Tuesday, 29 March 2016

Firestorm #1 - DC Comics

FIRESTORM No. 1, March 1978
Indisputably “a dynamic debut” and an “explosive first issue”, “Make Way For Firestorm!” is also a very good example of “DC Comics” Seventies formula for introducing new super-heroes into the publishing company’s ever-expanding Bronze Age universe. For whilst the eighteen-page periodical begins with a bang as the Nuclear Man ably demonstrates his stupefying ability “to rearrange the atomic and subatomic structure of inorganic matter” by flying straight through “ten feet of concrete” in order to surprise a group of protesters planning on blowing up “the spanking new Brooks Nuclear Power Plant!”. Its narrative soon travels back in time to “twelve hours before” in order to provide its audience with a fairly “traditional” origin story.

Indeed momentarily Gerry Conway’s ‘time-honoured telling’ of an oppressed high school student being transformed into “a kid who can switch his atomic structure at will” following an explosion which “under different circumstances” would have killed him, actually looks set to be uncomfortably similar to a Steve Ditko wall-crawling co-creation, who as a teenager had “to deal with the normal struggles of adolescence in addition to those of a costumed crime-fighter.” Fortunately however, the Brooklyn-born writer soon introduces a somewhat fresh ingredient into the customary mix by having the titular character, athletically handsome Ronald Raymond, actually being the one bullied at school… and by the educational institute’s bespectacled “resident super-genius” Cliff Carmichael no less.

This rather intriguing spin on the usual ‘brawn verses brains’ battle provides the very cornerstone upon which Firestorm’s bizarre creation is built, and even though it additionally leads to one of the comic’s more cringingly corny sequences when the athlete foolishly attempts to answer his teacher’s questions in class before the “retarded oyster” can and promptly gets told off for rudely shouting, it still offers a plausible explanation as to why Ronnie makes such recklessly ill-conceived decisions; “I know how to prove to Doreen I’m not a dumb jock!”

Equally as absorbing is the American author’s decision to quite literally couple, both physically and mentally, this comic’s main protagonist with the “Nobel Prize winning physicist” Martin Stein. Capable of ‘reading’ and fully understanding the atomic structure of his surroundings “just by glancing” at them. Yet still immature enough to create “the duds to match” the “powers of some crazy kind of super-hero”. Conway’s Nuclear Man promises plenty of potential for absorbing future dual-personality plots and development as the pair’s consciousness’s converse with one another in order to successfully complete their mission.

Sadly Al Milgrom’s artwork for this opening instalment of “Firestorm” is something of a let-down during the more sedentary stages of the storyline. There’s no doubt that the former “West Coast Avengers” penciller can draw dynamic energy-charged action sequences. In fact this comic’s wonderfully vibrant cover art attests to that fact. But disappointingly, there does also seem to be a noticeable drop in quality by the Comic Buyers Fan Award-winner whenever the script calls for him to illustrate some of the more mundane dialogue-heavy panels, such as when Raymond spends part of his evening talking on the phone.
Created and Written By: Gerry Conway, and Co-Created By: Al Milgrom

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