Rebooting a Hero: The Story Behind 'The Flash's' New, Diverse Firestorm

"It's really humbling," Drameh tells THR of portraying an African-American version of the iconic superhero. "We still don't see that many black superheroes."
Courtesy of The CW

Firestorm is coming back to The Flash, but the superhero is getting a big makeover for his return to The CW series.

Franz Drameh joins the DC Comics universe Tuesday as Jefferson "Jax" Jackson, a potential new half of the Firestorm duo along with Dr. Martin Stein (Victor Garber).

The Attack the Block star's character takes on the alter-ego formerly occupied by Ronnie Raymond, whom Robbie Amell portrayed for most of the show's first season.

"It's always daunting when you take over a character even if you do play a different character, because Jax and Ronnie Raymond are very different people," Drameh tells The Hollywood Reporter. "But taking on that half of Firestorm definitely was nerve-wracking. I think the fans will appreciate the difference between the two Firestorms and like it, at least I hope."

The Flash executive producer Andrew Kreisberg revealed that the showrunners wanted to "introduce a different kind of Firestorm" with Drameh, who has also joined the cast of the forthcoming Legends of Tomorrow spinoff.

"What worked so well in the comic books was the idea that they were so different, Stein and Ronnie," Kreisberg says. "In the comic books, Ronnie was 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. So the second Firestorm is somebody who is just in his early 20s and somebody who was radically different from this Firestorm."

Jax is also a major departure from the previous iteration of Firestorm iteration because of the color of his skin. Although there are both male and female superheroes in the Arrow andFlash universe – and now Supergirl, which also hails from Flash executive producer Greg Berlanti – there has been less racial diversity thus far. The shared universe does include a wider range of ethnicities including Diggle (David Ramsey) on Arrow and Jimmy Olsen (Mehcad Brooks) on Supergirl. The Flash's ensemble includes Iris (Candice Patton) and Joe West (Jesse L. Martin) as well as Cisco Ramon (Carlos Valdes).

"It’s just a different face. It’s a freshness and it’s an excitement," Kreisberg says. "We’re all, as always, so proud to have another African-American superhero with superpowers. For a whole generation of kids who are growing up, who this show is their entree into the superhero world, for them, Firestorm will always be African-American. We’re so proud of that."

The significance of playing this new version of Firestorm is not lost on Drameh. "It's really humbling," the actor says. "There is a very diverse range of superheroes, especially with the Firestorm character. In the comics there is a black Firestorm. But we still don't see that many black superheroes. So what The CW is doing and what DC Comics is doing with this whole universe with diversity is absolutely amazing."

There has been controversy with other comic book projects casting an actor from a different race in roles recently, such as when Michael B. Jordan was cast in the Fantastic Four reboot as Johnny Storm, a character originally written with blond hair and blue eyes. However, Drameh isn't worried about how fans will react to seeing an African-American Firestorm.

"The way that I look at it, people who complain about that kind of stuff, it's a different universe, you know?" Drameh says. "Changes can be made. New decisions can be made. If people say, 'It's not like that in the comics!' Well, comic books reinvent their characters a lot. They do different things with them all the time. They're always changing, always keeping things fresh. So that shouldn't be an issue, if the race changes for a character. It's actually one of those things that I find cool."

Seeing as it was already announced Drameh has joined the cast of the forthcoming spinoff Legends of Tomorrow, it's safe to say that this new Firestorm will have staying power.

Off-screen and on-screen, Jax will add a healthy dose of reality to the whole superhero situation. "The previous Firestorm duo, both halves came from a scientific background, whereas Jax is literally just a regular guy," Drameh says. "He's not super smart, he's not familiar with the science world. He's an ex-high school athlete now working as a mechanic. He's just your average guy who gets thrown into a crazy situation. It's going to be refreshing to see how a character like that reacts, because he does react how I would react in that situation. It's crazy!"

The Flash airs Tuesdays at 8 p.m. on The CW.

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