Heya! Welcome back to the Belle Reve Files, the series where I dissect John Ostrander’s Suicide Squad issue by issue. Although you may have figured from the title that today we’re taking a detour. Today we are looking at Firestorm Vol. 2 #64 and Annual #5. Ostrander worked on these two stories alongside artist Joe Brozowski, Inker Sam De La Rosa, colourist Nansi Hoolahan, letterer Duncan Andrews and editor Denny O’Neil.
Ostrander was writing Firestorm alongside Suicide Squad so it was only a matter of time for the two titles to collide. But one is a high flying nuclear superhero and the other is a secretive black-ops group of supervillains. Those are very different concepts, so how did he do it? Well, let’s have a look.
Our issue starts in a pretty interesting space, the home of Ronnie Raymond’s family. In case you didn’t know Ronnie is one half of Firestorm. Firestorm is a unique character in that he is two people fused into one being. His other half being nuclear physicist Doctor Martin Stein. Anway the two of them as Firestorm recently caused a major upset in the previous issues. Ronnie got sick of this planet’s stupid nuclear weapons and decided it would be better to dispose of all of them. Yeah, it’s pretty much the conceit of Supermans goal in Superman IV The Quest For Peace. You’ll be relieved to know that this story fares a lot better than that one.
Unlike that movie, the world isn’t particularly happy with Ronnie’s threat. So Firestorm at the start of this issue is a rogue fugitive, on the run from pretty much everybody. This causes him to make his way home where his identity is reluctantly revealed to his father, who just so happens to hate Firestorm. We also learn here that Professor Stein is suffering from a brain tumor that comes into play later. Following this, we get a scene with Major Zastrow, who you may remember from the Squad’s mission in Russia. Ostrander tends to crossover characters through his different books and Zastrow is a great example. He first appeared a few issues before this in Firestorm and then becomes more prominent in Suicide Squad.
This sequence we get with him here is a great display of his cold and calculating demeanour. He’s totally unbothered in the face of danger as a Rocket Red blows a wall out behind him. Joe Brozowski’s pencils here do a really good job at displaying this in his character. Though I will be honest, the art is not a standout to me. It’s expressive and Brozowki does well in close-ups with character’s faces but I think his action could be a lot more dynamic.
Eventually, we get to finally see the Suicide Squad. Flag has just received orders to go and apprehend Firestorm because a crossover needs to happen. For this mission, he’s assembled a Squad just for the task. We got the familiars with Deadshot and Boomerang but everyone else is a new addition and a Firestorm villain. We have Slipknot, the man who can climb anything, and the first Suicide Squad film’s great punching bag. We have Killer Frost who would become associated with the Squad, even more, this is her first outing with the team and her only time with Ostrander at the helm.
Then we have Multiplex who can make copies of himself, and finally, we have Parasite. Yes, Parasite is a Firestorm villain. In the Silver Age, he was a Superman villain but for this new post Crisis universe, this new Parasite was introduced as a foe of ol’ flame head. Anyway, the Squad is headed this time by Derek Tolliver who we talked about last time. This is his first appearance and he’s another character created for Firestorm that will eventually move to Suicide Squad. He opts to release Parasite into the field but Flag shows his rank as field leader and tells him that he’s too dangerous, and should only be used as a last resort.
Firestorm heads to Times Square to talk to the press about his goals and the Squad decides that’s the perfect time to jump him. I think it’s just a really odd setup. The Squad is a black ops group, unknown to the rest of the world. They operate entirely in secret, so seeing them in such a massively populated area is strange. Ostrander explains it away in a really fun way by having all the characters assume that all of these villains are just here to bring him in since he’s a wanted man. It’s also why it makes for these Firestorm villains to be here since they just want to get revenge. We get panels where Deadshot is just firing wildly into a pretty massive crowd, Firestorm pleads for them to stop which makes sense. But it’s odd to me that Flag is seemingly fine with this. We’ve been shown he’s the moral center of the group so him standing by feels a bit out of character.
Regardless the fight rages on with Firehawk helping out Firestorm. There are these not-so-subtle moments between Killer Frost and Firehawk, where Frost remarks on her body heat. It’s so explicitly sexual but of course, it’s the 80s so DC isn’t gonna have 2 women kissing in a comic book. Tolliver, being the total tool he is, decides to let Parasite loose just as the Justice League International arrives. This ends #64, the story picks up in Annual #5.
I greatly enjoy all the character interactions in this battle. JLI and Suicide Squad were some of the great books of DC’s stellar 80s lineup. They play off each other again later but this is the first time. We get some really fun fight pairings here. Of particular note are Boomerang and Batman. I say this a lot but Ostrander is one of the best Batman writers of all time. Despite not writing a long run with him, he’s done so many exceptional stories with him that he is more than worthy of the title. He has such a great voice for the character and he just knows how to play him off every single character he writes him alongside.
We also get Slipknot taking on Mister Miracle, which is just not a matchup that works in his favor. I don’t think I have ever seen a fight where it has been in his favor, to be honest. But he’s fun to point and laugh at as Scott also discovers.
Parasite breaks out and Flag goes after him, but not before Parasite sucks the life out of Multiplex. Yep, that’s another Firestorm villain biting the dust. Ostrander just really did not like these guys huh?
He begins siphoning off of the powers of the League becoming more and more powerful. So of course, Flag decides it would be a good idea to send in Slipknot. Slipknot smartly realizes he would be totally useless and tries to take out Flag only for Batman to clock him.
We get this great interaction between Flag and Batman which really sells this entire crossover for me. Batman knows of Flag because of his time with the Forgotten Heroes (a team of obscure and unused characters in the early 80s). Batman assumes that Flag is working to apprehend the villains the same as him. So we get this great bit where the two of them team up to take out Deadshot. It’s such a fun setup, and perfectly uses the secretive nature of the Squad and Flag’s previous publication history.
Of course, it seems that Batman may very well be playing along, keeping his suspicions to himself. The parasite takes off with Firestorm in toe, so Batman, Blue Beetle, and Flag chase after them. They’re eventually forced to pull back however as Firestorm takes out Parasite and flies off. The rest of the issue deals with Zastrow and that Rocket Red from earlier, but the Squad drops out of the story as Firestorm flies away. Our last moment with Flag has him noting his respect for Batman and how he wishes he worked for heroes like him. He also hopes he never comes to blows with the Caped Crusader, which is a bit of foreshadowing for later.
So that’s our story. It’s one where the Squad is very much not the focus. It is Firestorm’s story after all and he gets the spotlight. But there are still fun moments for the Squad in here, particularly Flag who gets great interplay with Batman as he tries to keep his cover. That’s a really fun conceit for a Suicide Squad crossover and it is easily the greatest part of these two issues. But the bulk of this story isn’t about that. What we get here is more just classic fun crossover matchups. The only downside really is that most of these matchups aren’t Squad related. Killer Frost and Multiplex aren’t on Ostrander’s Squad again.
So really the Squad is here in part to justify matchups between the JLI and Firestorms rogues gallery. It’s a fun story and Ostrander and co do a good job creating a fun action comic. Just don’t expect the same level of quality as the other Squad stories.