With the DC Universe Classics line, Mattel has created something that has been long overdue -- the DC Comics equivalent to the Marvel Legends action figure line. Although they have had a DC Super-Heroes line for several years, that particular toy line, although entirely compatible with DC Universe Classics, was focused on characters from Batman and Superman. The DC Universe Classics line is broader in scope, and Firestorm, with no real affiliation to either hero, is a superb example of this.
Firestorm first appeared in the late 1970's, one of a handful of new heroes around the same time that DC developed. Another one around the same time period was Black Lightning. Both heroes are still active today, despite some changes to their characters over the years, but hey, thirty years in this business isn't bad at all.
This is not the first action figure of Firestorm. The character was notable and distinctive enough in the mid-1980's to be included in the Super Friends/Super Powers animated series, and was crafted as an action figure for Kenner's Super Powers line.
Let's consider the comics history of the character. Be advised -- this gets pretty convoluted.
According to his history, Firestorm was created by writer Gerry Conway and artist Al Milgrom, certainly two notable names in the business, and first appeared in Firestorm #1. dated March 1978.
Firestorm was distinguished by his integrated dual identity. High school student Ronald Raymond and Nobel Prize-winning physicist Martin Stein were caught in a nuclear accident that allowed them to fuse into the "nuclear man" Firestorm. Due to Stein's being unconscious during the accident, Raymond was prominently in command of the Firestorm form with Stein a voice of reason inside his mind. Banter between the two was a hallmark of their adventures.
Firestorm possesses great powers, including flight, superhuman strength, and control over matter itself.
The first Firestorm comics series was short-lived. However, The Fury of Firestorm, later called Firestorm: the Nuclear Man, lasted from 1982 until 1990. The series began with the teenaged Raymond adjusting to his newfound role and later delved into the issue of the nuclear arms race and Firestorm's role as an "elemental."
After the accident that created him, Firestorm took to defending New York from such threats as Multiplex (created in the same nuclear accident that produced Firestorm) and Killer Frost. The 1978 series was cancelled abruptly in a company-wide cutback (the "DC Implosion") with #5 (the first part of a multiple-issue story) the last to be distributed, and #6 included in Cancelled Comic Cavalcade. Writer Conway added Firestorm to the roster of Justice League of America. This led to a series of 8-page stories in the back of The Flash (with art by George Pérez), and a revival of a monthly Firestorm comic in 1982.
The monthly series, written initially by Conway and drawn mainly by Pat Broderick and Rafael Kayanan, slowly developed the lives of Raymond and Stein, as the teenager struggled with high school and moved towards graduation and the scientist found a life outside the lab. A second nuclear hero, Firehawk, was added as a love interest for Firestorm in 1984. The series also tried to create a sense of fun, something that Conway felt was missing during his years writing Spider-Man; the banter between Ronald Raymond and Martin Stein contributed to this. Upon graduation from high school, Raymond entered college in Pittsburgh, where Stein had been hired as a professor.
Firestorm's list of enemies included such generally forgotten foes as the Hyena, Zuggernaut, Typhoon, and Black Bison. He also fought Killer Frost, perhaps his most notable enemy, who was forced by the Psycho-Pirate to fall in love with him during the Crisis on Infinite Earths, a surprisingly annoying story point in that epic, in my opinion.
In 1986, Conway abruptly left the series, and John Ostrander (with artist Joe Brozowski) took over the reins. Ostrander, a more politically inclined writer, sought to make Firestorm more "relevant" to the world and a good deal grittier. His first major story arc pitted Firestorm against the world, as the hero (acting on a suggestion from a terminally ill Prof. Stein) demanded the U.S. and the Soviet Union destroy all of their nuclear weapons. After tussles with the Justice League and most of his enemies, Firestorm faced off against a Russian nuclear man named Pozhar in the Nevada desert, where both had an atomic bomb dropped on them.
When the smoke cleared, a new Firestorm was created who was made up of Raymond and the Russian, Mikhail Arkadin (the Russian superhero Pozhar), but controlled by the disembodied amnesiac mind of Prof. Stein. The stories featuring this version of the hero were highly political, with a good deal of action taking place in Mikhail Gorbachev's Moscow.
Need it be said I didn't follow these stories myself. I have little use for politics in my entertainment, let alone the sort of heavy-handed (and usually leftist) preaching that seems to be the stock in trade when this sort of thing happens.
The Raymond/Arkadin Firestom proved to be a transitional phase, as in 1989, writer John Ostrander fundamentally changed the character of Firestorm by revealing that Firestorm was a "Fire Elemental". Taking his cue from Alan Moore's Swamp Thing (an earth elemental), Firestorm now became something of an environmental crusader, formed from Raymond, Arkadin, and a Soviet clone of the previous Firestorm, but with a new mind. Prof. Stein, no longer part of the composite at all, continued to play a role, but the focus was on this radically different character. New artist Tom Mandrake would create a new look to match, essentially giving Firestorm an all dark red body, a white face, and massive flames around his head, wrists, and lower legs.
However, the series ran out of steam at its one hundredth issue, by which time Stein learned that he was destined to be the true fire elemental and would have been were it not for Ron Raymond also being there by circumstance. Raymond and Arkadin were returned to their old lives, and Stein, now Firestorm, was accidentally exiled to deep space in the process of saving the Earth.
After the transition to the elemental Firestorm, all of the main characters from the series vanished from the comics for some time after the cancellation of the Firestorm comic in 1990. Raymond eventually returned in the pages of the JLA spin-off, Extreme Justice. Raymond, who at the time was undergoing treatment for leukemia, regained his original powers after a chemotherapy session. It took the combined might of the Justice League, led by Captain Atom, and the returned elemental Firestorm to restore Ronald's health. Firestorm began to appear regularly in a number of DC titles, though lacking the guidance and knowledge necessary to use his skills wisely. In 2002, he returned to active duty with the Justice League and also appeared briefly in Kurt Busiek's heroes-for-hire comic The Power Company.
Most recently, Subsequently, Raymond was killed off during the Identity Crisis mini-series. In Identity Crisis #5 and Firestorm #6, during a battle with a villain called the Shadow Thief, Raymond was impaled by the Shining Knight's sword, which the Shadow Thief had stolen. The magical sword ruptured the nuclear man's containment field, resulting in Firestorm's body exploding and his residual essence funneling into the body of Jason Rusch, the new host of the Firestorm Matrix. However, Ronald might end up making a post-death appearance. His name was featured on time master Rip Hunter's chalkboard in the first issue of the new ongoing Booster Gold series, "Ronnie Raymond + X = Firestorm". Currently, however, Firestorm is Jason Rusch, an African-American teenager, who otherwise looks very much like the original Firestorm did, costume-wise.
As to Firestorm's overall powers: Firestorm has the ability to rearrange the atomic and subatomic structure of matter, rearranging subatomic particles to create objects of different atomic characteristics of equal mass. He can not only change the atomic composition of an object (e.g., transmuting lead into gold of equal mass) but he can also change its shape. He cannot, however, affect organic matter. If he does there may be painful, even lethal, feedback. This organic limitation does not extend to his person as he can change himself at will, allowing him to regenerate tissue, to shapeshift, and to survive indefinitely without food, water and air. He can also fly at near super-sonic speed, emit blasts of nuclear energy, absorb many types of energy into his body harmlessly, see into the infra-red and ultra-violet parts of the spectrum, and he possesses superhuman strength, telescopic, microscopic, and molecular vision (this last allowing him to perceive the atomic and molecular structure of objects).
There are two versions of the Firestorm action figure. One is the Jason Rusch version, and although this is the version shown on the package back of this particular DC Universe assortment, and supposedly the "Ronnie Raymond" version is the variant, based on reported sightings, at this time it looks as though the Raymond version is the easier to come by. When I elicited some help in acquiring this figure, which was the version I wanted anyway, no one reported seeing any Firestorm other than the Raymond version.
I have no idea what Mattel's packaging methods may be here. Technically, at least three figures in this assortment have variants. There is the blue "energy" Superman from some years ago, but there's also a red variant; and there are two Aquaman figures available as well, much like Firestorm, one classic, one current.
Mattel has done a superb job with this Firestorm figure. The character does not have the easiest costume design in the world. First of all, you've got to deal with that mass of flame coming out of the top of his head. Mattel has addressed this very capably with a very well-sculpted head of fire that is molded out of transparent yellow plastic. There seems to be an orange base hidden within it, no doubt the attachment point, but it looks good and adds a bit of additional color to the flame effect. I can well imagine a highly skilled customizer, though, finding some way to rig up a blinking LED or two in this thing.
Firestorm's head, except for his face and the flame, is encased in what might best be described as an "open helmet", that is red in color and is part of his overall costume. This has been well-designed. Firestorm's face looks excellent, with an expression of, shall we say, heroic determination. The eyes are white, surrounded by black. It's a little creepy, perhaps, but it's a good indicator that Firestorm is no longer entirely human. Not given what he can do.
The central part of Firestorm's costume is yellow, with a bit of a high collar, and flared shoulders. This yellow section tapers down to a white belt, and then yellow trunks. The design across Firestorm's chest is the tricky part, and -- well, I hate to say it, but Mattel didn't quite get it right. Firestorm has a large red circle on the left side of his chest, with a white, sun-like cornea. Then there are three broad white lines which run from the other side of his costume, through the "red sun" (Superman must love that) and then around again, also intersecting on the back. These white lines have smaller red spots which appear on the right side of Firestorm's torso. Essentially, it's a huge, wraparound typical image of an atom, if you think about it.
Problem? Two of the lines proceed towards the "nucleus" and then back out and around again, but the third one -- whoops! -- stops dead in the center. This also causes a bit of a mish-mash on the figure's back, where instead of tracing a path all the way around the entire torso, the two "complete" lines encircle Firestorm's shoulders, while the incomplete line just sort of looks like it's trying to find a place to stop wherever it can.
I'm find myself of two minds here. On the one hand, this isn't an easy costume design. Even the Kenner figure from over 20 years ago took a few liberties. On the other hand, the Kenner figure, far smaller in size, managed to get the requisite number of lines right. There's a point where I can forgive some level of error based on the difficulty of transitioning a character that generally appears in a two-dimensional format and where sometimes the normal rules of physics do not apply into a three-dimensional format that does have those restrictions. On the other hand, this is a pretty obvious blunder on Mattel's part, that has been touting their renewed dedication to DC Comics action figures and to their action figure world in general, and it's hard not to see this as a certain amount of carelessness and sloppiness that should've been corrected before the figure reached production.
Granted, though, it's hard to really dislike a figure that otherwise looks this good, and how often does Firestorm grace the toy aisles with his presence, anyway?
The sleeves of Firestorm's costume are decidedly atypical for a super-hero costume, in that they've been designed to appear rather loose-fitting. Now, I'm not sure if I'd want to wear something that's going to flap around in the breeze if I've got fire coming out of my head and one of my abilities is to shoot energy through my hands. Then again, it's doubtless reasonable to assume that whatever Firestorm's costume is made out of, it's also fire-PROOF!
Mattel has done a nice job here, sculpting the shoulder and upper arm pieces very nicely, and putting the proper sculpted detail on the gloves, as well.
Then we come to the legs. This is not a complaint, but I'm pretty sure that Mattel has created a sort of set of standardized molds for the legs for a number, possibly quite a few, of the characters in this DC Universe Classics line. Firestorm wears red tights with yellow boots, but there is no sculpted line on the lower legs where the leg ends and the boot begins.
Now, this is not a complaint. As I have said many times, the most expensive part of toymaking is the molds. And if Mattel can create a nicely-sculpted, well-articulated set of molds for "male superhero legs", and as long as they are not used inappropriately, like where someone should be wearing flared boots or some such, then I don't have a problem with it.
A little but of further evidence might come from looking at the back of the package. Here there are images of the other male figures in the line, which include Energy Superman, Black Manta, and Aquaman. None of these characters have distinct boot lines. And their legs all look very similar. The main difference is that Aquaman has those little fins on the back of his lower legs, but that could be done with just a lower leg mold, rather than the entire legs.
Interestingly, the Jason Rusch Firestorm appears to have some sort of detail on his costume, which is marginally different than the Raymond Firestorm, that looks like knee-pads, for lack of a better term. However, this could also be easily accomplished by molding a pair of knee-pads and gluing them in place.
The legs are an overall good design, although the left leg looks like it sticks out to the side a fraction further than the right. This might simply be an instance of how it was assembled, though, looking at the joints between the two. The basic design of the leg components seems very symmetrical.
So, how's the articulation? Really superb. Firestorm is fully poseable at the head, arms, upper arm swivel, elbows, wrists, waist, legs, upper leg swivel, knees, and ankles. Most of his points of articulation have a multiple range of motion.
His accessories are fairly basic, but not at all inappropriate. When Firestorm is using his powers in the comics, his hands are traditionally surrounded by an energy image that looks a lot like the stereotypical image of atomic components orbiting a nucleus. Firestorm comes with two of these, molded in yellow with orange highlights, and clipped to his wrists. They are easily removed should one so wish.
There's a second piece that I should mention, which isn't really an accessory for Firestorm. Much as Marvel Legends created the "Build-A-Figure" practice, where each individual figure in a given assortment comes with a piece to build yet another figure, so the DC Universe Classics line has come up with a similar practice called "Collect & Connect".
The buildable figure for this assortment is Gorilla Grodd, a massive, super-intelligent simian who has generally made trouble for The Flash over the years, but on more than a few occasions has stepped up to the plate to cause grief for the whole Justice League and any other humans that get in his way. A fairly popular character -- for a big ape -- his right leg is included with Firestorm. His other appendages are split between Superman, Black Manta, and Aquaman, and Harley Quinn, the smallest figure in the assortment, comes with Grodd's massive head and torso in her package. And she thought hanging around the Joker was enough to driver her nuts...
So, what's my final word here? Well, one of my final words is hoping that toy distribution in general improves in the near future. I don't like having to send away for toys if I can help it. However, with regard to Firestorm, and the DC Universe Classics line, there's no question that Mattel has a serious winner on their hands with this line, if they manage it properly and can keep it going well. Future assortments have already been showcased in various toy-based publications -- now it's a matter of getting the product to the stores so greedy fans like me (and presumably you) can get their hands on it.
As to Firestorm in particular, Mattel's done a great job here. I wish they'd been a little more cautious with the line design on Firestorm's costume, but on the whole, this is a very impressive figure of a character that, despite a certain longevity -- if occasionally a rather confused one -- has never quite been one of the "A" Players in the DC Universe, and certainly hasn't had a lot of toy attention. So it's good to see him return to plastic form here. And, whether you're a fan of the original Firestorm, like myself, or prefer newcomer Jason Rusch, there's a Firestorm out there for you!
The DC UNIVERSE CLASSICS FIRESTORM definitely has my enthusiastic recommendation!