Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The Fury of Firestorm: The Nuclear Men #1

DC Comics, 20 pages, $ 2.99

Co-plotters: Ethan Van Sciver, Gail Simone
Writer: Gail Simone
Artist: Yildiray Cinar
Colorist: Steve Buccellato
Letterer: Travis Lanham
Cover artist: Ethan Van Sciver

In principle, I don’t mind graphic violence and cruelty in superhero comics. They’re just one more tool from the box that can be applied as required. And, for that matter, the two graphic torture scenes in the debut issue of DC’s latest Firestorm revamp are—in contrast to many others in the “New 52” titles—actually pretty well-executed.

They seem rather out of place in a book about a high-school superhero in a brightly colored costume with puffy sleeves, however. There’s a bit of a tonal clash there, at least, and the rest of the story doesn’t suggest that there was a desperate need for a group of sadistic mercenaries who enjoy torturing and slaughtering children, either. If anything, it makes me wonder if the creators are overcompensating for the perceived goofiness of their title character—which, I think, doesn’t have to be a concern, as long as the story is strong enough to assert its own take on the concept.

As it stands, Firestorm is a mixed bag. Van Sciver and Simone build their series around both Ronnie Raymond (the original, 1978 version of Firestorm, created by Gerry Conway and Al Milgrom) and Jason Rusch (introduced by Dan Jolley and ChrisCross in 2004).

That’s a good approach in theory, if you make the characters distinct enough to get some mileage out of the friction. In practice, though, the story presents Ronnie as a spoiled white football jock and Jason as the poor and socially aware black kid. Sure, they’re meant to be foils, and the script tries to give them some depth. Still, it never quite manages to overcome the sense that it’s all terribly clichéd.

To complicate matters, Firestorm is another book that’s drowning in funky exposition. Take page 4, for instance, where Ronnie is introduced. We see him in the middle of a football game, where he’s at the center of the action—and yet the whole sequence is cluttered with caption boxes, while Ronnie ponders his future. “But I’m never going to be a lawyer or a doctor,” he goes, and on and on, even as he’s grabbing the ball and making split decisions on the field.

The problem here is that the inner monologue and the action don’t match. Would Ronnie have those kinds of thoughts while in the middle of a football match? Not unless he’s meant to be distracted, which isn’t the case here.

It might have been less of an issue if at least the tense made it clear that the inner monologue was Ronnie looking back at this scene from some point in the future, but that’s not what’s happening, either. The first panel on page 5 makes clear that the monologue is meant to take place simultaneously with what’s going on in the images, and that just doesn’t work. It seems phony, and it’s not the only point in the story where the caption boxes stick out like a sore thumb. It works better if you skip them altogether, in fact.

There are some promising ideas in the story. The creators manage to imbue it with a degree of mystery and suspense surrounding the “God Particle” that evidently causes the Firestorm transformation, for instance. Ultimately, though, the ideas and characters never seem to gel—there’s the excessive violence that seems out of place, two protagonists bordering on stereotypes and caption boxes that are just plain annoying. And before you know it, everything blows up, because somebody thought it was a good idea to have a big fire monster show up. Mr. Cinar’s art, meanwhile, tells the story well, but also looks like generic superhero work.

Firestorm isn’t a bad comic, but it’s bogged down by a bunch of competing, disjointed elements that make the whole thing seem ill-conceived and half-baked.

Grade: C-

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