We’re still loving the underrated Arrowverse spinoff, DC’s Legends of Tomorrow, which finds characters from Arrow and The Flash joining forces to become a time-travelling superhero team. Unlike the other DC shows on The CW, Legends of Tomorrow is a balanced ensemble, where no one hero outshines the rest… although every fan has their personal favorite.
One of our favorite Legends to watch is actually a combo of two characters: the nuclear hero Firestorm. A flying, flaming, team member, Firestorm is half Professor Stein (Victor Garber), and half Jefferson Jackson (Franz Drameh). This combo of the oldest and youngest team members makes for some fantastic conflicts… and a perfect balance between Stein’s more sedate (and occasionally pretentious) personality and Jax’s headstrong inexperience.
As we near the halfway point of Legends of Tomorrow’s second season, we take a look back at the comic book Firestorm and his journey to the small screen, with a few factoids that you (probably) didn’t know about the two-part hero.
Ronnie Raymond first appeared in comics in 1978, in his own comic book title (Firestorm, The Nuclear Man). He was created by Gerry Conway (with artist Al Milgrom), one of many well-known comic writers to work for both DC and Marvel over the years (and even both together, on the crossover Superman vs The Amazing Spider-Man). Conway is credited with the creation of over sixty characters in his comic career, including Marvel’s Punisher (with artist Ross Andru) and DC’s Jason Todd.
He was also the writer who scripted the death of Gwen Stacy, during his time working on The Amazing Spider-Man. Several of Conway’s characters have appeared in the Arrowverse over the past five years; Commander Steel (Nick Zano in Legends of Tomorrow), Killer Frost (Danielle Panabaker in The Flash), Plastique (Kelly Frye in The Flash), Tokamak (Demore Barnes in The Flash), Vixen (Megalyn Echikunwoke in Arrow and Maisie Richardson-Sellers in Legends of Tomorrow) and Vibe (Carlos Valdes in The Flash) are all Conway creations as well.
There have actually been multiple Firestorms over the years (and we’ll get to just how many, and who, later in this list) but the original Firestorm was a team-up between Ronnie Raymond and Professor Martin Stein. Ronnie has had a few nicknames along the way, including his original title ‘The Nuclear Man’, the slightly simpler ‘Matchstick’, and the far less complimentary ‘Flamebrain’. He’s also called Ron Raymond, rather than Ronnie, and his full name is Ronald Roy Raymond (we know how much comic writers love alliterative names!).
A little-known alias for the hero is also Ronald Rockwell, which is actually Ronnie’s birth name. When he was young, Ronnie’s mother was killed, and he and his father were placed in witness protection. His surname was changed to Raymond, although his first name remained the same. This part of Ronnie’s history is rarely mentioned in the comics, however, and isn’t a key part of the character’s personality or motivations.
There are plenty of reasons that comic characters have ended up as heroes, and as many of you know, vengeance and lab accidents are two of the big ones! Ronnie Raymond, however, was simply trying to impress the girl he liked before it all went wrong. In high school, Ronnie was an athlete with a crush on a girl named Doreen Day. In an attempt to win her attention, Ronnie joined an environmental activist group that was protesting against nuclear power. Things turned ugly, however, when Ronnie learned that the group wasn’t going to stop at peaceful protesting. They came up with a plan to blow up a nuclear plant (designed by Martin Stein), and worked with Stein’s disgruntled ex-assistant to set the explosives.
Ronnie wasn’t happy to find out that his new friends were kinda sorta terrorists, and in trying to stop them, made himself an enemy. The group ended up rigging the nuclear plant to explode – with Ronnie and Stein tied up together inside! Firestorm was the result of that explosion… and we hope Doreen was suitably impressed.
Becoming a superhero isn’t always easy – especially if you don’t understand what's happening to you. When Ronnie and Stein were first joined as Firestorm, there were some serious consequences for the two men as individuals. In the beginning, only Ronnie was able to control Firestorm, and remember what happened when he and Stein were joined. As a result, Stein began to believe that he was losing his mind. He would find himself in strange places, missing chunks of time and unaware of how he ended up where he was.
As a result, he started drinking heavily to try and cope with what was happening. This addiction had an unexpected impact on Firestorm, as the combined hero would occasionally feel the effects of Stein’s drinking. As you might imagine, hangovers aren't exactly helpful to the whole crime fighting racket. Ronnie eventually found a way to help Stein remember, and he was able to kick the habit. Much later, however, Ronnie would face his own battle with alcoholism after he was diagnosed with leukemia.
When Ronnie first became Firestorm with Professor Stein, he was still in high school, but quickly graduated and needed to make plans for college. He wanted to further his education and be able to have a life beyond his duties as a superhero. However, Ronnie didn’t want to give up being Firestorm either. In an attempt to do both, Ronnie decided to attend the university where Professor Stein was a teacher – Vandermeer University, in Pittsburgh. There, he was able to go to classes while still being close enough to Stein to merge and become Firestorm whenever they needed to.
This was a big move for Ronnie, who went to Bradley High School in Manhattan. This is only one of many practical issues that Firestorm needed to overcome as a two-part hero, and it was the start of an interesting look at Ronnie’s attempts to balance his heroics, his alter ego life, and the alter ego of his other half.
Although Firestorm made his debut in his own title, it was quickly canceled during a time where DC made cutbacks across all of its titles. The character was then absorbed into the Justice League of America comics, where he became a regular team member, and he later appeared in issues of The Flash. His absorption into the Justice League of America happened when he was still in high school, making Firestorm the youngest ever hero invited to join the League. (At the time, of course. This has undoubtedly changed in the decades since then, with more and more teenage heroes joining the ranks of the DC universe.)
This was only taking into account Ronnie’s age, of course. Stein is, as he is in the Arrowverse, a much older character who acts as the wise council to his younger counterpart. If the Justice League had considered the average age of the two men who make up the hero, his acceptance into the League would have been utterly unremarkable.
There have been multiple Firestorms over the years (and yes, we are still getting to exactly how many), but a key component of them is the fact that Firestorm is usually made up of more than one person. The original pairing was (obviously) Martin Stein and Ronnie Raymond, and most of the other Firestorms have been a combination of two people. However, there was briefly a Firestorm formed from three separate humans: Martin Stein, Ronnie Raymond, and Mikhail Arkadin, aka Pozhar.
Arkadin was known as Russia’s Nuclear Man, a hero with similar powers to Firestorm who got them through the Chernobyl disaster. Pozhar was sent to take down Firestorm, who was trying to force the governments of the world to give up their nuclear weapons. Their battle ended with Firestorm and Pozhar combining in a nuclear explosion, and the creation of a three-part Firestorm; a body that combined Ronnie and Mikhail, and the controlling mind of Stein.
In DCCcomics, characters are known as Elementals when they have a power that is deeply connected to one of the four elements -- earth, air, fire and water (sorry Captain Planet fans, but heart isn't an actual element). This is often a spiritual connection, but covers any hero whose power derives from an element, or is over an element. Firestorm discovered that he is a Fire Elemental after the tri-part Firestorm broke apart, sending Stein’s consciousness back into his body, and leaving Ronnie and Mikhail as the new Firestorm combination.
It was later revealed that Stein was intended to be the original Fire Elemental, and that Ronnie’s presence during the nuclear explosion that made Firestorm was an accident. Stein eventually took over Firestorm on his own as the Elemental, and Ronnie and Mikhail were separated again. As an Elemental, Firestorm spent time travelling to meet with other Elemental characters to learn about his powers, including Swamp Thing, Red Tornado, and the elemental gods of Africa, Shango and the Orishas.
Including live-action and animation, we’re counting eight different people who have been part of a Firestorm at some point in the character’s history. The original Firestorm, as we've discussed, is a combination of Martin Stein and Ronnie Raymond. This combo made it into live-action and animation as well, with appearances in The Flash and Super Friends. Mikhail Arkadin is the third Firestorm, and has combined with Stein and Raymond in the past.
After the death of Ronnie Raymond, a new Firestorm emerged, as the Firestorm matrix merged with teenager Jason Rusch. Jason combined with Ronnie (as part of the Firestorm matrix), and also spent some time as Firestorm ‘alone’, as well as combining with our fifth Firestorm: his best friend Mick Wong. Wong made only a brief appearance as a part of Firestorm, before Jason resumed his solo status. During the events of Blackest Night, we meet the sixth Firestorm, Jason’s girlfriend Gehanna (another short-lived Firestorm).
Jason, Ronnie, and Stein remain the best-known Firestorms, in various combinations. The remaining two Firestorm characters exist only in live-action: Jefferson Jackson, half of the second Arrowverse Firestorm, and Valentina Vostock (Stephanie Corneliussen), the Arrowverse's take on the Soviet Firestorm, Mikhail.
During the Blackest Night story arc, the deceased heroes of DC were reanimated as Black Lanterns in a dastardly plot to destroy all emotion – and Ronnie Raymond was one of them. Ronnie beat cancer and alcoholism, but lost his life in a battle against The Shadow Thief.
His return during Blackest Night was not an easy one to stomach, as his Black Lantern persona did terrible things. First, he went after Barry Allen and the Justice League. Failing to merge with Barry, he attacked the current Firestorm, Jason Rusch, and killed the woman he loved. Their short battle ended with Jason merging with Black Lantern Ronnie – a condition that continued after the White Lanterns were able to bring Ronnie back to life fully, and with no memory of what he had done.
The Black Lantern version of Firestorm later manifested again, first in the form of a voice in the combined mind of Jason and Ronnie. Soon, however, it became clear that there was a third persona in the Firestorm Matrix. This persona climbed out of Firestorm, becoming a separate entity and calling himself Deathstorm.
One of the more hilarious results of the many (many) Firestorm characters that now exist within the DC universe is situations like this one. It may sound like the world’s laziest game of Mad-Libs, but technically, a Firestorm did kill another Firestorm’s girlfriend, who also happened to be Firestorm. During the events of Blackest Night (that we disussed above), Ronnie Raymond returned as Black Lantern Firestorm. In that form, he attacked Jason Rusch, the current Firestorm, who was merged at that time with his girlfriend Gehanna (who was therefore also part of the Firestorm Matrix).
Able to separate Jason and Gehanna, Ronnie then absorbs Jason and (in a particularly brutal moment for the Firestorms) and forces him to watch as he tortures and kills Gehanna. Ronnie uses Jason’s grief and rage as fuel for the Black Lanterns, and turns Gehanna into a pillar of salt. When the Black Lanterns and Nekron are defeated, and Ronnie and Jason become the new Firestorm, Gehanna’s death causes huge issues between them. Jason just can’t get past what Ronnie did, even though Ronnie was completely not at fault. (So maybe it’s not that hilarious…)
Heatwave, aka Mick Rory, is better known as the hot-headed partner of Captain Cold. He’s a friend to Firestorm in the CW Universe, a criminal-gone-good who is now a fellow Legend of Tomorrow and (generally) a decent guy. He just… really enjoys setting things on fire.
In the comics, the two don’t normally have a whole lot to do with each other (not much more so than any other hero and villain, at least). However, in the Flashpoint universe, Mick Rory actually killed Jason Rusch, in an ill-fated attempt to become part of Firestorm himself. In Flashpoint, Firestorm is comprised of Jason and Ronnie, and Jason is killed one night when the two separate. Mick then reveals that he wants to become the new other half of Firestorm – but Ronnie tells him that it doesn’t work that way, and Heatwave is eventually defeated by Cyborg.
It’s unlikely that we’ll be seeing this in live-action, but it wouldn’t be too surprising to see Mick get a little more interested than he should be in Firestorm’s powers. A fire elemental and a pyromaniac would naturally lead to a little fascination.
It seems that the Firestorm title isn’t one that bodes well for comic characters, as almost all the Firestorms have died at some point (although several have come back to life, as is the norm for comic books). Ronnie Raymond died at the hands of the Shadow Thief (after nearly dying of cancer), was resurrected as a Black Lantern, and then fully resurrected after Blackest Night. Jason Rusch was killed by Mick Rory during Flashpoint, although he returned in the New 52. Martin Stein also nearly lost his life to cancer (it seems that being a nuclear man isn’t too good for a body), before becoming the Fire Elemental Firestorm and being exiled to space. This, however, is not a true death – Stein later returned, and died at the hands of Deathstorm, who turned him into a pile of salt before being killed by Jason/Ronnie. An earlier version of Deathstorm, Black Lantern Ronnie Raymond, also killed another Firestorm (Gehanna) by turning her to salt.
Mick Wong, Jason’s friend, was killed during Infinite Crisis. and Valentina Vostock exploded from the nuclear energy built up in her body. In fact, the only two Firestorms to have staved off death entirely have been Jefferson on Legends of Tomorrow, and Mikhail, who regained his powers as Soviet Firestorm.
Okay, the comic characters aren’t actually related, but the actors who play them are. Stephen Amell, the star and titular character of Arrow, is actually the cousin of Robbie Amell, who played Ronnie Raymond in The Flash. This isn’t a little-known fact in itself, but hilariously, Robbie revealed that they aren’t allowed to allude to the relationship on screen.
In a video posted to Twitter, Robbie and Stephen are talking about a scene where Robbie’s character had just ‘come back’ (from presumed death) and Caitlin Snow didn’t yet recognize him. When she tells him that he looks familiar, Robbie improvised a line saying that he looked like Oliver Queen – a fantastic inside joke for any fans who knew about the relationship. Sadly, Robbie was told that he wasn’t allowed to say that on the show, and the line was cut. Stephen and Robbie both would have loved the line to stay (as would we), and as Stephen points out, they have half-shark villains on The Flash. A little inside joke doesn’t seem too ridiculous compared to that!
Jefferson ‘Jax’ Jefferson is the current Firestorm of the Arrowverse, starring in Legends of Tomorrow alongside his co-Firestorm, Dr. Martin Stein. The original Firestorm in The Flash was an amalgam of Ronnie Raymond and Martin Stein – and while there were several differences from the comics, the basic characters were very much the same. Jax, however, seems to be a totally original Arrowverse character. To a large extent, he is. Elements of Jax’s character are drawn from Jason Rusch, but his backstory, introduction to Stein and the Firestorm Matrix, and ensuing story arcs are unique to The CW series.
What most don’t realize is that there is actually a Jefferson Jackson within the DC comic universe, who was originally a football player and friend to Ronnie Raymond. The writers for the show took this name and combined it with existing Firestorm characters and their own, new character to create the Jax that we have come to love (much the same way they used the name Felicity Smoak).
What else should fans know about Firestorm? Which small screen duo do you prefer, Ronnie and Martin or Jax and Martin? Sound off in the comments.