DC Comics may be preparing for a “Rebirth,” but the publisher isn’t afraid to return to classic characters in its new anthology series, “Legends of Tomorrow.” Metamorpho, the Metal Men and Sugar and Spike — that’s right, Sugar and Spike — all have their fans, but the series’ headliner is undoubtedly Firestorm.
Returning to the character he co-created with artist Al Milgrom in 1978 for the six-issue series is veteran writer Gerry Conway, drawn in this story by Eduardo Pansica and Rob Hunter. Known best for co-creating Marvel Comics’ Punisher and scripting the death of Gwen Stacy during his long run on “Amazing Spider-Man,” Conway told CBR News he hasn’t followed Firestorm too closely since he stopped writing the Nuclear Man in the 1980s, but 2010’s “Brightest Day” event series piqued his interest when Ronnie Raymond returned to continuity.
Conway discusses the strength and importance of Professor Martin Stein to the character’s mythos, why Multiplex is a perfect foil for Firestorm in the anthology series and offers his take on the live-action version of the the character that debuted on “The Flash” and continues to make a splash on “DC’s Legends of Tomorrow” spinoff series on The CW. The writer also hinted at future Firestorm stories he’d like to tell, including reimagining some of his most infamous rogues, such as Killer Frost, for a new generation.
CBR News: It’s been said you can’t go home again, but this week saw your return to a character you created nearly 40 years ago for DC Comics: Firestorm. I guess like Ronnie, Jason and Professor Stein, you’re an anomaly?
Gerry Conway: [Laughs] Yes, it is strange. I have a great sense of dejÃ vu. But honestly, it’s always strange to go back to old characters, especially ones that you created a long time ago. But in a weird sort of way, it’s also been a homecoming for me with this character. I really love Firestorm. And hearing Ronnie’s voice in my head is a lot of fun. It feels simpatico and it’s a great pleasure to bring the character to a realization that is closer to how I originally conceived him. That’s very satisfying.
Did you follow Firestorm over the years, even after you stopped writing him?
I actually hadn’t followed him for a number of years because immediately after I left the book, the writer who followed me changed the character in such a dramatic way that he wasn’t really Firestorm anymore so I didn’t really follow it. DC Comics brought back a version of the character in the 1990s with Jason Rusch, which again, wasn’t really my character, so I didn’t really follow that either. But when they re-introduced Ronnie Raymond for “Brightest Day” and brought him into the New 52, I did follow that. I read most of those issues. And I love seeing the character on “The Flash” and “Legends of Tomorrow.”
I grew up in the 1970s and 1980s and my understanding of the term “nuclear” was tied to the Cold War and Mother Russia. When developing the character in the late 1970s, did you research nuclear physics and find the inherent good in the superpower?
You’re right. Nuclear power was controversial back in the 1970s. The Three Mile Island accident happened right around that time so yes, there was a lot of anxiety about nuclear power. But that wasn’t really related to Firestorm other than creating some additional interest in the character. The essence of what made the character interesting to me was the dynamic between Ronnie and Professor Stein, which was a dynamic of a young teenager, who is in the process of becoming an adult, hearing the voice of an older adult supervising him and criticizing him and trying to direct him in his rebellion against that. I think that’s kind of a universal human experience. Whether male or female, everyone can relate to that struggle.
That’s is what was really of interest to me [when he created the character]. I had this name, ‘Firestorm,’ in my head for a while just because I thought it was a cool sounding name. I always liked the visual that the name evoked. And then the idea was to create some way to introduce this multiple personality character and nuclear fusion seemed like a natural way to do it.
This story has Ronnie, Professor Stein and Jason working together. You talked about Firestorm’s multiple personalities, but how important is teamwork to this superhero?
I think the impulse to put Ronnie and Jason together was a potentially good one in that you had two characters that were coming from different backgrounds. And that gives them an opportunity for a certain amount of friction, which is always good in comics. And also, you get to see things from different points of view. It isn’t really an archetypal construction. For a creator’s point of view, it really doesn’t provide you with as much in terms of a rich, emotional ground at least from my point of view as the contrast between Professor Stein and Ronnie, which is more about a generational conflict or a parent-child conflict. That, again, is something that is very universal.
In this story, we also get re-introduced to Multiplex, who is Firestorm’s original arch-enemy — and again, a character you created for “Firestorm” #1 back in 1978. Why is he the perfect foil for Firestorm?
Well, Firestorm, as we discussed is based on nuclear fusion. And Multiplex is fission. And while I don’t do this with the current version of the character, when I first created Multiplex back in the seventies, I actually thought of him as being kind of funny. I had this character that each time he divided, he got smaller. [Laughs] I thought that was amusing. The more Multiplexes there are, the smaller he is. But this version of him is a much more potentially threatening and powerful character because he is dealing with quantum reality.
The way that I have approached this Multiplex is not so much that he is a product of fission as he is a product of multiple probabilities. It’s maybe a little bit more intellectual version of the character because he’s not just splitting himself physically. He’s not even sure, which of him is the real him. [Laughs] He’s a bit more insane than he has been in the past and that’s something that going to be further developed over the course of the six issues.
You mentioned Firestorm’s portrayal on the “The Flash” and “Legends of Tomorrow” TV series. Robbie Amell is great as Ronnie and I really like Franz Drameh as Jax, but Victor Garber, for my money, is the star. Is his take on Professor Stein what you imagined for his live-action debut?
Yes, he’s great. He is a senior voice. Stein is someone who has some life experience that may or may not be relevant to the task at hand. [Laughs] And that makes him fun. My favorite episode is when they go back in time and see the younger Stein. That was fun.
It’s great that you’re enjoying the TV shows because I know there were some issues between you and DC Comics in regards to Killer Frost, in terms of your character Crystal Frost and Caitlin Snow. Since that seems to have passed, is there any chance of seeing Killer Frost in the “Legends of Tomorrow” anthology?
If the Firestorm series goes beyond the six issues that we’re doing and they want me to continue, I would love to bring back almost all of the members of the old rogues gallery. I’d love to update and deal with them as I would see them today. That would be great fun.
“Legends of Tomorrow” #1 is on sale now from DC Comics.