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The Blackest Night Falls - Firestorm

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“They will descend upon our worlds to claim the loved ones we have lost.  They will forever hunger for those that still feel and live.  And if the universe is to survive, willpower and fear must come together because…across the universe, the dead will rise…”

Black Lantern Ronald Raymond

The creation of Gerry Conway and Al Milgrom, Firestorm debuted in his own title, cover dated March 1978.  Part of the tail end of the DC Explosion, Firestorm was especially notable for his dual identities – high school student Ronald Raymond AND physicist Martin Stein. 

Raymond, just recently returned to New York with his father, was initially cast as a “reverse-Peter Parker” – the high school jock, put down by the school brain.  In an effort to prove that he was more than just a jock, Raymond got involved with a group protesting a new experimental nuclear facility.  Unbeknownst to him, the group of radicals brought Raymond into their fold only to serve as a fall guy.  Knocking the high school student unconscious, they abandoned him alongside a bomb in the plant.  Interrupted by Dr. Stein, the radicals attacked him as well, leaving both for dead.  Raymond recovered first, and bravely attempted to drag the scientist to safety.  Despite these efforts, both Stein and Raymond were caught in the explosion, finding themselves fused into Firestorm, the Nuclear Man.

Firestorm, a physical gestalt of the two, was predominately controlled by Raymond, imbued with a good-natured recklessness often found in youth.  This was in part tempered by the influence of Stein, who acted as an advisor to the young hero (invisible to the world as a whole, but depicted to readers as a disembodied head floating alongside Firestorm).  Using their abilities of flight, fiery energy blasts and transmutation of non-organic objects at a molecular level, Firestorm soon found themselves battling foes including Multiplex (Firestorm #2, April 1978), Killer Frost (Firestorm #3, May 1978) and the Hyena (Firestorm #4, August 1978).  Unfortunately, the one foe Firestorm was unable to defeat was low sales, as Firestorm was cancelled following issue #5 (October 1978, as part of the infamous “DC Implosion).  The final Firestorm adventure was printed as part of Cancelled Comic Cavalcade #1, a black and white photocopied “comic”, produced for DC staff solely to ensure the copyright of the material.

Clearly Gerry Conway was not ready to let this new hero fade into obscurity, so Firestorm began surfacing in various Conway penned titles; teaming with Superman in DC Comics Presents #17 (January 1980), and as a back-up feature in The Flash (#289-299, September 1980-July 1981).  The Flash stories started with a reworking of the material intended for the never-published Firestorm #6, resolving a significant subplot from the original series.  Initially, only Ronnie Raymond retained the memory of Firestorm’s adventures, when he and Stein separated.  The ensuing “black-outs” Stein endured led him to seek refuge in alcohol, an addiction that was seemingly overcome when Raymond was able to proved the existence of Firestorm to his mentor.  With a new found sense of direction, Firestorm was then inducted into the Justice League of America (Justice League of America #179, June 1980 – another Conway penned title).  Following another short stint in the Flash (#301-304, September-December 1981), Justice League of America would remain Firestorm’s sole home…until mid 1982.

  

June 1982 launched The Fury of Firestorm, the Nuclear Man #1, once again written by Conway.  Imbuing the title with a light-hearted fun, Firestorm quickly gained popularity as an everyman hero in the vein of Marvel Comics’ Spider-Man.  In these pages, Firestorm’s supporting cast quickly grew, including the introduction of Lorraine Reilly, a romantic interest who eventually became the nuclear heroine, Firehawk in issue #17 (October 1983).  An interesting twist in the “dual identity” appeared later in the run (Firestorm #35, May 1985), as Stein accepted a teaching position outside of New York City.  The subplot separating the two lead characters continued until Firestorm #40 (October 1985) when Raymond graduated from high school, electing to attend college in Pittsburgh, the same campus Stein was teaching from. 

In Gerry Conway’s final issue (Firestorm #53, November 1986), Professor Stein was diagnosed with cancer – an inoperable brain tumor - a plot device that would set the nuclear hero’s path on an entirely new direction.  Guided by writer John Ostrander, Stein kept his ailment a secret from Raymond until the interference of the Parasite forced both men to confront the imminent demise of Firestorm (Firestorm #58, April 1987).  Electing to end their superhero career by making significant social change, Firestorm began an aggressive campaign of nuclear disarmament (Firestorm #62 August 1987).  The arc climaxed in Firestorm Annual #5 (1987), in which Firestorm and the Russian nuclear metahuman Pozhar clashed.  The Soviet Union used this as an opportunity to eliminate both Firestorm and their increasingly uncontrollable Pozhar, launching a nuclear strike against both men.  Emerging from the fallout was a new status quo for Firestorm.  Professor Stein was gone – with Raymond and Pozhar (Mikhail Arkadin) remaining as the nuclear man.  A further twist fond that when Ronald and Mikhail merged, neither were in control of Firestorm – both could communicate telepathically, but the Nuclear Man had a will and personality of its own. 

Eventually Martin Stein did resurface, amnesiac and cured of his cancer (Firestorm #75, September 1988).  As one of the guiding forces behind the formation of the new Firestorm, Stein was indeed linked to both Ronnie and Mikhail, falling into a coma whenever the two became Firestorm.  When confronting a Russian clone of Firestorm, the three men finally learned that Firestorm was actually a Fire Elemental, a champion of the Earth.  Forced to absorb the Firestorm clone, Ronald and Mikhail were permanently bonded, resulting in a completely new and independent Firestorm (issue #85, May 1989). 

  

Firestorm continued as an ecological crusader until confronted by the threat of Brimstone (Firestorm #100, August 1990 – the final issue of the series).  With the villain threatening to destroy the sun from the heart of the star, Firestorm was faced with a major dilemma – in his new role as an elemental, he was tied to the planet Earth.  In a desperate gambit, Professor Stein proposed that they recreate the accident which formed Firestorm.  The ensuing nuclear blast bonded Stein to the Firestorm clone and freed Raymond and Mikhail.  The new Stein Firestorm was cast into the sun, where he defeated Brimstone.  In the aftermath, Firestorm was cast through a wormhole into the far reaches of the universe.  Both Raymond and Mikhail returned to their own lives.

Raymond next surfaced in the pages of Extreme Justice #3 (April 1995), suffering from leukemia.  Undergoing radiation treatments, Ronald suddenly developed wildly flaring nuclear flame abilities, a side effect of all his years as Firestorm.  Drawn home by his friend’s plight, the Martin Stein Firestorm returned briefly (Extreme Justice #5, June 1995), curing Ronald’s leukemia and bringing his new powers under control.  As the Stein Firestorm returned to space, Ronald embarked on a new superheroic career, with the powers and costume of the classic Firestorm.  During his short time as a member of Extreme Justice, Ronald became a male model, his life of fame leading him to develop an addiction to alcohol.  

Following the disbanding of Extreme Justice, Firestorm struggled to find his way in the world.  While battling his dependency of alcohol (Showcase ’96 #6-7, July-August 1996) he joined the ill-fated revival of the Justice League of Europe (Starman #38, January 1998).  Although he did also spend time with the “heroes-for-hire” firm, Power Company (beginning with Power Company #11, February 2003), Ronald's most significant step forward came when he rejoined the Justice League (JLA #69, October 2002); first as a member of a replacement team, then as a reservist.

  

Ronald Raymond never managed to return to his former glory days.  During a minor scuffle with the Shadow Thief (Identity Crisis #5, December 2004), Firestorm was run through with the Shining Knight’s sword.  Leaking radiation, Firestorm flew high into the night sky where he exploded. At this point, Jason Rusch, a young man who had become a new Firestorm began experiencing nightmares from the point of view of Ronnie Raymond (Firestorm #6, December 2004).  While battling the new Killer Frost, Jason (whose Firestorm powers operated in a much different manner than Ronnie’s) was forced to merge with Lorraine Reilly to become Firestorm.  The ensuing fusion brought an echo of Ronald Raymond into the Firestorm matrix (Firestorm #9, March 2005).  Following a conflict with several of the original Firestorm’s old enemies, the echo of Raymond faded into the matrix, leaving Jason as the sole Firestorm.

…until the Blackest Night came…

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