When The CW began its small-screen onslaught of DC Comics heroes with the grounded, sombre, Batman Begins-esque treatment of Arrow - a powerless, vulnerable vigilante archer - there were many who thought that it was a sign of what to expect from the smaller-scale medium. But the arrival of Barry Allen (Grant Gustin) changed all that, with his very own show, The Flash, proving the network was just as eager to adapt the superpowered members of DC's catalogue, adhering more strictly to the 'Hollywood superhero' formula than even Smallville attempted.
And with less than a half-dozen episodes under its belt, the series took another shocking turn by introducing Ronnie Raymond (Robbie Amell) into its cast - a man destined to become the Justice League member known as 'Firestorm The Nuclear Man.' Comic fans' hopes were sent sky high once The Flash's mid-season finale revealed Ronnie's powers in full, and his full story will begin to be told in just a matter of weeks.
Given that Ronnie Raymond a.k.a. 'Firestorm' is an admittedly lesser-known comic book character in the modern era, we feel that a refresher may be needed (as well as a crash-course for newcomers). There's no doubt that The Flash will be making some changes to his origin story (as it already has), but the writers have stayed faithful to most of their characters' roots so far; that means getting familiar with "Firestorm" could even hint at twists and turns much farther down the road.
The Origin Story
It's easiest to get a sense of the Firestorm character by looking to its creators, Gerry Conway and Al Milgrom. With Conway famous for succeeding Stan Lee in a lengthy run as writer of "The Amazing Spider-Man", his arrival at DC Comics saw him craft a character that was almost a mirror image of Peter Parker's web-slinger. In short: a popular high school athlete with more brawn than brains - Ronnie Raymond.
When Raymond found himself at ground zero of a terrorist attack on a nuclear power plant, he would have been killed instantly, if not for the Nobel Prize-winning nuclear physicist, Dr. Martin Stein unconscious beside him. through unexplained means, the pair were fused into a single super-powered body. Ronnie took control of the form, while Dr. Stein's disembodied intelligence existed as a voice inside Ronnie's head.
The dual nature of the hero was largely unheard of in top-tier comics, and led to a form of internal dialogue and banter that quickly became the character's trademark. That, and his unforgettable design and costume (which, admittedly, looks pulled from the pages of Marvel).
Like all comics, the following decades would offer tweaks on the version of Firestorm starring in his title series, but all keeping the core dynamic in place. Stein would take control of the body formed by Ronnie and another hero, and after Ronnie's death, the 'Firestorm Matrix' was bonded to a new hero, Jason Rusch, with Ronnie taking the role of the hero's inner voice of reason. In DC's New 52, the relationship was given a further twist, with both Ronnie (the cocky athlete) and Jason (the top student) only able to each become superpowered forms if working together.
The Show's Version
With even that brief summary of the "Firestorm" comic history, viewers should see how The Flash's writers have reshaped the story for their own purposes, while keeping the core of the character (at least potentially) intact. Though not a high school athlete, Ronnie Raymond's role as engineer at S.T.A.R. Labs as a self-proclaimed "glorified plumber" presented him as not necessarily an academic. Fans can debate the "book smarts" needed to oversee construction of a particle accelerator, but everything seems to still be going Ronnie's way - including his lovely fiancee Caitlin Snow (Danielle Panabaker) - until disaster strikes.
On the night Barry Allen was blessed with superspeed (and countless other Central City residents were cursed with 'metahuman' gifts), it was Ronnie who minimized the accelerator explosion, sacrificing his own life in the process. Presumed to have been vaporized, a year has passed since Cisco (Carlos Valdes) or Caitlin said their goodbyes.
Since the return of the character was outright promised by the showrunners, the 'death' was seen by many to be what it truly was: The Flash's own origin story for the hero known as Firestorm. Unfortunately, actor Robbie Amell almost instantly stated that his reunion would not be a happy one, with the transformation going nowhere near as smoothly as the comic's, leaving him "confused, dangerous, and schizophrenic."
Pain and anger have been depicted as par for the course in "Firestorm" many times, and given the presence of Dr. Martin Stein's consciousness, the mental anguish and confusion brought on by literal voices in one's head is understandable. After a brief tease at the end of the Arrow/Flash crossover, the show's mid-season finale confirmed that Ronnie was now a shell of his former self - albeit a powerful one.
Despite the terrifying arrival of 'Firestorm' into the world of The Flash (and Caitlin's belief that she would have rather Ronnie died than become this flame-haired being), it's important to not cast him as a villain or threat just yet. Especially since The CW recently announced that Victor Garber (Alias, Argo) had been cast as the show's version of Dr. Martin Stein. Yet even with both pieces of the hero now in place, some peculiar questions persist, and promise that the writers will continue tweaking the comic book hero's nature for their story.
For starters, Dr. Stein's presence at S.T.A.R. Labs has yet to be confirmed at all. It's possible that the death of yet another brilliant mind at S.T.A.R. Labs' facility has gone unremarked upon until now, but the writers simply claiming a mysterious link between the two wouldn't seem out of place in the show's fiction. On top of that, Amell has also let it slip that the classic role of Ronnie and Stein in Firestorm's nature may also be challenged in the coming episodes:
"I'm not exactly the same person I was when I left... I've got [Martin Stein actor] Victor Garber in my head, which is terrifying because Victor Garber is this amazing, incredible actor, and I have to do a Victor Garber impression for a bit of an episode, which is an actor's dream and an actor's nightmare."
Add the fact that it seems both Garber and Amell will appear on-screen in the same scenes, and the comic book approach of showing Dr. Stein as a ghostly head is clearly getting an update as well. How, or even if the pair are able to separate at all is still a mystery (in the comics, Dr. Stein had no recollection of his fusion with Ronnie once the two 'unmerged'). Presumably, the S.T.A.R. Labs team may be able to solve the problem and split the pair back into their forms. But if a powerful threat suddenly threatened the lives of innocents (or the ones they loved), how could they possibly stand on the sidelines, no matter how traumatic their merging might be...?
As if deciphering the character's claim to Caitlin that "he's not Ronnie" wasn't confusing enough, there have also been unconfirmed reports that Jason Rusch - Ronnie's successor as Firestorm - has also been cast in the series. Is The CW up to an even more ambitious attempt, and seeking to fuse not two, but three actors into a single body? Only time will tell.