Secret Origins #4: Firestorm, The Nuclear Man

Ryan Daly and guest The Irredeemable Shag review issue #4 of Secret Origins, which tells the story of Professor Martin Stein’s journey to becoming one half of Firestorm.

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Sample pages from Secret Origins #4, written by Gerry Conway with art by George Tuska and Pablo Marcos, and cover by Al Milgrom.

#4cover #4page3 #4page7 #4page10 #4page16 #4page21

Check out Shag’s Firestorm Fan site at:

Check out The Fire & Water Podcast at:

“Premonition” (Theme for Secret Origins Podcast) by Neil Daly.

Additional music this episode: “Things Have Changed” by Bob Dylan.

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22 thoughts on “Secret Origins #4: Firestorm, The Nuclear Man

  1. Another great review.
    As a long-standing Firestorm fan at that point (having collected Fury of … monthly), I appreciated this reverse angle look at the origin, concentrating on Stein’s life leading up to the accident. We hadn’t seem too much of that side of things before. And I liked that we went back in time to even the college days. You can see just how different Ronnie’s student life and Martin’s are.

    All that said and as you say, I wonder if this is the best version to present to the Secret Origins crowd. As you say, this book was done to introduce these characters to new audiences not necessarily to build up existing audiences. So by having a book were we look at the semi-disturbed alcoholic middle aged man and by barely showing the actual hero and by not showing the Ronnie side at all, I don’t know how many adolescent readers would say ‘Firestorm is a book for me!!’

    I wonder if it part of this might have been, as Shag says, that the origin of Firestorm’s origin had been replayed so often. We got a brief recap in Fury of Firestorm #1. We got a whole origin issue in (Fury of) Firestorm #22. This Secret Origin issue came out a little over 2 years later. Did we need Firestorm 3 origin issues retelling the same story in just over 4 years?

    And, as mentioned, Tuska’s art doesn’t feel right here.

    So interesting concept looking at the other half that I appreciated as a big fan.

    Next issue … Crimson Avenger with Colan. So good!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I guess Shagg learned that you can’t call shotgun on something you expect to do 20 years from now.

    I discovered Firestorm in a Justice League of America issue, and then tried the occasional issue of FoF and read it for maybe a year. During that time, his origin story was retold (for Firehawk’s benefit), so since I was not a Secret Origins collector YET, I didn’t pick up this issue. The last I would skip on purpose.

    I’ve been on and off with Firestorm, and certainly wasn’t reading it when SO #4 came out. I guess the longest run I read was the elemental era. I’m a fan of the character, I just haven’t been very loyal to him.

    Anj makes some good points above. Firestorm was the first character to get into SO that didn’t have a history going back to the Golden Age. Roy Thomas’ original premise for the book dies here. So of all the possible characters, why Firestorm? Just cross-promotion for his Anniversary issue?


  3. Continuing the podcast post-Secret Origins is totally doable: Legend of Aquaman, later All-Star Squadron issues that read like a pilot for this series, certain parts of Secret Files and Origins… any origin issue of anything, really!


  4. What the hell? Where’s Michael Bradley? You promise Bradley, and give us Shagg? Yeah, yeah, I know he’s the “Firestorm Guy”, so what.

    But all in all, not bad. I don’t have this issue, so I had no idea it was a Stein spotlight. That’s an interesting take, but it may have seemed to be a bit of a bait and switch to the random Firestorm fan who knew him from the Super Powers cartoon. “Secret Origins of a Mentally-Disturbed ,Abusive MIddle-Aged Alcoholic” probably wouldn’t have sold as well, though.

    I had no idea Stein was so damaged. I knew of the alcoholism thanks to Shagg’s F&W Firestorm Cal-lassic recaps, but the poor old guy was messed up. This was right on the cusp of deconstructing heroes being en vogue, so maybe Conway tapped into the zeitgeist at the time.

    George Tuska…I respect his place in comic history, but I can honestly say I never warmed to him on anything I ever read. His women were pretty attractive, but other than that, just not my thing.

    As for you ripping this show idea off from Shagg, I think Michael Bailey and Scott Gardener planned on doing Secret Origins on Tales of the JSA at some point, so Shagg ripped THEM off, or planned to. They also planned to do James Robinson’s Starman, which Cindy and I are now covering on Super Mates (plug). Whoops!


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    1. Hey! How do you know it wasn’t me? My Shag impression is getting pretty good. “She’s hot.” “Firestorm the Nyoo-clear Man” “(insert Rob Kelly or Michael Bailey insult)” See? Spot on!


  5. Firestorm was one of those characters I never really got into, though not for any major reason. I guess, mostly, it was his power, to transmute matter, but only inorganic. For one, it seemed too powerful, and the inorganic vs organic didn’t make logical sense. I never read the original series; but, I had a couple of the early Fury of Firestorm ones. I liked Pat Broderick’s art; but, nothing about the character really grabbed me. i thought it was an interesting concept, though. I probably read more of him in JLA, than anywhere else; but, I wasn’t reading it that often, in his era. I did like the costume, though.

    Unlike Shag, my first encounter was the DC house ad, announcing his upcoming book. Of course, he crashed and burned, before I ever saw an issue (Sorry Shag; but his series tanked,). I was too old of Legendary Super-Powers, as I was in high school and had a Saturday job and never saw an episode, until much later.

    In regards to this story, I have to ask; who gets physically bullied in college? It doesn’t really work that way. Those scenes seemed way to “high school,” to me. People are too busy in college for that kind of thing. Sure, I’ve seen guys pick fights in bars and parties; but, on campus, on a regular basis, with the same person, just seems ridiculous (especially for a school the size of Stanford). Add to it, that brutal of a beating and no one tries to intervene, including campus security?

    So, was Clarissa Stein’s “first?” ‘Cause he certainly seems like he had no clue about relationships and is oblivious to someone who obviously has an agenda. The only way I can rationalize this level of naivite is that he must have been seriously whipped!

    George Tuska did some fine work in THUNDER Agents; but, this isn’t that work.

    I like the idea of telling the origin from Stein’s point of view; but, it seems too simplistic, to me. i suppose I would look at it differently if I had read it in 1986, when I was in college. Maybe not. Maybe a few years earlier, if the comic could travel back in time. Reading it now, I find that it has interesting ideas, but goes for more simplistic execution and motivations. Granted, it’s a single issue, and the story would probably play better in a longer format, with room to explore things with more depth. Gerry Conway’s always been a bit hit and miss, for me. I’ve probably read more of his JLA than anything else and he had some real winners there (including some of my favorite JLA stories); same with some of his first run on Spider-Man (like the Death of Gwen Stacy). This era had fewer hits, for me.

    This is okay; but, doesn’t really make me want to read Firestorm. Of the issues so far, the second, with Blue Beetle, is the only one that really made me want to read more Blue Beetle. Superman and Captain Marvel were more like fond looks at favorite characters. Really, a lot of the origins for the Golden Age characters were like that. Thankfully, they were less slavish to the original origin story. This series got better, as it progressed, until we were getting things like the 1989 Special, with the villain origins, including that excellent Penguin story, from Alan Grant and the Neil Gaiman stories. The annuals were always great.


    1. Two things in the wake of Jeff’s comment…

      First, I’m loving how the podcast is making people tell THEIR first origins re:each character, how they first encountered him or (eventually) her (come on SO, took you 6 issues to get a woman in there and it’s HALO?!) and what he or she meant to them. I think that’s cool.

      There IS bullying in college, but it’s not physical – it’s intimidation perpetrated by professors and management either on students or on each other. (Does it sound like I work in a university? Because I do.)


      1. That’s kind of my point. The idea of a “jock,” constantly humiliating and attacking a “nerd” and forcing him to help him cheat is a high school cliche. Jocks in college are too busy with other things and the athletic department will help a star player maintain eligibility. What you tend to see, instead, are people misusing their authority (faculty and administration), date rape, drunken incidents, racial issues, homophobia-based incidents, and the like. I think Conway went the cliche route without really thinking it through.


  6. pps In my comment on the first episode, I was referring to the Millenium tie-in episode, with the Manhunters. I”m not big on the Millenium crossover; but, I thought that Secret origins story nicely tied the robot Manhunters, the Quality Comics hero, the Simon & Kirby/Goodwin & Simonson, and the Kirby Mark Shaw (and his path, in the hands of Engelhart and Conway). Apart from that issue, the only other part of Millenium I enjoyed was the sequence crossing through Captain Atom, Suicide Squad, Detective Comics, and Spectre.

    Thanks for reading out one of my long-winded posts.


  7. Hi Bryan – Another great episode! The comic sounds sort of ho-hum, but that guest host was fantastic! You should have him on the show more often!


  8. I definitely like your telling of this story on the podcast, and it makes Martin Stein a richer character for it. On the other hand, the sample pages posted are terrible, and like everyone else I have to time shift my head canon to high school for the bullying to work. So basically, kudos on talking a better game than Conway & Tuska brought!


  9. Sorry I’m so late to the party, but I had to gird myself to listen to Shagg (‘Firestorm’s hair is HAWT’).

    Anyway, I was with Firestorm from the start and appreciated a different take on the origin. Knowing by then that Martin was basically a good guy, I was OK seeing him so flawed at an earlier stage of his life.

    But that retcon about guilt making him forget is just bollocks – the original, consistent explanation that Ronnie was in control because Martin was unconscious at the time of the explosion, and Ronnie was awake (well, as awake as a jock can be) works just fine.


  10. Oh, and I totally agree with your Feedback comment, Ryan, about Ed McGuinness on Superman – like a Macy’s Parade balloon with Captain Marvel’s eyebrows.

    I don’t actually see the Harry Potter/Captain Marvel comparisons. Boy magician born to power vs newsboy gifted magic powers to be a superhero?


  11. I think the first time Firestorm exposed himself to me was in the cartoo, too. I was intrigued by his “dual personality.” This sounds like an interesting book with the Martin Stein backstory. I’ll have to pick it up. Your cohost sounds like he knows a lot about Firestorm. He should do a podcast!


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