Wildfire – My Favorite Legionnaires Pt. 1
If you’ve listened to our show for any length of time, you know by now that the Legion of Super Heroes is my favorite group in all of comicdom. For the next several weeks, I’m going to spotlight my favorite characters from the team, throughout various times in the team’s story line. We’ll start with Wildfire
Wildfire was created by Cary Bates and Dave Cockrum and first appeared in Superboy and the Legion of Super Heroes #195, June 1973.
Wildfire was originally Drake Burroughs, an astroengineer. While he was working on a new propulsion system, the unit’s safety valve snapped and discharged a blast of anti-matter energy. Burroughs was engulfed instantly but somehow his consciousness survived and Burroughs found himself transformed into a being of pure anti-energy.
Fortunately, his colleagues had on hand a containment suit that could be used to keep Drake’s anti-energy from dispersing. Once confined to a specific area, Drake’s energy form stabilized and became self-regenerating. He again possessed a semblance of humanoid form; however, he had no mouth, eyes, nose, or ears, but rather a blank metallic faceplate, and lacked the senses of taste and smell. Drake also had vast super-powers, comparable in scale, though not specific expression, to those of a Kryptonian or Daxamite. Some of his powers included super-strength, near-invulnerability, flight at faster-than-light speeds, various enhanced vision powers including x-ray, the ability to create simple, pseudo-solid energy constructs like a Green Lantern (though not nearly as elaborate), the ability to absorb outside energy sources, and the ability to change size from giant to miniature to normal. Most potent of his abilities was the power to fire energy blasts. He was reluctant to use that ability because of an accident in which he nearly killed his former girlfriend.
Calling himself ERG-1 (Energy Release Generator 1), Drake decided to petition for membership in the Legion, thinking his litany of powers would guarantee his admittance. To his surprise, he was turned down because all the abilities he demonstrated were duplicates of those of Mon-El, Colossal Boy, Chemical King, Phantom Girl, and Shrinking Violet; he had not demonstrated his energy blasting or manipulation abilities because he was afraid he could not control them safely (at this time, the Legion’s bylaws required that each member possess at least one superpower no other active member did). Anxious to prove his abilities, he followed several Legionnaires on a mission to a planet called Manna-5. On this mission, Colossal Boy was knocked unconscious by an enemy machine and none of the other Legionnaires present (Phantom Girl and Chemical King) had the power to save him. ERG-1 destroyed the machine, but expelled his entire energy form from his containment suit. Because his energy form was invisible, the Legionnaires assumed he had been killed in saving Colossal Boy and that ERG-1 had not demonstrated his energy powers earlier because they could only be used once
However, ERG-1 was alive. By now, his energy form was stable enough so that he could survive without his suit, though he could neither take humanoid form nor communicate with anyone. He followed the Legionnaires back to Earth where they put his containment suit on display. Upon reaching the Legionnaries’ headquarters he managed to regain the suit and, in the usual heroic fashion, save the Legion from another menace. He was then admitted to the team and adopted the name Wildfire.
Over time, Wildfire lost many of his powers. This was partly because of the trauma of the explosive exit from his containment suit. In addition, his original containment suit was eventually destroyed and subsequent copies were not as versatile. His later suits were also not nearly as durable and it was easier to cause him to be expelled from it. Even so, he always retained his flight, energy absorption, energy projection, and super strength, and was commonly considered among the four most powerful Legionnaires along with Superboy, Mon-El and Ultra Boy.
Initially, Wildfire and Superboy were rivals and actually fought over the position of team leader. Wildfire acquitted himself well in that battle, establishing that his raw power was comparable to a Kryptonian’s. As leader, Wildfire got mixed reviews. Though he was decisive and a gifted tactician, his poor people skills swiftly alienated many of his fellow members (though not, ironically, Superboy; at the conclusion of a particularly rough crisis, he told his one-time rival that he had become “one hell of a leader”. He led the Legion through the Earthwar and Omega crises but was defeated for re-election by Lightning Lad.
Shortly after becoming leader, Wildfire recruited a young Amerindian mutant, Dawnstar. He soon became enamored of her, but for years theirs was a love-hate relationship. It was clear to their teammates that they were extremely fond of each other, if not actively in love, but Dawnstar would not admit to her feelings. Wildfire, in return, was often passive-aggresive in his treatment of her. It was eventually revealed that Dawnstar did reciprocate his feelings. However, she feared that she would never know physical love since Wildfire did not possess a physical body.
Following Zero Hour, Wildfire was absent from Legion comics for some years, and when he returned, it was with a drastically different origin.
In a fight with Mordru, Atom’X (Randall Burroughs) and Blast-Off (Jahr-Drake Ningle), members of rival teams, were seemingly killed by the villain. However, some time later, several Legionnaires noticed energy patterns in the area, and Umbra was able to contain the energy long enough for them to realize that it was sentient. However, when they retrieved it to a laboratory they found it contained the inseparable minds of both Atom’X and Blast-Off. Although Umbra in particular was disgusted by the forced integration, they successfully contained the energy long enough to create a containment suit for it, and the new being took the name Drake Burroughs after his forebears and the codename ERG-1.
A version of Drake resembling his original incarnation appears in the The Lightning Saga” crossover in Justice Society of America and Justice League of America , unwillingly masquerading as a statue in Superman’s Fortress. He reveals that his containment suit is actually the Red Tornado’s robotic shell and indicates that he has at least some of the Red Tornado’s memories.
In DC’s New 52 reboot, Wildfire, along with Dawnstar, Chameleon Girll, Tellus, Tyroc, Gates, and Timber Wolf are all stranded in the 21st Century after apprehending a time-travelling terrorist. This new series, titled Legion Lost ran for 16 issues and dealt with the characters’ feelings of being trapped in a (to them) primitive society and having to fit in while not changing their future. In this version Wildfire wore a more armor-like suit of red & black instead of the original orange and red.
Wildfire also had an action figure in the Legion set from Mattel.
Wildfire became one of my favorites during The Great Darkness Saga. I always liked his visuals and Paul Levitz’s writing on the character showed him to have a sarcastic personality, but having a deep pain due to a lack of physical body, especially where Dawnstar was concerned.
Well, I hope you’ve enjoyed this post about Wildfire. Check out the Legion comics to learn more. Next week, Sensor Girl