Diametrically Opposed: Firestorm / Killer Frost
Firestorm, the Nuclear Man debuted in the 1970’s just before the DC Implosion, a company-wide downsizing that cancelled the character’s first solo title a mere five issues in. But even in that title’s short lifespan, readers would be introduced to Killer Frost, the eponymous hero’s greatest archenemy. Through subsequent appearances in backup features, solo titles, and major crossover events the two would forge a one of the best hero-villain rivalries of the modern age.
Firestorm – alternatively known as the Nuclear Man – is a composite being, comprised of two (and sometimes three) individuals who merge together in what is known as the Firestorm Matrix in order to form the hero. The Firestorm Matrix was first discovered following an explosion at a nuclear plant, which fused high school athlete Ronnie Raymond and nuclear theorist Professor Martin Stein into the first Firestorm – a being of living nuclear energy, symbolized by the flames atop his head. When together as Firestorm, Ronnie constitutes the primary partner; it is both his body and his voice that are used by Firestorm, while Martin Stein exists solely within the Firestorm Matrix; a voice in Ronnie’s head that can guide and converse with him. When separated, the two retain a physical and mental connection – Ronnie and Stein could even fuse together over great distances, as opposed to the physical contact which is now necessary to create Firestorm. Though Ronnie has always been Firestorm’s physical component, other individuals have taken Professor Stein’s place in the partnership, including Mikhail Arkadin and eventually Jason Rusch: Ronnie’s current Firestorm partner. In the New 52, Ronnie and Jason were briefly able to form individual Firestorms, but they would eventually return to their pre-Flashpoint relationship.
Channeling the nuclear power of the Matrix, Firestorm has powerful and wide-ranging abilities that vary based on the hero’s composite parts. Ronnie Raymond alone can channel certain basic powers including flight, strength, endurance, and invulnerability. He can also manipulate nuclear energies, either by absorbing radiation or by projecting powerful energy blasts from his hands. But Firestorm’s more subtle – and arguably more devastating – power set requires a keenly scientific mind. Martin Stein and Jason Rusch, therefore, contribute to Firestorm by unlocking the power of transmutation. Firestorm is able to alter the atomic structure of inorganics – that is to say he can turn any atom or molecule into a different atom or molecule provided that it is not alive. Despite his vast powers and abilities, Firestorm can be wounded or killed, and due to the nuclear nature of his powers this can be catastrophic. This was evidenced during the Identity Crisis when Shadow-Thief killed him using Shining Knight’s enchanted sword, forcing a dying Ronnie to flee into the atmosphere before he detonated.
Firestorm’s incredible power has earned him a place in various incarnations of the Justice League. He was also, for a time, a fire elemental and a member of the Parliament of Flames.
There have been three women to hold the mantle of Killer Frost, all of whom share the same power set and largely the same origin. Crystal Frost, the original, was a scientist and research associate of Martin Stein, whose unrequited love drove her to seal herself within a thermafrost chamber. As a result, she was complete frozen and emerged with control of powers related to ice and the cold. She became a foe of Firestorm through her villainous hate for Stein, and became Firestorm’s most significant enemy. After Crystal’s death, her friend Louis Lincoln recreated the thermafrost experiment and gave herself the powers of Killer Frost, resuming her predecessor’s rivalry with the Nuclear Man and seeking revenge for Crystal’s death. Post-Flashpoint, both versions have been replaced with Caitlin Snow, a S.T.A.R. Labs researcher who was exposed to the coolant of an experimental thermodynamic device, transforming her into the current Killer Frost.
Killer Frost can survive – and indeed thrive – in the harshest sub-zero temperatures. She wields a number of cryokinetic powers, including ice projection, cold generation, and the ability to generate winter storm conditions such as wind and snow. These powers are related to one of Killer Frost’s primary abilities: energy absorption. She can take in heat and energy from a variety of sources and use it to augment her cryokinetic powers. At one point, Louise Lincoln sold her soul to Neron for greater power and was able to freeze several of the Hawaiian islands.
Killer Frost is one of the foremost supervillains of the DC Universe and has been a member of the Injustice League and several incarnations of the Secret Society of Super Villains.
Firestorm’s gallery of rogues is less robust or well-known than those of some of his Justice League counterparts, but his intense rivalry with Killer Frost is just as iconic as those so-called greater pairings of archenemies.
Both Firestorm and Killer Frost were born out of scientific failures, but the differences in their results is an important distinction. For Ronnie Raymond and Martin Stein, the nuclear plant explosion fused them together into an entirely new being. Science also altered Killer Frost, but in the case of Firestorm, the failed experiment did not simply transform or change Ronnie and Martin, it completely destroyed them and replaced them with something new. This distinction of origin manifests in an aspect of their respective powers. Firestorm’s power of transmutation mirrors his own creation – he deconstructs molecules and even atoms and reassembles the protons and electrons to form entirely different atoms and molecules. What was there before no longer exists and is replaced with something that entirely new. By contrast, the women who became Killer Frost, though changed in terms of their powers, remained the same individuals. And in terms of their powers, ice and cold are agents of preservation, representing the exact opposite effect to Firestorm’s transmutation powers.
On yet another level, one could draw the comparison between the nearly identical origins, motivations, and powers of all three Killer Frosts as compared to the many and varied combinations that have made up the different incarnations of Firestorm – from two partners to three to solo versions of the hero.
However, where powers are concerned there is an even greater opposition between these two characters. From transmutation to flight to energy projection, all of the powers derived from the Firestorm Matrix revolve around the generation of energy. Firestorm himself is created through nuclear fusion – the process that powers the Sun – so it stands to reason that everything associated with the hero and his powers would centre on releasing energy into the world. Killer Frost, on the other hand, represents the force of entropy – absorbing the heat and energy from her surroundings and replacing it with cold and ice. If the fusion and transmutation powers of Firestorm are about harnessing atomic movement, then Killer Frost is about nullifying that energy completely. In many ways, this mirrors the relationship between the powers of the Flash and Captain Cold.
But what sets Killer Frost apart from other cold villains is that, for her, energy absorption is not merely a power but a necessity. In order for her to survive, she must continually drain the energy from others. She is literally an entropic force – the death of energy. In this way, it makes perfect sense that her true archenemy would embody the complete opposite. The energy within the Firestorm Matrix defies the traditional laws of physics in that nothing is being consumed to create that energy. It comes from nowhere, an unending font of incredible, raw power and energy that cannot be snuffed out; Killer Frost, by contrast consumes energy seemingly without end, never fully curing herself of her condition or even satiating her hunger for energy.
As with many of the best and most iconic rivalries, Firestorm and Killer Frost oppose each other in just the right ways. Like the brawn vs brains of Superman and Lex Luthor, or the order vs chaos of Batman and the Joker; what these two offer each other is a rivalry whose roots are dug into the very origins of the characters. Despite their opposition, they are inextricably linked and – one could make the argument – need each other, making them one of the greatest rivalries in the DC mythology.