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The Nuclear Man Returns...Sort Of


Firestorm #1
writer: Dan Jolley
artists: ChrisCross and John Dell

Last weekend at WonderCon, Jeph Loeb commented that it should only be appropriate for a character named Firestorm to generate a firestorm of controversy. Indeed, for months writer Jolley, and by extension the guy who hired him, Dan DiDio, have endured a lot of fan criticism. Not that these critical fans have necessarily been numerous enough to keep the previous incarnation of Firestorm in print, but they have made it seem like sacrilege that anybody would dare tweak the basic formula for The Nuclear Man.

However, they seem to forget that Firestorm has been tweaked before. For a while during the days before Vertigo, writer John Ostrander and artist Tom Mandrake put him in a black and red costume and called him a nuclear elemental. Worse, the Ron Raymond/Professor Stein matrix was split in half. Returning Firestorm to the puffy-sleeved guy in the yellow suit seemed more an afterthought or trademark reminder than a serious effort to get back to his roots.

Besides, having the guy be an alcoholic supermodel named RonRay didnít do wonders for the characterís reputation, and that was the last time anybody had tried to do anything about Firestormís personal life. Maybe weíd all just be better off pretending Extreme Justice never happened.

See? Changing his secret identity doesnít seem like such a bad idea after all.

So pretend weíve never encountered Firestorm before. The character before us in this revival seems like a decent kid. Jason Rusch is just a young man trying to do the right thing in circumstances that are less than ideal. Working hard to save enough for college, he hits a stumbling block when his embittered unemployed father hits him. His solution may not be the wisest, but itís believable for a kid who feels overwhelmed by an unfortunate chain of circumstances. And thatís before he gains control over inorganic molecules.

Writer Jolley has built a solid character, and a solid story around him. Gifting Jason with the power of Firestorm just gilds the lily; it doesnít happen until the last few pages. Instead, thereís a good story, a small story, of one man trying to keep it together that would be an interesting read even without the superheroics. Of course, without the superheroics you might not buy it.

DiDio described this as a book that artist ChrisCross (Captain Marvel) feels is the one that will catapult him into the big time. It may very well be. This artist has a good feel for little moments and real people. At the same time, he certainly knows how to make a dramatic transformation happen. The sequence where Jason ends up in the wrong place at the wrong time carries the reader through with kinetic excitement, rushing headlong into its cliffhanger.

That may be the biggest gripe with this book. In todayís market, itís hard to want to commit to a new superhero title without much of a taste of whatís going on with the overall mystery. Itís clear that Jason getting the Firestorm matrix (for lack of a better phrase at this moment) and messing up his assignment for a loan shark are coincidences. So, weíve got a big mystery with no clues and very little action to at least hold the attention of easily distracted readers.

Itís a different vibe than previous incarnations of the title, and not just because this Firestorm doesnít have puffy sleeves. Donít come in expecting wild action, but do take a chance and let Jolley, ChrisCross and inker John Dell tell you a quiet story thatís bound to explode.

Rating:

Derek McCaw

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