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.