Big changes are taking place for the second arc of DC Comics‘ New 52 titles. Following an announcement earlier this week that Tom DeFalco would be taking over “Legion Lost,” DC also announced via its The Source blog that “Ghost Projekt” writer Joe Harris will take over co-writing duties from Gail Simone on “The Fury of Firestorm: The Nuclear Men” beginning with #7. Having previously penned “Joker’s Asylum” and “Battle for the Cowl” one-shots, Harris is no stranger to DC Comics and expressed excitement about joining the “Firestorm” creative team.
“It feels wonderful to be on board. I’m flattered, humbled, excited, thrilled, proud,” Harris told CBR News. “I’m happy to be with DC, working with Ethan and I’m really, really looking forward to the plans we have for this title.”
Harris and co-writer Ethan Van Sciver’s working relationship benefits from a prior collaborative effort, an as yet unannounced horror series also from DC. “Ethan and I have a history together in that we have an original horror series that we created that we’re doing at DC that you will hopefully hear more about in 2012,” Harris revealed. “We have a bit of a working relationship and we get along really well together.”
While Harris mentioned he wouldn’t call himself a “Firestorm historian,” he has a healthy working knowledge of the character’s past and present. “I read a lot of the same seminal stories that everyone else would tell you about growing up — the John Ostrander run on the character as well as the early Gerry Conway stuff,” he said. “I’m familiar with the character and his mythos and that really gives me a lot to root my thinking in when I consider the new, reimagined concept of Firestorm that I’m stepping into; this idea that there are multiple Firestorms and characters in the past may have been one sort of being. Everybody’s sort of reiterated at this point, I think [readers] are familiar with what’s going on in the book.
“It’s Ronnie [Raymond] and Jason [Rusch] together, Professor Stein may or may not have a role here, but it’s not quite the same exact property that longtime DC readers might recognize,” Harris continued. “Things are being remixed and reimagined. I think I have enough of a knowledge that when I sit down and I digest what’s been going on already on the title, and I start to realize in my scripts the stuff that Ethan and I have plotted out over the next couple of years at this point, we’ve got a lot of material we want to get to. I’ve got a working knowledge of it. I know the history. I’m respectful and I think that’s valuable.”
Much of what Harris hopes to explore in “Firestorm” involves the relationship between the book’s two protagonists, Ronnie Raymond and Jason Rusch — two teenagers with nuclear powers who hate each other. “Essentially, it’s about these two young guys, teenage guys, who are in way over their head without much guidance,” said Harris. “To top it all off, they hate one another’s guts. I don’t want to give anything away because they’re going to do some startling stuff in the book before I even come on board that propels us forward, but there’s some heavy stuff that happens. You’re talking about teenagers playing with nuclear power. What could go wrong? There’s going to be some horrific stuff and the fallout, no pun intended, is really going to propel us forward.
“What really intrigues me is exploring these characters as people, what makes them different from one another, why they hate each other’s guts and really digging into the forces that are pulling at both of them,” Harris continued. “You’ve got Zither Tech, the military industrial company that is responsible for proliferating the Firestorm technology around the world. They’re responsible for the rise of what we’re going to see are these international Firestorms — the official sanctioned Firestorms of a few select countries who are all in this special ‘club.’ You’ve got some rogue elements out there that aren’t happy that some nations have this power while others don’t and they’re at one another’s throats. What they’re going to have to discover, I think the hard way, is that at the end of the day, [for] Ronnie and Jason, each other is all that they really have. It’s unfortunate, some of the tragic paces we’re going to put them through before they understand that, but that’s what really interests me: putting these characters through hell and then letting them emerge from the other side affected by it, hopefully changed for the better, but not without scars.”
Much of the struggle beyond Ronnie and Jason’s hatred of one another is of a political nature involving the international Firestorms, something that Harris is well prepared for through his work on “Ghost Projekt.” “In ‘Ghost Projekt,’ we dealt with this too — east versus west stuff and tensions that come up between people who are very similar to one another but happen to be born on opposing sides of the border,” Harris said. “Exploring that sort of interaction between characters from these different nations and the forces pulling at them, the right thing to do isn’t always the same to different characters. It depends on what your ideology is, what your country’s ambitions are. We’re talking about power, essentially the rise of a new nuclear age. What does that mean for the countries involved, what does that mean for the Firestorms involved? There’s essentially a new cold war that we’re establishing.”
Harris also teased some of the science fiction ideas he and Van Sciver will focus on in upcoming arcs. “We’ve got some really great sci-fi concepts that I’m so excited to explore: the nature of the Firestorm power as it relates to properties of a star; what are the ramifications of having young people with this terrible, awesome, wondrous power; what are the ramifications of using it when you think you’re doing the right thing, but maybe don’t have the proper judgment to make that call?” Harris pondered. “How do you deal with the ramifications and poor choices to use this power? All of this really fascinates me, so there’s a lot in there to play with.”
While the international Firestorms have expanded the title’s scope, Harris wants to take things further by wondering if Ronnie and Jason’s ability to merge into the Fury and transfer their consciousness to the Quantum Field might not be unique to them. “Are there other possibilities? We’ve got a lot of other Firestorms out there,” the writer said. “[Merging] may or may not be universal, this may or may not be accessible to all of these characters. What happens when characters who are not permitted to bond like this and access the Quantum Field react? Some Firestorms are more equal than others in a certain respect is what we’re exploring. What is that going to mean for people that hold their leashes?”
While parallels can be drawn with Harris’s “Ghost Projekt,” the writer mentioned some very strong differences between the Oni Press series and “Firestorm,” though the experience still came into play. “The series itself is very different. Tonally, we’re talking about young people trying to cope with the powers that they’ve been given,” Harris said of the direction on “Firestorm.” “On a certain level, [it’s] what you would expect — and I mean that in the very best way — [from] a comic book about super powered young people. In that way, it’s very different [from ‘Ghost Projekt.’] Where I have some experience that I can bring to bear here is setting up the international tension — [and] seeing the Risk board as it were, understanding a few moves ahead of time where I need to get these characters. What’s going on interpersonally, the small stories that they’re dealing with and how it relates to this overarching story, the ramifications of what they’re doing are pretty broad. The ripple effect is going to be felt. In ‘Ghost Projekt’ I think that gave me some good training to do what we’re setting out to do in ‘Firestorm.'”
Harris and Van Sciver’s initial arc together, “The Firestorm Protocols,” starts unraveling the mystery behind a character well-known to Firestorm fans: Professor Martin Stein. As of #3, readers have only seen a few panels of the creator of the Firestorm Protocols, who is presumed dead in the New 52. “Professor Stein created the Firestorm Protocols and his dream was to make nuclear weapons obsolete by consolidating this power into the hands of very responsible people that would eliminate the need for rampant proliferation,” said Harris. “This dream has been corrupted. You’ve got a company like Zither Tech who sees money to be made. They’re now saying things about Professor Stein that may or may not be true.”
The writer couldn’t confirm or deny whether the Professor was indeed deceased, but he did admit Stein would have a big part to play in the future. “We’re going to be finding out just what Professor Stein’s plans actually were, but I’d like to think it’s like peeling an onion because there are all of these other threads that intersect at that point,” Harris explained. “There’s backstory leading to this and, obviously, Professor Stein, as far as we know, was killed prior to Jason and Ronnie being imbued with the Firestorm powers. It’s going to be a bit of a mystery. I think the origin and the role he plays will be very familiar to longtime fans and will also take it with a grain of salt because it’s going to fit in with this new character and this new system that we’ve set up. He very much is the intellectual father of Firestorm and he has a huge role to play in the future. I’m sorry to be cryptic, but when I say he has a huge role to play in the future, I mean that in many ways.”
One of the biggest present hurdles for Harris is telling a great story and keeping readers on their toes as he and Van Sciver unravel plans that could span years. “To me, the hardest part is making sure that with each issue we top ourselves,” Harris said. “I think we really need to pop, [and] we want to do some really startling stuff. I think our first issue together is going to really stun some people with what happens in it. It’s got some shockers in it and I’d like to think they’re only the first of many and I’d like to think they’re all in character. Everything works. To me, that’s the challenge. We’re doing everything we can to keep this book interesting, to keep this book different and to make a mark. We have big plans. Ethan and I have talked about this book years down the road and there’s stuff that we’re setting up now that we hope we can pay off years down the road. We’re committed, we love this.”
Joe Harris makes his “The Fury of Firestorm: The Nuclear Men” debut alongside co-writer Ethan Van Sciver in March with #7.