Thursday, February 12, 2015

Into the Fire(storm) with the Nuclear Man

Firestorm So, in an issue of Superman/Wonder Woman (they’re dating), the heroes are weakened and dumped into an inactive nuclear plant’s containment chamber by the story’s villain. Despite their inability to get out of the chamber, they determine that if Superman can use his microscopic vision to identify an excited atom and Wonder Woman then splits that atom with her extremely sharp sword, then the chamber will explode and the heroes freed. It works, defying credibility.

In Worlds Finest Comics, Seabrook nuclear plant is completely drained of energy, causing a gigantic blackout. Power Girl fears she may have done this via some experiments she’s conducting. This proves to be true, so she flies over to Seabrook and becomes its energy source, spinning the turbines while plant staff replace the depleted fuel rods. Power Girl helps out with that, too.

As you can see, these recent stories have nothing in particular to say about nuclear energy – nuclear facilities, even a real one like Seabrook, are used to provide unique settings and unlikely science. Aside from the fact that Seabrook’s draining causes three states to black out, nothing is made of them being nuclear facilities. They just are. As we’ll see, this is a real change for the better.

Longtime DC hero Firestorm just made his debut in The Flash TV show. His story is still being told, but his emergence reminds me that the original character comes from a time when nuclear energy was heavily disfavored in some quarters. His comic book origin reflects this, making him perhaps the first (even only) superhero to emerge from a flurry of no-nukes fervor.

Created by writer Gerry Conway and artist Al Milgrom in 1978, Firestorm is sometimes called the Nuclear Man, though it should probably be Nuclear Fusion Man.

High school slacker Ronnie Raymond wants to impress a girl by participating in an anti-nuclear protest where she’ll be. He discovers that the head of the protest group means to blow up the plant, a scheme Ronnie tries and fails to stop. Instead, he’s knocked out, and he and plant employee Martin Stein, a Nobel prize winning nuclear physicist, are caught in the blast. They aren't killed, but are fused into one being: Firestorm. Ronnie remains to the fore while Martin is a background voice who basically tells the gormless kid how to use his powers.

Firestorm has the usual super hero accoutrements of flight and strength, but his nuclear nature allows him to turn anything into anything else (transmutation, not alchemy) and he can fire radioactivity from his hands – Conway must have thought better of this idea, because it’s usually just a forceful blast. Ronnie isn’t doing unscheduled x-rays on a regular basis.

The character may have arisen from a distaste for nuclear energy, but the series quickly dropped that angle. After all, the Nuclear Man was the hero and the atomic symbol was used to represent Firestorm about to blast a bad guy. Really, nothing about the concept sells nuclear energy as a negative – it’s the anti-nuclear activist in the first issue who’s the villain. But that was the intent and as a reader in 1978, that’s how I saw it.

Firestorm’s first title ran throughout the 80s – he was one of the most successful new characters from that decade;  DC has kept Firestorm active in the last quarter century, with a new title now and then and frequent appearances in team comics and special events. (The current comic book version drops the original pair for a young man and woman, with the woman in the forefront.)

firestormtv The TV show version, which I don’t believe has told a full origin yet, returns to Martin and Ronnie, but replaces a nuclear plant with a particle accelerator (think CERN) and puts Martin’s mind in charge of Ronnie’s body, probably to avoid the issue of Firestorm constantly talking to an invisible person. He could easily seem psychotic. Nuclear energy, as in recent comics, is a factor, but not demonized or lionized. It just is – as it should be – a thing in the course of events that can create heroes or villains as behooves the writer’s whim – and do all that emission-free electricity generation while it’s at it. What’s not to like? Nuclear energy – fun as well as practical.

1 comment:

jimwg said...

It should be remembered that just before TMI nuclear energy was highly popular in mass media fiction, from The Batmobile, Seaview, Steve Austin's bionics, The Thunderbirds, 2001: Space Odyssey, ect. TMI -- particularly the UBER-BAD PR response to it squashed that popularity. The "X-Men" originally had a reactor in the mansion's basement but it vanished with TMI. The pits was when the nasty heavy in Superman III was -- of course "Nuclear Man." We only lately get a tweak or two of superheros who are nuke by a good way, like Iron Man but they don't advertise that aspect much. Too close to TMI aftermath, KITT of "Knight Rider" was conceived of as nuclear-powered but that was knocked down to just "hydrogen powered." This topic reminded me of lately having simultaneous thoughts of the gifted blog "10 Things Worst Than Nuclear Power" and a year-old comment in the NRC blog where this anti-nuker shrieked that Indian Point was so radioactive that airline pilots use it as a beacon (I kid you not! It's around 1 or 2 years old in NRC comments).. I LOL over that then thought why can't nuclear blogs list up the "Top Anti-Nuke Whoppers Of All Time" just to see what the public's gullible to and to knock each bogus "fic-fact" down like ten-pins for the benefit of truth for the public? I'll be asking around others too.

James Greenidge
Queens NY