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Firestorm: World's Dumbest Hero

I read a lot of comic books when I was younger, including some of the worst ever invented. Cloak and Dagger. Blue Devil. At one point I even started collecting Power Pack, fer crissakes. But even amongst such illustrious company, Firestorm: The Nuclear Man still stands out as the one of the most spectatularly ill-conceived heroes of all time.

For the uninitiated, Firestorm was a major DC character back in the 80's: he had his own monthly series, was a member of the Justice League of America, and even appeared on the Superfriends from time to time. He also had the world's most ridiculous power. But before I describe this ability to you, let's briefly discuss the scourge of "Power Inflation," shall we?

Power Inflation occurs when a superhero has a nebulous or poorly-defined set of abilities. Take, as a counterexample, Green Arrow (or "Hawkeye" if you will). Here you have a guy who can do one and only one thing: shoot arrows really, really well. Writers can try and spice up his series by adding a bunch of crazy new missiles, like the Boxing Glove Arrow or The Arrow That Makes A Delicious Tamale Pie, but ultimately the main character is the same arrow-shooting dude issue after issue after issue.

Then, on the other hand, you have characters like "The Flash". The Flash has what seems to be a fairly unambiguous power -- he can move really fast -- but Power Inflation eventually caught up with even this dynamo. At first all he did was run around and disarm crooks before they could fire their guns. But then writers began to allow him to do all sorts of other stuff, like run on water and run up the sides of buildings (on the premise that gravity wouldn't have time to affect him before he reached the other side of the pond or the rooftop). Then someone announced that The Flash could vibrate his molecules so quickly that they (the molecules) could pass unhindered through solid matter. And it was all downhill from there. Given the ability to "vibrate his molecules" at different frequencies, Flash was suddenly able to travel to other dimensions, to travel through time, to swim in lava, etc. Furthermore, writers kept stepping on his acceleration pedal, to the point where The Flash was a light-speed-moving molecule-vibrating time-traveling force of nature.

You can see how this could be a problem for a writer. First of all, the average length of a Flash comic should really only be one panel, as he wraps up the entire story in .00000056 seconds. Second, they had to keep introducing more and more powerful villians just to keep things interesting. One day they just gave up on standard villains and introduced "Reverse Flash," who was just exactly like Flash except -- and this was the crucial distinction -- bad. (You could tell he was bad because his costume was the opposite colors of The Flash!) Reverse-Flash became Flash's arch-nemesis, and so now you had these two guys with the exact same powers duking it out month after month, making the whole thing about as interesting as a fist fight in a parking lot.

Eventually they did what they always do when Power Inflation gets out of control: they killed the hero and started over. After The Flash kicked the bucket a new Flash took his place, this one with a speed limit. (The new Flash could only run at the speed of sound and couldn't do any of that new-fangled molecule vibratin'). Later they killed Superman, and then resurrected him all humble and stuff; Green Lantern (Hal Jordan) -- who, by this time, was pretty much invicible with his Magic Ring O' Kickass -- went berserk, after which they brought in a new, inexperienced, depowered Green lantern to take his place; Heck, they even bumped off Green Arrow and replaced him with someone who could shoot arrows less really really well.

Okay, so: Firestorm. "Firestorm: The Nuclear Man's" power was "the ability to rearrange the atomic structure of matter". That's right. He would point his finger at a gun and the gun would turn into a Rubix Cube. His "weakness," supposedly, was that he couldn't affect organic matter, meaning that he couldn't just turn a jaywaker into a mango. But he could (and did) "rearrange the atomic structure" of the air around bad guys so that they were suddenly standing in a cloud of sleeping gas or a giant iron cage. And the prohibition against organic matter didn't extend to his own body, so he could rearrange his own molecular matter to turn into, you know, whatever -- a tank or huge butterfly net or The Flash. Oh, and he could fly. And he could alter the density of objects, including himself. And he could shoot bolts of nuclear energy. And absorb radiation and explosions, theyby rendering them harmlessly. He was, in short, "Firestorm: The He Can Do Anything He Damn Well Pleases Man".

He reminds me of no one so much as this guy

The writers of Firestorm eventually just threw up their hands and said "Ahhhhhhh, okay: he's a God," at which point he became even more powerful (although I dunno how -- maybe he could now flawlessly filter spam or something). And then a bunch of stuff happened after I stopped reading comic books. And now he's an alcoholic underwear model. I kid you not.

Posted on September 11, 2002 to Observations


It is my incredible honor to be a regular reader of your entries found at defectiveyeti.com, but it is with great rage that I find myself writing this comment. How DARE you disparage the greatness that is Blue Devil!?? It is the comic book series by which I judge all others--its wry combination of wit and adventuring, with a reluctant hero drawn time and again into strife by way of his adventure magnet, are the very pinnacle of comicbookdom, only surpassed by the mighty Heckler.

Thanks for the Blue Devil link, though; I'm not familiar with what's been going on with the character since his series was cancelled, though I did recently go out and reconstruct my entire Blue Devil collection, I still haven't found a good reference for his later appearances.

As I think I have abused you sufficiently regarding your attitude toward Blue Devil, I shall refrain from bringing up Power Pack in this email. Be warned, however!!

p.s. Good call on Cloak & Dagger, though.

p.p.s. I tried really hard to use the word "stuplime" in this message, but just couldn't squeeze it in right.

Posted by: Eric on September 12, 2002 10:22 AM

I can't believe I neglected to use the word "stuplime" in a post about Firestorm. If any subject merited the label, that was the one.

Posted by: Matthew on September 12, 2002 10:23 AM

Thanks, your "Firestorm..." post was fun. Inflation's creeping up everywhere, I guess. My favorite comic used to be "Reid Fleming, World's Toughest Milkman," or anything by Kurt Busiek or Scott McCloud.

Posted by: Lauri on September 12, 2002 10:41 AM

"He Can Do Anything He Damn Well Pleases Man" was a great line.

Posted by: Rory on September 12, 2002 12:30 PM

And another thing!

If you're going to talk about superpower escalation, then you gotta include the real gods of the comic pantheons (no, not the *real* gods, like Thor).

For example, Molecule Man: Oddly enough, he had the same powers (more or less) as Firestorm, and the same organic restriction. Then the Beyonder got a hold of him, and MM realized that it was purely a self-imposed organic restriction, and thus underwent a spiritual awakening, eventually electing to live the rest of his life in a modest apartment with Titania (what man wouldn't pursue such a life after spiritual awakening?).

Sure, I hear you wailing, "But that's *Marvel*, Marvel does cool stuff with its omnipotent characters!" Yes, right. Like Mr. Fantastic, who in recent years has developed the ability to "stretch his brain", thus developing all sorts of strange mental powers. No power escalation there, nosirreebob.

And what about the writers who had fun with the omnipotence? Sure, Green Lantern was incredibly powerful, but along comes the Shark with his invisible yellow force field. Invisible yellow--I think my landlord once offered to paint my apartment walls that color...

So, in summary, nyah.

Posted by: Eric on September 14, 2002 1:33 AM

What I liked [ho ho] about the Flash was that he could run faster than bullets, and carry out conversations faster than a bullet -- the dumb crook who fired at him gained temporary powers of lightspeed gabbiness as well. "DOH! I shooted at him, and now he's catching the bullets!" "That's right, Slowpoke, and after I catch the bullet, I'm coming after you." "Aw, nuts! I just hope you don't vibrate your molecules just enough so's to make me confess."

I shouldn't be so picky, though. This was the same universe where the omnipotent Superman would be fooled by such super-brilliant dodges as
* running around the corner of a building and hiding, or
* donning a Mask! (lead-lined, of course -- who could suspect someone wearing a lead-lined mask?).

Posted by: Kip on September 16, 2002 7:16 PM

Caution: humour defective fanboy coming up.

Firestorm never was able to manipulate his own body... And the times the Flash fought his counterpart weren't that often.

I liked Cloak and Dagger. Mind, I was twelve then.

Posted by: Martin Wisse on September 17, 2002 12:13 AM

You're right about Firestorm's powers. He was too powerful. At one time, he simply encased Superman in a ball of green Kryptonite (Firestorm Vol. 2 #4) I'm not sure how he knew how to "make" Kryptonite because to the best of my knowledge, he had never been around Kryptonite at that time. However, I still liked the character. The fusion between Ronald Raymond and Martin Stein became frustrating because it seemed ridiculous that the two could fuse each time conveniently without being discovered. Naturally Ronnie and Martin found out that their powers came from the Sun and this was all too similar to Superman. A better approach to Firestorm's powers would have been to make it so that his molecular changing ability was limited to only certain metals or something like that. The ability to make himself "immaterial" alone makes him invulnerable to the most powerful characters, let alone the weenies that he often was squared against in the pages of his own book. It was always a bit silly to see Firestorm in the grasp of one of his enemies, when he could just vaporize himself and fly away.

His charcter was appealing because of the great power, but at the same time made the series get stale fairly fast. If that makes any sense.

The lack of defined and limited powers haunted the book from the beginning. They're was never any reason to believe that Firestorm could be defeated. His powers, if used correctly, were more than even Superman could handle in a one on one situation, so what chance did idiots like Multiplex, Silver Shade and Slipknot have? Zero.

Don't get me wrong, I like Firestorm and the base idea that formed him, but the book would still be in print if his powers had been more limited and they had changed his costume. After all, with that flaming hair and loud attire, there was simply no way he could ever sneak up on his enemy or even be inconspicuous at Mardi Gras.


- Dave Hren

Posted by: Dave Hren on December 30, 2002 7:52 AM