Review: Fury of Firestorm: The Nuclear Man Vol. 3: Takeover trade paperback (DC Comics)

Thursday, January 23, 2014

DC Comics accomplishes an interesting pivot with Fury of Firestorm Vol. 3: Takeover. Whereas at the start of the New 52 Firestorm was a global espionage book with a perhaps-limitless cast of "Firestorms," this third book in a logical and story-plausible way re-imagines Firestorm closer to his original sense, a teenager with a voice inside his head learning to yield almost limitless power. As such, Vol. 3 serves as an indication how the New 52 can grow and change without another Flashpoint; rather, there are in-book ways to tell a variety of stories about these characters (I believe something of the same is happening over in the Superboy title).

There is unquestionably something quite charming about the classic "young hero" iteration of Firestorm, and this third volume by Dan Jurgens is about the most faithful portrayal of Firestorm we've seen in a long time. With no disrespect to Jason Rusch's adventures (I'd have preferred to see Jason in charge here and not Ronnie Raymond), I'm not sure the look of the most recent pre-Flashpoint Firestorm ever quite said "Super Powers Firestorm" to me (and that's costume, not race); Jurgens, however, draws Firestorm in a very "old school" style that feels like coming home. Jurgens's Firestorm fills well the hole left by the cancellations of Static Shock and Blue Beetle for a "teen hero learning the ropes on his own" book in the New 52 -- only unfortunately Firestorm is cancelled after this book, too.

But the blessing of the 1980s-1990s aesthetic that Jurgens brings to Firestorm is also its curse. Whereas Jurgens nails the general look of Firestorm and the pseudo-classic concept is sound, the plot, villains, and even the way Firestorm talks all come off as terribly dated. As with Jurgens's Green Arrow, a lot of what's here is boilerplate superhero comics; while that might have worked once upon a time, the effect is too obviously mundane against a variety of New 52 comics like Flash, Wonder Woman, Batman, and even the Justice League books that are reaching a little farther.

[Review contains spoilers]

Firestorm's difficulties are fairly obvious from the first issue, in which Firestorm is attacked by a robot dubbed Dataxen, and then fights villains named Black Star, Relay, and Skull Crusher, of all things. These come off as very 1990s-inspired, one-dimensional villains, reminiscent of Jurgens's Dark Nemesis baddies from his Teen Titans run; in addition, I'm fairly sure I've seen Jurgens draw the same uniforms on the villains' Continuum scientists as he has on employees at STAR Labs or the Cadmus Project, or on the Challengers of the Unknown, at some point before. Essentially the threats that Jurgens pits Firestorm against just aren't that worrisome -- aren't that mature, even -- and it robs the book of much of its suspense.

In contrast, the first four chapters of Takeover are markedly better when they deal with Dr. Megala, a villain already established in the pages of JT Krul's Captain Atom, and when Atom himself, late of his own series, arrives -- the takeaway being that Jurgens appears to work better here with already-established villains than his own creations. The interplay between Atom and Firestorm is ultimately minimal, but the reader is reminded why Krul's "Dr. Manhattan with a heart" Captain Atom was so much fun; hopefully his apparent death here isn't permanent.

Another sign of Firestorm's hit-or-miss difficulties: after Firestorm takes down Megala with Captain Atom in the third chapter, a moving climax to the storyline, Jurgens still goes back in the next chapter to Firestorm fighting Black Star, Relay, Skull Crusher, and Dataxen again, when their story is already essentially over. In trades, this was a weird quirk, but if I were a monthly reader, I might have been even more annoyed.

The final four chapters serve to bring Firestorm more fully into the DC Universe, with appearances by the Teen Titans, Superman, and a cadre of villains. Jurgens's Titans are terribly off-model, with Red Robin especially aged much too old, and with a head of long hair like something off of Dick Grayson mid-"Titans Hunt." At the same time, the Titans issue has some touching moments where Ronnie tries (and fails) to reverse some of the damage Megala did while controlling Firestorm. Largely the winningest part of Jurgens's Firestorm is when this is truly a teen book dealing with teen issues, like Ronnie learning to accept the limits of his powers or when Ronnie and Jason vie over love interest Tonya writing a term paper on Ronnie's behalf.

In the three-part finale, Jurgens takes the unusual step of essentially treating all of Firestorm's historic enemies like the Flash's Rogues, teaming them up and pitting them at Firestorm at once. At least here the villains have a bit more name recognition than the ones Jurgens makes up, but the result is a bizarre mish-mash -- Black Bison side-by-side with Hyena, side-by-side with Killer Frost, and then a body of water included so Typhoon could participate. Plastique gets one panel in which Jurgens writes her with a terrible French accent (also Firestorm says things like "we can take down those mooks" and other hackneyed phrases, as if Jurgens were writing the Newsboy Legion). A few of the villains re-introduced here got their own Villains Month specials, which is good because Jurgens uses so many at once that nearly none get the kind of back-story such to, again, make them feel real or threatening to the reader.

Jurgens also re-introduces Professor Martin Stein in the end, a strange move since Jurgens doesn't do much with him aside from the reveal. I wonder if this is meant to open the possibility of Stein and Ronnie re-merging in true Firstorm style without Jason; much as I like Jason, I think the Firestorm character works when you have in the Firestorm body a clueless kid controlling the movements and then a wiser older person giving advice in his head, a child-as-grownup concept in the Captain Marvel vein. Having Jason as Firestorm with Stein in his head teams brains with brains, so there's not the same conflicts as with brawn and brains. In this way, perhaps the Jason/Ronnie pairing is the best solution, given that it preserves Jason's presence and also creates the brains/brawn paradigm; I just wish there was a way to bring in the adult/teenager tension as well.

For all of these reasons, Fury of the Firestorm Vol. 3: Takeover emerges as both a positive and negative next step for the Firestorm character. Even as we already know the makeup of Jeff Lemire's new Justice League Unlimited series, I'm still hopeful some of my favorites from cancelled series will make appearances -- Animal Man, we know, but I've said before I'd like to see Lemire take on Grifter in a team setting, and Firestorm, too. I think DC has Firestorm in a better place now than the beginning of the New 52, if only some writer would use him to his fullest.

[Includes original covers, along with "WTF" two-page spread cover]

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  1. A thought about the long-haired Robin: the design you describe seems to be the one found in the "JLA Adventures: Trapped In Time" movie that just came out on DVD without a lot of fanfare. (Here's a link to Chris Sims' review:

    I'm wondering if there was some behind-the-scenes confusion about what to do with Robin between the death of Damian, the cancellation of Teen Titans and the problems with scheduling anything Batman-related in the media with the exception of "The Lego Movie". (DC and the WB don't get along too well.) I didn't particularly like the look of this Robin concept; it's like they put Impulse's hair on the wrong member of Young Justice, so its abandonment is fine by me.

    1. It's as good a theory as any, though I wonder if the timing of it doesn't work -- we're talking about Firestorm Vol. 3 now, Titans was just cancelled, and the movie just came out, but all of these things could have been in production or have been decided at wildly different times. I still go with it just being a "Jurgens thing" -- I know I've seen Jurgens draw Robin Tim Drake before (team-up with Jimmy Olsen, maybe?) and his Robin there was older, taller than he was supposed to be, etc.

      I guess if Teen Titans relaunches with a shaggy-haired Robin, we'll know for sure.