Firestorm v2 #86 marked Firestorm’s first real adventure as the new fire elemental. In a sense, this is a whole new character and an excellent jump-on point for new readers.
This issue introduced Firestorm as an avenging elemental force, a drastic departure from the ‘bumbling college student coping with great powers’ Firestorm we’ve come to know from the late 70s/early 80s. Now we have a soulless environmental crusader with godlike powers. His origin even received a brand new retcon one issue prior (#85) explaining that he was meant to be Earth’s fire elemental all along but something went wrong during the explosion that created him.
Why did DC decide to go with such a radical restructuring of Firestorm?
In order to answer that, you’d have to step back a bit.
Firestorm was facing a decline in readership before John Ostrander picked up writing chores on this title in 1987, he was given 6 months to raise sales. This may have been what had encouraged so much experimentation and change in the title. A major theme in Ostrander’s Firestorm run is the evolution of the character of Firestorm, and if you had been reading since Fury of the Firestorm #58 you’d realize the only logical conclusion would be for Firestorm to become an elemental.
Another factor that contributed to Firestorm’s final evolution was the abundance of Elementals in DC comics at the time – so far, we had Swamp Thing (Earth) and Red Tornado (Wind) so another addition was logical. Elemental Firestorm’s final look was designed just because Ostrander felt it looked ‘cooler’. As part of a strong marketing campaign, DC sent out promotional copies of Firestorm #86 to select comic book shops across the country.
A lot of interesting things happened during the Elemental Firestorm run – the comic dealt with mature themes such as the quest for identity, the impact of pollution on the environment, the examination of humanity’s relationship with the Gods and the consequences of impulsive actions. Most notable was an appearance by Swamp Thing as they battled other Elementals. A personal favorite of mine: ‘Fire elemental’ Firestorm also made an appearance in Swamp Thing v2 Annual #5 (which was Brother Power the Geek’s first appearance since 1968).
Ultimately, this series was cancelled because readership was too low. It has been speculated that had Firestorm rebooted back to issue #1 when Ostrander took over, new readers may have picked up the title thus saving the book from cancellation. Regardless, Ostrander requested to leave the series after issue #100 because, in his own words, he had no more stories left to tell about Firestorm.
Coincidentally, this issue was also a Janus Directive cross-over.
I have a lot of love for Ostrander’s work at DC during the late 80’s, and really feel that he was one of the more underrated writers out there. Two things I really like about Ostrander’s writing is 1) he builds a sense of cohesion with his other DC titles (Suicide Squad and Captain Atom) and 2) he manages to keep all of his stories within continuity, yet you don’t have to know everything about DC continuity in order to enjoy the story.
My only gripe with Elemental Firestorm was his costume – all that wild flame didn’t appeal to me and looked more like fur. I felt he looked less like ‘Lord of the Fire Elements’ and more like ‘Lord of the Woodland Creatures’.