Review | The Fury of Firestorm, The Nuclear Men #1

Twin protagonists star in a book written by two writers, with (predictably) dualistic results.

What a completely mixed bag this new Firestorm is. It veers from good to dreadful in the span of a few pages, which seems appropriate because the entire comic is devoted to duality: black versus white, brains versus brawn, need versus privilege. (Even the comic itself seems to have two titles.) It’s all a reflection of the twin protagonists, Jason Rusch, high-school journalist and science geek, and Ronnie Raymond, high-school star quarterback.

The book’s got twin plotters, too: Gail Simone, a writer with a proven track record over the past decade, and Ethan Van Sciver, who gets top billing even though his track record has nothing to do with writing. (He can wield a pencil. Handsomely but slowly. Which means, of course, that he’s only drawing the Firestorm covers.) There’s an interesting backstory here too: Simone sits on the liberal side of the fence, while Van Sciver is notably right-wing. All of which means this book could evolve in a most interesting way, or it could be a trainwreck.

Both possibilities are evident so far. The comic begins with a compelling sequence about a black-ops cell torturing a family in the Middle East to extract information about the mysterious Firestorm protocol. The content is rough, but compared to what we’ve seen so far (especially in DC’s biggest sellers, the Batman and Green Lantern franchises), it’s drawn with restraint by Yildiray Cinar, who makes smart use of silhouettes. It’s a good set-up for a group of villains that will likely menace this book for quite a while.

Then we cut to Generic American High School for the second half, where we meet Jason and Ronnie. In the rushed course of this deus ex machina origin, Van Sciver and Simone combine laughable dialogue with preposterous leaps in plot logic. The bad guys are seeking the fourth of four “god particle” totems in the world, yet—spoiler alerts—it turns out that Jason simply has it stashed in his locker. (Really?!) My favorite example of both bad plotting and wince-worthy dialogue dovetails on the last page, when the two new Firestorms merge, becoming a hybrid Hulk codenamed “Fury.” It smacks of really dopey fanfic, especially when Fury bellows “blah blah blah SWEETCHEEKS!”

All that noted, I’m not as sour on this book as some of my Time Out Chicago colleagues. It’s nowhere near the bottom of the New 52 barrel in my estimation. The antagonistic-partner dynamic should provide plenty of fuel for the storytelling engine in the near future, and making Jason and Ronnie both Firestorms (yet, surely, dependent on one another) brings a good superhero twist to this buddy-cop genre. I’m also curious to see where the book goes with its willingness to confront racial dynamics head-on. Some readers cringed when Ronnie asks his mom, “Why don’t we have any black friends?”, but for my money, it’s a much more honest exchange than the bizarre conversation in Mister Terrific.

I spent the better part of the ’00s enjoying Simone’s writing on Birds of Prey and (especially) Secret Six, so eventually I'd be willing to give The Fury of Firestorm: The Nuclear Men another chance—meaning, I'll check out the first full arc if and when it's collected in trade-paperback form. I’m curious to find out if her skill can overcome the tin-eared voice of Van Sciver, who will hopefully learn to leave the dialoguing to the pro.

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Laura Baginski, Editor (@TimeOutChicago)