Two men, one hero! Delve into the explosive past that created Firestorm, the Nuclear Man!
- "The Secret Origin of Firestorm, The Nuclear Man" written by Gerry Conway, penciled by George Tuska, inked by Pablo Marcos, lettered by John Costanza and Carrie Spiegle, colored by Nansi Hoolan.
- "The Secret Origin of Secret Origins: Echoes of Creation" two page text piece by Gerry Conway
Day’s end. Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Firestorm flies through the sky, descending over the city skyline. “I realize we’ve promised to assist the Police whenever they need us, Ronald,” Professor Stein says. “But that doesn’t mean you have to answer every general call you hear over your police radio.”
“Aw, c’mon, Professor,” Ronnie replies. “Don’t be a grouse. If it wasn’t for us, that kid’s cat would still be stuck up a tree.”
A moment of concentration, and once again, the bizarre nuclear transformation that fuses the two men into one being is reversed…freeing Professor Martin Stein and Ronnie Raymond from their common bondage… “But I have exams to grade. And I really think..,” Professor Stein says.
“Okay, okay, you made your point,” Ronnie interjects. He turns and heads off with a wave over his shoulder. “See you tomorrow. Sometimes, Professor, you’re a regular…”
Vandemeer University, Pittsburgh. “Martin, you want to split a pizza?” asks Dr. Wendy Olsen. “Stu found a terrific place downtown that does it Chicago style. What do you say? All work, no play, makes Professor Martin Stein a dull boy.”
“Thanks, Wendy, but I still have test papers to grade tonight,” Professor Stein replies, pouring himself a cup of coffee. “Maybe next time.”
“I should have known better,” Wendy thinks. “You were probably a grind during your college years, too.” She turns to leave. “Someday you’ll learn to enjoy life, Martin,” she tells him. “See you tomorrow.”
“Sure, Wendy, tomorrow,” Professor Stein replies. He gazes out the window as she departs. “Wendy’s right,” he thinks. “I was a ‘grind’ in college, and in a way, that led directly to my double life as Martin Stein…and as Firestorm, the Nuclear Man. So long ago, so far away…”
Professor Stein’s mind drifts back many years, and images of people in a courtyard of a college campus fade into his memory. “Stanford University in the early 1960’s,” he recalls. “I was an undergraduate student in the Physics Department.”
“Yo, Stern…wait up!” calls a voice. “I wanna talk to you.”
“Oh, my God,” Martin shudders. “It’s Brad Baxter. He’s going to knock my books down again. I just know it.”
“The big bully. You should report him to the Dean, Martin,” says Crystal Frost. “Captain of the football team or not, he shouldn’t be allowed to push you around.”
“That was the beginning,” Professor Stein recalls. “That was…”
“Stern, old chum, how’d you like to do your buddy Brad a favor?” asks Brad.
“My name’s Stein, Brad, Martin Stein,” answers Martin, trying to turn away.
“Yeah, right,” Brad continues. “So look, Mel, I’ve got a problem and you’re just the man who can help me. Here’s the thing. Tomorrow morning old man Dudley’s giving the semester math test…and your pal Brad’s too busy to crack the books. I fail that test, I flunk math. I flunk math, I lose my scholarship. I figure a smart boy like you can help me out.”
“You can’t cram a whole semester’s study into one night, Brad..,” Martin replies.
“You miss my point, Mel, old chum,” Brad snarls, grabbing Martin’s shirt. “Don’t want to cram. I want to crib. Tomorrow, make sure you’re sitting next to me, right? Slip me a look at your answers, that’s all you’ve gotta do. You wouldn’t want the school to lose it’s top wide receiver, would you?”
“Brad, I can’t...” Martin mumbles nervously.
“Melvin, you can and you will, unless you’re looking for a new face” Brad continues threateningly. “We clear on this?”
“M-hm,” Martin gulps.
“Great,” Brad replies. “See you tomorrow, Mel. Don’t get lost, you hear?” WAK! He smacks Martin on the back, knocking his glasses off.
“Haw haw!” one of Brad’s friends chortles.
“I was humiliated, and it didn’t help that Crystal Frost was there to see Brad frighten me,” Professor Stein remembers. “I’d been trying to work up the nerve to ask her out, but now…”
“Martin, are you all right?” Crystal asks. “He didn’t hurt you, did he?”
“I’m fine,” Martin sighs. He kneels down to put his glasses back on and pick up his books. “Uh…If you don’t mind, Crystal…”
“But, Martin..,” Crystal says.
“I’d like to be alone, okay?” Martin says sadly. “Just go away.” Crystal turns and runs off sobbing.
“Years later, that momentary cruelty was to haunt me, when Crystal Frost became Killer Frost and revealed a long-repressed hatred for Martin Stein,” recalls the Professor. “In her memory, I rejected her because she wasn’t pretty…and so a blind, life-long fury toward men was born in her heart. And only her death brought it to an end years later…The truth is, as I know now, I was so embarrassed by what happened with Brad, I couldn’t think about anyone or anything but myself. If I had the power at that moment I think I would have killed him. I had never felt so weak and helpless in my entire life.”
“All night I brooded,” remembers the Professor. “The next morning, I got my revenge. Just as Brad had demanded, I sat next to him and exposed my test answers for him to copy. But Brad didn’t know, couldn’t know: Every answer on my test was wrong. I was so proud of myself. That lasted two whole days, until the test scores were posted. Then Brad caught up with me on the campus Quad…”
“YOU LOUSY LITTLE FOUR-EYED DIRTBALL!” Brad rages. WHAM! He attacks and punches Martin, smashing his glasses.
“Help me!” Martin cries out. THUMP! Brad punches him in the gut. “Uh-mm,” Martin moans as he falls. “…Please…don’t let him hit me anymore…”
“Nobody did a thing,” Professor Stein recalls. “That’s when I realized, nobody would ever help me. I was alone…helpless. All I had to protect me against constant humiliation was my mind. My body was useless. I had to depend on my mind, and so I did…and in that moment, I believe, Firestorm was born.”
“A determination grew inside me, a hot desire to prove myself,” Professor Stein remembers. “I’d beena grind before, but now I increased my efforts…studying eight to ten hours a night, sleeping three. I graduated Summa Cum Laude…and receieved my Master’s Degree and Doctorate on the same day. Every research lab in the country offered me a position, but I was ambitious. I chose S.T.A.R. Labs. If you’d have asked me then what it was I wanted in life, I would have said I wanted a challenge. That would have been a lie.”
“All those fevered years at S.T.A.R., I was driven by terror,” he recalls. “Every time I heard someone laugh, I wondered if they were laughing at me. In my own mind, you see, nothing that I accomplished really mattered much. In my own mind, I was still as weak and helpless as I had been when Brad Baxter beat me up. That’s when I began to drink too much. And that’s when I met Clarissa.”
“Hi, shy guy,” Clarissa says. She stands near the bar at a busy dance club.
“H-Hello,” Martin sputters back.
“You work at S.T.A.R., don’t you?” Clarissa asks. “Yeah, you do. I’ve been watching you for thelast couple of nights.”
“You have..?” Martin says in disbelief.
“Uh-huh,” Clarissa replies. She grabs his arm and pulls him towards the dance floor. “All you do is come in here, have a few drinks at the bar, and then leave. I figure you must have a terminal case of the shys.”
“Actually..,” Martin starts to say.
“Don’t talk, dance,” Clarissa replies as she starts to move to the beat. “Talk is for later.”
“We never did talk, that first night,” Martin recalls. An image of he and Clarissa kissing in the moonlight appears in his mind. “Or, really, any of the nights that followed. A week later, we were married. Clarissa had no family, so she said; my parents had passed away years before. And, of course, I had no friends. We eloped to Las Vegas. To tell the truth, those first years with Clarissa, I was deliriously happy…Naturally, it couldn’t last; and when it began to sour, it was for the usual reason. Money.”
“Clarissa…sweetheart…could we have a talk?” Martin asks one day. Clarissa busily tries on an expensive new fur coat, the byproduct of another afternoon of shopping.
“Isn’t this the loveliest little fur you’ve ever seen?” Clarissa says, admiring the coat.
“Um, yes, it’s quite beautiful,” Martin replies. He crumples the store receipt in his hand in frustration. “But the thing is, Clarissa, we can’t afford it.”
“Oh, don’t be silly,” Clarissa protests. “I look wonderful in mink.”
“Darling, that isn’t the point,” Martin counters. “The savings I had when we got married are gone. We don’t have the money for…”
“I thought you liked to buy me things,” Clarissa answers, growing irritated.
“Clarissa, please listen to me..,” Martin replies, smacking his hand to his forehead. “Clarissa…”
“Not if you’re going to be mean,” Clarissa says, turning away.
“WILL YOU JUST SHUT UP AND LISTEN TO ME?” Martin rages. He reaches out and snatches her wrist. “We’re broke. We can’t afford these things. You’ll have to bring them back to the store.”
“Martin!” Clarissa blurts. “My arm - - you’re twisting…”
“What..?” Martin says quickly, trying to calm himself. “I-I’m sorry…I didn’t realize what I was…”
“Just you stay away from me!” Clarissa snarls. “Stay away!”
“Clarissa, please, I didn’t mean to..,” Martin starts to say.
Clarissa opens the door and walks out. SLAM! The door hammer shut with a loud smack. “I’m so sorry,” Martin says softly, standing next to the mink coat lying on the floor next to the door. “I’m so sorry.”
“Our relationship, never really strong, began to crumble,” Professor Stein remembers. “Clarissa withdrew from me, and I withdrew from her. We spent fewer and fewer nights together. My work occupied my evenings; how Clarissa occupied hers, I never asked. Whatever feelings we once shared turned to bitterness. Finally, Clarissa turned to divorce to end it…and I turned to an old friend named Jack Daniel’s. He couldn’t change the helplessness I felt; he couldn’t wipe out the terror in my heart. But he could dull the pain. He could help me forget.”
“A year later, I left S.T.A.R. and took a position as Head of Research and Development for the Hudson Power Company,” he recalls. “At Hudson, I desgined the world’s first fully automated nuclear power plant…and three years after my arrival, the design approved by the appropriate agencies, we broke ground. But even then, even at what should have been a moment of personal triumph…I could still hear the laughter at my back…More than ever, I was still afraid.”
“During the next few years, my basic research brought me a Nobel Prize…but by then, I was completely involved with Hudson Nuclear,” he remembers. “Building Hudson Nuclear took the better part of a decade. Cost overruns, subcontractor failure, unexpected flaws in the architecht’s blueprint….all of it caused delays.”
“But the greatest delays were caused by the inevitable protestors and their legal allies,” Professor Stein remembers. “Time and again, their courtroom maneuvers lost us time and forced us to redesign entire sections of the plant…Because of who I was, because of where I’d been in my life, I took their protests as a personal attack on me…on Martin Stein; but finally, despite all the delays, the plant was completed…”
Martin and his assistant, Danton Black, walk through a horde of protestors outside the plant after a day’s work. “Hell, no, we won’t glow!” a protestor barks at him.
“You’re poisoning our grandchildren! Our great-grandchildren!” yells another.
“Who gave you the right?” snarls a familiar voice. “Yo, Stern! I’m talkin’ to you, pal! Who gave you the right--?”
Martin turns to see his old nemesis. “M-My God…Brad..?” he gasps in shock. “Get away from me! I won’t let you hurt me anymore!” He shoves Brad sharply.
“Huh?” Brad blurst in surprise.
Martin gets into Danton’s car. “Pull yourself together, Martin,” Danton suggests. “Thank God there wasn’t a news crew here. ‘Nuclear Plant Designer Goes Berserk - - Film at Eleven’.”
“Danton, it was him..,” Martin sighs as they pull away and pass a line of police. “But it couldn’t have been. He hadn’t aged. He ws just…just as I remembered him…back at Stanford.”
“Only a kid, Martin, a kid who looks like somebody you knew,” Danton counters. “Are you going to be all right?”
Martin stares out the window, nervous sweat trickling down his forehead. “I’ll be fine,” he replies. He spots Ruth’s Roadhouse Bar and Grill just ahead. “Just need something to drink. Here, Danton. Stop here.”
“Danton Black was my assistant, a brilliant scientist in his own right, but ambitious,” Professor Stein remembers. “I wasn’t to know how ambitious until much later…”
“That’s your third shot, Martin,” Danton observes with concern. “Something must really be bugging you.”
“Those protestors,” Martin says as he gulps the whiskey. “They want to stop the Plant, Danton. They want to stop me. But I won’t let them. I won’t be bullied anymore. By them. By anyone.”
“Of course you won’t,” Danton nods.
“They laugh at me behind my back,” Martin replies, staring at his face in the mirror over the bar. “They think I’m weak…helpless. But this time, I’m the stronger one. My mind makes me strong, Danton. I can’t be wrong about the Plant’s design. If I’m wrong…I’m weak. You see that, don’t you?”
“Of course, of course,” Danton says reassuringly.
“My behavior that night must have encouraged Danton to take risks he hadn’t dared before,” Professor Stein recalls. “Seeing me drunk, he became comtemptuous…and soon didn’t even try to hide his transgressions.”
“Danton! What are you doing with that isotope?” Martin blurts. Danton tucks a test tube into his briefcase. “Borrowing it, Professor,” Danton explains. “I know a man who’ll pay good money for processed uranium.”
“You’re - - stealing?” Martin says incredulously. Danton closes the briefcase and turns to walk out.
“So what?” Danton snorts. “Who’ll stop me? A drunk like you?”
“What did you say?” Martin blurts angrily.
“You heard me,” Danton replies threateningly. “Fire me and I’ll go to the Nuclear Regulations Council. I’ll tell them you’re an alcoholic. I’ll say you stole the Plant design from me.”
“Damn you!” Martin rages. He chases Danton into the hallway where surprised coworkers look on. “This is my Plant! My design! I won’t allow…”
WHAM! Danton swings the briefcase and smashes it across Martin’s face. “Unnnh!” Martin groans from the impact.
“Shut up, Stein!” Danton yells. “I’m sick to death of you and your whining. Out of my way.”
“Fired…You’re fired..,” Martin says, wiping his bloody nose with his handkerchief.
“I’ll be back!” Danton vows as he walks out the door.
“And he was,” Professor Stein recalls. “Two days later…after all the other technicians had been released, and as I readied to Plant for its first power-up…”
“Black! What the devil are you doing here?” Martin gasps as Danton walks back into the Plant control room.
“Protecting my rights, Stein,” Danton replies. Two men walk in with him. One hands Martin a legal document.
“Professor, I represent the Nuclear Regulations Council,” the man explains. “Until we’ve investigated Doctor Black’s allegations - - we’re forced to enjoin the opening of this Plant.”
“I’d sooner see you in Hell,” Martin growls as he takes the document.
“Life stinks, doesn’t it, Professor?” Danton says with a sly grin. “See you in court.”
Martin watches in angry silence as Danton and the men leave. “By God, no!” he yells, bitterly smashing the court papers on the control panel. “Injunction or no, I’m placing this Plant online tonight - - and no power on Earth is going to stop me!”
“The Plant was fully automated,” Professor Stein remembers. “One man could run it, and no man knew more about its operation that I did. My entire life had come to a focus, here at this moment. Everything I’d been and done since Brad Baxter humiliated me all those years before had led to this one insane decision. The experimental reactor powered up as I expected; and the energy levels were increasing exponentially, when…”
“Hell! Protestors sneaking into the grounds,” Martin thinks. He watches a security camera monitor. “With the Plant officially shut down, the security force is reduced to two men. They must have been decoyed…alarm’s cut..!”
The protestors walk through the hallway. Strangely, two of them carry along the limp form of a man. Martin bursts out of the control room doors.
“You there!” Martin warns them. “Release that boy and get out - - before I call the police!”
“You should’ve called the cops first, Pops,” snarls the group’s leader. “Too bad!” SLAP! Martin falls unconscious after a vicious backhand from the group leader.
“Later I learned that his name was Earhart; he was the leader of a discredited radical antinuclear group,” Professor Stein remembers. “The boy was Ronnie Raymond. Naïve and ignorant of Earhart’s plans, he’d joined the group to impress his girlfriend Doreen. When he learned what Earhart intended, he rebelled…and they decided to make him a patsy. I was still unconscious when Ronnie woke…and saw the bomb Earhart had left in an attempt to destroy Hudson Nuclear.”
Tik! Tik! Tik! “Dynamite - - with a timer set to explode!” Ronnie thinks as he fearfully looks over the device.
“Ronald might have saved himself…but he stayed and tried to rescue me,” Professor Stein recalls.
THOOM! The bomb explodes next to the atomic pile, swallowing Professor Stein and Ronnie Raymond in its incredible atomic-fueled detonation.
“We were not the only ones caught in that strange, freakish explosion of the experimental reactor core,” Professor Stein recalls. “For reasons of his own, Danton Black had returned to the Plant; and he too was blasted by that unique radiation. In weeks to come, Danton would discover how the radiation bath had changed him…giving him the power to fission into many separate beings. Danton Black would become the menace known as Multiplex…while Ronnie and I found ourselves sharing the fused form we came to call Firestorm, the Nuclear Man.”
“Because I was unconscious during that initial fusion, Ronald controlled our combined persona,” Professor Stein remembers. “I was like some disembodied ghost…and for the first time in my life, I could look at myself, as if apart from myself. I could see what I’d become; I could see the insanity that almost destroyed me. At first part of me denied what I saw. I couldn’t consciously remember what happened to me as Firestorm. It was as if I couldn’t face the truth…about the mistakes I’d made. About the terror I still felt. Eventually, I overcame that resistance…and now my memories of our adventures of Firestorm are complete.”
“But there are times when I still feel weak and helpless,” Professor Stein thinks. He stands in his office smoking his pipe. “Time when I still hear the echo of Brad Baxter’s laughter. That terror put me on the path that led to my becoming Firestorm. It almost destroyed me in the process, and its shadow still chills my heart, now and then. As it did tonight. But I have to remind myself that Vandemeer is not Stanford. And Martin Stein is no longer a frightened undergraduate grind trying to prove himself by working to exhaustion.”
Ahmed’s Chicago-Style Pizza, downtown Pittsburgh… “Um, enough already, Stu,” Wendy says as she nibbles a slice. “It’s good, but it’s hot. And I’m dripping.”
“I hope you saved some for me, Wendy,” Professor Stein says as he joins them at the table. “Do you know how many pizza parlors there are in downtown Pittsburgh? I almost didn’t find you.”
“Mrrrrmphh,” Wendy mumbles as she finishes her bite. “Glad you did, Martin. What about the test papers you were grading?”
“Let the work wait till tomorrow,” Professor Stein says with a smile. “I’m not a grind anymore. I want to spend tonight with my friends.”