Driq frees Harbinger from the Manhunters Prison. Firestorm and Captain Atom help them escape and underground cave. Firestorm is knocked unconscious when the cave collapses, and awakens to see Chief Ferguson kneeling next to him.
*** This issue is part of Millennium Week Five and shares scenes with Justice League International #10 ***
I have come with these strangers who know me - - the ones who call themselves the Justice League - - to attack the homeworld of they who call themselves Manhunters. I had thought these Manhunters had created me, but the silvery one called Captain Atom has shown me this is not so. He has taught me something of the nature of hero and I have chosen this path. But I still do not feel at ease among these ‘heroes’. I don’t understand half of what they say. How can I be one of them?
“We’re planning our strategy, kid - - aren’t you coming?” Captain Atom asks. “Firestorm?”
Firestorm stands on the edge of an asteroid. Captain Atom is just behind him. Superman, Hawkman, Martian Manhunter, and Doctor Fate confer nearby. Arisia and Green Lantern hover above them. Hawkgirl and Katma Tui talk off to one side.
“Somehting’s eating at him - - but I’ll be damned if I know what!” Captain Atom thinks as Firestorm remains silent. “Ah well - - I’m not here to babysit.”
Something explodes beneath the surface of the planet. “But it couldn’t hurt to give it one more crack…” Captain Atom thinks. “C’mon kid,” he calls to Firestorm. “What’s the problem? You could at least give me the courtesy of a reply! A simple ‘Stick it up your…”
Firestorm abruptly flies off without a word or a glance back. “Hey!!!” Captain Atom yells.
“Now what?” asks Martian Manhunter.
“That’s what I’d like to know, J’onn,” Captain Atom replies.
I felt a cry for help.
“I can get him back before he..,” Superman starts to say.
“Uh-uh, Superman,” Captain Atom interjects. “You’re needed here! I’ll handle this! Besides - - Firestorm seems to have become my personal problem lately.” He leaps up in pursuit of Firestorm. “You could almost say I’ve grown fond of the kid. Almost,” he calls down.
“Be careful, Captain Atom!” warns J’onn.
“Yes, mother!” Captain Atom replies.
“So much for the element of surprise,” worries Hawkman.
“This is par for the course for the League,” J’onn answers.
“It wasn’t in the old days,” Hawkman suggests.
“In case you haven’t noticed, Hawkman - - the old days are long gone!” J’onn explains.
Captain Atom races in pursuit behind Firestorm. “Just think - - I’ve only been in this superhero game for a few short months - - and here I am, halfway across the galaxy, chasing this nuclear-headed adolescent with an attitude problem!” Captain Atom thinks as he flies. “Makes a guy wonder what’ll happen next!”
Beneath the planet of the Manhunters… “Drat!” frets Harbinger. ZZZZSCHRAKK! ZZZZZZZSCHRAK! Arcs of blue lightning streak around the rocky cave. She ducks and dodges out of the way, toeing her way carefully along a narrow network of catwalks above a lava flow.
RRRRRUMMMMBBBLLE! The cave shudders loudly. “When Driq rescued me from the Manhunters’ Prison, I thought we could escape by going beneath the surface of the Manhunter planet!” Harbinger thinks. “But this must be where they train all those murderous androids! It’s been one long battle to survive ever since we got here! I’ve lost track of Driq and I’m beginning to think the Manhunter’s boast is fact! No one escapes the Manhunter’s planet!”
TZZZZIK! A huge blue disc rolls down the catwalk, coming right at her! RRRUMMBLE! “Looks like no one’s going to give me a hand - - except me!” Harbinger thinks as the disc closes in. ZAP! ZAP! “I’ll create two duplicates of myself…and go on the counter-attack!” she thinks. Instantly, a duplicate appears on each side of her. SCHROK! SCHROK! The duplicates fire energy beams from their helmets into the disc.
“All together now! Let’s blast this sucker off the path!” Harbinger directs. SCHROK! The three Harbingers focus their energy beams and knock the disc away! SPLORSH! It falls and disappears into the lake of molten lava below. “That’s done! Now I’ll just take a moment to collect myselves, then go find Driq and see if he…it…”
TZZZZSCHRAK! Another disc appears rolling quickly towards her! “YAH! Another one!” she blurts. “And I haven’t time to..!”
BUH-DOOOMMMM! The disc suddenly explodes into a cascade of jagged pieces! Harbinger covers her face with her arm to protect herself from the debris. “Ffffnork!” Driq calls to her. He hovers above her with light gleaming from his green Power Ring.
“Driq!” Harbinger calls to him. “Thank heaven you showed up! Now I think we have a real hope of escaping!”
FWOMP! “GLURRRK!” Driq gasps as a massive nuclear burst smashes into him! He falls in flames to land on the catwalk just ahead of Harbinger.
“Here. Problem is here,” Firestorm calls to Captain Atom as they fly close to Harbinger.
“Driq!” Harbinger yells in shock. “You imbeciles! What have you done to him!!”
“Was he not…attacking you? From his form, I supposed...,” Firestorm answers confusedly.
“Firestorm, I keep telling you you can’t go by appearance!” Captain Atom cautions him. “That guy was, by his uniform, a Green Lantern, like those others you met! There’s quite a few of them and some of them look pretty weird.”
“I…am sorry,” Firestorm says dejectedly.
“Sorry? You set fire to my friend and you say you’re sorry?” Harbinger asks, angrily pointing at Firestorm.
“Lighten up a little, lady! The Lantern’s Ring should protect him and the kid’s new at all this!” Captain Atom explains.
“New? Firestorm I know; you I don’t!” Harbinger replies.
“I could say the same for you, ma’am!” Captain Atom tells her. He lands next to her on the catwalk. “Firestorm was reborn a few weeks ago and is still trying to sort everything out!” he explains.
SHHHHHHHHT! Driq’s Power Ring forms a gleaming silver fire extinguisher that sprays quickly to stop the flames. “Who are you and what are you doing down here?” Captain Atom asks.
“The name’s Harbinger and I was a prisoner of the Manhunters until Driq rescued me!” she explains. “It’s lucky for Driq you can’t really harm something that’s already dead!”
“Dead?!” Captain Atom asks in surprise.
“That’s right,” Harbinger replies. “But his Ring won’t let his spirit leave his body.”
Driq slowly gets to his feet as Firestorm lands on the catwalk next to him. “Apologies, Driq Lantern,” Firestorm says, extending his hand.
“Aknpppt!” Driq replies. He shakes Firestorm’s hand. THULP! Driq’s fingers break off.
“Permit me!” Firestorm says. He takes Driq’s arm in his hands and uses a transforming burst to reform Driq’s fingers.
“Tnnkuu!” Driq tells him.
“Cripes! He’s strange even for a Green Lantern!” Captain Atom observes.
“His deeds proclaim him a hero!” Harbinger explains. “All I’ve seen from you two so far is an irresponsible hot-head and a loud-mouthed chrome-plated nobody!”
“What is it like…this ‘death’?” Firestorm asks Driq.
“Glarrrg!” Driq answers.
“Hm!” Firestorm replies.
“Firestorm, what are you doing?” Captain Atom asks.
“Why, conversing with Driq Lantern,” Firestorm answers. He and Driq walk next to Captain Atom and Harbinger on the catwalk.
“Well, stop it! He’s dead!” Captain Atom replies.
“So? That doesn’t mean he is not a nice person!” Firestorm tells him. Captain Atom smacks his forehead in frustration.
“Quuuuurg?” asks Driq.
“No, Captain Atom does not dislike you, friend Driq,” Firestorm answers. “He does not understand…”
RRRUMMBLE! “What’s that?” Captain Atom asks.
“Trouble!” Harbinger answers.
They stand at the intersection of four catwalks. TZZZIK! TZZZIK! RUMMMBLE! RUMMMBLE! Four discs rapidly spin towards them from each catwalk! “Large, economy-sized trouble!” Harbinger adds.
“Quuuurg!” blurts Driq.
“Don’t be absurd! Why don’t we just fly up and away from them?” Captain Atom asks as he floats up off the catwalk.
TZZZZSCHRAK! An electrical blast shoots out and strikes Captain Atom! “…That’s why!!!” Harbinger yells up to him.
ZAAAP! Captain Atom fires energy blasts into the walls. “Firestorm, can you make a detour?” he asks.
“Yes,” Firestorm answers. FZAAM! He beams two opposing discs to fly into the air above them. KA-BOOOMMM! The discs smash into each other and disintegrate.
“There’s more coming! We’ve got to work together as a unit!” Captain Atom tells them. “Give them everything you’ve got! And watch each other’s back!” SHAKOW! SHAKOW! He fires blasts into the approaching discs, shattering them.
FZAAM! ZAAP! FOOOSH! SCHROK! The four heroes blast away at oncoming discs. Suddenly…RUMBLE! RUMBLE! “Aww, nooo!” cries Captain Atom. The cavern begins to collapse, raining rocks and boulders down.
“The battle! It’s torn apart the walls of the cavern!” Firestorm warns.
“We’ve got to smash the rocks!” Captain Atom cautions.
ZAAP! FZAAM! SCHROK! “That just breaks them into smaller rocks!” Harbinger cries out. “It’s not stopping them!”
ROARRRR! The thundering wave of debris smashes through them, ripping the catwalks and sending the four heroes flying. “GAAAAAK!” yells Driq.
Blackness. Silence. Time passes.
“Firestorm…?” a voice calls out from the void. “Firestorm? Can you hear me?”
Firestorm’s head moves slightly. He opens his eyes as consciousness returns. “Fer-gus-on?!” he asks in surprise.
Chief Ferguson kneels next to him in a marshy area lined with large trees. “Easy, son,” Ferguson tells him. “You’ve had a hard time. Our enemies very nearly turned you against us by manipulating your mind. Fortunately for us, you’re stronger than they thought and not only broke free but brought us a new ally, Captain Atom.”
Firestorm props himself up on his elbows in the grass. Captain Atom stands behind him with two Manhunters. “Where…Where are we?” Firestorm asks.
“Look around,” Ferguson answers.
“The…Sonic Temple on Earth,” Firestorm says as he scans the area. “No. It blew up. We contained the blast. The Captain and I talked. He convinced me. He went into space with others to…to…”
“It was all a delusion, Firestorm,” Ferguson explains.
Captain Atom and the two Manhunters walk over. “Try to remember,” Captain Atom tells Firestorm. “You and I talked. You convinced me to join the Manhunters. You were captured. Our enemies tried to manipulate your mind and make you destroy the Temple. Here on Earth.”
“Driq? Har-bing-er…” Firestorm asks slowly.
“Delusions created by the enemy,” Captain Atom explains.
RRRUMMMBBLE! Earth tremors shake the area, jostling the group with its unsteady ripples. “That was also created by our enemy,” Chief Ferguson says. “They’re so determined to destroy us they would blow up the planet as well. Firestorm, only you and Captain Atom have enough power to stop them. It’s kill or be killed time, kid. Our survival’s at stake.”
“Kill…?” Firestorm asks confusedly.
“Look, I don’t like it, either,” Captain Atom answers. “But if we’re willing to sacrifice our own lives to protect what we hold dear, it only makes sense we’re willing to sacrifice their lives!”
“No. To make another die for my cause is not right,” Firestorm replies. “They have their own causes and a right to their own lives.”
“Fine. Let’s help them die for their own cause,” Captain Atom suggests. “Look. Trust me on this one, okay?”
“Do as you think right. I shall,” Firestorm answers.
“Who do you think you are..?!” Captain Atom asks.
“I am Firestorm. You…are not the Captain Atom. The true Captain Atom told me to look past appearances. The true Captain Atom would not speak as you do,” Firestorm answers. “Therefore, you are a lie. Therefore, this all is a lie.”
FASHHHHHHHHHHHHH! The marshy landscape slowly disappears, replaced by yellow-walled room with geometric shapes lining its surfaces. “The truth is, then, is you are all Manhunters. And I am still on your planet,” Firestorm says as he looks around at seven Manhunters surrounding him.
“And no man escapes the Manhunters!” explains one with Ferguson’s head atop his red and blue uniform. Each carries a gold rod in their hand like a weapon.
“I have not come to escape,” Firestorm replies. “But to end.” FWOOSH! FWOOSH! He fires bursts into two of the Manhunters, wrapping them in nuclear fire and leaps into the air.
ZAM! The Ferguson replica fires his rod…SCHRAK! It inadvertently strikes another Manhunter! ZAM! A Manhunter fires, but Firestorm swoops out of the way. FZAAM! Firestorm reforms the Ferguson replica’s rod, bending it at a sharp angle just as it fires. The burst hits another Manhunter nearby! FWOOOSH! Firestorm aims blasts with both hands that smash into five Manhunters, knocking them away.
RRRUMMMBBBLLE! “Firestorm, listen to me!” the Ferguson replica tells him. “There isn’t much time! The planet is being destroyed! We know your secrets! Things you don’t know yourself! Are you aware that you are the melding of two other beings? Side with us and we’ll reveal all your mysteries to you!”
“No,” Firestorm answers. “You are corrupt beings. You twist what you touch. Even the truth.”
“One way or another, you will serve us!” yells pseudo-Ferguson. ZAAP! A beam of energy shoots out of his forehead. Firestorm leaps just in time to dodge it, soaring above his opponent.
“I serve the cause of life!” Firestorm yells. FZAAP! FWORSH! A blast of water smashes down onto pseudo-Ferguson. “You are unlife!” Firestorm yells as the water hits. “But in his lies there was a glimmer of truth, and that truth I must have!” Firestorm thinks. “The voices I senses within me…they must be the beings of which the liar spoke, voices that have been stilled…”
Firestorm sees a mental image of two separate bodies merging into one. “…Voices…I see you…I sense you…and what you are, you who are me!” he thinks. “I…understand how you are me! I feel your fear and frustration! I will free you for you must be free! In turn, you must stay joined with me for now…so we may aid others! And then I will surrender myself back to you! Will you do this?”
“…Yes…” answers the merged being in his mind.
“Then be free…and remember!” Firestorm answers. SCHRAK! In Firestorm’s mind’s eye, he sees the images of Ronnie Raymond and Mikhail Arkadin take shape.
“Firestorm!!!” a voice yells suddenly.
“Who…?!” Firestorm blurts, looking around quickly.
“Relax, kid; it’s us!” calls out Captain Atom as he flies into the room with Driq and Harbinger. “Driq managed to whip up a shield that saved us, but you were stunned and wandered away,” Captain Atom explains. “If you’re okay now, we’d better get out of here! It seems like the entire planet is shaking itself apart!”
“Yes. Let us go…” Firestorm answers, cautiously eyeing them.
“Everyone together!” Captain Atom yells, leading them upwards. “With luck, our combined power will be enough to break us out to the surface!” They soar upwards, reaching the top, then…
“NOW!!!” Captain Atom yells. The four heroes focus their combined energy into the rock overhead until…THA-KOOOOMMM! RUMMMBLE! BOOMMM! SHA-DOOOMMM! The roof collapses and the four heroes shoot out into space!
In the heavens above, we find our….comrades. Our friends. Perhaps…my friends. I watch the planet come apart, as would I if I did not concentrate. All around me, the others laugh and jest and make idle chatter. It is good to be with them. There is more to me…to my life…than I had imagined. But not more than I can imagine. This…existence - - this life - - begins to make sense to me, at last. It is a wonderful thing - - this life I have. I shall strive to be worthy of it. I cannot wait to see what happens next.