Firestorm volume III premiered in mid-2004 introducing Jason Rusch. Many people don’t realize that Firestorm volume III was scheduled to premiere nearly a year earlier starring Ronnie Raymond (rather than Jason Rusch). That’s right, before Jason Rusch was even a glimmer in Dan Jolley’s eye, there was a monthly Ronnie Raymond Firestorm series in the works to be written by Mike Carey and drawn by Lewis LaRosa. Sadly, plans for the series were nixed in early 2003 after the editor for the project left DC. It’s a real shame this series never saw publication. I’ve done my best to piece together what the aborted series was about and the story behind its cancellation.
Today we’ll be looking at the Firestorm series that almost was, including never-before published artwork from the series…
Origin of the Series That Almost Was
After lying in obscurity for nearly a decade, Firestorm was invited to rejoin the JLA in late-2002. Ronnie Raymond’s re-induction to the JLA took place in issue #69, part of “The Obsidian Age” storyline. At the time JLA was written by Joe Kelly, and edited by Dan Raspler and Steve Wacker (Associate Editor). Raspler had been the editor of the Firestorm monthly title in the early 1990s, and apparently had an interest in bringing Firestorm back into popularity.
Raspler contacted Mike Carey (at the time best known for his work on the Vertigo titles, Lucifer and Hellblazer) offering him the opportunity to write a new monthly Firestorm title. Carey was an interesting choice given his background in more mature comics at the time. Carey accepted the offer and shared a proposal with Raspler and Wacker. They all agreed that the new book ought to start from a point that was fresh and unexpected – taking the character into a situation that would hook new readers but also pleasantly surprise confirmed fans. Lewis LaRosa was hired as the Firestorm series artist after his excellent work as a fill-in artist on JLA #76 (the image above comes from that issue). It’s interesting to note that LaRosa’s inker for that JLA issue was none other than Al Milgrom (co-creator of Firestorm).
Now the Firestorm series had a creative team and a direction. Mike Carey started working on scripts, while Lewis LaRosa started working on character development sketches.
Premise of the Series That Almost Was
Mike Carey himself explains his Firestorm premise in this excerpt from a March 2010 interview by Strider119:
STRIDER119: What were the circumstances behind the Firestorm pitch for DC a few years back? How close was that to becoming a reality?
MIKE CAREY: How close? I wrote four scripts! My idea for the character was that the Firestorm matrix goes into convulsions and – in order to stabilize itself – anchors itself in half a dozen different personalities. One of them is an AI; another is a cat; a third is a guy who has a heart attack when the matrix touches him, so he’s Firestorm, but he’s also dead.
The editorial response was positive at first, but then there was a big shake-up, with Dan Raspler leaving DC, and my version of Firestorm was – sadly – shelved.
That was definitely an original premise, having Ronnie merge with five other individuals to form Firestorm. Based upon the art in the next section, it looks like Firestorm would also change his physical appearance depending upon who was primarily controlling the matrix at the time.
Art of the Series That Almost Was
Here are some never-before-published pencils by Lewis LaRosa from the aborted Firestorm volume III series. This is some really exciting artwork! I wish we’d had an opportunity to see this fully inked and colored.
Below you’ll find some character sketches for Ronnie Raymond, Jack Butcher, Margaret, and Sylvie. I assume Jack, Margaret, and Sylvie were new additions to the Firestorm matrix.
Below you’ll find some character sketches for the classic-looking Firestorm, Sylvie, Tasha (presumably the cat Mike Carey mentioned), and Maniac (presumably the artificial intelligence Carey mentioned).
Below is the first page from issue #1 of the aborted Firestorm volume III. You see the Maniac Firestorm towering over Ronnie Raymond on the surface of the moon. This ties in perfectly with the cliffhanger to JLA #84 (as you’ll see further below).
Below are the second and third pages from issue #1 of the aborted Firestorm volume III. Here you see the recovering Ronnie Raymond as well as Batman, Superman, and Major Disaster (I think). The elderly doctor may be Dr. Simon LaGrieve, but no way to be certain at this point. We don’t have a script for these pages, but I like to think Batman is taking up for Ronnie Raymond in these scenes.
Below are the fifth and sixth pages from issue #1 of the aborted Firestorm volume III. This is most likely the matrix convulsions Mike Carey mentioned above. Here you see Sylvie and Tasha the cat.
This next piece comes to us from our good friend Jon over at Fizzit – a Firestorm-themed blog. Below is a promotional shot showing the six different aspects of the new Firestorm. In the flaming hair, there are several characters each appearing to be a variation on Firestorm. These individuals represent the different components of the Firestorm matrix in this incarnation. The middle individual with his back turned to the audience appears to be the Ronnie Raymond Firestorm. Starting at the top-middle position and moving clockwise, I believe we’re seeing: Margaret the young blond girl, Maniac the artificial intelligence, Jack Butcher, Tasha the cat, and Sylvie. Click the image to enlarge.
Jon from Fizzit – a Firestorm-themed blog was curious what Lewis LaRosa’s artwork would have looked like if it’d been published. So Jon hired professional colorist Tom Smith (JLA/Avengers, Silver Surfer, Marvel Universe, and much more) to color the promotional piece above. Below you’ll see what Tom Smith came up with. The glowing face is a departure for Ronnie and somewhat similar to Jason, but it still looks super-cool. What a gorgeous piece! Click the image to enlarge.
Cancellation of the Series That Almost Was
For whatever reason, Dan Raspler left DC Comics in February 2003. Since the new Firestorm series hadn’t been published yet, this departure resulted in both the creative team and the overall direction of the series going back to the drawing board.
It’s disappointing that we never got to see Carey and LaRosa’s vision of Firestorm. However, I’m happy to say that both creators landed on their feet and went on to very high-profile projects. In fact, it’s possible they may not have had these other opportunities if they’d been committed to a monthly Firestorm title. Mike Carey has been very successful writing X-Men titles for Marvel since 2006. Lewis LaRosa went on to work with Garth Ennis on the launch of the 2004 Punisher MAX series.
I believe Firestorm volume III was scheduled to spin out of the JLA storyline, “Trail by Fire.” This assumption is based upon the cliffhanger to JLA #84, which would have perfectly set the stage for Carey/LaRosa’s Firestorm volume III #1. You can see the cliffhanger below leads directly into some of LaRosa’s artwork above for Firestorm volume III. It’s interesting that DC editorial kept this cliffhanger in the JLA book, showing the “Maniac” version of Firestorm, even though the series had been canceled.
Creators of the Series That Almost Was
I corresponded with Lewis LaRosa back in January 2009 regarding the aborted Firestorm series and he was kind enough to share some thoughts with me:
It’s hard for me to remember much about the Firestorm book other than I was excited to be working with Mike Carey, who was as kind as he was immensely talented, and that I thought he was a cool visual. I wasn’t really familiar with him as a character so I was glad to be in at the ground floor. I didn’t have any editorial direction that I can remember on how to visually represent the character except being told not to do too much to redesign him. I was pretty upset when the book was canned due to the changed in editorial, but I thought Chris Cross’s redesign was brilliant. I’m also glad Mike Carey went on to get the attention he very much deserves.
Prior to the series cancellation, Mike Carey gave a wonderful interview to Comic Book Resources on the then-in-development series. Normally I wouldn’t reprint an interview in its entirety; I’d simply link to it. However, since this interview is over seven years old, and extremely relevant to the topic at hand, I’m hoping no one will mind.
Goodness, Gracious, Great Balls of Fire: Carey talks ‘Firestorm’
by Arune Singh
Thu, February 27th, 2003 at 12:00AM (PST)
NOTE: This interview was conducted a number of weeks ago. Updates regarding the art and editorial team can be found at the end of the article.
DC Comics has been making fans happy with the return of many cult-favorite heroes in the past few years, from Dr. Fate to Hawkman to Green Arrow, but now the hottest one of all is poised to make a fiery return. While many thought that only Aquaman would be returning from DC’s summer epic “JLA: Obsidian Age,” it seems that forgotten hero Firestorm will be receiving his own solo ongoing series as well. The big hook, according to the writer?
“The puffy sleeves.”
An even bigger surprise is the writer- “Hellblazer” and “Lucifer’s” Mike Carey, known more for his work at DC’s mature readers Vertigo imprint rather than for family friendly superhero comic books.
“It will be very, very different,” says Carey of “Firestorm” from his other work. “It’s not Vertigo – and I’m not bringing a Vertigo sensibility to it. God forbid. ‘Watchmen’ and ‘Dark Knight’ notwithstanding, I *hate* grittily realistic or lyrically bleak superhero books. That’s not what the genre is about. I want this to be a sort of Technicolor explosion: lots of big ideas, lots of clever plot mechanics, lots of intriguing and unexpected character developments. It’s got to be a ride that leaves your hair standing on end, or it’s not worth doing. I’m not saying that I won’t deal with serious themes from time to time: every comic should have that freedom. I am saying that the main focus here is going to be on story and character, and that readers should expect to feel exhilarated rather than disturbed.”
Barring his recent appearances in “Obsidian Age” and some time ago in “Green Lantern: Circle of Fire,” Firestorm has been absent from the DC universe for years now and Carey is more than happy to briefly summarize the character’s history for readers new and old. “Firestorm was created when two men – student Ronnie Raymond and his physics professor Martin Stein – were trapped in a nuclear reactor at the moment when it exploded. When one of the two – usually Ronnie – willed the transformation, both disappeared and were replaced by Firestorm. Whoever ‘summoned’ Firestorm remained in control of the Firestorm body, the other sitting in as a sort of disembodied spectator. Later, the character went through a lot of changes. Martin Stein dropped out of the Firestorm matrix, to be replaced by a Russian superhero called Pozhar. Then later still, Firestorm was transformed into a fire elemental along the lines of Alan Moore’s ‘Swamp Thing.’ Finally Martin Stein managed to reinsert himself into the matrix by dying in fire a second time, and he used Firestorm’s powers to fight and defeat Brimstone – the big bad dude from ‘Legends’ – who was then incubating at the heart of the sun. As a result of that battle, he was catapulted through a black hole and out of normal space and time. He hasn’t been seen since. But Ronnie discovered that he could still tap into the matrix and become Firestorm again. So that’s the Firestorm who’s currently appearing in ‘JLA': just Ronnie, filling the role all by himself.”
If this all sounds a bit confusing or you’re worried about having to memorize the facts, just calm down: Carey has it covered. “I’m not going to be assuming any prior knowledge at all. Old readers can rest assured that everything I do will be consistent with existing continuity – and old favorites like Simon LaGrieve and Lorraine Reilly will be making more than cameo appearances. But everything that’s important will be explained. I’d never go down the road of restarting a book after a ten year break in continuity by just having the characters take up where they left off.”
The idea of yet another super powered character from DC’s past re-appearing may seem boring to many jaded comic book fans, many of whom already may believe there are too many superhero comic books on the market. It isn’t Carey’s prerogative to produce “just another spandex series” and he genuinely feels that the concept of Firestorm inherently offers comic books fans something different in a superhero. “I’ve always felt that the uniqueness of Firestorm lay in his being both a solo superhero and – effectively – a team. The fact that he’s several minds in one body, and that the composition of those minds could change, that was a mind-bending concept. It’s almost as though Firestorm is a vehicle, and we’ve seen him with a whole lot of different people in the driving seat. So his identity lies half in the people who combine to form him and half in the Firestorm matrix itself. We’re going to be making a lot of play with those ideas in the book, because I really think that that’s the essence of the character concept. He’s one and he’s many, at the same time. That’s both his greatest strength – without Martin Stein, would Ronnie ever have learned how to use his element-changing powers? – and his greatest weakness.”
While some creators might be intimidated by the idea of working on a character whose powers are almost limitless, Carey sees only the potential for creative exploration and explains that he has a genuine affinity for Firestorm himself. “Well Jeez, it’s hard not to love him. He’s got puffy sleeves, his head’s on fire, and he’s two guys in one suit. Okay, I know he isn’t two guys any more – that was by way of a joke. But I wanted to do a superhero book, and I wanted it to be in the spirit of the ‘JLA’ in its recent incarnations, or Geoff Johns’ ‘Flash’ – big, vividly colored, full of huge ideas, and really, really exciting. Firestorm appeals to me because he’s that sort of hero. Not realistic, or gritty, or dark: larger than life, based on a character concept that’s both totally straightforward and susceptible to huge twists and tweaks. Plus I’ve always just been drawn to super heroes who remove their eyeballs when they’re at work. Honestly, the hardest part is feeling like John Ostrander is looking over my shoulder. Okay, I’ve already been through this with ‘Lucifer’ and ‘Hellblazer,’ god knows, but you always feel a twinge of unease when you pick up something that someone else has made, and made well. You get around it by making sure that you keep faith with the original concepts: do it your own way, sure, but without betraying what made the character worth revisiting in the first place. The easiest part is getting story ideas. There’s almost nothing you can’t do with a character who operates on this sort of scale.”
It’s this scope of imagination and fresh approach to the superhero concept that has generated so much buzz around “Firestorm” before the first issue, though Carey is far more humble about how he stumbled onto this latest way to feed his family. “I got the call. Simple as that. I was sitting at home one night, brooding over the fact that I only had two monthly titles to write, and [former DC Editor] Dan Raspler called. He was the editor for much of the original run of ‘Firestorm,’ and he’s always had a hankering to bring him back, and he asked me if I shared that hankering. I said yes. Yes I did. Yes. I sincerely wanted this job.”
After meeting with Raspler and sharing his proposal, both men were excited about the prospect of the new series, though Carey is quite tightlipped about the exact details of the conversation. “I don’t want to spoil too much of the surprise here. I was talking it over with Dan, and with Steve Wacker, his assistant editor, and we all felt that the new book ought to launch off from a point that was fresh and unexpected – taking the character into a situation that would hook new readers but also pleasantly surprise confirmed fans. And I had the idea that the Firestorm matrix itself could be explored a lot further than it had. This is where Firestorm gets his powers from: it’s a field of energy of a unique and immeasurable kind that was apparently created by the Earth-spirit itself in order to bring a fire-being into existence. But it’s clearly possible for several human minds, bodies and personalities to be brought together in this field and to operate jointly as Firestorm. That was my starting point. What if…? But there’s no way on Earth I’m completing that sentence.”
Even if he won’t answer that question, Carey is more than glad to defend the launch of another super hero comic book amid what some consider an overabundance of superhero comic books in the market today. “There’s a screaming and a baying and a howling from the message boards,” says Carey of why “Firestorm” is being launched. “Seven hundred million Firestorm fans can’t be wrong. Well, maybe I double counted somewhere there, but he’s always been a fan favorite and there *is* a lot of strong feeling out there that he deserves his own book. Plus, Joe Kelly bringing him into ‘JLA’ has reintroduced him to a new generation. It would be crazy not to take him further.”
For Carey, the only real justification he needs for writing “Firestorm” is the feeling he gets from writing the series, even if there is some pressure on him, with this being his first superhero series. “It feels great. In fact, when I signed the exclusive deal with DC I was secretly hoping that I might be able to get into some DCU stuff. I love Vertigo, and I’ve always picked up most of their output with religious fervor, but I love superheroes too. When I came back into comics as a teenager after a gap of about five years, it was the Claremont/Byrne ‘X-Men’ that tempted me in. And I’ve always gone on reading superhero books alongside ‘mature’ titles. Recently, I’ve loved what Brian Bendis has done on ‘Ultimate Spider-Man,’ where he’s restoring the life and power of the original character concept, and Geoff Johns’ masterful rendering of the ‘Flash’ – his ability to handle a huge, and hugely powerful, cast in a way that makes it look effortless. I guess I do feel that there’s a lot riding on this for me. I want to give the book as irresistible a hook as Johns’ or Bendis’s work, or Grant Morrison’s ‘X-Men,’ say. But first off, I’ve got to prove that I can actually *do* this, and make it work – that I can write in this genre, at least as well as I can write horror/fantasy. It’s a challenge, but it’s a challenge that I’m really eager to take on. I’ve been working towards this for quite a while now.”
The artist on “Firestorm” will be Lewis LaRosa, best known for a recent fill-in on “JLA #76,” but whom Carey believes will become very well known to fans with his work on this new series. “Lewis had been working with Dan Raspler on a fill-in issue of ‘JLA,’ and Dan was really impressed with the pages he was turning in. His rendition of Firestorm was particularly striking – there’s a sequence where Firestorm is walking along the sea bed, and Lewis had him pouring out steam instead of flame, like a geo-thermal vent. It was a very cool image.
“So Dan broached the possibility of doing a Firestorm monthly to Lewis, and he was very, very keen. He did some fantastic character designs, playing off some of the ideas I’d already floated, and a rough sketch for a promotional image, which caught the central concept brilliantly. Dan took one look at this stuff and said, ‘welcome aboard.’
“I think what makes Lewis something special is his visual imagination. He takes a situation and thinks ‘Well, if that’s happening, then what else would be happening?’ and he throws in all sorts of grace notes and little visual easter eggs that give more punch to the scene. He’s also just great in terms of realizing character and place. He’s definitely a name that you’re going to see a lot more of.”
By this point in time you might be wondering if there is a reason that Carey is writing three ongoing series all with fire in their names (“Firestorm”, “Hellblazer”, “Lucifer”) and when asked, the DC exclusive writer falters. “You don’t think fire is pretty? Sure you do. A nice little blaze, just to take the edge off the dark…I mean no. Pure coincidence. I gotta go now, ok?”
In a post on the official DC Comics message boards, Carey popped in to update fans that artist Lewis LaRosa is in fact no longer on the series. And with Dan Raspler being let go by DC the book has a new editor. “Now that Dan has left DC, the book will be handled by either Peter Tomasi or Mike Carlin, and both the creative team and the overall approach therefore go back into the melting pot to a certain extent, as any book has to when the editorial reins change hands,” Carey commented on the forum.
Ronnie Raymond’s Death & the Creation of Jason Rusch
We’ve covered the origin, creators, premise, artwork, and cancellation of the Firestorm volume III series. It’s worth addressing in this discussion the subsequent death of Ronnie Raymond and creation of Jason Rusch. Details are sketchy as to who exactly decided to kill Ronnie Raymond – was it Brad Meltzer (writer of Identity Crisis) or DC Editorial? Below are two blurbs from Brad Meltzer on the subject:
NEWSARAMA: Were all of the deaths in the story the same as your initial draft? Were there more that you had? Less?
BRAD MELTZER: I didn’t know they’d let me kill Firestorm until halfway through, which to me, fit in so well as a moment to show a type of death we don’t usually see much of: the quiet, accidental death on the job. For me, Firestorm’s death was my tip of the hat to Dollar Bill in Watchmen, who gets his cape caught in a revolving door. That’s just real life. People die on this job — and those deaths aren’t always glorious.
Meltzer also confirmed a popular rumor, that he was presented with a death list that included two big heroes who Meltzer didn’t use and are, at least for now, still alive. Prompted by DiDio and his failing memory, Meltzer went further to reveal that the big heroes on the chopping block were the Martian Manhunter and the Atom.
“But it would have been a cheap ploy,” said Meltzer about why he spared the characters, “and one of you people sitting in the audience, after becoming the new writer, would just bring them back. It’s what I’d do.”
He had no such qualms about killing off Firestorm, because the death was appropriate to the story and because the new Firestorm was already being planned.
Here is an excerpt from an interview with Dan Jolley addressing Ronnie Raymond. This interview was done during development of the Jason Rusch Firestorm volume III series. If you get a chance, click the link and read the entire interview. It’s really good and shows where Jolley was coming from in the development of Jason.
“As far as the genesis of the new direction, most of that took place before I was even approached about doing the book. I know there were a lot of different concepts kicked around the DC offices – the series was originally slated to be written by the very talented Mike Carey, and starring the original Firestorm, Ron Raymond – but the DC editorial staff decided to go in a different direction, and editor Peter Tomasi called me up and asked me to pitch for the series. That sparked a number of conversations between Peter, me, and Dan DiDio, out of which eventually emerged the new path we’re taking with it. I know I’m having a blast, and DC seems to be very pleased with how the series is shaping up.”
“Well, I’ll be the first to confirm that there are some very dedicated, very loyal Ronnie Raymond fans out there. And I respect them, and sympathize with their displeasure that Ron will not be the lead in the new series. But as to why Firestorm is coming back…the decisions behind which projects to accept and which to reject, the approaches to take, the creative teams to assign, all of those are made far above my head at DC. They hired me to create something new, something fresh and accessible to anyone, something as cool and intense as it’s within my power to produce, and that’s what I’m trying my best to do.”
There you go. That’s everything I know about the aborted Firestorm volume III. Again, it’s a real shame it never saw publication. It sounds like an interesting premise with great art. There’s no way to know what kind of reception it would have received from the fans, but it would’ve been nice to have found out.
A very special THANK YOU to both Jon from Fizzit – a Firestorm-themed blog and Keith from The Nuclear Fan website. Without each of their contributions, this post wouldn’t have been possible. Thanks guys!
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