Thursday, February 07, 2008

The Legionnaires: Wildfire

Wildfire, aka Drake Burroughs, aka ERG-1, NRG, Jahr-Drake Ningle (Blast-Off) and Randall Burroughs (Atom'X). Created by Cary Bates and Dave Cockrum.

Wildfire is a lot of people’s favourite Legionnaire. But to me, Wildfire is a big, red-hot, Bad Idea Magnet for Legion writers. Wildfire has been messed up so many times and by so many writers that it isn't even funny.

The original idea was fine: young Drake Burroughs screws up while showing off with some expensive industrial equipment and gets his entire body converted from matter into anti-energy. A helpful scientist provides a containment suit so that this energy doesn't dissipate forever, and Drake is now doomed to be a sentient cloud of energy encased in an orange suit for the rest of his life. Fortunately, his condition comes with super-powers, which he uses to (eventually; I'm skipping over some stuff) join the Legion as Wildfire.

Originally Wildfire had a number of different powers: flight, intangibility, chemical manipulation, size-changing... and a super-powerful energy blast that fired all of his anti-energy out through his faceplate. Pretty soon, though, that got whittled down to just flight and energy-blasting (the big mondo kind from the faceplate, and a smaller, less apocalyptic kind from his hands). The big energy blast carried some recovery time with it; after he uses it he has to take some time to get all his energy back into the containment suit. He got much faster at this over the years. And, of course, if the suit got ruptured, he was helpless until he could get into a replacement.

Wildfire's personality started off as... well, nondescript, really. He was certainly brave and noble, but there wasn't a lot more that could be said about him. Later, though, he became more abrasive and hotheaded. Some people didn't like the change, but it gave him more of a personality than most Legionnaires had at the time. Which actually worked to his disadvantage later on: he was so distinctive a voice that his reboot version just seemed like a pale copy. He also was in love with Dawnstar. She returned his feelings to a certain extent but felt that the relationship was hampered by cultural differences on one side and his disembodied physical condition on the other. This state of affairs only really came to an end at Zero Hour, when everything came to an end.

And now the litany of Bad Ideas.

First there's the makeover Wildfire got in the late Levitz era. Wildfire spent some time hanging around with Quislet, and Quislet showed him how to 'knit' his anti-energy into physical form, so that he wouldn't need his containment suit anymore. That's actually a good idea. It works with the unique properties of both Quislet and Wildfire, and is theoretically kind of cool. The Bad Idea part is that the physical form (eventually) looked like this:

Yuck, man. Stick with the faceplate. (While looking like this, he and Dawnstar experimented with physical contact. It ended badly. Eventually Wildfire lost the trick of how to maintain this form and had to go back to the containment suit.)

Second. During the Five Year Gap, the Legion had to deal with a menace called Black Dawn. Essentially this was Dr. Regulus messing with the sun. Wildfire essentially sacrificed his life to save the Earth, by merging his anti-energy with the sun's energy, so that he could control it. But once he did that, he was stuck as part of the sun. Late in the Five-Years-Later stories, though, he managed to disentangle his personal energies from the sun's, enough so that he could return to the Legion. His time in the sun had changed the nature of his energies just enough that he needed a new containment suit, and for some reason it needed to a) be ugly, and b) contain Sun Boy's rotting corpse. Eeeew! Creepy! Bad Idea! (Just as unforgiveable was the Legion-on-the-Run era codename he took on at about this time: NRG. Get it? En-er-gy? Say it with me: Bad Idea.)

Third. Wildfire was introduced into reboot Legion continuity as a combination of two minor characters, Blast-Off and Atom'X, both of whom had been killed and converted to energy. This was potentially intriguing but since it was only done to create a bland shadow of what had been a much more vivid character in the original Legion, and not for the sake of exploring its own possibilities, I have to count it as a Bad Idea. There was nothing objectionable about reboot Wildfire, but really he was just a guy. I'm sure the fans had been clamouring for there to be a Wildfire in the reboot Legion, and I'm equally sure that most of them weren't satisfied with what they got.

Fourth. Wildfire's first appearance in the threeboot came just a few issues ago, and he seems pretty similar to the original version... except that he was an assassin. Bad Idea! Although not irretrievably so; his brother was coercing him and it was only his first day on the job. Shooter may end up putting him back on the team yet.

And fifth. In the Lightning Saga JLA/JSA crossover, we met several members of a Legion who strongly resembled the original Legion, including Wildfire. During this story, we found out that Wildfire is inhabiting Red Tornado's robot body. From how Wildfire talks about this quite surprising fact, it's difficult to know just how intimately tied the two characters are by this, but it's a potentially very close attachment. (Wildfire says to Reddy at one point, "I am you, John.") Which doesn't make a lick of sense for either character. It is an Insanely Bad Idea. It's like saying that Shrinking Violet is secretly the Batmobile.

But Wildfire at his best is cool. Like in this sequence from LSH v2 #304, where Timber Wolf and Shadow Lass are fighting a tough combat robot:

Who can?

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