Or – “With Great Power Comes Great Angsty Melodrama…  And Excess Radiation.”

The Legion of Super-Heroes has been through many incarnations, but one of my personal favorites came in the early 1970’s when the team underwent it’s first major membership changes since the days of Adventure Comics.  With members like Bouncing Boy, Duo Damsel and Matter-Eater Lad taking a backseat, the creative team behind Legion replaced them with the likes of Dawnstar, The White Witch, Blok and today’s profilee.  (Is profilee a word?)  He was born Drake Burroughs, and he’s been known as ERG-1 and NRG, but he’s probably best known as the LSH’s atomic powerhouse, the being called Wildfire.  Long before anyone had ever heard of Wolverine, Wildfire was possibly comics’ first loose cannon, prone to shooting off at the mouth, questioning all his leader’s orders and rocking the cool loner mystique.  Plus, he didn’t have stupid pointy hair.  This is your Major Spoilers Hero History of Drake Burroughs of Earth…  Wildfire!


The story of Wildfire starts in the middle of the Dave Cockrum run on Legion.  The costume updates were coming fast and furious, and the teens of the Legion hadn’t looked so good…  well, possibly ever.  As comics themselves became more relevant, the LSH was changing as well, leaving behind the simpler plots for an increased focus on intrigue, team romances and conflict, and even a little bit of hard drama.  Well, at least as hard as drama got back in the day.  Superboy #197 started with a Legion tryout, the process by which new members showed that they had the ‘right stuff…’


My friend Sarah looked over my shoulder during the preparation of this article, and remarked, “The first picture of him is a picture of his butt?”� Yes, folks, the Legionnaire most known for occasionally acting like an @$$ started out in a totally�apropos manner.� ERG-1 relates his origin (trapped in an explosion of a special experimental anti-matter rocket engine, transformed into living antimatter), then shows off his powerset.� His energies, combined with the circuitry in his uniform, allows him flight, super-strength, energy projection, as well as the ability to transform elements, grow to colossal size, and turn intangible.� Unfortunately, to join the Legion, each member must have one power that does not duplicate any other members abilities.� ERG reluctantly admits that he DOES have one other power…� but he can’t show them what it is.� They have to reject him (which is stupid, given that they admitted both Superboy and Supergirl, whose powers are identical unless you count the fact that Kara can give birth…� though my wife says that IS a superpower unto itself.)�and three Legionnaires immediately respond to a crisis on planet Manna-5.� Colossal Boy is knocked down by a terraforming machine, and is about to be himself consumed and rendered into component atoms…


Luckily, ERG followed them on this mission, to prove his worth to the team, and blows up the machine with his anti-energy blast.� Chemical King and Phantom Girl are thrilled and amazed that Drake has saved their pal (no matter how gawdawful�Colossal Boy’s�new uniform may be) and it looks like Mr. Burroughs is a shoo-in for Legionnaire status now.� Unfortunately, much like that Daffy Duck cartoon, it’s a real show-stopper, but he can only do the act once.


And he was never seen again.� The end.

It sure is good to have a short history, eh?� Tune in next time for Arm-Fall Off Boy!� Yeah, I know, I’m an idiot.� That last panel actually DOES mean the end of the career of ERG-1, though, at least in his pre-Crisis incarnation.� However, some months later, the Legion is holding another series of tryouts, this time including long-time Legion supporting cast members and future Substitute heroes Porcupine Pete and Infectious Lass (who was herself recently seen in the Dr. 13 story in Tales of The Unexpected.)� Also along for the ride is a snappily dressed fella name of Molecular Master, and all three possible recruits get the Legion equivalent of a hazing, as they’re told the cautionary tale of ERG-1 to show them how serious Legion life can be.


Colossal Boy’s powder-blue and excrement brown uniform was so awful, they actually edited out of continuity with this flashback.� Nice…� In any case, the invisible energy blob there couldn’t have anything to do with an ironic twist ending, could it?� Naaaaah.� The blob floats to the room where the Legion’s keeps their memorials, and tries to enter the containment�suit held Jason-Todd-uniform style in a glass case, but it can’t get through the forcefield.� With no way to get solid again,�the blob�tries to use its�energy to enter and control Cosmic Boy’s mind…


Suddenly, it occurs to him, since MM isn’t wearing a protective flight ring,�the�puddle�soon-to-be-known-as-Wildfire tries�to control HIS mind, but finds something more shocking than a mere flight ring aura…� Molecular Master is an android, programmed to steal the Miracle Machine, the device that can do anything the wielder can imagine.� ERG can only stand by and watch, horrified as the android releases a poison that drops even Superboy!


Super-Atom?� Coals to Newcastle, beeyotch!� Drake absorbs the power of the atom, and blasts Molecular Master in the labonza with roughly a kiloton of anti-energy.� The villain is stopped, and the Legionnaires awaken.� Even though he was an invisible energy force, his will was strong enough to affect the Miracle Machine, transforming the poison gas into a harmless sedative, and lowering the forcefield around his suit.� The amazed Legionnaires can’t believe their eyes, and ask that musical question, “Aren’t you supposed to be dead?”� He is finally given his props, and sworn in as a full-fledged member, but ERG thinks he needs a new nom de guerre.


I read an interview with Dave Cockrum where he revealed that his initial backwards lettering wasn’t quite right, but he didn’t notice until his roommate asked “What the hell is a Wildfirf?”� I love that story.� Note also Timber Wolf’s use of the haircut that would later be used for Wolverine.� And people wonder why I don’t like that car-wreck of a character, stealing Legionnaire gimmicks!� The haircut’s not the worst of it, though, as most of his “lone abrasive tough guy” schtick bears a striking resemblance to Wildfire himself.


Sure, it’s an obnoxious and pretty much indefensible move, but I think we’ve all had the urge to shoot Tom Welling in the face with a frapgun bolt…� Am I alone here?� I am?� Okay, nevermind, then.� Wildfire made history by being the first Legionnaire to not have a fully corporeal body (unless you count the occasionally intangible Phantom Girl) but even more impressive, he’s the first and only Legion leader to not have been one of the original Adventure Comics characters, as even late-term leaders Polar Boy and Timber Wolf originated in the 60’s.� But�Wildfire’s election�to the post of�leader was not without it’s controversy…


Wow…� I think Mon-El is on the short-list for his own Hero History, based on that smackinnaface alone.� Turns out that Mr. Welling is correct as�there were more votes for him, (Legion elections were actually done as fan polls, letting the readers vote) but his part-time status means that he’s not eligible for the full-time leader position, instead acting as Wildfire’s deputy leader.� Superboy and Wildfire spend most of the issue at one another’s throats, and eventually come to blows when Superboy is found putting on a spare containment suit.� Wildfire believes that he’s trying to falsify pretenses to get him thrown out, but Superboy seems to have other intentions in mind.� The battle ends, and we don’t see which of them flies off into space to confront�a huge oncoming dreadnaught spaceship, until Wildfire is blown to pieces…


Oh, that wacky Legion and their future-predicting computers…� I can’t count the number of times that some computer decided something horrible was going to happen and the team had to practically dance the Watusi to keep it from happening.� And is Shadow Lass just about as naked as a superhero can legally get, or what?� Soon after, one of Wildfire’s first acts is to induct Dawnstar, a young tracker of American Indian decent, and they begin a tortured romance.� Though she has feelings for him, neither of them can quite get over his lack of body.� A few years later, we get to see another side of Wildfire when a new Legion recruit, the second Invisible Kid, develops strange teleportation powers.� When a mission goes wrong, he pops himself and ‘Fire into an alternate dimension where he encounters… the original Invisible Kid!� Stranger than that, this dimension has weird effects on Wildfire’s anti-energy…


The strange properties of this dimension have given him back his human form, but it won’t last.� The “ghost of Invisible Kid” is revealed to be some sort of extradimensional demon, and Wildfire’s emotions are being manipulated to make him nearly useless…


Wildfire’s anti-energy is the only way to fight the demon, and Invisible Kid intentionally angered him to get Drake to want his powers back.� When they return home, Wildfire seems to have accepted the loss of his physical body, even if his natural stubborness keeps him from accepting that there’s no hope…


The�Legion continues on, members coming and going, until (in the wake of the war with the Legion of Super-Villains) five Legionnaires are lost, presumed unable to ever return home.� The team is forced to take on more new recruits at once than ever before, including Polar Boy, Tellus, Sensor Girl, Magnetic Kid, and a strange little alien creature called Quislet.� Coming as he does from a place where the laws of physics are different, Quislet doesn’t understand (and is quite amused by) Drake’s insistance that his energy form and his old matter form are any different from one another.� When the strange little thing in the tiny spaceship actually manages to manipulate his energies, Wildfire wonders if maybe there’s finally a way around his disembodied state…


I love Quislet.� He’s one of those truly alien characters, without whom the Legion would just be a bunch of white kids playing dress up with shiny buildings and funny alphabets.� Quislet explains, the same way you would to a recalcitrant child, how to do the one thing Drake had tried for years to do:� make himself a real boy, without any of the Blue Fairy rigamarole.


Wildfire is exultant in his new self, having finally realized the perfect synthesis of humanity and super-heroism, a�real body, with all his anti-energy superpowers intact.� Returning home, he seeks out his long-time girlfriend, but finds that Dawnstar doesn’t believe in “close enough for government work.”


Poor Wildfire.� In her defense, Dawnstar isn’t really the complete�#!*$) she seems to be, but is instead a very spiritual woman who comes from a pretty fundamentalist background.� Add to that a growing distance between herself and the acerbic Wildfire, and this brush-off seems more like desperate self-protection, with overtones of “You’re too good for me.”� Their breakup is pretty heart-breaking, and the Legion’s volume 3 adventures end soon after.� Volume 4 starts with a few remaining Legionnaires regrouping after the events known as the “Five Year Gap.”� It is slowly revealed that Wildfire is one of the dead, after a�crisis known as Black Dawn nearly extinguished Earth’s sun.


Who knew that Blok could cry?� Months pass, and a new Legion forms, and Dominator-infiltrated Earthgov is brought down, but you can’t keep a good energy man down.� As he has so many times before, Wildfire pulls himself together with only his own force of will.� But this time, things are different, and Drake needs a physical anchor.� Reforming on the Legion’s asteroid cemetary Shanghalla, he finds what he needs, but is horrified to realize what his anchor actually IS.


In yet another of the Legion’s darkest hours, the artificial intelligence called BION, has them nearly beaten, but our man Drake has another super-power worth nothing:� perfect damn timing, and his anti-energy salvso turn the tide for the home team.� Dawnstar’s post-Five-Year-Gap path was equally rough, having been possessed by an entity called Bounty and having her wings amputated, but when the Legion has to go underground and take on new identities (with Drake wearing his most awesome armor yet [It’s got flaaaames!] and going by the horribly name NRG) she rejoins them, and finds that her estrangement from her man isn’t as complete as it seemed.


Sadly, they were soon separated for good by the events of the Zero Hour Crisis, as the Legion’s history was slowly erased.� Somehow, as time went by and unraveled, the later Legionnaires disappeared from the universe, leaving only those team members who had been duplicated in the timestream (loooong story) alive…� yet Wildfire was still with them.� When Inferno, the duplicate Sun Boy, points out that Drake should be dead, and his older self is missing, Wildfire is forced to reveal the horrible lengths to which he had to go to stay alive.


Inferno forgave him, and the entire Legion disappeared into the timestream forever.� Assuming forever lasts about a month, as the team was rebooted (for the first, but not the LAST�time) immediately after.� Several years passed without any sign of Wildfire (or indeed of most of the Legionnaires after the Adventure Comics era) but finally, during a climactic battle with Mordru, two energy-based heroes (Atom’X and Blast-Off) were seemingly killed.� After the battle, Saturn Girl found herself recieving strange mental impressions from disembodied voices…


The two men’s energy selves had been intermingling for months, and though the Legion was able to retrive them from their disembodied state, there was no way to separate them.� Jahr-Drake and Burroughs were given a familiar looking containment suit, and a new lease on life…


Maaan,�is that suit ever�ugly.� In fact, that suit puts the “ugh” in ugly.� Once again, Drake showed up a bit late to the party, as the Legion was mere months from another change in focus.� Though not technically a reboot, the book was about to take a much darker angle, and in the very last issue of the run, Drake Burroughs goes into action again for the first time.


Now, they say those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it, and nowhere is that more true than when comic book fans are involved.� ERG-1’s first and only mission pre-Crisis ended with him exploding, saving his teammates and seemingly dying…� ERG-1’s first mission POST-Crisis?


Uh…. yeah.� Anybody got a sense of Deja Vu?�As an aside, y’ever wonder why all his containment suits have the big star on the chest?� When initially conceived, Cockrum wanted Wildfire to be one of his “Wanderers” (along with Nightcrawler, oddly enough) and his original name was Starfire…� I can’t remember my license plate number, but THAT sticks with me.� Anyway.�� The dreary and overrated “Legion Lost” series took up where the cancelled Legion series left off, and during the course of that series, new member Shikari found herself being followed by a “feral star” of unknown energy…� You know where this is going, right?� Shazam!


Wildfire remained with the Legion until the second reboot reset reality to the current W/KRP (Waid/Kitson Reboot Period) version of the Legion, but there has not yet been any sign of Wildfire in the current continuity.� Of course, it’s never a good idea to presume that Drake Burroughs is down for the count, as he’s DC’s answer to Jean Grey, rising from the ashes every few years to brighten up The Legion with some acerbic wit and nuclear fission.� Always considered among the most powerful Legionnaires, he’s also one of the most versatile, as well as one of the most accessible and recognizably human of them all.� I’m very happy to see him return in recent issue of JLA and JSA, and enjoy the fact that the old Legion, *my* Legion, hasn’t been forgotten, and that there’s�still an appreciation for the�Legionnaire for whom death was only the beginning.



About Author

Once upon a time, there was a young nerd from the Midwest, who loved Matter-Eater Lad and the McKenzie Brothers... If pop culture were a maze, Matthew would be the Minotaur at its center. Were it a mall, he'd be the Food Court. Were it a parking lot, he’d be the distant Cart Corral where the weird kids gather to smoke, but that’s not important right now... Matthew enjoys body surfing (so long as the bodies are fresh), writing in the third person, and dark-eyed women. Amongst his weaponry are such diverse elements as: Fear! Surprise! Ruthless efficiency! An almost fanatical devotion to pop culture! And a nice red uniform.


  1. You know he’s back in the new Legion comic right? ERG-1 showed up again about the same time you posted this. I only read the Trades, so I’m not sure of the exact time line, but it’s just not the Legion for me without Wildfire. His origin was exactly like the original too . . . hard to improve on perfection.

  2. Thanks, Matthew, for once again validating Dave Cockrum, ERG-1/Wildfire’s creator (and designer of most of the Legion’s costumes in that era). I fear sometimes that people won’t remember him. He was so influential in the 70s and created one of the very first gatherings of super teams in a single image just 5 issues earlier in Superboy and the Legion of Super Heroes #200. Not only was the piece mishandled by relegating it into a single page (should have been a double-page spread), but his editor wouldn’t let him keep the piece (this was just as Marvel was returning original art to their artists and before it had been firmly established that the work was legally the property of the artist). He left for Marvel as a result. I’ve restored and preserved the image on my Dave Cockrum page: http://www.metropolisplus.com/LOSH

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