Armagideon Time

In the beginning, buy information pills there was Rod Reilly

…an acrobatic adventurer who battled greedy gangsters, treat Axis agents, cure and other malefactors under the guise of the fearsome Firebrand. As one of many, many well-heeled gents who dispensed physical justice during the Golden Age of Funnybooks, Rod attempted to distinguish himself from his pugilistic playboy peers by doffing a diaphanous (yet nipple-concealing) dress shirt and leaving “flaming torches of justice” behind as a calling card.

Despite (or because of) these efforts, Rod’s serialized exploits lasted only a year before his headline slot in Quality’s Police Comics was given to a more popular — and pliable — star.

Though nominally a member of the Freedom Fighters, DC’s Bronze Age relaunch of the then-defunct Quality’s superheroic stable, Rod remained an ancillary character whose triumphant return and dramatic demise were shelved when the team’s ongoing series was done in by the DC Implosion of the late 1970s.

Rod’s heroic mantle was later taken up by his sister Danette, during the establishing events of Roy Thomas’s All-Star Squadron, a goofy yet enjoyable 1980s take on 1940s superheroics. 

 

When the Rascally One’s initial choice for the team’s second female lead was shot down, Thomas dusted off the Firebrand concept and gave it a distaff spin in which Rod — sidelined by injuries sustained at (natually) Pearl Harbor — handed off his secret identity to his plucky vulcanologist sibling…

…who had conveniently acquired flame-related superpowers a few days prior.  (Funny how life works, sometimes.)

The Danette incarnation served admirably as a core Squadron member, despite her disappointing (by ten year old Andrew’s standards) decision to forgo her brother’s peekaboo jersey in favor of a CCA-acceptable pink-blouse-and-high-red-corset ensemble.

Though she faded from view following the post-Crisis revamp and subsequent cancellation of the “All-Star” retro franchise, “Disarming” Geoff Johns was later kind enough to inform readers — via a bitter nugget of expositionary dialogue in Stars and STRIPE — that she had been offed by an old adversary.

IT’S CALLED “REALISTIC AND MATURE STORYTELLING, FOLKS. DEAL WITH IT.

If the Firebrand saga ended there, with a Golden Age footnote and an forgettably adequate ensemble player,  today’s post would have been about, I dunno, Birdboy or Yellow Peri.

This being the recursive world of superhero comics, however, I suppose it was inevitable that someone would’ve scraped the meager leavings from the bottom of the d-lister barrel…especially during a period when publishers’ shithoses were turned full blast on the walls of desperation.

While DC’s other 1990s revivals/reboots/relaunches/regurgitations of Quality characters like the Ray or Black Condor added a contemporary spin (such as adding a kicky marching band jacket or long hair and uber-broody features), the mid-1990s incarnation of Firebrand was an outright LINO — “Legacy character In Name Only.”

Alex Sanchez was a rough-edged cop with a Segalian (Steven, not George) ponytail and a history of combustion-related tragedies which claimed his sister’s life and left him with a flame-shaped scar over his sternum.

After getting horrifically maimed by a firebomb planted in his luxurious one room apartment, Sanchez from awoke from a morphine coma to discover that his body had been cybernetically reconstructed by a mysterious  and deep-pocketed benefactor.

Though the new enhancements restored the maimed peace officer to “85% functionality,” the bionic sugar daddy offered to toss in the other fifteen per if Sanchez was willing to don an experimental suit of power armor and slap around some bad guys.

Sounds like a fair enough deal, right?  Sure, until you find out said suit of armor was designed by a fifteen year old metalhead during fourth period study hall…

  

I know it might be a tad unfair to judge a series based on a single cover image, but look at that ungodly nightmare.  The tragedy isn’t that it is hideous beyond reason (and it certainly is), it’s that it’s hideous beyond reason because someone considered it to be the cutting edge of badassitude.   

FLAMING METAL CLAWS! FLAMING METAL SKULL! FLAMING METAL BREAST PLATE GANKED FROM GRILLE OF A 1956 PONTIAC!  THIGH SPIKES AND KNOCK-KNEES! THIS IS WHAT THE KIDZ WANT!

Reflexive nausea aside, there’s more to Firebrand’s nine-issue run than an abominable costume design.  There’s also the writer’s aggressive and nonsensical tendency to shoehorn fire-related terms into even the most banal caption and dialogue text.

“There is a FIRE in my belly! I feel a BURNING need to EXTINGUISH my BLAZING hunger with an INFERNO of Angry Whoppers!”

I confess.  That one’s mine.  The actual dialogue is  far worse.

The one aspect where the 1990s Firebrand followed the legacy of his predecessor was in his Geoff Johns directed demise, in this case depicted on-page as a lead-in to the JSA‘s “Roulette” story arc.  While I normally look askance at Johns’s tendency to force gory pseudo-gravitas by offing some hapless d-lister, my issue with this particular example is that it wasn’t gratuitously gory enough

Wide brushes don’t allow for much nuance or detail.  The association between the 1990s and terrible comics may be reductive, as it overlooks a number of stellar (or simply “good”) works which emerged during the decade.  Firebrand, however, ain’t one of them by any tortured stretch of the imagination.

Riding the Image Age bandwagon would have been bad enough but it takes a rare brand of awful to book coach class seats…which is why the thigh-spiked inheritor to Rod Reilly’s proud (but nipple-free) legacy has earned a one-way trip to the outer suburbs of Nobody’s Favorites.

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12 Responses to “Nobody’s Favorites: Sick burn”

  1. Cap'n Neurotic

    Whew, for a second there I thought you were going to nominate Danette for a “Nobody’s Favorite,” at which point we would have had to have had words . . . granted, the words probably would have been along the lines of “nuh-uh, you are!” but still!

  2. Jim Kosmicki

    To me the biggest shame of that book was that it was by Brian Augustyn – he was a very good editor and usually a solid writer, going back to the Trollords. This does smell of top-level mandate (it did back then too), so I almost wonder if Augustyn didn’t take it on to spare someone else from having to do the job.

    this was right around the time that DC was in one of its experimental modes, throwing out books like Chronos and Chase and Major Bummer and Xero, but then not really knowing what to do with them or how to sell something that wasn’t in the regular fanboy wheelhouse. (sound familiar?) this book was early in that cycle, but paved the way for the “throw it out there and see what the hell happens” approach that was coming.

  3. sallyp

    Seriously…arm and thigh spikes? That must have terribly hard on the upholstery.

  4. Bill D.

    I knew Geoff Johns killed this Firebrand, but I hadn’t realized he had retroactively offed Danette, too.

    Sometimes I wonder why they don’t just make a Geoff Johns Kills the (Insert Publisher Here) Universe book, but then I realized that would be the most redundant comic book ever.

  5. Chris Gumprich

    Just so we’re clear… you’re not saying Rod Reilly is Nobody’s Favorite, right?

    ‘Cause he’s so bad that he’s awesome, man…

  6. Chris G

    Johns offed Danette offscreen?

    In dialogue?

    Fuck. Geoff. Johns.

  7. Your Obedient Serpent

    Great galloping galaxies. This is … that is … wow. JUST PLAIN AWFUL.

    I could not have come up with a better Quintessential ’90s Parody Costume if I TRIED.

  8. Slappy

    If Ghost Rider were Steve Austin, the Six Million Dollar Man.

    You forgot BURNING HANDS! BURNING MAN HANDS WITH LONG SHARP CLAWS! ALL THAT’S MISSING IS AN OVERSIZED BURNING CODPIECE! AND BURNING POCKETS! LOTS OF BURNING POCKETS!

    My interest in the character was piqued when he got his throat slashed (in the middle of some interal monologuing no less) in that JSA story, so I found and dl’d the scans of the canceled series. Eh. Typical overwrought self-doubting-hero drama with oh-so-horrid-o artwork, but I was surprised to see the mailbag page of the final issue filled with distraught readers who didn’t want the series to end. Go figure.

    As for Jeff-with-a-G-E-O Johns…well, that’s what the industry does to people. I’m sure, before he started amusing himself by quietly portraying Batman as a gullible idiot and Captain Marvel as an utterly unwitting fascist, Denny O’Neil LOVED comics, perhaps even superhero comics. Is it the editors that break you? Or is it the idiot fanboys, or your fellow talents, or a combo platter? When you find yourself calling for a phony vote to kill a character off in the most horrible manner?

    Same with Johns. I think he snapped from playing Continuity Janitor for too long; most of his work in JSA was completely wasted from the very first issue trying to “fix” the DCU while most other writers were simultaneously (and furiously) undoing those fixes or making newer, more unfixable messes. Now he himself bloodily wipes out whole franchises. Like the comic industry’s very own Anakin Skywalker, he has become the master of the evil he once fought.

  9. pedro de pacas

    hear, hear!

  10. Deep Space Transmission

    Firerbrand seems to have a rich legacy of Nobody’s Favourites, through the barely-appeared-in-a-comic-book-since-1941 Rod, Danette (should we discount her because she was clearly Roy Thomas’ favourite?, then this guy, culminating in the new, ‘politically motivated’ Firebrand who debuted in the Battle for Bludhaven mini.
    Palmiotti and Gray, despite creating him and writing every single one of his appearances, recently broke his back and then killed him in the last Freedom Fighters series that ended a few months ago, without ever giving him anything interesting to do.

  11. bitterandrew

    I was going to give that poor sap a mention, but it was late and I wanted to turn in for the night.

    (Also the 1970s Marvel Firebrand, who was a supervillainous “campus radical” with a Black Power fist for an insignia.)

  12. Pere Ubu

    I’m entirely willing to pretend the 90′s never happened, if you guys are. SHEESH.

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