Teenager Jason Rusch is the new Firestorm, except he has no idea what that means or how to control his unfathomable powers. What's more, he doesn't have the calm, fatherlike voice of Professor Stein coaching him in his head. Instead Jason has local Michigan gangster Stevie Golek trapped in his mind. Golek wants to use the power of Firestorm for his own ends until Jason's consciousness begins eating away at Stevie completely. Now, all he wants is to get out.
But Jason doesn't know how to separate them.
Firestorm: The Nuclear Man #3: "E.M.Powered" is written by Dan Jolley with pencils by ChrisCross and inks by Bob Stull. This issue came out in September, 2004.
The third part of Jolley's introduction to the All-New Sorta-Different Firestorm opens up right after last issue. With the powers of Firestorm, Jason Rusch just blew up a Detroit meth lab full, killing people. Bad people, most likely, but it's still causing him some emotional anguish.
Inside Jason's mind, reality is no less horrifying. He's trapped with a gangster who moments earlier tried to murder him, and they're looking out at Jason's body demonstrating the amazing powers of the Nuclear Man. Also, Jason's mind seems to be devouring the gangster, Stevie, who is understandably desperate to get out of this place.
Stevie might be a killer and drug kingpin, but he's also older and smarter than Jason, and does his best to keep Jason calm during this volatile experience.
Jason struggles to separate himself from Stevie, but nothing's working. Stevie comes up with the idea of consulting the Justice League. I guess he really is afraid of dying because that takes some sack for a murderous meth dealer to ask Superman and "the guy who runs fast" for help. Regardless, Stevie's logic is pretty sound; the JLA is most likely to possess the knowhow and resources to separate.
The only problem is the JLA are headquartered on the Moon, and Jason can't conceive of a way of getting there. He doesn't have enough faith in his powers yet.
Stevie scolds Jason for being a coward and suggests that Jason's dad, Alvin Rusch, beat all the courage out of him.
Jason, he don't like that.
Stevie reasons that provoking an emotional response in Jason is what causes the Firestorm power to respond, so he keeps poking and prodding, allowing the readers to see Jason Rusch's history play out as painful memories: first the factory accident that took Alvin's hand, then Alvin's depression and violent outbursts, then Jason's mom abandoning the two of them, then Alvin beating Jason.
Jason finally finds the courage and concentration to seize control of the Firestorm. And once he's done that, it's relatively easy to split his corporeal form from Stevie Golek's. But Jason's sense of pride and accomplishment is short-lived.
Could be worse, though...
Jason forces himself to rationalize Stevie's death. Stevie was, after all, a drug dealing killer who stabbed Jason and would have finished the job as soon as he got free. So maybe his atomization isn't the worst thing in the world.
The worst thing might be Jason's dad, who has a particular way of showing his relief when Jason comes home that morning.
Alvin comes within inches of punching his son in the face, and Jason does nothing but stand there trembling. The phone rings, disrupting Alvin's rage. Jason goes upstairs to take the phone call from his friend Mick. While talking to him, Firestorm seems to formulate a plan to settle things between he and his father.
And that concludes the three-part series opener for the latest Firestorm: The Nuclear Man!
I'm still not wild about ChrisCross' art on this series. His figures and line-work are decent, but his panel breakdowns are so, soooo boring. This is probably the worst issue yet for layouts. Twelve of the twenty-two pages are arranged in simple four panel quadrants. There are some truly awesome visuals to enjoy in this comic that are being wasted by a layout design that went out with the Silver Age.
I want to like Jason Rusch but he still feels way too passive in these early issues. For most of this chapter, the driving force is the "villain" trying to save himself by giving Jason what he wants. Almost every notable thing Firestorm does is accidental or incidental, including killing Stevie and bringing down the meth lab. And it ends with him crying in bed about not having the guts to stand up to his father... Not exactly the stuff of classic superheroes.
And yet... there is something refreshingly classic about Firestorm in these issues: he doesn't want to see anyone die, and he shows emotion when they do!
Remember when superheroes were preoccupied with saving lives--even the bad guys? I have a tough time believing that Superman would regard the chemists burning to death in the meth lab. I have a tougher time believing a writer or editor in the DC offices today would even consider those implications.
Come back next week for a review of issue #4, where Jason Rusch meets members of the Justice League for the first time, and meets his first super-powered supervillain!