Fury of Firestorm: The Nuclear Men Vol. 2: The Firestorm Protocols, and I was actually pleasantly surprised. Writer Joe Harris arrives, replacing Gail Simone as writer/artist Ethan Van Sciver's co-plotter, and the overall story improves. Rather than focusing on high schoolers fighting an evil corporation, a la Teen Titans, this latest book is all about "legitimate" Firestorms hunting "rogue" Firestorms, a more engaging and mature story.
There's also an interesting structure to this book, in which Harris creates a solid mission and supporting cast for Firestorm and then proceeds to essentially wipe the slate clean in preparation for Dan Jurgens's run that follows.
[Review contains spoilers]
The end of the first Firestorm volume sent Firestorms Jason Rusch and Ronnie Raymond on separate missions, and the two stay apart for much of this book. This helps the story immeasurably, offering a different tonal quality. Rather than seven issues of Jason and Ronnie fighting, instead we get on one side a more traditional superhero story, in which Jason teams with some international Firestorms to stop Firestorm terrorists, and then a more fraught tale as Ronnie is kidnapped and tortured, and eventually lead to take revenge by a Russian Firestorm with ulterior motives. This mix of bright and sunny and dark and gloomy keeps the book from ever seeming one-note as the first volume did.
Van Sciver and Harris reintroduce Firestorm mainstay Firehawk in the second chapter, now the French-owned Firestorm, along with her partner Hurricane, the British Firestorm. It helps the book to have a couple of characters who know what they're doing on the page, versus Jason and Ronnie mostly stumbling around previously. Van Sciver draws the first two chapters; the subsequent artist, Yildiray Cinar, is no slouch, but Van Sciver's presence early in the book gives more weight to Firehawk and Hurricane's introduction, and adds some drama and grit to the book.
The Indian Firestorm, Rakshasi, might be too on-the-nose in her resemblance to a Hindu deity, but generally I liked this idea of the Firestorms dealing with other Firestorms, instead of less substantial bad guys like the Hyena militia in the first book.
About the third-to-last chapter, Firestorm Protocols begins to turn from building up to breaking down. Van Sciver and Harris succeed in making the audience like these new Firestorms, and so we're equally shocked as they're killed off one by one. The transition to wrap-up isn't entirely smooth, as both the motives of Firestorm-sponsor Dr. Zither and the Russian Firestorm Pozhar seem to shift as the story needs -- it's unclear why Zither would want to kill all the Firestorms just because she's under scrutiny, just as it's equally unclear what Pozhar truly wants with Ronnie other than to be the Sith Lord of the Firestorms, as it were -- but the conclusion is dramatic enough to allow for ignoring these inconsistencies.
The final chapter is Firestorm's Zero Month issue, and unlike most, it takes place in the present, rather than the past, a few months after Jason and Ronnie have seemingly lost their powers. That doesn't last long, however; I like that Harris brings in Helix, a villain from the beginning of this series, to introduce Jason and Ronnie's new status quo. Firestorm fans won't miss that Firestorm is restored to his classic costume and color-scheme now, with Ronnie once again in control and Jason, rather than Professor Martin Stein, providing commentary in his head.
I rather like Jason as Firestorm, not Ronnie -- both characters are played to their extremes, but Ronnie's "jockish-ness" often becomes too stereotypical -- so I was disappointed to see Ronnie in control. For a moment I even though the Firestorms might be sharing one body, but indeed it seems that Ronnie is the movements and the mouth, and Jason's just a passenger. Obviously this is the traditional Firestorm set-up, which must be what DC was going for, though personally I didn't mind the "Nuclear Men" so much. My hope is that Dan Jurgens, in the next volume, doesn't take for granted Jason's backseat status, but rather makes it a plot point between the boys.
I've only read two Firestorm series, the Jason Rusch pre-Flashpoint series and this one, and I haven't ever really latched on to one; the last Firestorm book was too much into high school antics when Blue Beetle already filled that role better, and the first volume of this series just wasn't strong enough story-wise. Fury of Firestorm: The Nuclear Men Vol. 2: The Firestorm Protocols may be the first time I've read a Firestorm book that I though I could get behind, and now the creative team is leaving. My suspicion is the New 52 Firestorm character would be better off on a team book than trying to carry a title on his own.
(My favorite site for Firestorm news, by the way, is Firestorm Fan, run by the Irredeemable Shag. Check it out!)
[Includes original covers]
Up next ... Nightwing, and then more Joe Harris, coincidentally, with X-Files Season 10.