I've recently been reading Essential Spider-Man and I was surprised how much I really found myself digging Gerry Conway's work. After being pleasantly surprised by Last Days of Animal Man #1, I decided to hunt down Conway's early Fury of Firestorm work at my local bookstore. I'm glad I did.
I had always figured Firestorm was a generic hero with a neat look, and with my only real exposure to Ronnie Raymond and Martin Stein's fused hero being in John Ostrander's "fire elemental" days, I figured it was a boring concept. (Those aren't Ostrander and Mandrake's best comics.) What these early Firestorm books read like is a Spider-Man book if Peter Parker was carrying around Uncle Ben as a co-pilot. It's a great idea, seeing Ronnie Raymond's high school life, only Ronnie is a basketball jock getting the girls and his rival Carmichal is the brainiac who is constantly outsmarting and embarrassing him. It's a great twist on the normal outsider role in comics and it is one of my favorite parts of the book. Just as in early Spider-Man, the high school setting is integral to the story, with the first villain being Ronnie's transformed teacher who becomes Black Bison.
The other half of the Firestorm persona is Martin Stein, a physicist who sort of floats along with Ronnie, giving advice and appearing in panels as a floating transparent head. One of the neatest aspects of this relationship is that Stein can't remember most of what happens as Firestorm, but while he's there he can assist Ronnie with everything from life lessons to scientific observations. As they each disappear from wherever they were whenever the other wants to become Firestorm, there are some nice secret identity predicaments set up in these early issues, especially when Stein's absenteism becomes an issue at his job. After Black Bison, Killer Frost shows up to make things difficult for Firestorm, and he has to fight the JLA to get them to give him a chance to beat his own foe. After bringing in the Piper and Pan, we have a decent rogues gallery and some nice interpersonal drama with Ronnie caught between his "normal" girlfriend and the woman we know will become Firestom's lady; Firehawk.
Pat Broderick's detailed pencils work wonderfully with the subject matter. He has a talent for drawing faces, and I was surprised at how great his work looks with the Firestorm costume. I remember him from Captain Atom and Green Lantern, but these might be his best pencils.
I just picked up issues 8-15 (and cleaned out the bookstore) so after that, I'll have to hit a con or something to finish Conway's run.