Tonight's episode of The Flash sees the introduction of DC's Legends of Tomorrow star Franz Drameh as the second Firestorm -- one of only a very select number of superheroes ever to have their legacy passed on to a successor in a live-action adaptation.
The new Firestorm comes along following the death of Ronnie Raymond (played by Robbie Amell), revealed during the season premiere of The Flash, and subsequent health issues suffered by Professor Martin Stein, who had been merged with Ronnie on an atomic level to create the hero Firestorm prior to Ronnie's sacrifice to save Central City from a singularity that threatened to consume it.
"It's a big deal," Victor Garber, who plays Stein, said during our visit to the set of The Flash and Legends of Tomorrow last week. "It's a reveal of the new partnership that I think the shock for all of us was that Professor Stein wouldn't exist without being able to be conjoined with another person because of his metabolic...problem."
He was far from the only one who had thoughts on Drameh, and on "Jax" Jackson, the former high school quarterback who finds himself conscripted to merge with Stein in order to save the professor's life in tonight's episode.
When one of the reporters present at the set visit asked Garber what differentiated the second Firestorm from the first, he was somewhat coy.
"Well, because it's a different person, so its' very different and the dynamic is very different," he said wryly, adding, "I miss Robbie because I love Robbie, but I'm very happy with the casting of Mr. Drameh. He's a terrific actor and a wonderful person and because it's a very different dynamic it's completely challenging and fun to play."
"I think we decided to use it as a opportunity to introduce a different kind of Firestorm," added The Flash and Legends of Tomorrow showrunner Andrew Kreisberg during a recent Q&A at a screening of tonight's episode in Los Angeles. "What works so well in the comic books was the idea that they were so different, Stein and Ronnie. In the comic books, Ronnie was like a jock. He was like a dumb jock. Obviously Robbie, and the character we created for our Ronnie was an engineer and was more mature and has a girlfriend and is more of an adult. The idea of the second Firestorm being somebody who was just in his early twenties and somebody who was radically different from this Firestorm. Here you got to see the camaraderie and when you guys get to see Legends you're going to see a lot more of, 'What the hell are you talking about? Why are we doing this?' while they're merged, so there's a lot more room for comedy with the Firestorm character than we've previously had before. We love Franz."
"It's a love-hate relationship," Drameh said of his relationship with Stein. "Jax does not want to be a hero. He does not want these powers, but at the end of the day when it comes down to it, he had to step up and kind of embrace it and do his job. So yeah, this Jax is an athlete -- he's en ex-high school athlete working as a mechanic when he becomes Firestorm, so he's a very different character from Ronnie Raymond."
Ironically, though, Drameh suggested that it's actually his lack of interest that marks him as the better candidiate -- presumably because it appears Henry Hewitt, the Firestorm villain known as Tokomak and someone who in the comics wanted to reproduce Firestorm's powers for profit, is the alternative.
That said, there were other alternatives, of course; during the first season of The Flash, they introduced Stein's research assistant, Jason Rusch, who in the comics was Firestorm for a time. Many fans even expected that Drameh would be playing Jason, since the previous iteration had shown up only briefly and the casting call Drameh answered sounded like it was for a person of color to play Firestorm.
He wasn't playing Rusch, since they wanted the "jock" background and the conflicts that come with it but, as it turns out, having a black Firestorm was something the producers thought was a worthwhile goal.
"It's just a different face, it's a freshness and there's an excitement and honestly, we're also, as always, so proud to have another African-American superhero with super powers for a whole generation of kids who are growing up, and this show is their entre into the superhero world," said Kreisberg. "For them, Firestorm will always be African-American, and we're, as always, so proud of that."
The Flash airs tonight at 8 p.m. ET/PT on The CW. Drameh and Garber will soon take their two-in-one-man-show on the road for DC's Legends of Tomorrow, expected to premiere in January.