FIREBRANDMedium: Comic Books
Published by: Quality Comics
First Appeared: 1941
Creators: S.M. Iger (writer) and Reed Crandall (artist)
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Like Miss Fury, Green Arrow and Lady Luck, Firebrand was wealthy but bored, and turned to crime fighting to spice up his otherwise pointless existence. Like the early Black Hood, Crimson Avenger and Spider-Man, he was misunderstood, and sought by police who thought he was a bigger menace than the ones he brought in. Like Black Jack, The Blonde Phantom, The Owl and any number of others, he lacked a truly compelling raison d'etre as a superhero, such as, oh, say, super powers. He didn't seem to have any characteristics that were all his
own. No wonder he was pushed off the cover of Police Comics after a mere four issues, by the altogether more interesting Plastic Man.
Firebrand's debut, both as the cover feature and in the first story inside, was in Police Comics #1, published by Quality Comics (Doll Man, Kid Eternity) with a cover date of August, 1941. Not only he and Plas, but also The Human Bomb, 711, Mouthpiece, Phantom Lady and a half-dozen or so less noticeable characters, all made their initial appearances there. In a story written by S.M. Iger (who also has credits at MLJ and Fox Feature Syndicate) and drawn by Reed Crandall (Blackhawk, Treasure Chest), socialite Rod Reilly got bitten by the superhero bug, made himself a costume, and went into the evil-bashing business.
As Rod, the character was assisted by his best pal, Slugger Dunn, who worked as his valet. As Firebrand, he was assisted by Slugger in his capacity as former heavyweight boxer, who helped him master the hand-to-hand combat techniques so necessary in the practice of his hobby. He also got pretty good with a lariat and with the kind of suction cups that enable real-life daredevils to climb sheer, vertical walls. He was hampered by being accused of having spearheaded the very gang he brought down in his first adventure, but that doesn't seem to have discouraged him.
Despite his early prominence, Firebrand was the first of the Police Comics superheroes to bite the dust. His final appearance was in #13 (November, 1942), and Quality Comics never used him again.
But he wasn't the only superhero named Firebrand. Just a month after his debut, Dynamic Publications (Major Victory, Captain Glory) debuted another, in Yankee Comics #1. That one either went nowhere, or made a second (and final) appearance a couple of years later, in Harvey Comics' All-New Short Story Comics #1. (Accounts differ as to whether or not those two Firebrands were the same character.) Fiction House (Sheena, Fantomah) published another little-known character named Firebrand in 1951, in the back pages of Fight Comics, which starred Tiger Girl (no relation). Decades later, Marvel Comics got into the act with a very minor character of that name, who has made occasional guest shots over the years, and appeared with The New Warriors during the 1990s.
Meanwhile, DC Comics acquired the Quality characters in 1956, but left most of them, including Firebrand, in limbo for years. In Justice League of America #107, several reappeared, but Firebrand wasn't one of them. The Quality heroes seen there got their own comic a couple of years later, under the name Freedom Fighters. Firebrand joined that group in its 11th issue (December, 1977).
In 1981, DC gathered all the '40s characters it owned (a lot, since it had also acquired those of Fawcett Publications) into The All-Star Squadron. Even there, Firebrand was slighted as, right off the bat, he was sidelined with an injury. He was replaced by his sister Danette, who wore a similar costume and also called herself Firebrand. To add to the ignominy, she even had super powers — she could shoot fire out of her hands, and had control over any flames in the vicinity. (Word is, Thomas had actually wanted to use Quality's Wildfire, but higher-ups at the company nixed that because The Legion of Super Heroes had a member of that name; so he created the new Firebrand to be a near-duplicate of her.)
In 1996, DC introduced a completely unrelated superhero named Firebrand; and after that one was killed off, another. It's just as well. This one hasn't been seen in years.