Blue Devil, travelling from Hollywood, is forced to take evasive action when a fireball lands on the expressway just in front of his Devilmobile. The fireball was caused by the impact of Firestorm, blasted there by a vicious attack from Bolt. A flashback takes us to 13 hours earlier. The Hyena has escaped from the Pleasant Hollow Convalescent Center. Cliff tells Ed Raymond a nasty rumor about Ronnie. Multiplex brings his team of villains to Three Rivers Stadium where they plan their upcoming robbery at the Pittsburgh Civic Arena's big computer show.
*** Note: Following this issue, this story line continues in Blue Devil #23 ***
Prologue: Route 279, heading east from the Fort Pitt Tunnel through Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Sunday, 10:54 a.m. “98 bottles of beer on the wall, 98 bottle of beer,” sings Wayne Tarrant as Blue Devil guides the Devilmobile along the expressway. “If one of those bottles should happen to fall,” Wayne blares, “97 bottles of beer on the wall!” Blue Devil grips the steering wheel tightly, growing more irritated with each passing second by his passenger’s singing voice.
“No jury in the world would convict me. Wayne’s been singing one road song after another since we left Las Vegas,” Blue Devil thinks, “If he starts one more verse, just one more, I’ll have to kill him.” Wayne takes a preparatory breath and unleashes another audio barrage. “97 bottles of beer on the wall, 97 bottles…” he sings, then exclaims, “Hey, Dan! Look at that!” Blue Devil looks back and forth quickly. “Huh? Holy s - - pit!” Blue Devil yells in surprise.
SKRROO-KAROOOM! A fireball barrels out of the sky right at them! Blue Devil slams on the brakes on his Devilmobile, and the fireball smashes into the roadway just ahead of them! Blue Devil and Wayne jump out of their car, looking down the edge of a massive, smoking crater. “What was it, Cassidy? A meteor?” Wayne asked excitedly. “From Pittsburgh? I’m no scientist, Wayne, but last I heard, meteors come down - - not across,” Blue Devil answers. They walk carefully along the crater edge, peering down through the hazy smoke rising from within.
“This friend of yours who lives near here…Couldn’t he have warned you about this kind of thing?” Wayne asks, adding, “I thought L.A. was getting nuts…but this…” Blue Devil reaches a hand out toward Wayne. “Zip it, Wayne. Something’s down there,” he says, straining to see, “I can’t be sure till the smoke clears, but I think…” His words trail off as the smoke clears just enough to allow him to see the Nuclear Man lying at the bottom of the crater. “Yup, Firestorm…?” Blue Devil asks anxiously.
Thirteen hours earlier…Saturday, 9:34 p.m. Pleasant Hollow Convalescent Home, upstate New York. One of those quiet, out-of-the-way establishments where society buries its more embarrassing misfits…A place where the ‘convalescing’ never quite get well enough to leave. A ‘home’ more prison than hospital…
Firestorm stands at the outer driveway of the home, talking with several police officers. One holds a coiled length of rope. “One’a the guys who kidnapped the Day girl hog-tied an orderly with this weird kind of rope…sticky. Ever see anything like it?” an officer asks, holding the rope out for Firestorm to see. “Yeah…once,” Ronnie answers, explaining, “It belonged to a thug called Slipknot. I’ve got a feeling Summer Day wasn’t kidnapped, Officer.” Ronnie takes the rope in his hands, pulling it with his fingers to examine it. “You figure the guys who busted her out of this place were friends of hers?” the officer asks. Ronnie thinks for a moment. “Not friends, exactly. Maybe would-be allies,” he replies, handing the rope back to the officer.
The officer adjusts his uniform cap, looking over the coiled rope. “Allies? Since when does a looney have allies?” he wonders. “Summer Day had another name,” Ronnie explains, “Ask the people who ran this asylum…then check your records under ‘Hyena.’” The officer recognizes that name immediately, blurting, “Hyena? Cripes, you don’t mean…” FZZAAAM! Ronnie leaps skyward, calling back, “Yeah, Officer, that’s exactly what I mean.” The officer looks nervously at the rope as sweat beads around his face. “Cripes,” he worriedly sighs.
Ronnie flies over the clouds on a moonlit night. “Slipknot gave us a few bad moments several months back as I recall, when he tried to capture Firehawk on behalf of the 2000 Committee, but we haven’t heard from him since,” Stein mentions, asking, “Why do you suspect his presence now, Ronald?” Ronnie answers with a rhetorical question, asking, “What’re the odds two guys are gonna go around noosing people, Professor? We beat Slipknot pretty badly that time…and then the guy disappeared. I always wondered what happened to the guy. Suppose he’s been hiding somewhere, nursing a grudge against us.”
Stein wonders, “Why would that lead him to the Hyena?” Ronnie banks them over the Finger Lakes turning southwest towards Pittsburgh. “I don’t know…unless he hooked up with another of our enemies,” Ronnie suggests. Stein nods. “Heaven knows we have quite a few,” he agrees, asking, “Ronald, how did you learn of the Hyena’s…ah…escape?” Ronnie answers, “Doreen and I were at dinner with my Dad and his fiancée. Doreen got a message from her folks that Summer had been kidnapped from Pleasant Hollow, so I...”
Ronnie abruptly smacks his forehead in frustration. “Aw, no!” he yells, instantly picking up speed. “What’s wrong?” Stein asks anxiously. “I left Doreen alone at the dorm! She must be half crazy wondering what’s happened to her sister!” Ronnie blurts quickly, “She needs me and I’m not there! How could I be so dumb! Dumb! Dumb! Dumb!”
Vandemeer University, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, one nuclear-swift interstate flight later…FAZAAM! Ronnie transforms them to their individual personas as soon as they land on campus.
“Oh, terrific. There’s Cliff Carmichael with my Dad and Felicity, probably sticking it to me behind my back,” Ronnie groans. He leans along the edge of the building, peering around the corner at them. Stein, still dressed for the symphony with Dr. Rice, reaches to adjust his tuxedo bow tie. “I’ve never understood what that young man has against you, Ronald,” Stein wonders. Ronnie explains, “Cliff thinks I’ve had life too easy, Professor. Guess he want to make things harder for me to even up.” Ronnie looks on as his father talks with Felicity and Cliff. “For a while there, when we all thought my Dad was dead, Cliff and I almost became friends,” Ronnie continues, “But that didn’t last. He hates me as much as ever now.”
“Let us know if Doreen needs our help, Cliff,” Ed Raymond tells him, “We’re staying at the Hilton downtown. Felicity wants to visit the Computer Trade Show at the Civic Arena tomorrow, so we’ll be around til…” His voice trails off as he sees Professor Stein and Ronnie emerge and walk toward them.
“Ronnie! Where have you been?” Ed asks angrily. “Hi, Dad…Hi, Felicity,” Ronnie says meekly. “Doreen needed you - - I’m stunned you weren’t here for her,” his Dad says with a scowl. “I…” Ronnie stutters. “Don’t be too hard on him, Ed,” Felicity suggests, “I’m sure Ronnie must have an explanation.”
Ronnie sighs sheepishly, looking down at his shoes a moment. “…I don’t. I just couldn’t be here. That’s all,” he mumbles. His Dad frowns at him, waving his hand out in frustration. “I’m disappointed in you, Ronnie. Gravely disappointed,” he says, adding, “Perhaps what Cliff told me is true.” Ronnie quickly grows suspicious, angrily eyeing his smug rival. “What Cliff told you…?” Ronnie asks skeptically.
“How could I keep it a secret, Raymond?” Cliff answers with feigned concern, “Your folks have a right to know.” Ronnie stomps over to Cliff. “Keep what a secret, Cliff?” Ronnie asks, confronting him, “Tell me what you told them.” Cliff raises his hands defensively. “Everybody knows you’re under a strain, Ron,” Cliff explains, “Juggling a full course load plus football practice plus whatever else it is you do that takes you off campus all the time…” Ronnie grabs two fists full of Cliff’s shirt, shaking him. “And? What’s the and part, Cliff?” he snarls in Cliff’s face. “And I guess it’s no surprise you need something to pump up the old power plant…am I right?” Cliff asks accusingly.
Ronnie explodes in anger. “Drugs? You lousy spitball, you told my Dad I do drugs?” he yells, bellowing, “I’ll kill you!” He thrusts his left hand across Cliff’s face with a sickening smack. Ed and Professor Stein quickly step in to restrain Ronnie. He struggles against them, trying to get back to Cliff. “Ronnie, that’s enough!” his Dad yells. “Calm down…For Heaven’s sake, nobody would ever believe such a thing about you. You know that,” Stein says, trying to defuse Ronnie.
Cliff stands, adjusting his glasses from the blow, a wry and satisfied smile on his face. Ronnie yanks his arm away from Professor Stein. “Do I?” he counters angrily, “You heard what my Dad said, Professor Stein. ‘Perhaps what Cliff told us is true.’” Ronnie points at his Dad as his temper gets the best of him. “He believes it. Look at his face. My Dad, the smart newspaperman, believes a scuzzball like Cliff over his own son!” he barks in frustration, “Thanks a lot, Dad. Thanks for the vote of confidence. It’s just what I need!”
Ronnie turns and stomps up the stairs to the dorm. His Dad, Felicity, and Stein watch him depart, stunned by the outburst. “For your information, Mr. Raymond, Ronnie was with me this morning,” Stein explains, “He came to me…for advice about how to help Doreen and her sister Summer. I think you’ve done the boy a great wrong. He’s not perfect…he makes mistakes, as we all do…but he’s trying to be a better man…and that’s more than I can say for most of us in this world.”
Ronnie walks along the dark and quiet dormitory hallway. He finds his way to Doreen’s room and opens the door. Doreen lies on her bed, crying. Without a word, Ronnie sits on the bed next to her. A ‘Twisted Sister’ poster hangs over Doreen’s headboard. A picture of Summer in happier times sits on her nightstand. She leans against Ronnie and he gently rubs her shoulders. They sit quietly as the soft rays from the Moon shine through her window.
Three Rivers Stadium, midnight, Saturday. Light radiates up from the stadium, but the parking lot is strangely devoid of cars. “You’re probably wondering why I’ve called you here tonight. As you all know, my name is Multiplex…and as you all undoubtedly have guessed, we four have an enemy in common. The self-styled Nuclear Man…Firestorm,” Multiplex announces to the group of allies he has recruited. He stands on the brightly lit field with the Hyena, Mindboggler, and Slipknot. “What you may not know is Firestorm’s present location,” Multiplex continues with a Cheshire Cat grin, “He is here…in this city…Pittsburgh. And so, by a happy coincidence, is the richest score in criminal history.”
Multiplex gestures overhead to the press box. “Allow me to demonstrate with the aid of one of my duploids and this…ah…scoreboard,” Multiplex tells them. In the press box, his duploid hits a control switch. Instantly, the scoreboard displays a blueprint-like image. “What you’re looking at is a computerized diagram of the Pittsburgh Civic Arena…an ultra-modern exhibit hall used for sports, concerts, theatrical events, and industrial trade shows,” Multiplex explains, “One such trade show opened at the Arena this morning…the Eastern USA Computer Fair, a gathering of displays presented by the major computer manufacturers from around the world.”
The duploid clicks a bright red button on the scoreboard control panel, and the scoreboard changes to read ‘Eastern USA Computer Fair” in gigantic electric letters. “Among the items displayed is the only working prototype of the Super-3000 Cray + Computer…the most advanced piece of electronic equipment in history,” Multiplex explains, and his duploid in the press box speaks the same words simultaneously. The scoreboard switches to show an image of the advanced prototype. “The Super-3000 represents a quantum leap in computer science toward the goal of artificial intelligence,” Multiplex continues, “The prototype you see displayed above is the only working model in existence…and its value is placed well in excess…”
An unexpected voice in the press box interrupts. “$25,000,000!” the voice says loudly. The duploid looks back, asking, “Who said that?” In unison, Multiplex on the stadium field turns and asks, “Who said that?” A man strides into the press box wearing a form-fitting blue costume. A skull and lightning symbol emblazons his chest. “Ah did, amigo. Name’s Bolt,” he announces to the duploid, “Ah’ve been trailin’ you boyos since I ran into ya in Washington, D. C. Ah’m your new pardner.”
The duploid launches himself at Bolt, yelling, “The hell you are!” Bolt prepares himself quickly but remains unphased, answering, “Amigo, y’all have got to learn a lesson in hospitality…” ZAAKK! The duploid passes right through as Bolt instantly disappears, smashing into the wall behind him. ZAAKK! Bolt instantly reappears on the field next to Multiplex. “…And ah’m just the hombre who kin teach ya,” Bolt continues. “Eh?” Multiplex blurts in surprise. KWAM! Bolt hammers Multiplex with a powerful uppercut, stunning him and knocking him prone on the ground. “Name ain’t ‘Eh?’, amigo,” Bolt explains, “Name’s Bolt. You got trouble rememberin’ it - - write it down!”
Multiplex reaches behind him to a circuit breaker box. CCRACCKLE! His hand touches the box, instantly drawing a massive feed of power into his body.”I’ll write it down all right,” Multiplex snarls, yelling and forming two duploids, “on your tombstone!” The duploids echo in tandem unison. “Cute trick…the way y’all suck ‘lectricity and use it to split up like’a bunch’a breedin’ jackrabbits!” Bolt says, “Let’s see what ya do with a taste ‘a this!”
ZZAKK! Bolt thrusts a lightning blast right into Multiplex. “Holy…!” Bolt exclaims as Multiplex fissions into dozens of smaller duploids from the lightning’s energy. “Yer almost as fun as a friend of mine back in the City of Angeles, by the name of Blue Devil,” Bolt tells the miniature army swarming around him. The mass of Multiplexes calls out in harmony, “Fool! You’ll never beat me that way!”
Bolt answers, “But it’ll take more’n a mess of squeakin’ midgets…to settle this hombre’s hash!” ZZAKK! He disappears from the field, reappearing in an eyeblink up in the stands. “It’s pretty clear ah can’t beat you an y’all can’t beat me. What d’ya say we work together?” Bolt calls down from the front row seats. Multiplex absorbs the army of small duploids back into his body. “We don’t need another partner…but I suppose we have no choice. As you say, you and I are evenly matched,” Multiplex answers, “Very well…You can join our little group…if the others agree.”
Multiplex turns to his three companions as Bolt leaps down to join them on the field. “I was wondering when you’d remember us,” Mindboggler mutters. “You brought us all together, Multiplex…but we’ve got an interest in this too,” Slipknot adds. “Heehee…that’s right,” the Hyena laughs, “Firestorm locked me away…haha…he and my family…hahee…and I want to see him pay.”
Multiplex smiles and nods. “Naturally, that’s part of my plan. Our actions tomorrow will attract Firestorm to the Civic Arena…and when he arrives…we will destroy him,” he says, asking, “Is that satisfactory? Mindboggler…Hyena…Slipknot…are we agreed?” Mindboggler nods, answering, “You bet. Firestorm tricked me into betraying the 2000 Committee. It’s taken me a long time to realize how much I hate him. Tomorrow, he dies.” The Hyena giggles in agreement, “Tomorrow, tomorrow! Hee-hee!” Slipknot eagerly runs a rope through his hands, answering, “After the hurt he caused my career…I’m gonna enjoy twistin’ the knot on him personally.” Bolt smiles, adding, “Jus’ so long as the money is as good as ya say, ah don’t care who y’all want to ambush. Ah’m in.” Mutliplex surveys his team borne of vengeance. “Five of us against him,” he grins slyly with anticipation, “Firestorm doesn’t stand a chance!”
Hilton Hotel, Sunday morning, 9:05 a.m. Ed Raymond sits alone at a table in the hotel restaurant. Ronnie walks up to join him. “I guess we better talk, huh? Mind if I sit down…?” Ronnie asks. His Dad waves for him to sit, and Ronnie slides into the booth. “Ronnie…I’m glad you came,” his Dad says. “Professor Stein said he spoke to you last night,” Ronnie explains, “He told me you wanted to see me here this morning. Here I am.”
“I guess I better apologize…” both men say at the same time. “Uh…” his Dad mumbles. “…umm,” Ronnie echoes. They stare at each other for a moment, then both relax and smile. “Dad, I shouldn’t have blown off like that. Cliff gets me crazy…and anybody near him catches hell too,” Ronnie says. “Stein told me you and Cliff aren’t too fond of each other,” his Dad replies, adding, “If I’d known that…” Ronnie interjects, growing agitated. “That’s the point, Dad…You didn’t have to know Cliff…you already know me,” Ronnie explains, “It really hurt my feelings that you believed what he told you.”
Ed stares down at his coffee for a moment. “Understand, Ronnie…it’s not easy being a single parent. I’m not worried about you so much as I’m worried about me…About my own ability to raise a son, without your mother to lend her wise council,” his dad replies. “I have no one to talk to…no one to ask for advice…to share my concerns…to reassure me that I’ve done right by you all these years with the two of us alone,” he continues. “Cliff’s accusation struck at my own sense of…inadequacy,” his Dad reveals, “It’s not you I don’t believe in, Ronnie…it’s me.”
Ronnie reaches his hand out, resting it on top of his Dad’s. “Dad, come on…You’ve done a great job,” Ronnie says reassuringly, “Take it from someone who knows. I’ve been there too, remember?” His father nods. “Still…that’s one reason I’m glad I found Felicity. I love her, son, and I need her…We need her.”
“Ed Raymond, you’ll turn my head,” Felicity says, overhearing Ed’s thoughts as she walked up to the table behind him. He gets up to greet her and she leans happily against him. “Hi, Felicity…Look, I guess I better get going…,” Ronnie says as he stands. “Nonsense. Why don’t you join us at the Trade Show?” Felicity asks. She grabs both of their arms and walks them out. “Well, sure, if it’s okay with you,” Ronnie replies. “Good, it’s settled,” she smiles, “You’ll get a kick out of this show, Ron. They’ve got a special display this year.”
Pittsburgh Civic Arena, Sunday, 9:32 a.m. Crowds walk about on the exhibition floor, taking in the displays and presentations. A large group is gathered around a prominent display in the center of the arena. “ - - the Super-3000, ladies and gentlemen,” a presenter announces, “The most advanced piece of hardware anywhere in the world, featuring 30 megabytes of internal RAM, fully addressable for instant processing of the most complex algorithms…” The Super-3000 sits sealed atop a glass display pedestal as people jockey for position to see it.
“Do you really understand all this stuff, Felicity?” Ronnie asks. She nods, answering, “Computer software used to be my business, Ronnie…before Firestorm put me out of business with his incompetence. But I’ll deal with him tomorrow back in New York when my lawsuit goes to trial.” She looks over at the people gathered around the advanced prototype display. “You know…they say the Super-3000 is almost as complicated as a human brain,” she ponders, “I wonder if…if…Ohmigod…What’s that?”
Felicity looks up in fear as a bright light flashes in the upper area of the Arena. Ronnie asks her, “What’s wha - - YAAAHH!” Ronnie yells in shock as he looks up. From the rafters descends a hideous monster! Its large red eyes and dripping fangs strike terror into the crowd. Its long, slimy green tentacles and claws reach down grabbing at the scattering masses. “SLGGHHTH KKA SKKTAHHA!” it hisses. Two gooey green appendages quickly wrap tightly around two men…including Ed Raymond! The tentacles lift them off their feet, and they squirm helplessly as they are pulled towards the monster.
“Ed!” a horrified Felicity screams. “That thing - - it’s got Dad!” yells Ronnie. Ed is lifted high above them. “Ronnie - - we’ve got to do something!” Felicity yells as she reaches up to try and grab the tentacle squeezing around Ed. “You can’t, Felicity,” Ronnie yells to her as he grabs her shoulder, “I can! But first I’ve got to get you out of danger!”
Ronnie pulls her shoulder to spin her around and…SWAK! He rips a crossing punch right across her jaw! Felicity collapses unconscious in a heap at his feet! He quickly bends down to pick her up. She hangs limply in his arms. “How will I explain that when she wakes up?” he worries, “A lot easier that I can explain changing into Firestorm right before her eyes! I don’t have time to find a hiding place…not with that nightmare out of a Lovecraft story choking Dad and that other guy!” Ronnie sets Felicity down, partially sheltered by a giant computer display. He clenches his fists in concentration to start the transformation. “Hope you’re awake, Professor Stein,” Ronnie concentrates, “This is a job for Firestorm!”
In a flash, Firestorm appears in the Civic Arena flying to confront the beast. “Boy, I always wanted to say that!” Ronnie smiles. Stein is dripping wet. “My boy, if there is one thing in life I absolutely despise - - it’s being called out of a shower!” he sputters through the water running down his face. “Dry your eyes and take a look at this, Professor,” Ronnie tells him. “It’s like something out of a story by Lovecraft!” Stein exclaims. “What do you know…That’s what I said!” Ronnie replies as he flies between the slimy tentacles to get closer to his Dad.
“KTTAHH C’THULU SLOGGOTH!” the creature growls. Stein looks it over closely as they pass by its head. “In fact…that is a creature out of Lovecraft! But Lovecraft’s stories were fiction!” he says. FZAM! Ronnie blasts a tentacle out of his path with a nuclear burst. Ed Raymond and the other man dangle in the air as the tentacles twist and turn them. Another tentacle reaches out and wraps tightly around Ronnie’s right leg. He blasts the tentacle with a nuclear burst. “Yeah, well, this baby’s real. Real…and mean!” he answers, “Now it’s got me! My nuclear bursts don’t even slow it down!”
Stein thinks quickly, advising, “Ronald, I assure you…that creature cannot be what it appears to be! It must be some kind of…” Ronnie quickly interjects, “- - illusion? This illusion’s got my leg, Professor!” The tentacle pulls Ronnie sharply, hanging him upside down high above the Arena floor. “Look past the surface, Ronald!” Stein directs, “The surface is an illusion…It’s what is beyond the illusion that threatens us!” Ronnie looks back and forth rapidly. “Beyond the illusion…” he repeats as he scans. He focuses sharply on the tentacle wrapped around his leg. He wills his mind to look beyond the illusion. The tentacle blurs as Ronnie concentrates on it, and slowly, the tentacle becomes…a rope! “That’s no tendril…it’s a rope…a rope like the one at Pleasant Hollow!” Ronnie yells.
“You can stop casting your illusion, Mindboggler,” Multiplex announces as Slipknot pulls the upside-down Firestorm up into the Arena’s catwalks. “It served its purpose, bringing Firestorm to us more quickly than I ever dared hope,” Multiplex grins. “Looks kinda like a landed fish, don’t he?” Slipknot observes, holding the rope tightly with both hands. “Heehee…haha…Funny, funny man!” giggle the Hyena. Bolt shoves Multiplex out of the way, stepping closer to the dangling Firestorm. “Time’s a’wastin’. Let’s git it done, and git back to business,” he snorts as electrical energy crackles over his hand. “Bolt! What’re you doing?” Mindboggler points at him, “You have no right - - he’s our enemy!”
“Your enemy, my enemy…” Bolt parrots, scowling at Firestorm and snarling, “He’s history.” KKRAAK! A massive blast of electrical energy surges from Bolt’s hands and smashes into Firestorm! SKROOOOO! Firestorm is blasted up, smashing through the Arena roof and up into the sky above Pittsburgh like a meteor!
Route 279, heading east from the Fort Pitt Tunnel through Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Sunday, 10:54 a.m. KAROOOM!!! A fireball barrels out of the sky right the cars on the busy freeway. Blue Devil slams on the brakes of his Devilmobile, and the fireball smashes into the roadway just ahead of them! Blue Devil and Wayne Tarrant jump out of their car, looking down the edge of a massive, smoking crater. “What was it, Cassidy? A meteor?” Wayne asked excitedly. “From Pittsburgh? I’m no scientist, Wayne, but last I heard, meteors come down - - not across,” Blue Devil answers. They walk carefully along the crater edge, peering down through the hazy smoke rising from within.
“This friend of yours who lives near here…Couldn’t he have warned you about this kind of thing?” Wayne asks, adding, “I thought L.A. was getting nuts…but this…” Blue Devil reached a hand out toward Wayne. “Zip it, Wayne. Something’s down there,” he says, straining to see, “I can’t be sure till the smoke clears, but I think…” His words trail off as the smoke clears just enough to allow him to see the Nuclear Man lying at the bottom of the crater. “Yup, Firestorm…?” Blue Devil asks anxiously.