Skip to main content

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.

Comments

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

Popular posts from this blog

Missing the Point about Pennsylvania’s Nuclear Plants

A group that includes oil and gas companies in Pennsylvania released a study on Monday that argues that twenty years ago, planners underestimated the value of nuclear plants in the electricity market. According to the group, that means the state should now let the plants close.

Huh?

The question confronting the state now isn’t what the companies that owned the reactors at the time of de-regulation got or didn’t get. It’s not a question of whether they were profitable in the '80s, '90s and '00s. It’s about now. Business works by looking at the present and making projections about the future.

Is losing the nuclear plants what’s best for the state going forward?

Pennsylvania needs clean air. It needs jobs. And it needs protection against over-reliance on a single fuel source.


What the reactors need is recognition of all the value they provide. The electricity market is depressed, and if electricity is treated as a simple commodity, with no regard for its benefit to clean air o…

How Nanomaterials Can Make Nuclear Reactors Safer and More Efficient

The following is a guest post from Matt Wald, senior communications advisor at NEI. Follow Matt on Twitter at @MattLWald.

From the batteries in our cell phones to the clothes on our backs, "nanomaterials" that are designed molecule by molecule are working their way into our economy and our lives. Now there’s some promising work on new materials for nuclear reactors.

Reactors are a tough environment. The sub atomic particles that sustain the chain reaction, neutrons, are great for splitting additional uranium atoms, but not all of them hit a uranium atom; some of them end up in various metal components of the reactor. The metal is usually a crystalline structure, meaning it is as orderly as a ladder or a sheet of graph paper, but the neutrons rearrange the atoms, leaving some infinitesimal voids in the structure and some areas of extra density. The components literally grow, getting longer and thicker. The phenomenon is well understood and designers compensate for it with a …

A Billion Miles Under Nuclear Energy (Updated)

And the winner is…Cassini-Huygens, in triple overtime.

The spaceship conceived in 1982 and launched fifteen years later, will crash into Saturn on September 15, after a mission of 19 years and 355 days, powered by the audacity and technical prowess of scientists and engineers from 17 different countries, and 72 pounds of plutonium.

The mission was so successful that it was extended three times; it was intended to last only until 2008.

Since April, the ship has been continuing to orbit Saturn, swinging through the 1,500-mile gap between the planet and its rings, an area not previously explored. This is a good maneuver for a spaceship nearing the end of its mission, since colliding with a rock could end things early.

Cassini will dive a little deeper and plunge toward Saturn’s surface, where it will transmit data until it burns up in the planet’s atmosphere. The radio signal will arrive here early Friday morning, Eastern time. A NASA video explains.

In the years since Cassini has launc…