Four Color Television - Legends of Tomorrow: Comics vs. Show Comparisons

We kicked off a four part series last week with the question: “how much like the DC Comic Green Arrow is the CW’s Arrow?”  This week we set our sights on Legends of Tomorrow and compare it with DC Comics continuity.  Unlike Arrow, The Flash, or Supergirl, Legends of Tomorrow was created whole cloth for the CW; so there is no comic counterpart for direct comparison.  A “Legends of Tomorrow” mini series was published in late 2016, but aside from including the character of Firestrorm the comic bears little resemblance to the tv series that inspired its name.  The closest to a direct inspiration is a team known as The Forgotten Heroes that first debuted in 1983 as a team of DC heroes who had all discovered golden pyramids and then been censured by the US government when they tried to report the incidents.  The team, including Rip Hunter, was brought together by The Immortal Man to investigate the strange pyramids and ultimately to stop Vandal Savage from destroying the world.  Close enough for government work.


Many people assume that the first character to travel through time in the modern DC Universe was Barry Allen, and they would be correct except for a 1959 story in the pages of Showcase #20 that introduced audiences to time travelling hero Ripley Hunter who bopped around history in a time sphere with his best friend, his girlfriend and her kid brother Corky.  This version of Rip was a relatively normal scientist who built a time travelling device and got swept away on some adventures before joining The Forgotten Heroes in their fight to save the universe from Vandal Savage. Then things get a little strange: DC comics once had a vast multiverse where every story took place on another Earth, a much more streamlined version of this appears on the current CW shows – but the comic version was much more complex.  Earth One was the main continuity where our heroes lived,  Earth Two was where their Golden Age versions existed but were still young heroes, Earth Three was where all the heroes were villains and all the villains were heroes, and then as smaller comic companies collapsed and sold their characters to DC they added even more earths.  By 1986 it was incredibly confusing, so DC debuted Crisis on Infinite Earths: a storyline about an Antimatter being destroying all the alternate Earths in an amazing but somewhat convoluted story. The net result of that craziness was that all the alternate Earths were condensed down into one solitary continuity and all our familiar heroes were now starting over from scratch.  This was the dividing line of DC continuity, all the old stories were now “Pre Crisis” and all the new stories were “Post Crisis,” and as audiences were beginning to get used to the idea of new versions of their classic heroes there arrived a slight wrinkle in the form of Rip Hunter.

There were now TWO Rip Hunters.  The original Pre Crisis Rip had survived the destruction of the Multiverse, joined forces with the Linear Men and had become obsessed with discovering a way to rebuild the multiverse, while the younger Post Crisis Rip was a member of the Time Masters charged with protecting the integrity of the single Earth timeline.  Both men ultimately get their way, with Pre Crisis Rip ultimately causing the eruption of a thing called Hypertime (it’s weird and we won’t go into it) which allowed the return of the DC Multiverse and Young Rip teaming up with other time travelers like Matthew Ryder, Waverider (yes: the ship is named after a DC comics time traveling hero) and Booster Gold to defend the universe from the likes of those who wanted to start an “Infinite Crisis.”  

Then Barry Allen went traipsing around trying to bring his mother back from the dead and reset the whole damn timeline all over again.  The original Pre Crisis Rip had vanished and we’re all fairly certain he is gone for good, so does this mean that there is now only one Rip Hunter?  Not at all.  Now there is the Post Crisis Rip and the New 52 Rip.  Long story short:  Time Travel stories in the DC Universe can be a lot of fun, but they’re also VERY heavily laden down by continuity – not the least of which is the confusing history of Rip Hunter.

Comics Rip was born in our time and learned how to build a time machine, he was then recruited into an organization called The Time Masters who lived at a point after the end of time called The Vanishing Point from which they looked back on the timeline and protected it.  They were effectively the time version of the Green Lantern Corps.  It was this basic origin that the CW cribbed from when creating their version of Rip who is a brilliant time agent from the future who was recruited by The Time Masters who in the show version are perhaps a little less inspired by the comic Time Masters and a little more like Doctor Who’s Time Lords.  The fact that they cast a former Doctor Who companion in the role helps to underline the connection between the two properties.  Where comics Rip is driven by a desire to either A. restore the multiverse or B. protect the timeline, the Rip on Legends of Tomorrow is driven to stop Vandal Savage and save the life of his wife and young son Jonas.  



Leonard Snart is the first of the classic “Rogues” to appear in The Flash, and while Reverse Flash may be Flash’s most dangerous foe – Captain Cold is his most fascinating.  Leonard Snart was the son of an alcoholic brute who abused both him and his sister Lisa, both were taken away and raised by their grandfather.  Leonard became an emotionless thief who read an article that theorized how to defeat The Flash, wanting to make a name for himself Snart went and found a cyclotron and turned it into his cold gun.  From that moment forward he was the cold and calculating Captain Cold.  Introduced in an early episode of Season One of The Flash, Leonard Snart as played by Wentworth Miller follows this origin almost exactly – the only real change is that his father is now a criminal in his own right and Leonard and Lisa are spared his abuse when he spends time in Iron Heights for jewelry theft.  Miller’s Snart is a little less cold than the comics version, but much more calculating.  Snart has a contingency plan for everything and contingencies for those contingencies.  His gentleman’s agreement not to reveal The Flash’s identity is a masterstroke and cements the television version of the character as being superior to his comics counterpart.


Professor Ray Palmer is a serious scientist who discovered that he could use the properties of dwarf star material to create a focus lens that could allow him to alter the size of any object, so he built a device and a supersuit and beating Ant Man to the punch by one year he became the superhero The ATOM.  Dr. Palmer is a serious man who does serious science and is the most serious of heroes, like Marvel’s Reed Richards – Palmer is often single minded in his devotion to making a discovery or solving a case. This near obsessive bent is ultimately what caused DC’s Ray Palmer’s marriage to Jean Loring to fail drastically and has led to the character disappearing for years at a time – lost to unlocking some atom sized mystery.  Brandon Routh’s version of the character eschews almost all of that seriousness and instead makes Ray a charming and loveable goofball.  This Ray Palmer is also a physicist who discovers dwarf star material has some amazing properties, but instead of building it into a lens that he shoots himself with he builds a super suit not unlike the one worn by Iron Man.  The ability to shrink and grow is fundamentally the same, but the CW Ray Palmer does it with a smile on his face which makes him infinitely more likeable than his dour comics counterpart.


This one may be a bit of wild ride, and I’m warning you here at the outset that even I don’t have a handle on all of it so if you hold on tight I think we’ll get through this one together.  So, high school student Ronnie Raymond was in an accident that fused his consciousness with that of a theoretical physicist named Martin Stein.  When the two merged, they became a hybrid entity known as Firestorm: The Nuclear Man that could fly, produce bolts of fusion fire from their hands, and transmogrify any object by changing its molecular structure.  When they were flying around as Firestorm Ronnie was in the driver’s seat of the powers, while Professor Stein was just a voice in his head.  Eventually Professor Stein decided that the Nuclear hero should speak out against Nuclear Proliferation and forced Ronnie to lead a charge for the US and the USSR to disarm their nukes which lead to a face-off between Firestorm and Pozhar (effectively the Russian Firestorm) and when a bomb went off on them Pozhar and Firestorm were fused together and became The Firestorm Matrix made up of Ronnie Raymond, Professor Stein and a Russian man named Mikhail Arkadin. Then it turns out that Professor Stein was really evolving into a Fire Elemental, he released Arkadin and Ronnie and became the superior Fire Elemental and eventually used his transmutation powers to give Ronnie all the powers they had shared as Firestorm and allowed him to be a hero on his own.  Then Ronnie died and things got even weirder as the Firestorm Matrix went looking for a new host which it found in the form of another teenager, but Ronnie wasn’t dead, he was trapped inside the matrix until he dissipated completely.  The Elemental Firestorm returned to Earth because it sensed the new Firestorms existence and ultimately, they merged and created an entity like the original firestorm that was part Jason Rusch and part Professor Stein – this goes on and on like this for several more confusing iterations of the character.  The CW Firestorm was introduced in Season One of The Flash and was the fusing of Professor Martin Stein and Ronnie Raymond the scientist and employee of STAR Labs who helped Dr. Harrison Wells design the particle accelerator, and it was the explosion of that accelerator that fused Stein and Ronnie.  Cisco and The STAR Labs team built a device to make the linkage between Stein and Ronnie more stable, but it did not last long before Ronnie sacrificed himself to try to close the singularity at the end of Season One.  With Ronnie missing, Team Flash had to find someone else who could merge with Professor Stein through the Firestorm Matrix, and after looking at multiple candidates they settled on Jefferson Jackson aka Jax – a former football star turned auto mechanic.  Jefferson Jackson was actually a student at the same high school as Ronnie Raymond in the comics version, and the two were acquaintances but the original Mr. Jackson never became Firestorm.


The greatest similarity between the CW TV Reverse Flash and the comic book Reverse Flash is the fact that their histories are so densely packed with continuity that it can be incredibly confusing.  The original comics version of Eobard Thawne is from the 25th Century where he was the biggest fan of The Flash who discovered that he could build a device that would allow him to steal The Flash’s powers from an old costume in The Flash museum.  Thawne then raced back in time, twisted by his powers, to prove that he was faster than Barry Allen and then replacing him.  Eobard eventually came to the belief that he had to destroy Barry and did so by murdering Iris West just before she married Barry, and he would continue to haunt Barry until he found love again and was about to murder Barry’s new fiancé.  Barry made the unfortunate decision that the only recourse was to kill Thawne before Thawne could kill his fiancé.  Eobard remained dead for several years of publication until the days after Barry Allen sacrificed himself to save the universe and Wally West became The Flash.  Thinking Barry long dead, everyone was overjoyed when he suddenly returned from the dead – but it wasn’t really Barry.  Eobard Thawne was such a fan of the Flash in the future that he underwent cosmetic surgery to look like Barry before running to the past to meet his hero, but the process of time travel left him confused and he believed he really was Barry Allen and decided to punish Central City for forgetting him as well as Wally West for replacing him.  Wally managed to wipe Thawne’s memory and return him to the 25th century with his original face restored, it turns out that the Thawne Wally fought and returned to the 25th Century was in fact a younger version than the one that first met Barry and was still destined to do everything he had already done before and end up getting killed by Barry Allen in a timeline that no longer existed.  Confused? We aren’t done yet.  Eobard remained a sort of Speed Ghost living within The Speed Force until he could manipulate things to force Barry Allen to return to the present.  Time travel/super science hijinks and a second death and resurrection ensued but the short of it is that Barry was back and that allowed Eobard Thawne to also return to life, and he needed a way to truly take revenge on Barry Allen.  Thawne then went back in time and murdered Barry’s mother and framing his father for the crime which resulted in the Flashpoint timeline where the whole DC Universe was practically unmade by the changes to the timeline, and Thawne is once again murdered: this time by an alternate version of Batman.  The original Reverse Flash is replaced with alternate version in the new post Flashpoint timeline, and was imprisoned in Iron Heights by The Flash until two characters from the pre-Flashpoint timeline reappeared.  Wally West popped out of the Speed Force to find no one remembered him, and the original Superman arrived on this world with his wife and child to find that there was already another Superman here.  Some comic book shenanigans happened that allowed the two Supermen to merge into one entity, and as the timeline rewrote itself to fix the history of the now merged Men of Steel a crack formed in time that allowed the original Eobard Thawne to return to life and replace the version imprisoned in Iron Heights.

The CW version picks up with The Man in the Yellow Suit having already killed Barry’s mother, and losing his own speed in the process.  To protect his own existence Thawne needed to make sure that Barry still became The Flash, so he murdered and replaced Professor Harrison Wells and built the Particle Accelerator that would give Barry his powers.  Thawne then posed as Barry’s mentor and manipulated Barry to get his speed back so that he could return to the 25th Century.  Detective Eddie Thawne realized he was an ancestor of Eobard’s and killed himself, erasing Eobard from the timeline. But Eobard wasn’t gone, while running through the time to get back to the past his younger self was protected from the changes to the timeline and found himself in Central City meeting Flash for the very first time.  This earlier incarnation of Thawne could travel on his way, lest a paradox be created that erased all of creation.  This Thawne still travelled back in time to murder Nora Allen, but now his life was a closed loop, he would arrive in Season Two – do battle with The Flash – go back and kill Flash’s mom – become Harrison Wells – and die.  UNTIL Barry decided to run back in time and save his mother, creating his own version of The Flashpoint timeline and putting the version of Thawne who had just murdered his mother in a speed prison for several months.  As the damage to the timeline was compounded Barry realized that the only way to fix things would be to release Thawne and allow him to travel back and finish the job of killing Nora Allen.  Thawne did, but having been pulled out of the old timeline Thawne was now aware that his own timeline was a loop and he was just a time remnant that would eventually be destroyed by The Speed Force, so he sought out other villains to help him acquire The Spear of Destiny so that he could rewrite reality so that he was never erased from existence.  The Legion of Doom ultimately failed to rewrite destiny and the time remnant was finally destroyed by The Black Flash.

The details are different, but they are both incredibly ruthless, and if the comics version teaches us anything – the television version is certainly not gone for good.

Thanks for sticking through that long analysis of the Legends of Tomorrow characters, and I hope your brains didn’t explode – because these characters have some truly strange origins.

Next Week: I will finally tell you who really is “the fastest man alive."  Spoiler alert: It’s NOT Barry Allen.  The Flash vs. The Flash.

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