Goodness, Gracious, Great Balls of Fire: Carey talks 'Firestorm'

Thu, February 27th, 2003 at 12:00am PST

Comic Books
Arune Singh, Staff Writer

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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.

[Firestorm]
Artwork on this page is from Firestorm's recent appearance in "JLA #75."
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."

[Firestorm]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.

 
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