The original Firestorm was created by Gerry Conway and Al Milgrom and first appeared in Firestorm, the Nuclear Man (vol. 1) #1 (March, 1978). The concept was relatively simple, a nuclear accident caused a student called Ronnie Raymond to be transformed into a fire-headed superhuman called Firestorm. The twist was that Firestorm also had the disembodied consciousness of Professor Martin Stein riding around with him. Stein served as Ronnie/Firestorm’s science advisor telling him what element to transmute his foe’s weapon into. Maybe it was the extreme visuals and trademark baggy sleeves, but Firestorm proved to be a cult favourite.
Firestorm was part of the early-1980s Justice League and had a series of adventures through several iterations of his own series until things began to get really complicated. The merging of Stein and Raymond to become Firestorm just begged for variations on the theme. There was a female Firestorm called Firehawk, a Russian one called Pozhar, and the two originals even became separate versions of Firestorm they were separately killed off. DC relaunched the character with a brand new alter ego, an African-American student, called Jason Rusch who first appeared in Firestorm #1 (July 2004) by Dan Jolley and Chris Cross.
Ronnie was returned to life in Blackest Night leading to Jason and him being part of a running plotline through Brightest Day. They were obviously ready for a return, but the November 2010 relaunch of the DC Universe completely rebooted their earlier history. As part of this relaunch DC were promoting some of their leading artists into a co-writer position paired with an experienced writer/scripter. Artist Ethan van Sciver was paired with DC writer Gail Simone to plot and co-write the new Fury of Firestorm: The Nuclear Men series. Ethan told Firestorm Fan that:
Our Firestorm is about conflict. Conflict and secrecy and anger, the things that stir in us and cause violence and fury. Itâ€™s about ideas sometimes being outside of our control, about the possibility that those ideas can become twisted and poisonous, and hurt people, sometimes those closest to us. But itâ€™s also about trying to overcome those things and maintain friendships with people who you may have misunderstood.
And then itâ€™s also about unimaginable power, collecting it, sharing it, and unleashing it.
The series took all the people who have previously been Firestorms and then posited that they were actually living weapons designed to replace conventional nuclear bombs. Both of the most popular Firestorm alter egos, Jason and Ronnie, returned as the lead characters in the title. Gail Simone left the title after the sixth issue and was replaced by Joe Harris. Van Sciver left with #10 and Harris was left to wrap the multi-Firestorm plotline up in issues #11 and 12.
The Firestorm Protocols
The Firestorm Protocols — a documented, repeatable method for creating weapons grade superhumans — were created by a brilliant American nuclear physicist called Professor Martin Stein and his Russian counterpart Professor Mikhal Arkadin. Stein was one of, if not the, most brilliant minds of his generation and had the type of fame usually reserved for Hollywood celebrities. It was said that some countries spent their entire science budgets just trying to copy and reproduce his results. Stein was secretive, but he did run a private programme where he corresponded with gifted students from across the USA. His postings to their private chat channel enigmatically ended for a year and then resumed with the simple phrase “I have found god inside the atom” and claimed to have found a way to end war (Fury of Firestorm #2 (Dec 2011)). Less is known about Arkadin’s background, but in common with others involved in Russia’s super soldier programmes (c.f. Rocket Red) he appears to have been nostalgic for the way things use to be done under the Soviet system.
Stein and Arkadin may have been the first test subjects for the Protocols. Arkadin was transformed into a powerhouse called Pozhar and remained with his research programme. Stein’s whereabouts are unknown. The cover story was that he died in hospital of cancer, but others suspected that he was assassinated on the pretence that he was selling the Firestorm Protocols to America’s enemies (Fury of Firestorm #3 (Jan 2012)). However, not everybody believes that Stein is dead — graffiti in Gotham City claims that he is aliveÂ (Batgirl #2 (Dec 2011)) — and he, or an aspect of him, has communicated with select people through the Quantum Field (Fury of Firestorm #12 (Oct 2012)).
After Stein’s death/disappearance his research was taken up by Roger and Candace Zither (their relationship with Stein also unclear). The Zither’s plan — which they claim was Stein’s idea — was that every country with nuclear weapons would have their own Firestorm, a living nuclear weapon to replace the costly stockpiles of normal nuclear bombs. The living weapon would be no more expensive that a single person and would insure that the balance of mutually assured destruction would be maintained while releasing those countries’ massive defence budgets to be spent on more humanitarian causes.
The Zithers founded a company called Zithertech to realise their plan and immersed themselves within the industrial-military complex. Roger Zither was to be the first Zithertech test subject, he was excited and called himself an “inner-space astronaut”. However something went wrong with Roger’s mind and his ability to control his powers. He was transformed into monster called Helix whose powers killed his own son and infant daughter and left Candace disfigured. Candace Zither was left as the Director of the Corporation and oversaw the development of Zithertech’s own versions of the completed Firestorm Protocols. She made sure that Helix was kept captive and well cared for. He was only released in lucid moments when she absolutely needed his awesome destructive powers (Fury of Firestorm #3 (Jan 2012)).
The successful Zithertech protocols allowed them to proliferate the technology to nuclear governments and to sign lucrative contracts with the US defence department. Each of the international Zithertech Firestorms were tailored to their own countries culture and expectations. The British Firestorm was a man called Hurricane, the Indian and French Firestorms were women called Raksashi and Firehawk. There are other Firestorms shown in the comics presumably including China, but he we don’t know whether that list includes Pakistan, North Korea, and Israel. These other Firestorms have not been named.
Jason Rusch and Ronnie Raymond.
Before he vanished, Martin Stein had contacted his gifted student network asking for volunteers who were willing to make a sacrifice to help him. One of those who replied was a student from Walton Hills High School called Jason Rusch. Stein sent him one of four pure Firestorm Protocols magnetic bottles (i.e., without Zithertech’s later modifications) and asked him to keep it safe. However, Zithertech’s amoral “Dog Team” led by the bloodthirsty Clifford Charmichael had been dispatched by Director Zither to recover the magnetic bottles by whatever means was necessary. They murdered nuclear scientists in Istanbul and at heart of Cern, but only managed to locate three of the known Firestorm triggers. It was then that they traced the fourth to Jason Rusch’s possession.
When Carmichael’s team arrived at Walton Hills High School they found that Rusch was arguing with another student called Ronnie Raymond. Raymond and Rusch were very similar in many ways – they both were raised by a single parent who struggled with finances – but in other ways they were polar opposites. Ronnie was a jock, a gifted football player who lived with his divorced mother. Jason was an intellectual, a science geek, who lived with his disabled father. They naturally moved in different social spheres, but clashed when Jason’s interview with Ronnie for the school newspaper portrayed him in an unflattering light (Fury of Firestorm #1 (Nov 2011)).
Rusch tried activating the trigger by shouting “Firestorm”. However, Raymond’s close proximity – or possibly Stein’s design – caused the Firestorm transmutation to envelope both boys. They were each transformed into one half of a full Firestorm. Jason had the power to transmute elements while Ronnie had the power to fire energy blasts. They also discovered that they could fuse, merge into a single being, that called itself Fury. Whilst merged they existed separately in the Quantum Field from where they could watch Fury’s actions and influence it if they cooperated. Zithertech’s Dog Team suffered badly as the boys tried to gain control of their new powers. One Agent lost an arm and another called Dr Fortier had her body temperature permanently lowered (an assumed origin planted for Killer Frost that hasn’t yet been followed-up upon).
As Fury they fled the High School with Tonya (Jason’s girlfriend). The Dog Team then tried to cover their tracks by blowing up the school. Zithertech’s execution team, the manic Hyena Team, tracked them to the underpass where they had camped. The Hyena’s cornered Jason and threatened to kill him unless Ronnie surrendered. Tonya distracted the Hyenas allowing the Firestorms to win the battle, but she shot in the crossfire. Jason was furious and would have killed their attackers if Ronnie had not talked him down. The defeat of the Dog and Hyena Teams led Director Zither to escalate the response and release Helix, the unstable first Firestorm experiment. Only by properly working together as Fury were the boys able to defeat it (Fury of Firestorm #1-3 (Nov 2011-Jan 2012)).
After three unsuccessful attempts to terminate the new Firestorms, Zithertech changed their strategy and sought to control them instead. A cover story labelling the boys as terrorists had been circulated and the police were “interviewing” their families. Director Zither let the boys think that their parent’s had been kidnapped so, while Jason took Tonya to hospital, Ronnie sought out the kidnappers. He was intercepted by Zither who calmed to be Ronnie’s friend and to have already “saved” his mother. Jason got Tonya to the hospital and used his powers remove a bullet embedded close to an artery. As he left the hospital Jason was surrounded by armed Zithertech agents and Director Zither. Zithertech treated Jason politely, but firmly – he wanted to escape until he found that the company had given his father a job and that Ronnie had bought into Zither’s explanation that the team that had attacked them was “working totally against orders” (Fury of Firestorm #4-5 (Feb-March 2012)).
The other Firestorms
Ronnie, Jason, and Zithertech’s Firestorms all stemmed from Stein’s side of the original Firestorm collaboration, but Mikhal Arkadin’s poor security on the Russian side was beginning to have deadly consequences. Information on the Firestorm Protocols had been stolen from Arkadin’s Siberian laboratory and was reverse engineered by a black-market arms dealer called Haji Al-Farishtaa. As Pozhar, Arkadin’s own Firestorm form, he tracked down and killed Al-Farishtaa, but not before the duplicated Protocols had been sold to a Quraci terrorist group called Ashra Khan. Arkadin’s superiors in Moscow used the theft as an excuse to stop his funding unless he agreed to preserve Russia’s dominance by making America’s new Firestorms disappear (Fury of Firestorm #4-5 (Feb-March 2012)).
The Russians were the first to meet the new rogue Firestorms, Quraci zealots brainwashed by the Ashra Khan movement, who thought nothing to destroying themselves as superhuman suicide bombs. The first time the Americans encountered one was when Zithertech caught word that one had been spotted on American soil. Jason and Ronnie were sent to find it and believed that it was a simple training mission. However, they found the terrorist holding a rock concert hostage in their home town. They thought they were getting the upper-hand, but the rogue committed suicide by creating an explosion that incinerating the stadium and everybody inside.
The teen Firestorms were still reeling in grief and outrage at the Stadium massacre when they were found by Pozhar. He realised that they were linked to Stein and refused to kill two young men in uniform. Pozhar left, but his intervention inadvertently exposed a fault line between Jason and Ronnie. Jason wanted to step back, contact Zithertech and understand the situation. However, Ronnie was fired-up, he need to feel as if he was actively doing something, and he wanted to immediately pursue Pozhar and the rogue Firestorms. Their argument, the grief at recent events, the stress, everything else between them boiled over and they began a super-powered brawl than only ended when they agreed to go their separate ways (Fury of Firestorm #5-6 (March-April 2012)).
Jason Rusch goes to Paris
Jason returned to the disaster site, but he was spotted by the army and media, the secret that a Firestorm had been involved was leaked. Zither was furious, but tried to control her anger. Jason’s dad was overjoyed to see his son again, but Ronnie’s mother was distraught that her son hadn’t come back as well. She was comforted by Jason’s dad. Tonya had been moved to Zithertech’s medical facilities. Jason was visiting her when he was approached by Ms Carver, Director Zither’s personal assistant, who handed him a dossier on two European Firestorms. She advised him that when dealing with Zither, “Play the game, Jason… so it doesn’t play you” (Fury of Firestorm #7 (May 2012)).
Zither had heard that there was going to be another rogue Firestorm attack in Paris so she sent Jason to investigate. He spotted one of the rogues heading towards the Eiffel Tower, but he was tackled by a female French Firestorm called Firehawk and a male British one called Hurricane. They seemed to be up to speed on things and claimed they did not need his help. Jason then spotted a second Rogue, but he was unable to contain its explosion without Ronnie’s powers. The energy released threatened to tear the Eiffel Tower down. Hurricane and Jason tried to transmute is metal parts into some thing less harmful, but their actions were disrupted by the arrival of Booster Gold’s Justice League International.
There was a brief misunderstanding between the JLI and the Firestorms, but Green Lantern Guy Gardner helped them straighten the remains of the Tower. The JLI was having problems containing the explosion from a third rogue, so Jason tried to fused with Firehawk. However, instead of summoning Fury they were instead transformed into a different entity called Wrath. However, this merging was not stable and Wrath violently exploded leaving Jason and Firehawk marooned in the Quantum Field (Fury of Firestorm #8-9 (June-July 2012)).
Ronnie Raymond goes to War
Ronnie had followed the source of the rogue Firestorms to Quarc where he was captured by them. They attached him to energy dampening machines in an underground laboratory run. Their scientist probed and poked Ronnie, pouring energy into him to study his powers. He was only saved when Pozhar found the facility and killed the terrorists. Ronnie was traumatized after his hand was severed and he heard Stein calling to him from the Quantum Field to “Concentrate”. Pozhar recognised something he could use in Ronnie. His interest only increased when he saw footage of Jason and Firehawk fusing to become Wrath. Despite being freed, Ronnie remained withdrawn and believed that the loss of his hand — and even his accidental transmutation into a Firestorm — made him a freak. Pozhar responded by saying that Stein never did anything by accident so his transformation was probably not as much of an accident as he believed.
It was when then Pozhar was fighting an Indian Zithertech Firestorm called Rakshasi that Ronnie finally snapped out of his depression. He subconsciously rebuilt a darker Firestorm appearance and summoned an energy hand to replace the one that had been severed. He then demanded answers from Rakshasi and Pozhar about the rogue Firestorms. Together they traced a group of the rogue Firestorms to Pakistan, Pozhar held back to watch Ronnie digs deep and somehow transmutes into dust the rogues attacking him. Pozhar then grabbed the weakened Ronnie causing them both to fuse into a new demonic Firestorm that called itself ScornÂ (Fury of Firestorm #7-10 (May-Aug 2012)).
Jason and Firehawk were buffeted around in the Quantum Field until they were deposited outside of Pozhar’s old laboratory in Siberia. Firehawk was able to get access to Pozhar’s private network, restoring his files. She told Jason that French Intelligence suspected that the rogue Firestorms originated from Pozhar’s stolen work, but that he is now operating outside of his nation’s purview and is seeking to consolidate the power stolen from him. Jason senses that Ronnie in trouble and hears Stein call to him from the Quantum Field. Stein tells Jason that he and Ronnie are connected, but that Ronnie’s power must not fall into the wrong hands. He then hands Jason another Firestorm trigger which can be used to destroy another Firestorm if necessary.
Jason arrives in Pakistan to find Scorn attacking Rakshasi. The power Pozhar feels within the Quantum Field has driven him nearly to the edge of madness. Jason frees Rakshasi, but she is weak and tells him that somebody has taken control of her powers. The Ashra Khan attacks have drawn attention to Zithertech’s Firestorm programme and the company is about to be the subject of a massive and very ugly congressional inquiry. Director Zither is destroying anything that could implicate Zithertech and that means using the a hidden kill switch inside the Zithertech Firestorm Protocols to remotely kill the Firestorms she had helped create. Rakshasi dies is a painful eruption of fire and energy.
Jason readies Stein’s device to use against Scorn knowing that its detonation would probably kill them both. Firehawk and Hurricane suddenly arrive, but their assistance is denied to Jason as Zither remotely activates their kill switches. Hurricane explodes first. Firehawk senses the build up within herself and take the bottle from Jason. She attempts to use it to attack Scorn, but he blasts her as the bottle opens and she vanishes in a swirling mist of particles. Jason refuses to let Firehawk’s sacrifice be in vain and he uses her distraction to get close enough to wrestle Scorn. There is a tug-of-war in the Quantum Field between Pozhar, Ronnie, and Jason and then a moment of blinding light as Scorn and Pozhar vanish. The normal, powerless Jason Rusch and Ronnie Raymond (with regenerated hand) are left as if nothing had ever happened.
Back at the Zithertech compound, Director Zither tries to flee, but Firehawk appears before her. The gambit appears to only have delayed her fate and she now takes some satisfaction in knowing that her own ending will take her creator with her (Fury of Firestorm #11-12 (Sept-Oct 2012)).
Powers and Abilities
The codename Firestorm refers to an entire class of nuclear powered superhumans created by a process encoded in something called the Firestorm Protocols. The Protocols start with a gauge-boson trapped within a magnetic bottle. This is used as quantum catalyst to transmute a person with compatible DNA, possibly the metagene, into a superhuman with the power to fly, generate/absorb heat, and to transmute matter. However, the Protocols, as the name suggests, are more than just a mutagen and contain an unknown quantity of programming, potentially conditioning, and other exotic factors, e.g., the Protocols generate coordinated costumes and appearances for each of the subjects.
The known named Firestorms are:
- Firehawk — Therese (full name unknown). A French Firestorm created for them by Zithertech. Often partnered with Hurricane, considered for membership of the JLI by Booster Gold and Batman. Killed when her Zithertech kill-switch was activated, but she managed to take Director Zither with her.
- Firestorm — Jason Rusch and Ronnie Raymond. No separate codenames. Created from an uncorrupted version of the Martin Stein protocols which led to them each having half the abilities of a full Firestorm. Rusch possessed the transmutation abilities while Ronnie possessed the nuclear fire abilities.
- Helix – Roger Zither. The original Zithertech Firestorm test subject, left mentally unstable as a result.
- Haji Al-Farishtaa – A Quarci arms dealer who sold reverse engineered versions of the Arkadin Firestorm Protocols to Ashra Khan. Killed by Pozhar.
- Hurricane – Identity unknown. A British Firestorm created for them by Zithertech. Often partnered with Firehawk. Killed when his Zithertech kill-switch was activated.
- Pozhar – Professor Mikhal Arkadin. The Russian co-creator of the Firestorm protocols. It was his version of the process while was stolen by Ashra Khan. Vanished after Scorn’s defeat.
- Raksashi – Identity unknown. An Indian Firestorm created for them by Zithertech. She was killed when her Zithertech kill-switch was activated.
There are also composite beings which can be created when one of Jason Rusch or Ronnie Raymond fuse with another of the other Firestorms. Only three of these forms have observed seen so far.
- Fury – a gestalt Firestorm created by the fusing of Jason Rusch and Ronnie Raymond
- Scorn – a gestalt Firestorm created by the fusing of Ronnie Raymond and Mikhal Arkadin.
- Wrath – a gestalt Firestorm created by the fusing of Jason Rusch and Therese.
Additionally, there are the nameless suicide bombers of Ashra Khan, a fanatical Quarci terrorist group, who own versions of the Protocols bought from Haji Al-Farishtaa.
Finally Martin Stein himself has been seen communicating from within the Quantum Field suggesting that he may also be a Firestorm.