TV shows.  Even Felicity Smoak originated as a character in ‘Firestorm’, oddly enough.  Stein finishes his coffee and narration, just in time to wonder if the whole exercise was a bad idea…

This moment actually feels like a writing misstep to me, calling out the device of having Stein speaking aloud, and hanging the metaphorical lampshade on the fact that it’s entire for the benefit of new readers.  Ronnie and his class, under the tutelage of Professor John Ravenhair, make their way to the Museum of Natural History to study the region’s Native American history.  It’s a history that he’s all-too familiar with, as his elderly father is a founding member of the very Bison Cult featured in the display, and uses his own mystical abilities to awaken powers in John.  Cue the fusion dance!

Martin makes his exit just in time to be drawn into the Firestorm matrix, facing a transformed John Ravenhair, now declaring himself to be Black Bison, shaman of the lost Bison Cult!  Can magic go toe-to-toe with nuclear fusion on the battlefield?

That’d be a “YEP!”  Bison’s magic threatens all of Ronnie’s classmates, and he quickly uses his transformational powers to save them from fates worse than death (even creepy Cliff), allowing Black Bison a window to escape ito the streets of NYC.   This…  could be bad.

One of the big bummers of ‘Fury Of Firestorm’ is seeing the intricate pencil work of Pat Broderick reproduced less-than-subtly on the page, with coloring that hasn’t aged particularly well.  Still, this is the Firestorm design that I love to death, puffy sleeves and all, and even awkward coloring and 30-year-old paper can’t change that.

The final page feels very Spider-Man as well, giving us a little guilt for Ronnie, some angst from Doreen (the future Hyena), snark from Cliff (the future Thinker) and the first appearance of Lorraine Reilly (the future Firehawk.)  Moreover, it established Professor Stein as the very adult, staid, perhaps even inflexible character that we know and love, making his recent (SPOILERS!) demise on tv even more sad.  The Fury Of Firestorm, The Nuclear Man #1 is a book that has a lot to do, and does it pretty well, with the art ill-served by the production/coloring and the story occasionally feeling stressed by the sheer amount of review and recap necessary to get things rolling, earning a right-down-the-middle 2.5 out of 5 stars overall.  Still, it’s a very readable issue, with occasionlly excellent art, and it nails the Spider-Man high school mystique (for good reason; writer Conway helped to CREATE that same mystique) and serves as a reminder that second chances DO exist in comics.

And that’s always a good thing…

[taq_review]

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Once upon a time, there was a young nerd from the Midwest, who loved Matter-Eater Lad and the McKenzie Brothers... If pop culture were a maze, Matthew would be the Minotaur at its center. Were it a mall, he'd be the Food Court. Were it a parking lot, he’d be the distant Cart Corral where the weird kids gather to smoke, but that’s not important right now... Matthew enjoys body surfing (so long as the bodies are fresh), writing in the third person, and dark-eyed women. Amongst his weaponry are such diverse elements as: Fear! Surprise! Ruthless efficiency! An almost fanatical devotion to pop culture! And a nice red uniform.

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