Firestorm makes a stand a Vandermeer Steel demanding an end to pollution. James Hancock Finch, Vandermeer Steel's CEO, plots to use the Captains of Industry plan. At Vandermeer University's Institute for Metahuman Studies, Dr. La Grieve and Dr. Morrison have a disagreement about analyzing Killer Frost. The Parasite escapes from his holding cell at the Institute. Firehawk battles Firehawk, leading to Dr. La Grieve making a shocking discovery. Firestorm joins the battle against the Parasite.
*** This issue is Part 7 of The Janus Directive crossover storyline. It continues from Part 6 in Manhunter #14 and then continues to Part 8 in Suicide Squad #29.
He stands in the smoke-choked air over Pittsburgh like a miniature sun, burning. The air stinks around him. His anger is like a fire, burning. He releases his anger. FZAAM! And the air is clean. Only to be tainted anew.
He is the Fire Elemental. He was raised by this planet to protect - - to cleanse - - this planet. What good does it do to clean the air when it will just be choked with filth again? It seems he must deal with the problem at its source. FOOSH!
Vandermeer Steel, where the great furnaces are roaring, burning, turning iron into steel. Firestorm flies in through a factory smoke stack and appears in the smelting room. “HO-LEE…!!!” gasps a shocked worker as Firestorm walks out of a red-hot blast furnace.
“Bring the head of the company here. Now,” Firestorm orders.
Shortly…Two men in business suits stand in front of the steel workers. “Are you..?” Firestorm asks.
“James Hancock Finch. CEO of Vandermeer Steel,” a man in a suit explains. “Who the hell are you and what the hell do you want?”
“I am Firestorm. This factory, among others, is poisoning the air. That is no longer allowed,” Firestorm answers.
“Our pollution standards are within federally allowable limits,” Finch replies. “Further pollution controls are not financially feasible. If you want cleaner air, you’re going to have to do it yourself.”
“I think you misunderstand me,” Firestorm answers. FZAAM! WHOOM! The blast furnace next to them erupts in flame, instantly becoming a smoldering pile of metal rubble. “This is not a request,” Firestorm continues. “You and your fellow industrialists will stop poisoning the Earth or you’ll deal with me. Do you understand?”
“Arrogant son of a - - !!!” Finch blurts as Firestorm flies off. “Charthouse!”
“Sir?” answers Finch’s assistant, Charthouse.
“Get me in contact with some of the other companies’ Chief Execs!” Finch says angrily. He starts out of the smelting room with Charthouse close behind. “As I predicted, the day has arrived when some of these sanctimonious meta-humans and paranormals have started to terrorize the industrial sector!” Finch rants. “We had better be prepared to deal with them or roll over and play dead. And I have no intentions of playing dead for anyone. I think the time has come to revive the idea of getting our own paranormals. Tell them we’re going to re-open talks on the Captains of Industry.”
A short time later…Vandemeer University, at the Institute for Meta-Human Studies. The cell holding the subject called the Parasite. “No, no, no!” the Parasite moans. “Dreams…memories…Which are mine?!?”
“He’s getting more and more frantic, Dr. La Grieve,” Phillip warns, observing from a monitoring station. “Look at the EKG I’ve been running. It almost looks like I’m getting multiple brainwaves! You knew the patient’s history down in Belle Reve. What’s happening?”
“I’m not sure, Phillip,” Dr. La Grieve answers. “When Parasite absorbs another’s energies, he also absorbs their memories - - but those always faded away as he consumed the energy. He may be retaining those memories in his subconscious, however, and, from what he’s saying, he may not be able to determine which memory belongs to which victim. He may be experiencing them all as his own memories - - but one set of memories may be incompatible with another! The Parasite was dangerous and unpredictable enough as he was. We had better look into shipping him back to Belle Reve.”
“Hold on there!!! We were working on that subject!!!” a voice calls out.
Dr. La Grieve turns to see two men walking into the monitor room. “Dr. Pangloss - - Dr. Caius - - I understand the importance of your researches. After all, the Institute was founded to study the metahumans and see what makes them tick,” he explains. “However - - as Head of the Institute I am obligated to think of the safety of the community in which we are located as well. Truth is, I was considering sending back the Parasite before these anomalies were known. He’s just too dangerous.”
“But I was ay-bout to prooove my the-o-ry - - that the pow-ers when they are first man-i-fested are what de-ter-mines whether the met-a-hu-man turns to good or e-vil!” Dr. Pangloss snorts back.
“Hurmph!” scoffs Dr. Caius. “Then La Grieve might as well box up the Parasite and send it away! Nothing will ever prove that preposterous theory to my satisfaction! Every sane man, Pangloss, realizes that what determines how powers are used is how the metahuman was raised before they got them!”
“Dear God, Caius!” Pangloss blurts. “Are you still mired in that out-moded conceit of en-vi-ron-ment? Tres, tres passé!”
“Pangloss, if you don’t know how to address your intellectual betters, I’d suggest you just learn to shut up!” Caius replies as the two men walk off.
“I know you might not believe it from the way those two argue, but they are actually…the worst of enemies,” Phillip says.
“Yesssss…Well, if they don’t pull their heads out of the intellectual sand, I’ll be a worse one yet to both of them,” Dr. La Grieve answers. He turns and walks out of the monitoring station, heading down a hallway to nearby staff offices.
“Dr. Morrison?” Dr. La Grieve calls to a colleague. “Dr. Morrison, if you could spare me a moment of your time, would you mind briefing me on how the study of Killer Frost is proceeding?”
Morrison leans back in his chair and kicks his feet up on his desk. “To be frank, it isn’t,” he explains. “I’ve tried following up on your line of inquiry about a possible virus being behind the transformation, but so far - - zilch. Frankly, I think it’s a dead end and suggest we abandon it.”
“Yesss…well. Perhaps you’d be so good as to bring in the data and we’ll both examine it, hm?” Dr. La Grieve asks.
“Let me suggest, Doctor, that the data is outside your field and you may not be competent to judge it!” Morrison says, scowling and pointing a finger at Dr. La Grieve. He stands up and folds his arms.
“Then I will get someone who is competent and have them review it!” Dr. La Grieve answers angrily.
“See here, La Grieve! Are you questioning my competence?” Morrison asks.
“I don’t know what your problem is, Morrison, but - - if you don’t care to actively pursue this line of inquiry - - then say so and I’ll get someone else to do it!” Dr. La Grieve replies.
“Uh…no. I’ll do it,” Morrison concedes. “I’d like to re-check my findings before I submit them. Perhaps I have missed something.”
“I doubt it,” Dr. La Grieve thinks as he walks off. “You’re concealing something and, sooner or later, I intend to find out what!”
A short time later and a short distance away…Lorraine Reilly arrives outside Martin Stein’s apartment and…Knock-knock! The door opens.
“Yes?” Martin asks as he opens the door. “Oh, good heavens! Miss Reilly, isn’t it?”
“Lorraine, Professor. Is Ron here? He was going to meet me for breakfast,” Lorraine replies.
“No! Hum! His bed has been slept in but he wasn’t there when I awoke last night nor was he here when I got up this morning,” Martin explains. “Frankly, I’m surprised. This doesn’t seem like the boy - - so far as I know him.”
A news announcement crackles over the television speaker. “We interrupt this program for a special bulletin,” a newscaster announces.
“Special announcement? I wonder...!” Lorraine thinks as she steps inside. “Professor - - Martin,” she says. “Do you mind if I see this?”
“By all means,” Martin answers, following her in to his television.
“I’m standing at the Vandermeer Steel Works, in front of a blast furnace that was turned into slag by a rampaging metahuman,” the newscaster explains to the camera. The screen cuts to a still photograph of Firestorm. “This picture was taken by one of the witnesses at the scene,” the newscaster continues. “The being claims to be Firestorm, although he bears little physical resemblance to the red and gold superhuman who once called Pittsburgh his home.”
“Good heavens! I…I have to sit down!” Martin gasps, quickly settling into his easy chair. “Forgive me, Miss Reilly, but I feel quite shaken and I don’t know why!”
“I do!” Lorraine thinks nervously. “If that is Firestorm - - why aren’t you a part of him?!?” She turns and head for the door. “I intend to find out, but not as Lorraine Reilly!”
“Since this morning, the creature has been seen flying over the city, mostly near the Vandermeer University Campus,” the newscaster continues. “Firestorm had, at one time, semi-official status with the City, thanks to former Chief of Police Ferguson. Ferguson mysteriously disappeared some months back and, thus far, authorities have not been able…”
Lorraine dashes through the hallway. “FIREHAWK!” she yells. FZAAM! FOOOOOSH! Instantly, Firehawk appears flying in the hall. FZAAM! She phases through a wall and flies out into the sky. “They said he was seen in the air somewhere near Vandermeer…” she says as she turns towards the campus.
At IMHS… “NOOO!” moans the Parasite loudly. He lies on his bed in his holding cell, sweating profusely and moving restlessly.
“Blast! The amount of food being fed him is supposed to be just enough to keep him alive, but he’s convulsing!!!” Phillip gasps as he watches the Parasite on his monitor screen. “Can’t do anything out here! I’m going to have to get in the cell with him!!!” He gets up from the desk and runs down the hall to the cell block area.
“Hold it right there, Doc!” a security guard orders. “I don’t know where you think you’re headed, but..!”
“I got a patient who may be dying, Dick!” Phillip answers as he pushes past the guard. “Come in with me, if you want, or stay at the door, but I am going in there!” Phillip opens the holding cell door and rushes in. Dick stands in the doorway behind him.
“No! No! NO! Stop the memories! Stop them!” groans the Parasite.
“Easy! Tell me - - what can I do to help you?” Philip says as he reaches for the Parasite.
“Your…being…here…is enough..,” the Parasite says softly. A slight smile forms on his lips. “HAHAHAHAHAHA!”
SUUUUUUUCK! The Parasite absorbs energy from Phillip! “YAAAAAHHGG!” Phillip cries in agony. SUUUUUUUUCK! The Parasite absorbs energy from Dick! In seconds, only the skeletal remains of the two men is left lying on the floor.
BRANGGGGGGG! Alarms begin to sound loudly. The Parasite stands up, stretching his arms over his head. “Ha ha ha ha! Sound your alarms! It will do no good! The Parasite is free once more!!!” he exults.
In the sky over Pittsburgh, Firehawk sees Firestorm and approaches. “Firestorm? Firestorm! If that is you - - wait up! It’s me - - !” she calls out to him.
“Firehawk. I know. I remember,” Firestorm answers as Firehawk flies alongside.
“Stormy, what happened to you?” Firehawk asks. “Why isn’t Martin Stein a part of your matrix anymore? Where’s Ron?”
“I’ve assumed my true form, Firehawk. I’m the Earth’s Fire Elemental - - I always had been but never realized it,” Firestorm explains. “Martin Stein was not in proximity when the new matrix was formed, so he is no longer a part of it. As for Ron - - well, he and Mikhail had lost the essence of the Fire Elemental and, to regain it, they had to totally surrender themselves to my existence. Their memories - - their emotions - - exist within me but only within me.”
“…No!” Firehawk gasps. “NO!” She turns and flies away.
“Strange. She excites such feelings within me,” Firestorm thinks as he watches her fly off. “I am the only one of my kind. I’m not meant to reproduce and still - - she feels such pain at what I’ve said. I want to comfort her - -!” He turns to pursue her. “Enough thought. I must act on what I feel!”
While below…The Parasite appears on the campus courtyard. Terrified students look on as police officers confront the Parasite. “Closer! Come closer! I need to feed!” the Parasite cries out.
“Clear the area! Nobody gets closer than twenty feet! Understand?!” a police officer orders his colleagues. Blam! Blam! Blam! He fires several shots at the Parasite.
Dr. La Grieve looks out at the skirmish from his office window. “Blast it, Flo! The Parasite’s loose! We need help from Belle Reve!” he barks into his phone.
“Look, I know you have a situation at the Institute, but we’ve a worse one here! We’re under attack!” Flo answers, quickly hanging up.
“Flo? Flo!” Dr. La Grieve blurts.
WHARAM! A fiery explosion bursts at the Parasite’s feet, knocking him to the ground. “I don’t know how you escaped your cell, Parasite, but I needed to hit someone. Thanks,” Firehawk says as she lands in the scorched grass.
“And I need to feed! Thank you, girl!” the Parasite gloats as he gets to his feet. He aims his hand at Firehawk and begins to drain her energy. SUUUUUUUCK! “Ha ha ha ha ha ha!” he laughs maniacally. SUUUUUUUCK!
Firehawk staggers back. “Ahhhh! Have to…pull away…before I revert….and reveal….just who I am!” she thinks. She falls behind a building’s corner wall and transforms back to Lorraine. “They already saw how big a fool I am! Now the Parasite has the power of Firehawk!” she thinks.
“HA HA HA HA!” the Parasite laughs in the courtyard.
“Weak…as kitten…have to crawl away…before someone…sees...,” Lorraine thinks as she moves through a doorway.
“Here. Let me help you up, young..,” Dr. La Grieve calls to her, reaching out his hand. “My word! Miss Reilly, isn’t it? So you’re Firehawk!” He helps her to her feet and guides her inside the building.
“No…no…I…uh..,” Lorraine mumbles.
“Let’s worry about secret identities later, Miss Reilly,” Dr. La Grieve suggests. “I think the first thing to do is get you inside and out of sight…especially the sight of the Parasite!”
The Parasite stands in the courtyard as police warily keep their distance. Bright blue orbs of energy form in the Parasite’s hands. “At laaaaast! I have enough power to still the voices in within me!” he says happily. “And I’ll keep them stilled! If I have to suck this entire city dry to do it!”
“That will not be allowed,” Firestorm calls down. FOOOSH! Fire erupts around the Parasite.
“GAAAAAH!” the Parasite cries out.
“That was a warning,” Firestorm says as he lands in the courtyard. “You don’t want to pit your powers against mine. I’m…”
“Firestorm. Got Firehawk’s memories when I took her powers,” the Parasite interrupts. “So I know all about you. And know what? I’m glad to see you. I’m getting hungry again.” He walks close to Firestorm and tries to draw energy, but nothing happens. “Hey! What’s happening?” he blurts nervously. “Why can’t I absorb your energy?!?”
“My powers come not from myself, but from the Earth. I don’t have power. I am power,” Firestorm explains calmly.
“Well, if I can’t absorb you, I’ll cook you! We’ll see who is the power!” the Parasite replies.
“As you wish,” Firestorm answers.
The Parasite aims his hands at Firestorm and unleashes a energy massive burst. SCHRAAAK! Firestorm counters. FZAAM! WHOMP! The Parasite’s burst is blocked!
It’s not an equal fight. Parasite finds himself quickly using up the energy he stole from Firehawk, but he cannot turn away from the battle. SCHRAAK! Soon, he’s using his own life-essence just to keep his foe at bay. And that energy is being rapidly depleted.
WHAROOOM! “S-Stop! Stop! You’re killing me!” the Parasite gasps.
“That was my intention,” Firestorm replies. FZAAM!
Lorraine and Dr. La Grieve run out of a door and into the courtyard. “NO!” Dr. La Grieve yells.
“Firestorm - - stop! Please!” Lorraine yells.
“Alright. If it troubles you,” Firestorm says, looking over his shoulder at them. He ends his assault and the Parasite collapses to the ground.
“Good heavens! Is he - -?” Dr. La Grieve asks. The Parasite lies on his back, looking thin, haggard, and emaciated.
“No. You asked me not to kill him and I did not,” Firestorm explains. “But he has consumed much of his own matter. Much like the starving ones in Africa. I’ll place him in an energy-neutral shell. It will last for an hour - - enough time for your people to return him to confinement.” Firestorm waves a hand and a sphere of energy forms around the Parasite.
“Why did you stop me from terminating his existence?” Firestorm asks Lorraine. “I’m confused.”
“More for your sake than his,” Lorraine answers. “If there’s anything left within you of the man I knew, you’ll understand.”
“Firestorm, I need your help,” Dr. La Grieve says. “I’ve learned Miss Reilly’s secret and I could make some shrewd guesses, I think, about you. I’ll forget what I know if you fly to Belle Reve Prison in Louisiana. I have friends there who are in terrible danger. If you care for Miss Reilly, help my friends, and I will keep her secret as if it were my own. Agreed?”
Firestorm thinks for a moment. “This time, La Grieve,” he answers as he takes flight. “But only this time.”
Lorraine and Dr. La Grieve watch Firestorm fly off. “I fear, Miss Reilly, we have both of us made a deal with a devil,” Dr. La Grieve worries.