While the band “Five For Fighting” may have said it’s not easy to be Superman, they probably hadn’t heard of Firestorm yet.
The cult classic hero has been through a number of creative changes in the last year- and that’s before a series was even officially underway! But DC Comics have brought together artist Chris Cross with “Voltron” writer Dan Jolley to bring Firestorm back to the forefront of the DCU. CBR News spoke to Jolley who did his best to introduce people to the new “Firestorm.”
“Well, I could give you a couple of very brief answers as to what the series is about… The first requires me to put on my pretentious English-major hat and say, ‘It’s about incomplete people trying to become whole.’ The second, even more cryptic short answer would be, ‘It’s about an ordinary guy doing his best to cope with extraordinary circumstances.’ But neither of those do the series justice, because we’ve got an immense amount of material to work with and explore, and trying to explain all of it would take weeks. But I’ll try and put it in a nutshell as best I can: it’s about a teenager who very unexpectedly gains a phenomenal set of superhuman abilities, about his life and how his new powers affect it, and about how he deals with knowing that he’s not the first person to be called ‘Firestorm.’ He’s aware of the colossal shoes he’s trying to fill, and is often really daunted by the example set by the first Firestorm, a long-time hero named Ron Raymond.
“Firestorm’s abilities are numerous and varied; he can fly, project super-heated ‘fusion blasts’ from his hands, become intangible, and most striking of all, he can transmute matter from one substance to another. (That last power will prove to be the hardest to learn and control.) He also has a measure of enhanced strength, and is pretty hard to damage by conventional means. On top of all that is the highly unusual means by which the guy ‘transforms’ into Firestorm: he actually merges with another person, fusing their two bodies and minds into one ultra-powerful being. We’ll be approaching that merging in a pretty new, unique way, something fans of the old Firestorm series have never seen before. That aspect of the character alone offers up tons of story material – particularly since the main character, Jason, can merge with pretty much whomever he chooses to become Firestorm.”
That’s right boys and girls- as has been a heated (no pun intended) topic of debate, Ronnie Raymond is no longer Firestorm and Jolley tells us how Jason came to inherit the Firestorm powers. “The new main character is a 17-year-old Detroit native named Jason Rusch. He’s recently graduated from high school and is desperate to scrape up enough money to attend college in the fall, where he can join his best friend Mick, who’s already there in summer school. Jason lives with his father, Alvin, who has a number of emotional and physical problems, and their love-hate, co-dependent relationship is a huge driving force behind Jason’s personality. He’s a tall, skinny, acutely shy guy with chronic self-esteem issues – and he’s about to gain the powers of a demi-god. It’s been fantastic guiding him through situation after situation that he’s not at all prepared for, but has to handle anyway.
“As far as the genesis of the new direction, most of that took place before I was even approached about doing the book. I know there were a lot of different concepts kicked around the DC offices – the series was originally slated to be written by the very talented Mike Carey, and starring the original Firestorm, Ron Raymond – but the DC editorial staff decided to go in a different direction, and editor Peter Tomasi called me up and asked me to pitch for the series. That sparked a number of conversations between Peter, me, and Dan DiDio, out of which eventually emerged the new path we’re taking with it. I know I’m having a blast, and DC seems to be very pleased with how the series is shaping up.”
The idea of Jason having to merge with a stranger- literally anyone- is one of the ideas from the new “Firestorm” that is really intriguing readers. Jolley explains that this all came about as a way to tie into the Firestorm legacy. “The question of combining relates to the original Firestorm, which was a combination of high school jock Ronnie Raymond and middle-aged professor Martin Stein. Ronnie was in charge of Firestorm’s body, but Prof. Stein always ‘rode along’ as a sort of disembodied psychic voice in his head. Ronnie and Stein were the only two characters involved in Firestorm for a long time, and even when other people were brought into the ‘Firestorm matrix,’ they were very few. Now, though, due to circumstances waiting to be revealed, Jason Rusch can combine with almost anyone he chooses to; he’s the only constant in the equation now. As to what else you can look forward to, we will be doing some pretty unexpected things relating to Firestorm’s powers and situation, but you’ll have to wait for the book to come out to find out what, I’m afraid.”
Just because Jason is the protagonist of the book, don’t think you won’t see some of your Firestorm favorites… though Jolley isn’t going to say whom. “We’ll be featuring a number of familiar characters from the older series – but they’ll be introduced in such a way that new readers won’t have to know any of their backgrounds to understand who they are and why they’re doing what they’re doing.”
Some fans contend that the main reason Firestorm was so in demand was due to Ronnie Raymond being the bearer of the Firestorm mantle. While Jolley understands why fans became attached to Ronnie, but says no one is trying to slight readers. “Well, I’ll be the first to confirm that there are some very dedicated, very loyal Ronnie Raymond fans out there. And I respect them, and sympathize with their displeasure that Ron will not be the lead in the new series. But as to why Firestorm is coming back…the decisions behind which projects to accept and which to reject, the approaches to take, the creative teams to assign, all of those are made far above my head at DC. They hired me to create something new, something fresh and accessible to anyone, something as cool and intense as it’s within my power to produce, and that’s what I’m trying my best to do. And I’m incredibly pleased with how it’s coming out. The scripts are flowing, and penciler ChrisCross’s art is absolutely breathtaking. I cannot wait for people to see this book!”
Most fans probably know Jolley from “Voltron,” the well-received high action sci-fi series, but Jolley says his roots are at DC. “I’ve been working with Peter Tomasi for a long time, long before I got the ‘Voltron’ job; the most notable projects I wrote for him, I guess, were a couple of JSA Elseworlds mini-series, ‘The Liberty File’ and ‘The Unholy Three.’ (Both series come out in a trade paperback in March.) Those books, particularly ‘The Unholy Three,’ I think, had a certain flavor to them that Peter really liked, and when the new Firestorm series was assigned to him to edit, he decided to see if I could bring that flavor to the table again. Plus my case was helped along, I think, by ‘Bloodhound,’ the creator-owned series that I had already gotten accepted at DC; several scripts had been turned in for that, and were pretty well-received, so I think that may have given them a little extra reason to take a chance on me with Firestorm.”
Since the lead character in the series is of African-American origins, some people have raised the question of how race will be handled in the series and Jolley finds some of the comments amusing. “It’s funny, I’ve seen a couple of people on message boards make comments like, ‘If they wanted a Black urban character, they should’ve hired a Black urban writer!’ And, ‘How the hell is a white guy from the South going to write an African-American teenager from Detroit?’ And, I guess, my answer would have to be, ‘the same way I wrote a forty-year-old undead ex-Nazi in ‘Obergeist’ [laughs]. Writing a character who’s not just like you always involves a combination of research, observation, and imagination. You just create the character, and then see where he takes you.
“And, while the issue of Jason’s ethnicity will not be ignored, it’s also simply not the focus of the story. ‘Firestorm’ is not about an African-American guy. It’s just about a guy. The guy in question is indeed African-American; he’s also shy, likes to read, and is trying his damnedest to grow a convincing moustache.”
While the new series will be new-reader accessible, Jolley has a large plan for Jason that will become apparent as the series progresses. “There will be a number of small arcs and stand-alone issues, but I do have a much broader arc in mind for Jason – watching his character grow and develop over the course of the series. Right now I have enough things stacked up in my head for about three years’ worth.”
One thing he didn’t do for “Firestorm” was bring Cross onboard as artist, though he couldn’t be happier with the end result. “I wish I could take credit for getting Cross on this book, but I can’t – that was all DC’s doing, while I just stood around and watched. But I am thrilled that they got Cross to sign on, because it’s a pure joy watching his pages come in. His style is amazingly dynamic, the action conveyed is so clear, and his faces are so unbelievably expressive, I can’t imagine anyone else on this project. There’s an image on page 15 of Issue 1 that just blows my mind every time I look at it – I don’t know that I’ve ever seen a better ‘villain’ face.”
If the fiery fun of “Firestorm” isn’t enough for you Jolley fans, rejoice: this is a busy year for him. “I’m doing ‘Voltron’ monthly, from Devil’s Due, and at the end of March the new ‘Micronauts’ series debuts, also from DD. ‘Firestorm’ hits the stands on May 5, and then in July the creator-owned series I mentioned earlier should be coming out. I’ve got some stuff in the new ‘Vampirella Magazine’ coming up, and toward the end of the year a 96-page GN from Metron Press will go on sale, entitled ‘The Revelation of John Clay,’ penciled by Kyle Hotz and inked by Ray Snyder. There are a few other projects cooking, but they’re not far enough along to start talking about yet.”