Martin Stein and Jefferson Jackson: Firestorm -why you should be watching Legends of Tomorrow
The Growing DC Universe on the CW
With all the well-deserved hype gotten from the Marvel franchise, some comic fans have yet to latch onto DC’s remarkable television series’. Arrow, Flash, Legends of Tomorrow, and Supergirl are all part of an incredible new version of the DC universe –each their own unique show within the same world. (Gotham is also a new show by DC, but it exists in a separate universe as the previously mentioned shows). Each of these shows has an entirely different feel, yet DC manages to do some incredible crossovers between these unique stories. As a fan, I got a late jump myself. I started watching Flash first despite Arrow having been airing for a while. Suddenly Flash announced they were doing a crossover episode with Arrow, and just like that I was hooked on both shows. Soon I was enjoying regular jumps between the two shows, and suddenly all of my favorite supporting characters from Flash and Arrow got a show together on DC’s latest brainchild Legend’s of Tomorrow.
While I could probably list a thousand reasons as to why I love Legends (the actors, the romance, the historical context, the occasionally confusing time travel plot) there is one character that, after a recent episode entitled Abominations, has become a personal favorite, and that character is Firestorm –or should I say characters?
Firestorm began his (their?) journey in Flash when renowned scientist Martin Stein was a victim to the Particle Accelerator explosion (the same explosion that gave Flash his powers). Stein was essentially “merged” with a younger scientist, Robbie, and the two of them became the superhero known as Firestorm. But this isn’t the Firestorm I’m talking about. Later in Flash, after the untimely death of Robbie, Martin Stein must find a new half of Firestorm to stay alive. And this is where the riveting journey begin.
Of course, egotistical Stein assumes his best match (of the two who were affected similarly) is a fellow scientist. Except, when Stein tries to merge, whoops –nada! Stein winds up being “stuck” working with Jefferson Jackson, a young black high school graduate whose injury from the explosion cost him his football scholarship (resulting in him working in a relatives auto shop). Jax, as he is often called by his comrades, is a typical “black kid from the city” who was on his way to becoming just another statistic. How beautiful is it that these men from two entirely different worlds are compatible enough to become the hero, Firestorm? I’m pretty sure there is a lesson in there somewhere. That's because it wasn't Stein's intellectual ability or Jackson's athleticism that made them a match -it was their hearts. They build off of one another's strengths and weaknesses to create one amazing fighting force. Go ahead and take a look at this video to see exactly how Jax and Stein’s abilities operate as they become Firestorm together for the first time:
Jax becomes part of Firestorm
Moving to a new show...
Firestorm jumped onto Legends –a show about time travelers that is now in its second season. While the show is fairly light hearted compared to Arrow, it is full of heart wrenching moments. Jackson especially has had to learn some hard lessons surrounding time travel –including having to allow his own father to march towards his death to keep the timeline in tact (ouch). For Martin Stein and some of the other time travelers, their journey to different eras is filled with nostalgia, excitement, and a love for history. African American character Jackson, however, is having an entirely different experience from his predominately white comrades.
In episode 8 of season one, Night of the Hawk, 1950’s Small Town America was an era that thrilled Stein, and he happily spoke of “the simpler life” and questioned why his female, lesbian, and black companions did not desire for the world to still be in this era of nostalgia. This was Jackson’s first lesson in which he likely realized that time travel is not exactly an equal opportunity career choice after being threatened for having the audacity to speak to a white girl in a friendly manner.
Time Travel: Not an Equal Opportunity Career Choice
Later in season two, the gang winds up in the midst of Nazi Germany. Stein plays the role of one of Hitler’s favorite musicians while the rest act as his entourage in order to infiltrate a Nazi hangout. This moment is fun and light hearted, though it’s obviously coupled with sly racism and anti-Semitism. Jackson is expected to bite his tongue when a Nazi soldier, after requesting Stein sing them a song, explicitly nods at Jackson and states, “No Negro music.” Another hard hit for Jackson that is seemingly overlooked by the rest of the cast. However, when our Jewish scientist Ray Palmer doesn’t “Heil Hitler” with the rest of the room and instead punches a German solider, things get out of control. It seems that Jackson is much more expected to “suck it up” when history offends him than others; this is including the team’s new leader Sarah –a bisexual assassin who almost always refuses to play the part of the historically accurate version of woman.
Now let’s talk about the episode Abominations I mentioned earlier. This is perhaps what has turned Firestorm into one of my personal favorite superheroes. After learning that a time pirate has gotten stranded in Mississippi in the midst of the Civil War, the team rushes in to keep history intact, but by the time they arrive the time pirate is long dead and has infected a group of confederate soldiers with a futuristic disease that is essentially a zombie-like virus. As they are rushing in, these Confederate zombies kill historical figure Henry Scott. For those who don’t know, Henry Scott was a former slave who assisted the Union army in undercover missions. And unfortunately, Scott has died before completing an important Intel gathering mission that, if the timeline is not fixed, will result in the Union losing the American Civil War.
This results in Jackson volunteering to go undercover to finish Scott’s mission –as a slave. Stein instantly attempts to talk his other half of Firestorm out of this, saying there is no need to subject himself to such racism. Jackson, however, responds bravely that he has, “been black his whole life," and that he could not think of an era they could go to where he would not experience at least some form of racism.
Accompanying Jackson is Amaya, the latest member of the team and a superhero from the Cold War era and fellow African American. After witnessing a black slave woman being whipped and beaten, Amaya’s instinct is of course to save her, but Jackson stops her because he’s learned by now not to mess with the timeline. This is a painful moment to watch for viewers as Jackson and Amaya are forced to confront the brutal history of their ancestors face to face.
As you probably guessed, things rarely go as planned on this show. Jackson bumps into a white woman and apologizes, speaking to her directly and touching her hands. This results in Jackson being chained up and knocked around in the slave quarters with the slave masters promise to return later to “teach him a lesson.”
But this is where something beautiful happens. Far off is Stein, a white man of the 21st century who has most certainly wreaked the benefits of white privilege. Because Stein and Jackson share a psychological connection as Firestorm, he senses Jackson’s turmoil. Stein is trapped on the time ship, the Waverider, when he cringes in agony –truly feeling the mental pain being experience by Jackson. He feels his fear, his anger, his hate, and his complete loss of control. Martin Stein, a white man of extreme privilege, understands. He feels it –he feels what it’s like to be confronted with true oppression over race because he feels exactly what Jackson is feeling –and it brings the man down. What’s more is that Stein is trapped, so he cannot go to his other half’s aid. Jackson is on his own.
But not completely on his own. He’s not alone in the slave house. He is with the house slaves –all chained up, including the woman he had witnessed being whipped earlier. Jackson shares a deep, meaningful moment as the slave men and women start to sing, moving Jackson to tears. As a viewer I could not help but to wonder –did Stein feel this too? The likely answer is yes. Thus far in the show, all of each others emotions have been felt by the other, so even though Stein is in the midst of a crisis of his own, he is likely feeling exactly what Jackson is feeling at that moment.
Take a look at this clip from the show in which Jackson meets the men and women forced to work at the plantation house:
So here are two men from two very different worlds who can feel and be affected by one another’s thoughts and emotions. While Stein admits to Jackson that he can never truly understand what this adventure put him through as a black man, he sympathizes on a deeper level due to their connection as Firestorm.
To say that Firestorm is the only story line in Legends that will get you a little choked up would be misleading. This show is full of social commentary despite its regular use of comedy sprinkled with drama. I certainly am looking forward to future episodes if only to see where the friendship of Martin Stein and Jefferson Jackson winds up. But to hold us all over until then, here is a look at the final moments from Abominations, a reflective moment between Jackson and Stein after all of the maddening events of the episode:
All video and imagery belongs to the CW