Hovering above the Manhattan skies, a flame-headed superhero in yellow and red duds patrols the bustling streets below, scanning for trouble. He spots a truck about to collide with a motorcycle. Soaring into action, the colorful crime fighter zaps the truck, reshaping it into cotton candy. Aside from a dumb-founded trucker, the day is saved thanks to Firestorm.
Firestorm is a DC Comics character created by Gerry Conway and Al Milgrom in 1978. He is a fusion of two beings, teenager Ronnie Raymond and Professor Martin Stein. The illustrious legacy of these two began when Raymond sought to prove he wasn’t a dumb jock to Doreen Day, a classmate he’s fond of at Bradley High. After a rough day of class, Raymond was at home watching the news when he heard Edward Earhart, leader of the Coalition to Resist Atomic Power. Earhart urged intelligent people to join the fight against nuclear technology. Seeing this as an opportunity to prove he was bright, the young man decided to join.
Meanwhile, Nobel Prize-winning physicist Martin Stein was working overtime to ensure the Hudson Nuclear Power Plant was operational. After arriving at the plant, Raymond quickly discovered that Earhart’s group intended to detonate the nuclear plant with a bomb. He attempted to stop them, but was easily overtaken by the five henchmen. Stein observed the violence from surveillance and confronted the terrorists. Unfortunately, Stein got knocked unconscious. The two victims were placed near dynamite primed to explode within a few seconds. Raymond awakened, racing to remove the bomb. Alas, his noble efforts were thwarted by the unyielding hands of time.
Due to Stein turning on the plant, however, the explosion propagated the power supply exponentially. Excessively high levels of radiation engulfed the two men, fusing them into a single entity, Firestorm. Since Raymond was awake during the transformation, he exerts control of the hero’s physical form. Stein acts as a subconscious advisor, guiding Raymond on decisions and proper use of their powers.
Firestorm, the Nuclear Man, has a variety of super powers, including transmutation. He can change the molecular structure of inorganic matter. He’s turned a pistol into a cucumber, part of the sidewalk into a bed mattress, the street into a lake, a robber’s getaway van into a giant pumpkin, and a plummeting jet into a hot-air balloon among other feats. Transmuting these objects requires knowledge of their atomic structures. Firestorm can utilize this ability due to Stein’s scientific background. So when Raymond, in the alter ego’s physical form, is reshaping things around him, he’s channeling Stein’s subconscious intellect. Another power is his heat blast. He can fire nuclear bursts of energy to detain foes. In addition, he can lower his atomic density to zero, becoming intangible. This enables him to phase through walls and avoid incoming attacks. Other powers include flight and absorbing the blast radius of an explosion into his body. The flame-headed do-gooder’s a one-man bomb squad.
Perhaps Firestorm’s greatest strength dwells in the growth of friendship developed between Raymond and Stein. They started off annoying each other, though. Both come from different lives. Each has their share of troubles. Raymond, a transfer student from Oregon, is a new kid on the block at Bradley High. He’s mistreated by nerd bully Cliff Carmichael on a daily basis. On a side note, this dilemma is the polar opposite of Spider-Man’s. Peter Parker was a science nerd at Midtown High harassed by class jock Flash Thompson. Getting back on topic, however, Raymond’s teen angst doesn’t end there. He’s got an absentee father who spends most of his nights working late as a reporter for the Daily Express. Stein’s life is no picnic either.
Stein, a nuclear physicist for Concordance Research, is constantly scrutinized by Quentin Quale, his project manager. Quale keeps a watchful eye on the professor to decide if his contract will be renewed. It doesn’t help when Raymond triggers the transformation as a shortcut for getting to school on time. This prompted the physicist to deliver a dialogue of tough love for his teenaged companion. Stein said, “Ronald, this is outrageous!” “You may indeed be late for school, but I’m overdue at a military airbase! Our dual identity as Firestorm is a privilege and a responsibility, not an alternative for the subway (Firestorm: The Nuclear Man #3)!”
Such a heated exchange of words stemmed from a lack of understanding his younger teammate. After years of fighting villains such as Killer Frost and Typhoon, the two bridged the gap between partners and friends. Stein even became a paternal father to Raymond. Their bond of friendship was never more apparent than the time Stein had a brain tumor. Raymond stood by him as Firestorm even if it meant he died with him (Firestorm: The Nuclear Man #62).
There have been several incarnations of the Nuclear Man since then, but the legacy of Raymond and Stein is the most enduring. They are an example of teamwork and tolerance for everyone.