I got a call from DC Comics earlier this year. They wanted me to helm a new on-going Firestorm series in the wake of his increased visibility in Blackest Night and Brightest Day.
As luck would have it, I'd just finished writing Atomic Robo and the Ghost of Station X a week or so previous, so I could do this without the slightest worry of impeding our progress on Robo. So, hey. Why not, right?
My editors and I went back and forth on a six issue arc. The following represents the final document that got me the "OKAY" to begin scripting. I completed the first issue and outlined the second before the reboot derailed what we were doing. Alas.
Responsibilities. Ronnie and Jason have access to an absurd level of power. Moreover [because of BN/BD] they possess the potential to unmake the universe. They're young and relatively inexperienced for things occurring at this scale. Further, their individual support networks are dead. There's few people they can turn to and all of them are running around constantly trying to save the world. It's going to be easy for these guys to get lost in the shuffle.
So, Ronnie's got to look after Jason and Jason's got to look after Ronnie. Palmer acts as a surrogate mentor since he was close to Stein and Lorraine keeps in touch when she can, but 90% of the time it's up to Ronnie and Jason to make sure that Jason and Ronnie are keeping their heads on straight.
The Guys and How They Firestorm:
The first question readers will ask is "Who gets to be the face of Firestorm?" There's a good case for each. Ronnie's been Firestorm longer than anyone, so there's a lot of momentum in his favor. On the other hand, Jason's tenure as a Firestorm headliner was cut short and going back to Ronnie feels like a step backwards. Either way, we piss off too many people.
So, both of the guys get to be Firestorm. They'll be able to switch between "driver" and "passenger"(typically with some bickering, of course). Whomever's driving Firestorm has access to the full suite of powers, but the guys have different approaches to using them just as they have different approaches to life.
Ronnie: Trying to get his life in order. Becoming tired of being the Party Guy. Is convinced his lack of control contributed to Gehenna's death. Has a more aloof/emotional approach to using the Firestorm powers. Concentrates more on the blasting and absorbing. Ronnie as the destructive side of fire.
Jason: Trying to get HIS life in order. Has access to this incredible power, but tired of needing to rely on others to use it. Wants to prove to himself and peers that he can use these powers responsibly. Has a more structured/intellectual approach to using the Firestorm powers. Concentrates more on the matter creation/manipulation. Jason as the creative side of fire.
These are two guys who share something incredible. Something that can help to make the world a better place. But it's something that would never exist without both of them. And they don't necessarily agree on how to use it. They didn't grow up together, they didn't come into this as friends, it was pure random chance that it takes these two guys to make something amazing happen. I mean, maybe this is just me turning every conversation into something about Robo, but this sounds a lot like Scott Wegener, me, and Atomic Robo.
I think this is a perspective I can use to make Ronnie and Jason more than an asshole jock and a nebbishy dork who bicker at each other. They can have their differences, they should have them because they are dramatically different people. But they have a lot in common too, most importantly: being Firestorm and wanting to make the world a better place through Firestorm. It's bigger than both of them and they should always prioritize that.
Argument should be a part of their civilian relationship and their partnership as Firestorm. Each of these guys got to be Firestorm independent of the other for years. So, each one has built up his idea of how to run the show and, of course, those ideas end up conflicting a lot of the time. Ultimately, each one just wants the best of the other. But, they're dudes, so it usually comes out wrong and they start making fun of each other.
What I'm getting around to is this. They don't argue just to argue. They don't snipe at each other just to get cheap shots in. They don't talk down to one another. They tease, they mock, they complain, they argue, but it's because they care. There's a respect, one that most often goes unsaid, but it's there and it informs the nature of their debate.
The Overall Story:
Solaris attempts to usurp the Firestorm Matrix to acquire enough energy to recalculate the entire galaxy into itself and become Galaxis, the Sentient Galaxy.
Meanwhile! The Firestorm Matrix was broken by Firestorm's big fight with Anti-Monitor in Brightest Day! If the guys can't find a way to stabilize its structure, it'll reach criticality and kickstart a new Big Bang. Solaris is unaware of this complication. At first.
It's up to Jason and Ronnie to save the galaxy from a threat no one really knows about (Solaris) while saving the UNIVERSE from a threat no one really understands (how do you fix a metaphysical space?).
It is against this BIG SUPERHERO ACTION backdrop that we have Ronnie finally grow up. He's been the Party Guy for too long. When we start, he's still reeling from the events of Blackest Night and Brightest Day, feeling responsible for the deaths of Gehenna and Martin Stein and he's dealing with it through excessive partying and booze. Through Jason's issue-to-issue influence, Ronnie will come to see that's no way to deal with reality and clean up his act. He's still fundamentally the Ronnie we've known for years, but it's time to move him out of being a screw up party animal jock. He needs to grow up a little; show a little respect to what it means to be Firestorm. The final image of the final issue of this run will be Ronnie revealing his change of major: Chemistry.
The Set Up Issue!
Open on a big ol' superhero fight! It's Firestorm vs. Tough But Obscure Energy Themed Villain (we decided on Arclight). Fight reaches a dramatic moment where Firestorm is in some serious trouble when –
Cut to a couple days ago. Ronnie and Jason trying to balance their personal lives with their college lives and their increasingly weird superhero lives. All of these are compounded by the fact that while Ronnie and Jason need one another to become Firestorm, they don't get along very well. It's a basic conflict of personality. Ronnie's a bit of a goof off and Jason's a little too nerdy.
We're down to the final week before the Firestorm Matrix is calculated to crack and, well, take the universe out. Palmer experiments on Firestorm to fix the Matrix. Experiment is a failure, but in science even failure can lead to greater understanding. Palmer says not to lose hope, there's still time and they've got the best minds in the world working on it right now.
Some grousing, some juggling of responsibilities, some supporting cast, and all with conflict between Ronnie and Jason's different approaches to their individual and their shared lives until we catch up to the fight we opened on.
Some quick thinking saves the day, but then it looks like Firestorm is in even bigger trouble. Solaris is crawling out a rift from within the Firestorm Matrix. Oh my! Meanwhile, Firestorm's powers fizzle out – right at a critical moment in the fight. Cliffhanger!
The Threat of a Big Bad Guy Issue!
Ronnie as Firestorm finds himself suddenly powerless against Arclight. Meanwhile, Jason in the Firestorm Matrix is powerless to fight Solaris. Ronnie and Jason running for their lives. Tensions are high, each one blames the other, and neither is getting anywhere.
The argument boils down to "You think YOU'VE got it bad?" from each side and they end up switching places – Ronnie is in the Firestorm Matrix and Jason is Firestorm out in reality. Each one immediately figures out "Oh, yes, we both had it bad." Ronnie, with his more intuitive connection to the Firestorm Matrix, is able to push Solaris out. Meanwhile, Jason, with his more empiricist approach to Firestorm powers, figures out a clever twist to best Arclight even though he only has access to greatly reduced powers due to Solaris' meddling.
Ronnie and Jason shaken up by Solaris incident. They don't know what it was — they've never seen him and anyway Solaris was kinda half-in/half-out of the Matrix so it was hard to get a good look. They go to Palmer for advice. Palmer isn't sure what's up either. Says it shouldn't be possible for outside entities to interfere with the Matrix and figures it's a symptom of this late stage of its break down.
The guys try to get back into the routine of their "normal" lives; can't help but feel haunted by Solaris's intrusion.
Close on the eerie/alien interior of Solaris as he watches Ronnie and Jason from the depths of space. Imagery and text snippets here give us clues to Solaris's plan: devour the Firestorm Matrix.
The Big Dumb Fight Issue!
We open on a Big Fight To Save The World already in progress. Firestorm, like many heroes, doesn't know the full scope of what's going on, but he's helping out along the fringes of the battle. Saving a few lives here, coordinating rescue efforts there, stopping some collateral damage, etc. [This was meant as an homage to one of my favorite JLU episodes, "The Greatest Story Never Told" starring Booster Gold. I only later learned that episode was originally intended to star Firestorm. Ha!]
Mostly this is an excuse to showcase Firestorm interacting with the larger superhero community and how Ronnie and Jason's relationship to each other and the Firestorm Matrix colors those interactions.
The world is at stake in this Big Battle, but we're a little blase about it. It's DC Earth, this sort of thing happens every week. This particular Threat To The Whole Earth is a cabal of evil DC wizards attempting to adjust the astrological position of the Moon so they can resurrect their dead god and take over the world. The usual.
In the end, the world is saved. Ronnie and Jason get home and are completely exhausted from running damage control all day. They get home, get ready for some much needed rest, but BAM we close on Solaris busting in on their apartment Kool-Aid Man style.
The Bigger And Cooler Fight Issue!
Solaris vs. Firestorm. Solaris, as a construct of pure light/energy/information, is immune to Firestorm's energy blasts and matter manipulation.
During the battle we learn more about Solaris's interest in Firestorm. Solaris has become obsessed with thwarting the future since it knows its own destiny due to the events of DC 1,000,000. Figures out that if it can usurp the Firestorm Matrix, then it will have enough power to extend its ability to manipulate energy and information to reprogram every star into a neuron of its consciousness. Solaris the Tyrant Sun will transform the entire Milky Way into its computational strata and become Galaxis the Sentient Galaxy.
The fight is completely one-sided. It's all Firestorm can do to keep the collateral damage minimized as he gets pummeled by Solaris. Firestorm's on the ropes. Hell, he was on the ropes before the fight started. It's all over. But then Solaris hits the ground and appears inert.
What? How? Enter Ray Palmer, The Atom!
Palmer reveals that while the boys were keeping Solaris busy by fighting it, he shrunk to micro-size, took his car with him, and left it in Solaris's brain thus lobotomizing it when the car returned to normal size. Problem solved!
Nope. Solaris reactivates. Well, it was a nice try, doc. Solaris brags about how it converted the car's mass into itself and resumes its rampage.
But it gives the boys an idea. If they can get inside Solaris themselves, maybe they can unravel its computational innards faster than it can repair itself. Firestorm dives into Solaris. Close on Solaris with elements of Firestorm's visual themes incorporated into it. Dun dun DUNNNN!
The Final Showdown Issue
Ronnie and Jason fighting off the self-evolving defenses inside the circuitry of Solaris.
Meanwhile! Solaris, now starting to siphon power from the Firestorm Matrix, rockets from the Earth and is headed for our sun to begin infecting the solar web of the Milky Way with its own programming to expand its consciousness across the galaxy. Superman gives chase, but he's falling behind.
Back on The Guys being overrun by Solaris's immune system. The largest enforcer is clearly half built out of the Atom's car. Dammit, Palmer!
Solaris closing in on the sun; decoding Firestorm Matrix; outpacing Superman; discovers the fatal flaw in the Firestorm Matrix — the damn thing is being strained to the breaking point and from there, boom, the universe is destroyed. Well, the end of reality does not fit Solaris's plans, so he proposes to merge into the Firestorm Matrix so that his mass/energy can be used to patch the fissure.
Ronnie and Jason hesitant, but with the clock ticking they don't have much time or choice.
Back on Superman giving chase when Solaris suddenly collapses into itself. Superman comes to a halt to find a catatonic Firestorm floating in its place.
The Coming Down From Enormous Battles; Let's Hang Out With The Supporting Cast Issue
A slower issue mostly dealing with Ronnie and Jason's civilian lives as we explore one or more ramifications of Solaris being merged with the Firestorm Matrix. This issue would look into or at least set up one or more of the following. Over time, we would tackle each of these scenarios, whether individually or in combination. In no particular order they are…
A) Temporary solution. Solaris, now integrated into the structure of the Firestorm Matrix, appears dormant. But for how long? We know he's on the loose and evil in the future. Have we replaced one time bomb with another? This could be allowed to simmer and then pull it out down the line as a trump card at the worst possible time for Jason/Ronnie.
B) Independence. Solaris is, by far, the most massive thing to be merged into the Firestorm Matrix. The boost from this much mass/energy makes it possible for Ronnie and Jason to EACH be Firestorm independently and simultaneously. We could reveal this at the end of the previous issue (Superman finding two Firestorms) or in this issue depending on how we want to roll. THIS WOULD BE A TEMPORARY CONDITION. The guys would be apart for just one storyline, 6 issues max – at the conclusion of which they'd do something dramatic and self-sacrificial to "use up" the excess energy and force them to merge to become Firestorm again; additionally their experiences as Independent Firestorms would illustrate to each that they need one another to act as checks/balances. That said, if DC doesn't like this angle, we can just skip it aspect altogether!
C) Whispers. Solaris may not be as dormant as it appears to be. Its presence within the structure of the Matrix begins to influence Jason since he'd be more susceptible to its cold logic. Jason becomes increasingly distant and less humane about his use of power. Ronnie confronts him and it gets violent. A battle between two Firestorms would be an impressive display of power. This ties in very well with option B.
D) Elemental Trouble. Firestorm is selected as the Fire Elemental…just as soon as they settle the dispute of WHO Firestorm is. In the end? It's Solaris reformed by being merged or exposed to the latent memories and personality of Martin Stein which were also a component of the Matrix. This new humanoid entity (Solarstorm? Sunstorm?) is wholly separate from Jason/Ronnie's Firestorm. This is kind of a cheat to incorporate the Elemental angle of Firestorm and Stein without derailing the Big Superheroics of Ronnie and Jason's Firestorm. Additionally, Solaris still has the potential to "go bad" to free up Stein and to fulfill its role as a future villain.
E) Firestorm Nexus. After all of the above, the guys think it's back to life as normal when they receive an urgent message through their Matrix. They are introduced to the larger multiverse of Firestorms and the Firestorm Nexus they share to defend all of reality against threats from beyond time and space…only to learn its all in ruins! Now Ronnie and Jason are the last line of defense against total multiversal collapse at the hands of [Big Time Cosmic Baddie]. We pull this off right, and Ronnie/Jason/Firestorm is A-list material.
F) Closure. The original document included a way to resurrect Ryan Choi while bringing a new understanding/respect to their impromtu mentor Ray Palmer as well as a sense of closure to the deaths of their old mentor Martin Stein, Jason's girlfriend Gehenna, and Ronnie and Jasons sets of parents. I knew they'd reject it and there were the five previous very useable ideas, so I figured it couldn't hurt. The details aren't important, I only mention it here for completeness.
So, that was my Firestorm. The nature of the reboot made all of that quite impossible.
On the bright side: Gail Simone, Ethan Van Scriver, and Yildiray Cinar will bring you their Firestorm this September. I wish them the best!