Posts Tagged ‘Ronnie Raymond’
Remember in ninth grade, when you were totally into that girl in your Honors English class? She was the only reason you ever feigned interest in the Bouncing Souls and Perks of Being a Wallflower. And then, one day she calls you and is all, “Hey, meet me at the Chinatown Express. We totally need to talk.” Oh, god. Man, you needed to get down there. There she is. In the corner with her $1 side of beef broccoli (beef removed in a poor attempt at vegetarianism) and a fortune cookie. This is it. Oh man oh man oh man. “Hey, there, Girl-in-your-ninth-grade-Honors-English-class, what’s up?”
“I just haaaave to tell somebody! I just lost my virginity to the forward on the varsity soccer team!”
That’s Identity Crisis.
But, what was it exactly that made this book so heartbreaking?
In the 1990s the comic industry began delving deeper and deeper in to events. These events were more geared at getting the readers’ money than actual substance. Investors were buying up anything and everything they could get their hands on, and story arcs like Death of Superman or Spider-Man’s Clone Saga were written to shock rather than move readers, and the characters devolved to cheap shots and gimmicks. By and large comics were gussied up with trading cards, black Mylar bags, holographic covers, and many promises of “out with the old, in with the new”.
Right around 2000 (how appropriate for this countdown), things seemed to change. Marvel produced both Brian Michael Bendis’ Ultimate Spider-Man and Morrison’s New X-Men while DC released Kevin Smith’s run on Green Arrow. This seemed to mark a change in the status quo and comics began to actually focus on who characters were. In other words, the Big Two opted for quality over quantity. Published in 2004, Identity Crisis epitomized this push towards character development.
As a warning, there will be many major spoilers from here on out.
Before Identity Crisis, if I were to ask a comics novice who Sue Dibny, Jean Loring, Jack Drake, Digger Harkness, or Ronnie Raymond was, the response would probably have been a blank stare. Fortunately, DC had been experimenting with thriller novelist Brad Meltzer, who followed up Kevin Smith on Green Arrow. Pleased with the results, they gave him a seven issue mini-series called Identity Crisis. The premise? Apparently to make you cry.
The Silver Age had established how much Ralph (and the rest of the DCU) loved Sue Dibny. A lot of Batman stories involving Tim Drake talk about how he is the only Robin to have ever had a parent to go home to. Former Flash Rogue Digger Harkness (aka: Captain Boomerang) has decided it’s time to pass the torch to his estranged son, Owen Mercer. Jean Loring and Ray Palmer are trying their best to fix their ridiculously rocky relationship. Brad Meltzer does an amazing job setting you up to feel for all of these pairings before taking each and every one of them out in the most gut-wrenching ways possible. Not to be out-done, Rags Morales managed to capture every ounce of heartache in exquisite fashion. Morales’ depiction of Ronnie Raymond’s final moments alone were enough to send me to my cupboard for a hit of Jack Daniels.
Toss in a couple abominable revelations about Doctor Light, Sue Dibny, Batman, the Justice League, and the fact that Identity Crisis was one of the most referenced works in 52 (arguably the turning point in current DC continuity) and you will see why Identity Crisis made #1 on our list. Perhaps Joss Whedon put it best in his introduction for the trade: “Even if you know what happens, you have to live through it. That’s the feeling this book gives you — of living with these people through their pain and triumph and madness, and did I mention the pain? You will come through it with a new understanding of the world before you. You will see.”
There you have it, folks. Identity Crisis was High Five! Comics’ favorite comic of last decade. It wasn’t the most important comic, nor did it revolutionize the industry. We picked Identity Crisis because it made us cry. There were no gimmicks. There were no cheap shots. Just a cast of characters transformed from b-listers to people we genuinely cared about. The last decade saw an abundance of high-quality and entertaining work. Yet, at the end of the day it wasn’t the powers, or the costumes, or the action that we loved most. Identity Crisis was a story about fragile humans, ripped from their tough-guy lifestyle, and doing the best they can to cope with a harsh world.
So, in 1968, hippies didn’t really read comics. Maybe they were too busy with the whole Vietnam War thing going on, maybe “truth, justice, and the American way” just wasn’t really their bag. Either way, DC Comics had a fool-proof plan to get their hard-earned busking dollars: hire Joe Simon, legendary co-creator of Captain America (clearly the most liberal of all heroes), to create the ultimate hippie superhero! And what did he come up with? Brother Power, a mannequin who was struck by lightning and brought to life. Yeah, there’s no way this’ll fuck up. God help us, let’s take a look at December 1968’s Brother Power, the Geek #2.
Our book starts out where issue one left off, with Brother Power (aka: the Geek) floating in the San Fransisco Bay. On a nearby shore, a bunch of hippies are fishing and one of them just happens to reel in Brother Power’s body and decides that the best course of action is to dance with it before stealing it’s clothes. Meanwhile, on an overlooking cliff, a bunch of guys in World War I-era German uniforms (complete with a balsa wood glider made to look like a Fokker biplane) are spying on the hippies and notice Brother Power’s sweet, sweet boots. Apparantly, that’s enough reason for a full-on attack, so they push their glider off the cliff and the epic hippie ass-whooping begins! Just kidding. Two panels after they land, the Geek stands up and the German guys puss out and run away.
After the “battle” ends, a completely unprovoked Brother Power decides to tell the hippies his origin story (previously seen in the entirety of the previous month’s issue, making this sequence 100% filler and entirely fucking pointless). For those that are curious, Brother Power started out as a mannequin in an abandoned tailor shop where a bunch of hippies were squatting. They put their clothes on him and left him by an open window where he was struck by lightning and “somehow, I was alive! And I had enormous strength!” That’s one of the reasons I love the Silver Age. They don’t feel the need to explain why shit happens, it just does. Anyways, Brother Power was kidnapped by a traveling freak show and put on display, escaped, and was chased by cops till he jumped off the Golden Gate Bridge, which is where we came in to this.
The hippies accept him as one of their own and indoctrinate him into their gang, the Clinkers. Unfortunately for them, Brother Power is horrified to learn that they don’t have jobs and decides to get work in a grocery store stocking shelves and bagging groceries (which is totally the kind of action I look for when I read comic books). After impressing some old lady by taking groceries out to her car on roller skates, she offers Brother Power a job at her husband’s missile factory. At that very moment, Acme Missile Parts Factory president J.P. Acme is freaking out because “one small snag” in their assembly line is costing them a million dollars a year and bankruptcy is inevitable! Unfortunately, there’s only one man who can help save the company: the evil Lord Sliderule!
Brother Power shows up for his interview just in time to witness J.P. Acme signing the company over to Lord Sliderule (and Sliderule’s midget henchmen backflipping all over the place in celebration). Sliderule immediately tries to fire the Geek, to which Acme remind him that he has to solve that snag in the assembly line before he gets complete control. So, what is this snag that could be destroying this giant corporation? A right-handed guy has to grab something on his left side and is slowing down the assembly line. Brother Power suggests they get a left-handed guy to do the job. Sliderule gets pissed off that he didn’t come up with the idea and sics his men on Brother Power! Another epic fight ensues! No, just kidding again. The next panel just has a caption that “Lord Sliderule and his nasties are no match for our Geek” and shows Brother Power getting promoted to plant foreman and then CEO, like, one panel later when J.P. Acme says, “Fuck it, I quit”
Suddenly, the Clinkers appear outside holding a “non-violent demonstration” against the missile factory! Some of the employees run outside and start beating the crap out of the hippies so the Geek runs out after them and explains that the missiles aren’t for war, but for outer space. He promptly hires all of the hippies for the assembly line and pats himself on the back. Unfortunately, Lord Sliderule (who the Geek also apparantly hired at some point) writes an article for the local paper with the headline “Are Hippies Slowing Down the space Program as Protest?” freaking out the U.S. Space Agency. To prove that everything is cool, Brother Power schedules a missile launch the next day which, thanks to some sabotage by Lord Sliderule, explodes on the tarmac. Ronald Reagan then sends out a bunch of tanks to arrest Brother Power (haha, what?). Fortunately, Brother Power also seems to have hired the head German guy who crashes his Fokker plane as a means of distracting Ronald Reagan’s army. It works and the Geek decides to hide in another of the missiles. Which Lord Sliderule then launches into space. It ends with the following caption:
Damn straight, you’ll never believe where. It turns out that not only did Joe Simon hate writing Brother Power, the Geek (going so far as refusing to talk about it to this day), but then-Superman editor Mort Weisinger hated the hippie culture so much that he pressured DC publisher Jack Liebowitz into canceling it. So then where did Brother Power land? 21 years later in Neil Gaiman’s Swamp Thing Annual #5, in which Ronnie Raymond guides the rocket back to Earth, Brother Power discovers he’s an elemental of dolls, and Batman and Abbie Cable have to stop him from destroying Tampa Bay. Yeah, you know what? Don’t ask.
Hey, Around Comics. I’m calling you out. It’s on now, guys.
“Who cares about Ronnie Raymond?”
I’ll tell you who fucking cares about Ronnie Raymond.
I fucking care about Ronnie Raymond.
Sure his origin story isn’t that great. Ronnie wants to impress that hot chick at school who is, like, sooooo into politics so he joins the Coalition to Resist Atomic Power (hahaha, CRAP), led by Eddie Earhart (who is very Earth Liberation Front-y). Meanwhile, Professor Martin Stein builds a nuclear testing facility. Turns out CRAP isn’t happy about this and raids the joint. When Eddie knocks out Stein, Ronnie freaks out and Eddie decks Ronnie. CRAP leaves to torch a Hummer dealership and Ronnie wakes up to a big ass explosion that combines he and Stein into Firestorm.
Later on, they turned him into a character who was all about being buddies with the Ruskies (to the point where he, Stein, and some dude named Mikhail all shared the same body). After that they turned him into a “fire elemental,” kinda like how Alan Moore made Swamp Thing an earth elemental. They also made him look like somebody set 1990s Wolverine on fire. He then lost the power to Stein, got leukemia (the 1980s LOVED giving fictional characters terminal illnesses), got rid of leukemia, and became Firestorm again.
Why do I love this character? In Crisis on Infinite Earths there was a consistently hilarious sequence where Psycho Pirate forces longtime Firestorm adversary Killer Frost into falling deeply in love with him. She won’t stop hanging off him and he is CLEARLY not happy with it. Even though it was a small part of an amazing story, it became one of my favorite plot threads. [Maybe that’s because you dated a girl who tried to kill you! – M]
And then he died. Oh, how he died. Do you have the trade of Identity Crisis? You have no excuse. You should. Go get it and flip to chapter five. A few pages in, you’ll see Vixen (another character I think I need to eventually write a post about), the Justin Arthur Shining Knight (in what I believe is his final appearance), Captain Marvel, and Ronnie fighting the Shadow Thief. Shadow Thief jumps through Vixen, grabs Shadow Knight’s sword, and impales Ronnie with it. A couple pages later, there is a close-up of Ronnie’s face, his eyes welling with tears, saying “I’m gonna blow up.” Meltzer’s caption says it best: “No one there is a physicist. But they still know what happens when you puncture a nuclear reactor.” He flies away from the group, choking out his last words: “The professor, my family, somebody say goodbye to my dad for me.”
That was the first time I genuinely teared up while reading a book. I got way into this character in Crisis on Infinite Earths. I’m currently searching around for the Fury of Firestorm books as well as the original five books from Firestorm volume one. I got the Legendary Super Powers Show tie-in action figure and am waiting on the DC Universe figure to show up (fucking UPS, hurry up).
And now, with the news that Ronnie Raymond will be back in Blackest Night, it’s as if somebody is twisting Shadow Knight’s sword again. I couldn’t help but smile a little at Barry Allen’s sadness towards Ronnie’s death in Blackest Night #1 and I eagerly await his return, even if he only comes back as a Black Lantern.
So, tell me Around Comics. Who cares about Ronnie Raymond?