Ever since The Flash brought DC Comics superhero Firestorm - a.k.a. Ronnie Raymond... and Martin Stein - into The CW's shared universe of costumed heroes, fans have been wondering what the network had in mind for the character's future. The duo of actors Robbie Amell (The DUFF) and Victor Garber (Argo) impressed from the start, but when the latter was announced to be reprising his role on the upcoming DC's Legends of Tomorrow, Amell's absence was more than suspicious.
Although the actor is confirmed to appear as Ronnie in The Flash's second season premiere, a brand new promo for the show seems to confirm what many have suspected: that a new actor will be taking over the role of Firestorm. What's less than expected is that he'll be played by Franz Drameh, a LoT cast member whose role has been kept secret - until now.
The promo in question doesn't give much of an explanation of just what events or tragedies will see Ronnie Raymond give up the job of Firestorm's physical form, but the evidence is straightforward enough. Drameh appears not once, but three times in the short video (now pulled), two of which see him sporting the character's telltale Splicer (the device which allowed Ronnie and Martin to merge without incident).
For those keeping track: it's 'Jay Jackson' who will apparently be fusing with Martin Stein to become the hero, not Ronnie Raymond. For the time being, anyway.
Before we get into what this means for Amell's involvement in the short or long term, some explanation may be needed for those less well-versed in the comic source material - since changing the identity of the men who make up Firestorm isn't all that surprising. To this point, it's only been Ronnie Raymond and Martin Stein connected to 'the Firestorm Matrix,' but that isn't an exclusive club to join. Over the years, Firestorm has been a name applied to the teams of Raymond and Stein, Raymond, Stein and Mikhail Arkadin, before Jason Rusch emerged as the proper successor in mainline DC continuity.
Fans of The Flash may remember that name, since a version of Rusch was introduced when Barry's team was trying to unravel the secrets of Martin Stein's work (and disappearance). Comic fans at the time wondered if a seed was being planted months, or even years in advance - that may still be the case, but it looks like The CW is turning to a wholly original hero to replace Ronnie Raymond.
More than anything, this slip has finally brought an end to the speculation and rumors surrounding Drameh's role in Legends of Tomorrow, with Wally West and Cyborg just two theories put forward in the past. We had wondered if Jay Jackson was the next Firestorm in disguise when Hawgirl actress Ciara Renee recently spotlighted some cast artwork via Instagram - minus Amell, but not the Nuclear Man.
Aside from the change in casting, it seems that the nature of the Firestorm Matrix will be a significant branch of The CW's DC Comics mythology, beginning to be explored on The Flash before, presumably, supplying another subplot for Legends' first season. And even before the new CW spinoff (the last for some time, according to the network) launches, there's one major reason for Flash viewers to tune in already.
But for every fan excited to see Drameh tackle a new role alongside Barry Allen, there will be just as many disappointed to see Amell give up the character. The actor has remained vague when discussing his involvement in The Flash beyond the premiere, but fans may not want to suspect the worst just yet. Even if Ronnie Raymond's death or disappearance would help send Caitlin Snow well on her way to becoming a full-fledged metahuman villain.
When trying to uncover just why The CW and Amell would part ways after such early success, it may - may - be for the most fortunate of reasons. In truth, his turn as Ronnie Raymond on The Flash was just one role that helped take the Arrow star's cousin on an upward swing. With The DUFF boosting his fan base among younger audiences, a role opposite Kevin Spacey and Jennifer Garner in Nine Lives giving him big screen exposure, and now a role in The X-Files revival series, it may simply be that Amell didn't have time for Legends.
For the usual superhero, that means a very tough decision. But in the case of Firestorm - a hero defined by his rotating cast of component parts - the solution may have presented itself to the writers without much deliberation. Simply find a new character to merge into Firestorm alongside Martin Stein, and an appropriately ambiguous - or for lack of a better word, science-ish - way of removing Ronnie from the picture.
The comics have shown Ronnie, Stein or Jason lost to the matrix over the years, only to resurface when the need for a change of pace arrived. It may be too soon to tell if Amell's increased workload means he and the showrunners have parted on the best of terms, or if they plan to bring Ronnie back into the fold, in one way or another. At this point, we would hope Amell returns to DC's TV universe sooner rather than later, but with just one season of cross-show storytelling under its belt, The CW has shown not everything is quite as it seems.
After all, this shared universe has not only re-cast the role of Black Canary once, but will explicitly be resurrecting her to keep the shows' strongest figures in play. And with nothing but praise surrounding Amell, the cast and crew of the show, and the network, it would seem like a missed opportunity for Ronnie Raymond to be replaced permanently.
But until the season premiere of The Flash actually reveals his fate in its entirety, all we know for sure is that the role of Firestorm is looking to be just as complicated on TV as it has been on the page.