Lyla leaves the Monitor's satellite to become Harbinger in this Crisis on Infinite Earths crossover. Harbinger lands in Pittsburgh to recruit Firestorm to assist her. Professor Stein, starting his first day as a physics instructor at Vandemeer University, has en encounter with Psycho-Pirate that complicates matters.
July 1985 (from Crisis on Infinite Earths). “Lyla, energize now…!” Monitor commands. Lyla holds a hand alongside her head, looking downward. “Now, Monitor? I’ll do as you ask…but I suggest you remember - - we are equals,” she answers, adding, “I will no longer tolerate being treated as your slave.”
She concentrates, and her body fairly explodes with power. She reaches deep within herself…deep to the center of her being. And she senses each atom within her as an independent force. The universe once divided into many parts…each one different, independent, yet somehow weaker than the whole. Now each part suffers for that weakness…destroyed one after another…because the very fabric of their being is too weak for its total defense. And now she, like the universe, must replicate. She must divide her power among many, each with power, yet each powerless, as well. She is no longer the woman called Lyla. With her power and mission, she becomes someone new. She is now - - Harbinger! And she fears what may come next.
Six hours earlier, high above the city of Pittsburgh, at the joining of the Allegheny and Monongahela Rivers, where they unite to form the westward-bound Ohio… “Pittsburgh, Professor. I can’t believe we’re really moving to Pittsburgh,” Ronnie sighs as they fly overhead. “Why not, my boy?” Stein replies, adding, “Admittedly, it’s off the beaten path for ‘super-heroes.’ But if we’re to properly pursue our separate lives as Professor Martin Stein and student Ronald Raymond, we need time to ourselves now and then. You’ll find college hard enough, Ronald, without extraneous distractions.” Ronnie sighs again, “I can’t even spell extraneous, Professor - - let alone be distracted by it.”
They come down for a landing in a park. Dark clouds are forming just beyond the skyline of the city. “So tell me, you think I’ll like it at Vandemeer?” Ronnie asks. “That depends on you, Ronald,” Stein replies, “College is what you make it, and that’s true for your life as well.” Ronnie nods, hovering in the air just above the ground. “Uh-huh. And I want to make good, Professor,” he answers, looking back at the city, “That’s why I signed up for the summer session, to get a head start on - - hey.” The dark black clouds have spread quickly across the sky. “That storm came up pretty fast,” Ronnie says, pointing up warily, “One minute the sky was clear, and now…”
FZZZZZZAKKKK! “Yowwww! Look out!” Ronnie yells, thrusting his body away from a jagged bolt of lightning! KKRAAAK! Lightning strikes nearby again! “Ronald, a lightning discharge hit that campus building,” Stein warns. Ronnie flies over close to it. “I see it, Professor. Those kids are square in the bull’s-eye,” Ronnie answers. Down below, students scatter as jagged chunks of debris falls down from the lightning’s impact. “So let’s rearrange some atoms with a nuclear burst - - and make our very own homecoming party,” Ronnie says. FZZZZAAM! Instantly, the rain of debris turns into colorful cascade of helium balloons, party favors, and confetti. “Oboy, Professor…look who’s with this kids. Doreen!” Ronnie exclaims.
Doreen looks up as the Nuclear Man flies close by overhead. “I don’t believe it…Firestorm, here?” she thinks in surprise. “Everywhere I go - - first at Bradley High in New York, now at Vandemeer University in Pittsburgh - - there he is,” she wonders, “Is he following me, or what?” Ronnie flies back to the park to retrieve his travel bag dropped when he dodged the lightning. “It doesn’t take a degree in quantum mechanics to tell your girlfriend suspects something, Ronald,” Stein figures. “She’s not dumb, Professor,” Ronnie replies, asking, “How long do you think it’ll take for her to make a connection between Firestorm’s appearance in Pittsburgh - - and Ronnie Raymond’s arrival at Vandemeer as a freshman?”
The composite hero concentrates, reversing the atomic fusion that allows scientist and student to join as the Nuclear Man, and half a nanosecond later… “Not long, I’m afraid,” Professor Stein guesses, “Have you thought about what you’re going to do when she does make that connection, my boy?” Ronnie bends down to grab his bag from the grass. He stands and they turn to walk towards campus. “Yeah, I’ve got it all worked out, Professor,” Ronnie explains not-so-confidently, “I’m gonna panic.”
In the sky above, lightning forms…and from amid the lightning, a pair of human shapes descend to Earth… In a brilliant flash, they land, standing on the top of a Vandemeer University building. “Please - - please don’t do that again,” stammers Psycho-Pirate, “I - - couldn’t stand it - - if you did that again, Harbinger! Thi-think I’m gonna - - be sick!” He doubles over with nausea. Harbinger glares at him, pointing off in the distance. “You will not be ill, Psycho-Pirate,” Harbinger answers, “Take control of your emotions. Control yourself. What you feel exists only in your mind.”
A gem on Harbinger’s tight head covering glows brightly as she speaks. Psycho-Pirate stands up. “H-hey! What’s you do? I don’t feel nauseous anymore!” he cries in relief. Harbinger floats into the air, hovering just above the rooftop. “The method I use to transport us from point to point in the Multiverse produces no lingering physical effects, Psycho-Pirate,” Harbinger explains, “Now, stay here.” She slowly begins to fly away. “Huh? You can’t leave me! You said you need my power!” Psycho-Pirate blurts, reaching his hands out towards Harbinger. “I do. But not yet. You must wait,” Harbinger orders him. Psycho-Pirate walks quickly to a roof access ladder on the building’s edge. “That’s what you think,” he tells himself as he climbs down, “Now’s my chance to get out of here, and I’m takin’ it!”
A few moments earlier, outside Vandemeer University’s Administration Building… “Doreen, wait up! We can register together, okay?” Ronnie asks as he jogs up to join her. “Ronnie…you weren’t due in till tomorrow,” Doreen answers with surprise. “So are you sorry I came a day early? I could leave!” Ronnie teases. They walk together into the busy lobby filled with freshman. “Don’t you dare,” Doreen warns, “We’ve got the whole day after we pick our courses - - I want to spend it together.” Ronnie grins, “Y’know, I’m gonna like college.”
An annoyingly familiar voice calls out to them. “Well, well…if it isn’t Mr. Scholarship himself,” Cliff Carmichael taunts. He leans against a wall with his arms across his chest, smugly glaring at Ronnie. A very brawny and muscular student in a green ‘Property of Vandemeer’ jersey stands next to Cliff. Cliff nods at Ronnie. “Hugo, meet Ronnie Raymond, an old high school chum. Ronnie, meet my cousin, Hugo Hammer. Ronnie sighs in exasperation. “Cliff Carmichael…what are you doing here?” he asks. Cliff grins, answering, “I’m going to school here, remember?” He gestures to his cousin. “Hugo, shake hands. Say hello.” Hugo reaches his giant hand out to Ronnie. Ronnie clasps it with his own. “Uh…hi,” Hugo mumbles. “Yeah, hi, Hugo, I - - Eeeeeyyyyoowwww!” Ronnie squeals.
Doreen shoves Hugo’s arm. “Let go of him! You’re crushing his hand!” she yells at Hugo. Cliff laughs with glee. “This is rich! Jock meets super-jock! Haw!” he chortles as Ronnie shakes his very numb hand. “Uh…oh…sorry…Ronnie,” Hugo says apologetically. Doreen rubs Ronnie’s arm. “Are you okay? Anything broken?” she asks. Ronnie flexes his fingers back and forth. “Nothing but a few random bones. That guy’s got a grip like concrete.” Cliff shakes his head and laughs. “See you around, Raymond, old chump,” he snarls as Ronnie and Doreen turn to walk away.
“The University life. I love it,” Cliff smiles as he watches them go. “You think…Ronnie like me…Cliff?” Hugo asks hesitantly. “He loves you, cuz. Trust me,” Cliff reassures him. A bright streak of light suddenly passes above them. “Huh? What’s that light in the sky? Hugo, did you see that? Looked like a ball of lightning!” Cliff exclaims. “Ball…uh…lightning, Cliff?” Hugo asks confusedly. “Forget it Hugo,” Cliff says dismissively, “I might as well try explaining black body radiation to a chimp.” Cliff and Hugo walk along to their dorm building. “Black body what?” Hugo asks. Cliff raises his hands up in frustration. “Never mind, Hugo,” he snaps, “Sheesh!”
Elsewhere on campus… “Welcome to the Physics Department, Martin. I’m your teaching assistant - - Stu Schwab. Pleased to meet you,” Stu introduces himself as he shakes hands with his new instructor. Stein smiles at him. “The same. Stu…you’re a graduate student here…?” Stein asks. Stu nods. “Second year, accelerated program. Before you ask, I’m 15 years old, and I’ve been a student at Vandemeer since I was 11,” he explains, “Gotta warn you, Professor - - I’m a genius.”
A young lady behind Stu smiles at Professor Stein. “Modest, isn’t he, our little wunderkind?” she asks. Professor Stein walks over to her, quickly recognizing her. “You’re Wendy Olsen - - I read your paper on black hole gravitic theory!” Stein exclaims, “My God, I had no idea you were at Vandemeer! What do they need me for?” He and Wendy warmly shake hands. “I’m a research physicist, Martin. Someone has to teach the kids,” she explains in a slightly wavering voice, “And the way I talk, some people have trouble understanding me. Besides, believe it or not…I’m the shy type. Ever since my trip to Stockholm, I’ve had a terror of crowds. Guess I’m not cut out for rock stardom, hmm?” Stein leans back on a desk, looking over Wendy seated in her wheelchair. “She’s wonderful, a mind like hers, trapped in a body stricken by cerebral palsy,” he thinks, “So unfair, so - - eh? Who on Earth is that!” Stein sees a blurry, masked figure peering into the office window. He walks over to investigate.
“Oh, no! He saw me!” panics Psycho-Pirate outside, “He’s coming toward the window! Can’t let him catch me! Have to use the Medusa Mask!” The Medusa Mask: Its ancient magic allows its wearer to control the emotions of those who look upon him…so that the emotions they see become their own, whether it be love, anger…or terror!
Fear fills Stein’s eyes as he looks outside. “N-N-No! Get away! Get away!” he yells, falling back away from the window. “Uh, Professor Stein? Sir?” Stu cries out, rushing to help. “Martin - - Martin, are you okay?” Wendy calls to him. Psycho-Pirate runs away from the building. “I really did it that time,” he thinks as he sprints, “Harbinger said she wanted to make contact with someone in that building - - so I thought I’d steal a march on her, find out what’s going on! Instead, I get in trouble again!” He shelters himself against a tree in the blustery winds. “I can’t handle this! I told Harbinger, the emotions hurt too much. I’m not well.” He kneels to the tree, covering himself with his cape. “She shouldn’ta left me alone, I wanna die…” he groans.
The Vandemeer Registrar’s Office… Dr. Ralph scans over Ronnie’s course schedule selections. “I think that does it, Mr. Raymond. A full course load, weighted toward the physical sciences,” he tells Ronnie, asking, “Sure you can take it?” Ronnie smiles and nods. “It’ll be a stretch, Dr. Ralph - - but that’s what I’m here for, right?” Ronnie answers, reaching for the schedule. “What about sports? I understand you were on your high school basketball team,” Dr. Ralph asks. “That’s ancient history, sir,” Ronnie replies, “I’m not tall enough for college ball. So I was thinking why not try out for - - for…”
A strange mass of radiant yellow energy appears in the air just above Dr. Ralph’s head, distracting Ronnie. “Is something wrong, Raymond?” Dr. Ralph asks with concern. Ronnie looks a bit unsettled. “Uh…nothing, sir,” he answers anxiously, “I just remembered…I’m meeting a friend for lunch.” The blue-gloved hand of the Harbinger waves in the air just behind Dr. Ralph. Ronnie turns to leave. The bizarre spherical energy mass can be seen floating in Dr. Ralph’s office. Ronnie bumps into Doreen in the hallway. “Ronnie, where are you going?” she asks. “Meet you outside, okay?” Ronnie answers, abruptly dashing out the lobby door. “ Okay, but…” Doreen tries to answer as he disappears.
Outside. The winds have come from nowhere - - rising suddenly to gale force levels, bending trees and scattering debris with a sound like the distant roar of an express train…But Ronnie Raymond hardly notices the weather…His mind is on other things! Ronnie races down the Administration Building stairs, the odd yellow orb floating just in front of him. He runs out to nearby trees. “This is too weird,” he thinks nervously, “I feel like somebody’s calling me - - but I can’t hear a word.”
The orb floats above him and grows in size. It begins to take on familiar, humanoid shape. Soon, the silhouette of a woman with flowing long hair dances above him. Her body casts a pink radiance surrounded by the mysterious yellow glow. Small globes of bright yellow and bright red energy ripple around her. Ronnie stands transfixed as her image sharpens, slowly becoming clear. Seconds later, the Harbinger floats just above his head! “Ronald Raymond, you are needed - - as Firestorm,” she says to him softly. “Whoa-boy,” Ronnie gasps.
Simultaneously… “Get out of my way!” a terrified Professor Stein yells as he runs out of the Physics office. “Hey, watch it before you - - wuff!” grunts a student as Stein barrels into him. Stein keeps running full speed down the hallway. Stu and Wendy stand shocked, watching him flee. “I hope we’re not going to have problems with that guy, Wendy,” Stu says apprehensively. “Maybe he’s a little tense,” Wendy wonders, “After all this is his first day.” Stu turns back to her, folding his arms across his chest. “Get serious,” he says dismissively. “He seemed like such a nice man,” Wendy sighs, “Back to the drawing board.”
Stein flees haphazardly, finally finding an equipment room. He quickly steps inside and closes the door tight behind him. He curls up on the floor amidst the janitor’s equipment, cowering and shaking. “S-so afraid…W-why am I so t-terrified?” he asks, trembling. Suddenly, atomic rings appear and begin to encircle his body. “Oh, no…not now, R-Ronald…” he frets, “Not now!”
Firestorm appears hovering in the air in front of Harbinger. “YEEAAHHHH!” Ronnie cries out in terror. He turns and starts to flee. “Firestorm - - where are you going? Didn’t I explain?” Harbinger asks, revealing, “Your world is threatened. Your aid is required. Come with me now.” She locks a hand tightly around his ankle. Ronnie yanks at his leg, trying to break free. “No!” yells Stein. “No!” yells Ronnie. FZAAAAM! Ronnie launches a nuclear burst into Harbinger, knocking her back.
She floats along gently, a slight smile on her lips. “He hasn’t the power to harm me,” she thinks as she drifts backwards, “but in my divided state, I can be slowed - - distracted - - by his nuclear bursts.” She aims herself back towards Firestorm. “Why is he acting this way?” she wonders as she flies around him, “A moment ago, when I spoke with him in his alter ego, he seemed cooperative. No matter. The Monitor was quite specific. Firestorm is necessary to the plan.” Firestorm weaves in the air rapidly. Harbinger maneuvers directly in front of him. “Stop,” she orders. Ronnie accelerates suddenly. “I won’t! Get away from me!” he yells. FFFZZAAAK! In a burst of nuclear propulsion, he smashes right through Harbinger! “Gods!” she cries as she is upended in the air by the blast.
Her powers are beyond human understanding…but she is in a weakened state, a shadow-image of her true self. She hurts. Harbinger coils herself, floating in the air, clutching her knees to her chest. She holds a hand to her forehead as if dizzy and trying to steady herself. Firestorm turns high above her and banks back to approach. For an instant, Harbinger is distracted. An instant is all he needs. Ronnie lowers his atomic density and passes through the University’s auditorium wall. “N-not possible!” Stein stutters as they land amidst the empty seats, exclaiming, “Our p-power rejects atomic manipulation of organic objects. W-we couldn’t have passed through th-that woman…but we did!” Ronnie grabs onto his temples with both hands. “P-Professor, we’ve gotta c-calm down,” he blurts, “My heart’s jumping like a rabbit’s - - I feel so scared I’m afraid to breathe - - and I don’t know why!”
Ronnie takes a series of deep breaths, trying to refocus his mind. From behind him, the face of Psycho-Pirate stares at them, obscured by a large stage curtain. “It’s you, Professor!” Ronnie says quickly, “What’re you doing to me?” Stein trembles and shakes. “Afraid…afraid…the face in the window!” he gasps in fear. Psycho-Pirate sizes up Firestorm. “My God, who’s that?” he asks himself, “He flew in through the roof - - the roof! He must be the one Harbinger came to get!” Psycho-Pirate cautiously lifts the curtain slightly, peering out intently. “But what’s he doing here in this auditorium?” he asks, fuming silently, “I thought I was going to be safe…it’s not fair! It’s not fair!”
Almost without thinking, his hands reach to remove the mask hiding his features, revealing an expression of injured fury. Ronnie turns sharply. “Huh? Who said…” he asks softly, turning towards Psycho-Pirate. THROOOM! Ronnie blows through the auditorium roof like a rocket being launched. Harbinger flying overhead quickly dodges out of the way of the debris hurtling through the air. “This isn’t going at all the way we planned,” she exclaims in a rain of metal and roof fragments. “Firestorm’s behavior is known to be erratic, but never so bizarre!” she worries anxiously.
FZAAM! FZA-FZAAM! Atomic restructuring powers strike and alter flying shards of roof metal…changing fragments of girders into shining swords…that swing toward their target like birds to a roost. Harbinger raises her hands in opposition to the swords rushing straight at her. SSSSSSZZZK! A yellow beam emanates in a ray from her eyes. The swords wither in the beam and disappear! “Enough!” Harbinger yells at Firestorm. He aims straight at her at break-neck speed. “Listen to me,” she orders him, “Whatever the reason for this game you’re playing it must end!” Ronnie extends his fists in front of him. “Suits me, lady!” he yells and…WHAM! He smashes right into her. She is blasted back, falling down with him toward a parking lot crowded with vehicles. “He’s insane!” she exclaims.
KRASSSH! Harbinger and Firestorm fall directly on top of a parked van. The windows and windshield shatter into a hail of broken glass as they smash right through the sheet metal roof. She sits up on the van floor and thrusts her boot hard against the door. SPROING! It rips off the hinges and sails away. “I have a mission. I will not be delayed,” she says determinedly. She walks out of the van, resting her boot on the van’s door. Psycho-Pirate reaches into the open window of a parked car behind her. She stands and looks back at the van. Firestorm emerges, coiling his hands to prepare another nuclear salvo. “Yeah? Guess again. I’m tired of being pushed around. It’s not fair,” Ronnie growls at her.
She cocks her head at him curiously. “Fair? What are you talking about?” she asks through raised eyebrows. “Eh?” she says, quickly turning to look at Psycho-Pirate, “You. You did this to him, Psycho-Pirate. Release him immediately.” She pokes at his shoulder. “Hm…?” he asks. He quickly pulls his hand out of the car window and turns to face her. “Harbinger! There you are!” he blurts, feigning innocence, “I’ve been looking for you everywhere!” Harbinger scowls at him. “I do not doubt it. Undo what you’ve done, Pirate. Quickly,” she orders him. Psycho-Pirate looks around, finally locking his eyes on Firestorm. “What…Oh!” he gulps. Ronnie clenches his fist, glaring at Psycho-Pirate and holding a blast of nuclear energy just waiting for a suitable target.
Psycho-Pirate reaches up and quickly removes his mask. His softened expression looks gently at Firestorm. “Sorry. It was an accident…really,” he apologizes, “Everything’s fine now.” Ronnie’s scowl melts off his face and he quickly calms. “Hey…how did you do that?” he asks Psycho Pirate, “A moment ago, I wanted to smash you guys flat. Uh, and now…Now…I don’t feel crazy anymore.” Ronnie stands next to the crushed van as Harbinger floats a few feet away. “Your feelings were manipulated by the Psycho-Pirate,” she explains, “I assure you it will not happen again.” Psycho-Pirate strides up beside her. “Yeah. Promise,” he echoes.
Harbinger turns to stand next to Firestorm. They look up into the still-stormy sky. Harbinger raises her arms, gesturing at the clouds. “Look, a west wind is blowing…A storm is brewing. A storm unlike any you have ever seen,” she observes. “Looks like people are gonna get wet,” Ronnie answers, asking, “This mission you want me for, it’s got something to do with the storm?” Harbinger looks around at the clouds stretching toward the horizon. “The storm is both prelude and echo of the true menace. All will be explained,” she answers.
Ronnie sighs. “Uh-huh. I’ve heard lines like that before. I’ll bite, though. Where to now?” he asks. Harbinger thrusts her hands down quickly. Radiant yellow light swirls from around her, sweeping around the group’s feet. “We go to recruit an acquaintance of yours…Killer Frost,” she reveals. “Say what?” Ronnie blurts, “That lady’s a lunatic!” Psycho-Pirate gapes hesitantly at the strange yellow light. “Aw, no,” he worries, “She’s doing it again!” The light spins and pulsates, quickly enveloping the three. “From there, we begin a journey to beginning and ends. That is all I may tell you,” Harbinger explains. Ronnie looks back and forth anxiously at the bizarre energy seemingly swallowing them whole. “Yeah, but what about the storm?” he asks, “What about…”
Questions and answers must await another time and place. The storm breaks. And the sky cries with a giant’s tears…