The DC Comics character known as “Firestorm: The Nuclear Man” is the creation of writer Gerry Conway and artist Al Milgrom. The character debuted in his self-titled book in March of 1978. Conway first made a big splash in the comic book world a few years earlier when, in 1972 at the relatively young age of 19, he began writing The Amazing Spider-Man for Marvel Comics. The stories and characters that Conway brought to Spider-Man make up some of the most important and iconic elements of the character’s long history. Despite the great differences in their origins and powers, I have always thought that Conway’s Firestorm was the DC character most similar to Marvel’s famed wall crawler.
Firestorm, at least in his original incarnation, is a single character composed of two distinct personalities. Because of errors in judgment on both of their parts, nuclear scientist Martin Stein and high-school student Ronnie Raymond were exposed to a nuclear incident, which allowed them to fuse bodies and minds into the form of Firestorm. Firestorm is able to fly, alter his own atoms, and alter the atoms of objects in the world. In the first issue of his comic book, he saved a man from being struck by a taxi cab by transforming the metal of the car into water.
Because Stein was unconscious during the incident, it is Ronnie who has control over Firestorm’s actions. Stein’s consciousness, however, is along for the ride as a sort of hitchhiker. He can comment and provide advice to Ronnie, but it is young Ronnie who has to make the decisions.
Ronnie, a teenager like Peter Parker, has a lot of fun with his newfound powers. Though Peter Parker was the school wallflower and Ronnie Raymond was a high school football star, they both were smart-aleck show-offs when it came time to do the superhero stuff. In the opening splash page of Firestorm #1, it is easy to imagine Peter Parker, rather than Ronnie Raymond, shouting in excitement. “Heads up, New York!” he exclaims. “Make way for Firestorm! Wowee! If the kids at school could only see me now!”
Of course, Ronnie had to contend with the more mature and reasoned Professor Stein, an obvious ego to Ronnie’s id. (Peter, I suppose, possessed both natures in his own personality; he was both a cocky kid and a worrywart.) Ronnie’s relationship with the Professor provided some of the most memorable moments in Conway’s run, and was really what set the character apart. Two personalities in one hero made some things easier to do but it made a lot of things harder. For readers, it was always fun.
When CW’s The Flash introduced Firestorm to the cast last season, the character stayed pretty true to his comic book origins. Instead of a nuclear accident, it was the STAR Labs particle accelerator accident that caused Professor Stein (Victor Garber) and Ronnie Raymond (Robbie Arnell) to merge into the atomic-powered Firestorm. Like the comic book character, this Firestorm can fly and blast things with his flaming power. While the character hasn’t shown any ability to manipulate atoms, the development of new powers was hinted at by Professor Stein at the end “The Fury of Firestorm.”
The one major difference between the TV and comic book versions of the character is a pretty important difference, however. On CW’s The Flash, Ronnie is not a high school football star. Instead he, like Professor Stein, is a scientist. While the age difference between the two Firestorm personalities offered some potential for interesting interactions, it seemed a far cry from the middle-age scientist/high school jock dynamic that drove Conway’s original Firestorm character.
Of course, those who have been watching this season know that Ronnie Raymond was killed in the opening episode and that Martin Stein has been suffering the consequences of the separation from his, at it turns out, necessary other half. This means that the Flash team has to find a replacement for Ronnie, another person who was similarly altered by the particle accelerator accident in such a way as to make them compatible with the “Firestorm Matrix.” Their solution is an exciting one in that the new addition to the Firestorm team is Jefferson “Jax” Jackson (Franz Drameh), a recent high school graduate and former football star. After only one outing, the interactions between Jax and Stein seem pretty promising, and leave me excited that the new Firestorm will have more of the spirit of Conway’s original creation. I can’t wait to see the character(s) return to The Flash and to CW’s upcoming spin-off series, The Legends of Tomorrow. The transition from Ronnie to Jax may have been necessitated by the departure of Arnell from the show, but after this week’s episode, I’m excited by the change.
“The Fury of Firestorm” represents another strong installment in the CW’s great series. In addition to revamping the character of Firestorm in a story that was interesting and well told, this episode also adds a bit more detail to the mystery surrounding the return of Harrison Wells (Tom Cavanagh). I’m excited; Cavanagh couldn’t return fast enough for my liking. In addition, the villain King Shark (David Hayer) makes a shocking appearance, bringing another threat from the mysterious Zoom. As if that wasn’t enough, Iris (Candice Patton) learns a secret from her mother that hints at the future appearance of one of the best and most beloved members of the Flash’s comic book family of characters.
Here’s the thing about CW’s The Flash: everyone involved seems to be having a whole lot of fun. Watching the “Scarlet Speedster” (Grant Gustin) and the “Nuclear Man” zip and fly through a battle with the villain of the week is an absolute thrill. It makes me feel a little like a kid again or, even better, like a superhero myself. Like Gerry Conway’s Firestorm, it makes me want to shout “Heads up, New York! Make way for Firestorm! Wowee! If the kids at school could only see me now!”