Today, Drew and (guest writer) Scott Baumgartner are discussing The Fury of Firestorm 0, originally released September 26th, 2012. The Fury of Firestorm 0 is part of the line-wide Zero Month.
Drew: When I was in middle school, we didn’t have book reports. Instead, we were periodically asked to have conversations with parent volunteers about books we just read. You’d get called out into the hall, summarize the plot, and say what you liked and didn’t like about it. These conversations often fell far short of the twenty minutes prescribed by the school, prompting the volunteer to pad it out with some leading questions about still-vague notions of “mood” and “voice.” They were a pleasant alternative to writing the same information, but the conversation that stands out the most in my mind is when I attempted to summarize Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire for a parent who had inexplicably never read it. Every detail needed to be explained, so I basically spent the entirety of the twenty minutes vomiting exposition. My goal was to convince this poor volunteer that they had been missing out, but I’m sure my rambling, stream-of-consciousness summary only served to confuse and intimidate. I couldn’t help but think of that volunteer as I read The Fury of Firestorm 0.
I have no clue what is going on here. I think a “Firestorm” is a person who has undergone “firestorm protocols,” but I have no idea what any of that means. Jason Rush either was a firestorm, as was Ronnie Raymond, but they’re not now, for some reason. They’re both in high-school, so understanding protocols that could turn human beings into walking nuclear reactions should be out of their depth, but that doesn’t stop Jason from adorably attempting to figure it out in a poorly lit chemistry room. He accidentally generates some balloons out of thin air (I think), and rushes off to tell Ronnie they maybe are still firestorms, after all. Ronnie isn’t happy to hear the news, and refuses to believe it, but is kind of confronted with reality when a hulking monster named Helix (who is maybe also a firestorm) shows up. Ronnie and Jason turn into one firestorm (which is apparently a new development) and defeat Helix, but cause a nuclear explosion. It’s basically like the season one finale of Heroes, only is somehow even less climactic. The issue concludes with Jason and Ronnie maybe coming to terms with the fact that they turn into a nuclear man sometimes.
The last panel informs us this is “THE BEGINNING!” with no explanation for newcomers if this takes place before, during, or after any of the series proper. I suspect that this zero is in the Green Lantern vein of being a new chapter for the heroes, but doesn’t actually take place before the series proper, but that’s just a guess. The “Who’s who” page talks about their being classmates in the past tense, as if they don’t attend high school anymore, which makes this issue seem like it must be set prior to the rest of the series, but there’s so much back-story referenced here, I can’t really imagine that hasn’t been shown before.
If this issue really is just picking up the story in the middle, I can’t really blame it for not explaining things to me — I’ve never cared about this title, so why should it care about me — but it’s strange, then, that Jason explains as much to us as he does. Writer Joe Harris manages to strike just the right balance of exposition that it doesn’t actually tell us anything, but still manages to feel incredibly clunky when characters say it. Ultimately, though, it’s the complete lack of clarity in the action that undermines the storytelling here.
Take, for example, the scene where Jason rediscovers his transmutation abilities. He’s concentrating, trying to get something to happen, when he sees a flash of Helix’s eyes. Here’s Jason’s reaction:
What just happened, indeed. I’m pretty sure Jason transmuted those balloons out of something — maybe the faucets from the sinks, which have all disappeared — but since we never got a clear before shot of the lab, it’s difficult for this after shot to mean much of anything. Maybe Suzanne just brought the balloons? Maybe they were there the whole time? Without making it clear what just happened, it’s essentially impossible for us to understand why Jason reacts the way he does.
You’d think the news that he still has these incredible abilities might be urgent — as it seems like it is when he storms off — but what does Jason do when he finally finds Ronnie? He hands him his trig homework, of course!
I get that this exchange is supposed to examine their deep-seated character motivations as “nerd” and “jock” (subtly emphasized by putting Ronnie in a football uniform), but it completely undermines the urgency of Jason’s message. Either that, or a football player not being that good at math is bigger news than I thought.
Botching these context cues wouldn’t be as big a deal if I had anything else to go on, but since I don’t, it’s hard for me to have much of an investment in these characters. It feels like totally generic high-school drama that just happens to have a nuclear monster show up in the middle. Basically, it’s like Glee, but with action instead of singing. That summary makes me question who the audience is for this title; I can’t imagine there are a lot of folks that tune into Glee for the drama, but there have got to be even fewer that watch it for its action. I dunno, Scott, am I missing something that’s there, or is this all as confusing as I think it is?
Scott: It’s definitely more confusing than it needs to be. Anyone picking up this zero issue might reasonably be expected to already have some familiarity with Firestorm mythology, but I went in blind, completely uninitiated with the title. I didn’t expect this issue to cater to someone like me, but it seems like the writer went out of his way to not explain anything (By the way Drew, wasn’t there a Joe Harris in your middle school class? Let’s pretend it’s the same guy and say he was just trying to provide fodder for verbose hallway book reports when he penned this issue.) From what I understand, the purpose of these zero issues is to provide, if not an origin story, at least a story that shows us something new about these characters, and I have a real hard time believing this story does that. We get the gist of what seems like the proper origin story during a one-page flashback.
I’m assuming this story was fleshed out in greater detail earlier in the series, otherwise it would have been the obvious choice for a zero issue plotline. But we also know that the Firestorms were “snuffed out” (killed?) around that same time, so nothing Firestorm-related could really have taken place between the flashback and this storyline, unless there were a bunch of boring issues about Jason toiling away in the science lab, trying to turn particles into other particles and…well, not. So, that means any other adventures involving the Nuclear Men would have taken place after the events of this issue, which makes me wonder what we’re really getting here. My guess is that they invented a story where Jason and Ronnie lose their powers only to regain them as a roundabout way of maintaining the status quo after the real origin story. I mean, if this story didn’t exist and Jason and Ronnie never lost their Firestorm powers at all, would it make any difference as far as the big-picture of their story is concerned? With no explanation as to why their powers disappeared or why they’re coming back, the entire issue comes off as lazy, forced, and ultimately pointless.
It’s hard for me to lay the blame on Harris for not delivering here, though. DC made the decision to roll out zero issues for all of the New 52 titles, some of which were certainly needed more than others. The Fury of Firestorm could just be a case where there was not a whole lot left to explain in this format. Or maybe it’s just a dud title. Honestly, I don’t think there’s anything they could have done with these pages that would have made me interested in hearing more about “Firestorm protocols.”
I did enjoy the details of the football game going on right before Helix bursts in and seemingly kills a bunch of people with lightning and fire. Ronnie’s team, Walton Mills, is trailing by 6 points in the fourth quarter, with just enough time for one more play. A touchdown would win the game! Keep in mind, the college scouts are watching! It all comes down to thi — wait, no, here comes Helix, forget about all that football stuff. I don’t know why, but there’s something about playing up the drama of a football game that the readers couldn’t possibly be invested in, and then not paying it off at all, that I find really funny.
I know Drew wasn’t all that impressed with the story’s climax, but there was a three page stretch towards the end where some pretty crazy shit happened, which I would now like to describe to you from memory. Basically, Jason realizes that the way to defeat Helix is to surround him with some blue stuff that could be water, could be ice, but is almost definitely Gak. Once this is completed, Ronnie is able to condense Helix into a series of smaller and smaller bubbles, until he’s in a golf ball sized bubble that Ronnie carries into outer space, where it causes an explosion about a quarter of the size of Earth. If you’re thinking this explosion happened far enough away that it wouldn’t have wiped out an entire continent, you’d be wrong. At least a billion people died just then. Finally, as Ronnie plummets back to Earth, he and Jason get married. I’m fairly certain this is what happens.
Lastly, one small quibble with the typography: I understand the practice of adding emphasis to certain words by putting them in bold and italics, but is it really necessary to do this in every sentence? There were instances here where I felt like it was misused to the point of actually altering the tone of some lines. Take the first conversation between Ronnie and Jason in the locker room, which Drew mentioned above. We already know that these two have been through some shit together — whether they’re allies or enemies at this point is not yet clear — but it’s obvious they are not about to engage in some friendly chit-chat. So, when Jason opens by telling Ronnie that his teammates “really look up to” him, it’s hard not to read that as sarcasm, even though I’m pretty sure it’s meant to be sincere. Four words in and already I’m confused about the tone of this conversation. That Jason follows up with snarky remarks in each of the next two panels only adds to the confusion, and I found myself re-reading these few panels, searching in futility for subtext in the most stereotypical of nerd-jock interactions. I know I’m reading too much into this, but when these emphases start to interfere with the clarity of the dialogue, I say it’s best to leave them out entirely.
Scott Baumgartner is a writer/comedian living in LA. He currently works as a production assistant on impossibly dumb reality shows, which you should probably ask him about some time. You can follow him on Twitter @scaumgartner.
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