Professor Stein gets a disturbing diagnosis. The mysterious Silver Shade siphons power from the Pittsburgh electrical grid, then goes in search of even higher levels of power to gain energy from. Firestorm intercedes during a TV stunt gone awry. Hugo Hammer is released from hospital, and Ronnie confronts Cliff Carmichael about the football helmet. Silver Shade attacks the experimental atomic pile at Vandemeer University's Physics Lab.
*** Note: This issue is the last written by Firestorm co-creator Gerry Conway ***
This is the way your world ends, not with a bang, not with a whimper, but with images of white on black…
“That area near the center of the skull…that’s the tumor. I’m afraid it’s inoperable,” Professor Martin Stein’s doctor announces grimly. Frontal and lateral images of Stein’s skull x-rays hang from the lighted view screen. The doctor points to the area of concern deep inside Stein’s brain. “Those headaches you’ve had recently…the intermittent disorientation…those are symptoms,” the doctor explains, “The tumor is the cause.”
Stein stands with jaw agape, trying to process the awful news. “How long? How long do I have..?” he asks softly. The doctor pulls the x-rays down and tucks them into Stein’s medical records folder. “Eight months. A year at the outside,” the doctor replies, adding, “I’m sorry, Mr. Stein. When you came to me, you asked me to be blunt.” Stein nods. “Yes, I did. You see, I’m a recovered alcoholic. The headaches, the dizziness…I thought it had something to do with the drinking I’d done,” he explains. He and the doctor walk out of the examination room. “I can give you a number to call…A counseling center for the terminally ill,” suggests the doctor. Stein closes his eyes and takes a long, slow breath. “No, no, I have to meet a friend,” he answers, “I have to think…no…”
This is the way your world ends.
Report from Shift Foreman, Generating Station #6: “At 4:36 p.m. this day, grid network A-14/B surged under peak overload, shorting generator #4 and requiring a shift in load to generators #1 and #3. For exactly two seconds, the power feed over the North Central lines exceeded normal load by a factor of fifty. The North Central power lines service the industrial area along the river, but a check made by this office with customers in the service area reveals no abnormal power demands this afternoon from any on-line service. P.S.: Between you and me, Pete, if they didn’t cause the overload…who the hell did?”
The power lines stretch out for miles from Generating Station #6. Crossing from country to city, they branch off from huge transmission towers to small neighborhood telephone poles. An electrical line runs from one of those small neighborhood poles and leads into the window on the upper floor of an old steel mill.
The power line glows strangely as huge and unusual amounts of energy surge through the it. Inside the warehouse, a man stands grasping the power line with his bare hands. Clad only in shorts, energy radiates off him as it flows directly into him from the power line coming in the window. Robot drones tend to a cauldron of liquid metal nearby. A gleaming silver body suit hangs near the man, suspended from the ceiling by a large chain.
From the notebook of Xavier Pervis: ‘Today I pushed my power to its limit, drawing energy directly from the city’s main generating plant. At first, I thought I would die. But it was glorious. I felt the harmonics of the universe vibrating throughout my soul. So much power. So much power. It needed release. Under my touch, the test metal squirmed…shivering as if in ecstasy.’
‘Before, my power had been limited to much smaller masses of metal, only a few ounces at a time. Now I can manipulate tons. Glorious. Glorious. But to control such a mass, I need a source of sufficient energy. Continuing to tap the Pittsburgh power supply would be an impractical solution. Wearing the body suit I developed, I can tap into solar energy through photovoltic cells etched into its surface…but that energy is too limited for my needs. All my life, I’ve been forced to restrict my ambition…to compromise my desires…because I’ve lacked the energy to fulfill my potential. No longer. Today, Xavier Pervis ends his compromise with life. Today Silver Shade is born.’
The man now known as Silver Shade releases the power line from his grip. His eyes glow a strange pinkish-red. He reaches for the sparkling silver suit and slowly puts it on. He reaches for his silver helmet, sitting on a table next to a copy of the local newspaper. He gazes down at the newspaper. Its headline announces “Protest Planned Against Nuclear Program, Vandemeer to Test Compact Nuclear Power Plant.” The article is accompanied by photos of the protestors and one of Dr. Wendy Olsen, head of the Vandemeer Physics Department. Silver Shade reaches for his helmet and puts in on while eyeing the newspaper intently…
“Is this a live mike? Barbara, check with the booth…I want a live feed for this…” reporter Bill Burton tells his camerawoman as he prepares for his live report. Barbara nods at him to give him his queue. “Here’s Bill Burton via WHUP-TV Action-Cam, with a special broadcast from the WHUP-TV roof. Bill?” segues Betty, the in-studio broadcaster.
“Betty, we’ve seen some pretty peculiar stunts performed for the benefit of our cameras, since we began the Famous-for-Fifteen-Minutes series here on the WHUP-TV Four-Thirty Action Newscast,” Bill begins. Barbara pans the camera from him to the top of the station’s antenna, where a man sits high above them. Bill shades his eyes as he looks up at the man. “River-rafting on the Monongahela, phone booth stuffers at the Civic Center, turf-eaters at Three Rivers Stadium,” he continues, “But this up-to-the-minute re-creation of an old-time flagpole sitting, on our very own WHUP-TV broadcast antenna is a new experience for this reporter…Wha - - He’s falling!”
Suddenly, the man loses his grip on the antenna and plummets before a live TV audience. Just as suddenly, a yellow and red streak of light appears out of nowhere and catches the falling man! “Huh? Firestorm - - ?” Bill blurts in surprise. Ronnie flies the man safely down to the rooftop. Bill recovers his composure quickly.
“Remember, you saw it live via Action-Cam…a mid-air rescue by Pittsburgh’s own resident super-hero,” Bill continues. He waves to the Nuclear Man. “Firestorm, can I ask…” he starts to say. Ronnie interjects, asking, “You’re Bill Burton, aren’t you?”
The reporter smiles and nods, pleased at the recognition. “Right you are, Firestorm. I gather you’re a viewer of WHUP,” he replies, holding the microphone out in Ronnie’s face. “You do that Famous-for-Fifteen-Minutes spot, don’t you?” Ronnie asks, adding, “Encouraging people to pull dumb stunts so they can get on TV…” Bill explains, “We don’t make the news, Firestorm, we just report it.” Ronnie grows annoyed. “Yeah?” he answers, “Well, report this you lousy…”
BZZZZ! Across the city, thousands of TV sets tuned to WHUP-TV suddenly cut to static. A few seconds later, a ‘Please Stand By’ graphic appears on those screens. “Okay, cut to studio, camera one. Bill’s lost it,” orders the TV news producer in the station control room. “Betty, take it on three” he directs, “One, two …” Betty quickly fills the unexpected gap. “Thanks, Bill. Well, Bob, it’s over to you for tomorrow’s weather,” she tells the camera. In the control room, the producer looks at his split screens. Barbara’s camera feed from the rooftop shows Bill pulling himself back to his feet as Firestorm flies off.
“Sorry about that, Professor,” Ronnie explains, “I guess I got steamed. That kid on the antenna would have been killed if I hadn’t passed by.” A few moments pass. “Hmm? Excuse me, Ronald, did you say something?” a noticeably preoccupied Professor Stein asks. “Yeah. Guys like Burton frost my popsicle,” Ronnie answers, “Smug, self-righteous, deadly…” Stein nods. “All true, I suppose…But isn’t it your friend Hugo that you’re really upset about?” he asks. Ronnie guides them down towards the hospital below. “Well, maybe,” Ronnie admits, “But Burton still got me mad.”
A moment’s silent concentration and the nuclear bond that joins two beings as one begins to shatter… “Nothing wrong with anger, my boy,” Stein tells him, “provided you know what motivates the feeling.” Atomic light flashes and dances around them as the two men separate from Firestorm. “I guess I am pretty upset about Hugo, Professor,” Ronnie replies, “Hugo gets out of the hospital today…paralyzed from the neck down by an ‘accident’ intended for me. Seeing that kid risk his life, egged on by that idiot Burton - - just seemed like such a waste.”
Stein reaches a hand to Ronnie’s shoulder. He and Ronnie stand watching as Hugo, seated in a wheelchair, exits the hospital with his family. “Hard as it may be to accept, Ronald, you can rarely protect people from themselves,” Stein reassures him, asking, “You feel guilty about Hugo, don’t you?”
Ronnie sighs deeply. “What else?” he answers, closing his eyes at the difficult images replaying in his mind. “Hugo was wearing my helmet by mistake when he fell during a game…the strap had been cut deliberately,” Ronnie recalls, “and without the helmet to protect him, Hugo broke his neck. Somebody cut that strap, Professor Stein. Somebody who hates my guts enough to want me badly hurt.”
Hugo waits with his mother and father as Cliff Carmichael pulls up alongside them. Ronnie and Stein walk towards them. “That same somebody later stole the helmet from Coach Percy’s office before the Police could see it,” Ronnie adds. “You think Cliff Carmichael..?” Stein asks, gazing at Ronnie’s nemesis. “Got a better candidate? Cliff’s been President of the Get-Ronnie Raymond Club since High School,” Ronnie answers.
Cliff walks over and moves to push Hugo’s wheelchair. “But that…Hugo Hammer is Cliff’s cousin,” Stein says. Ronnie lowers his voice as they get close to Hugo and his family. “He didn’t want to hurt Hugo, Professor. He wanted to hurt me,” Ronnie whispers.
Hugo looks up at his mother and father. “Uh…I made up my mind, Dad,” he announces, “I’m going back to school…back to Vandemeer.” His father scowls, waving his hands in opposition. “Son, it’s impossible,” he answers sternly, “In your condition…in a wheelchair…you should be home, where your mother and I can help you…”
A soft voice calls out from behind them. “That’s exactly where he shouldn’t be, Mr. Hammer,” explains Wendy Olsen. She wheels herself up to join the group. “You wouldn’t mean to, but you’d make him a prisoner,” she continues, suggesting, “Hugo’s life isn’t over. In a way…it’s only beginning.”
Ronnie looks at her with surprise. “Wendy Olsen? What’s she doing here?” he asks quietly. “I told her Hugo was being discharged today,” Stein answers, adding, “Wendy has an interest in disadvantaged students.”
Wendy reaches out to shake hands with Mr. Hammer. “You know my son, Miss?” he asks her. “Doctor Wendy Olsen. Academic, not medical. I head the Physics Department at Vandemeer,” she answers, explaining, “No, I don’t know your son, Mr. Hammer…but I saw him play football, and I know he was a hell of an athlete.” Hugo blushes. “Uh…c’mon…” he says with a slight smile.
“But more than that, I know what he’s feeling,” Wendy continues, “Fear. Anger. And something else…Determination. What he wants to do won’t be easy…but so what? Since when was living easy? That’s all he wants to do. Live. Let him.”
Cliff wheels Hugo into the family’s van. “Hugo’s gonna have it rough, Professor. He’s a ballplayer, not a student,” Ronnie worries. “People can change, Ronald,” Stein replies, “The human spirit has resources you can’t begin to imagine.”
Hugo’s parents get in the van as Cliff walks around to the driver’s door. Ronnie walks over and grabs Cliff by the shoulder. “Hey, Cliff,” Ronnie calls to him. “Not now, Raymond,” Cliff answers quickly. Ronnie pulls on Cliff so the two face each other in the street next to the van. “Now, Carmichael…or I’ll talk loud enough so everyone can hear. You want that?” Ronnie tells him sharply. “Let go of me,” Cliff snarls back. Ronnie glares at him, the two men’s faces separated by mere inches. “Just tell me…Did you do it?” Ronnie asks, growing impatient. “Do what?” Cliff answers. “Did you cut the strap?” Ronnie barks. “Cut the - - ?” Cliff asks, and then…
KRAK! Cliff smashes a left jab across Ronnie’s face! Ronnie falls to the ground. Cliff opens the van door. “Do us both a favor. Keep out of my life,” Cliff growls. He gets in and drives off. Professor Stein walks over to help Ronnie get back to his feet. “Lucky punch,” Ronnie says, rubbing his jaw, adding, “He did it, Professor. As sure as we’re standing here, I know he did it.”
Dusk on Vandemeer’s campus a few hours later… “It sounds so horrible,” Doreen tells Ronnie. They sit on the ground next to a tree near the dorms. She leans across him, snuggling her head under his chin. “One way, I believe Cliff couldn’t do it,” she continues, “Another way, it seems…well - - well, inevitable.” Ronnie looks her in the eye, asking, “What do you mean?”
Doreen rubs her hand over his cheek. “I knew Cliff before you ever came to Bradley High, Ronnie. We used to friends - - sort of,” Doreen explains, “Cliff needed a friend. He’s always been a kind of outcast - - he looks weird, what with those strange sideburns - - and he’s always been too much of a smart-mouth for his own good. But there was a time - - just a little while - - when the kids at Bradley actually respected Cliff. He won First Prize in the Citywide Science Fair during the first semester of our sophomore year.”
Ronnie thinks for a moment. “Yeah, so?” he asks. “So for almost a month, Cliff was somebody special at Bradley,” Doreen explains, “School spirit, right? Doesn’t matter what you think about a guy if he’s done something good for your school.” Ronnie sighs. “I guess,” he answers. “Cliff’s mind had made him a star. He felt good about himself. And then you showed up,” Doreen reveals, adding, “And almost from the first, you were popular.” She gently points a finger, tapping him on the chest. “Me?” Ronnie says with surprise.
“Trust me on this,” she answers. “So here’s Cliff - - Mr. Popularity one minute, Mr. Nobody the next - - and here’s you - - Mr. Nobody one minute, Mr. Popularity the next,” she continues, asking, “I mean, is it any wonder he hates you?” She stands up as he continues to think. “When you put it that way, I almost feel sorry for the guy,” Ronnie replies.
“Don’t get carried away - - if your hunch is right, we’re talking about a would-be murderer,” she answers. Ronnie looks at her, a bit confused. “But from all you said just now…” he starts to say. Doreen interjects. “I understand the guy, Ronnie,” she answers, “That doesn’t mean I like him. Anyway, until you get proof, this is all - - Hey…Isn’t that Professor Stein?”
Professor Stein stumbles nearby, grabbing at the back of his head. “Oh my God,” Ronnie says softly. “He doesn’t look too good…” Doreen says anxiously. Ronnie gets up quickly and runs over to him. Stein looks uncomfortable and sweat runs down his forehead and temples. “Professor - - what’ve you been doing to yourself?” Ronnie questions angrily. Stein quickly looks up at him. “Ronnie..? I…don’t know,” he mumbles haphazardly, “Walking to my apartment…just a few minutes ago…But was it a few minutes ago? It felt like morning. It isn’t morning now, is it?”
Ronnie reaches out a hand to steady the Professor. “Sounds like a blackout,” Ronnie answers, asking, “Professor…you’ve been drinking again - - haven’t you?” Stein reaches for Ronnie’s arm. “No, haven’t been drinking,” he answers, “Let go of…” Ronnie prompts him, “Not till you admit…” Doreen interjects. “Ronnie, you can’t…” she tries to caution.
“Stay out of this, Doreen,” Ronnie says, angrily turning to her and blurting, “He’s been boozing! Don’t you get it? The guys an alcoholic, and he’s…” Doreen tries to get him to calm down. “Ronnie, you don’t have to…” He interrupts, growing more upset. “Shut up!” he yells, “You don’t know what you’re talking abou…”
BWHOOM! Suddenly, a huge explosion rocks the Physics Building nearby! Debris blows into the sky as a cascade of fire and smoke erupts up into the air! “Ronnie - - that’s where the Physics Lab is,” Doreen gasps in horror, “The experimental nuclear pile! If it blew up - - Ronnie - - we…” She turns around, looking back and forth quickly. But Ronnie and Professor Stein are gone. “Ronnie...?” she asks.
FZZAMM! Firestorm appears in the sky over Vandemeer! “Ronald - - what’s going on? I can’t quite…” Stein says incoherently. “Don’t worry about it, Professor,” Ronnie answers quickly suggesting, “Just sleep it off.” Ronnie turns them towards the burning Physics Building. “I think it’s the experimental pile at the Physics Lab…but I can handle it. I’m the Nuclear Man, right? Piece of cake.”
Stein sighs dejectedly. “Do you think I’ve been drinking?” Stein asks. “What do you think? Take a wild guess,” Ronnie answers, adding, “Too bad we can’t read each other’s minds, huh?”
Ronnie dives down toward the gaping hole in the roof of the Physics Building. Black smoke billows out in a steady, ugly plume. “Or maybe it’s not too bad. You wouldn’t like what I’m thinking right now,” Ronnie continues. “Ronald, I swear to you…” Stein tries to say. Ronnie cuts him off. “Forget it. We’ll talk about this later,” he replies. Ronnie dives headfirst into the smoke plume. “Right now, I’ve got to clean up th - - huh?” he blurts.
SWOOOSHH! An object speeds right at him from below! KTHUNK! “EEEYOOWW!” Ronnie cries out as a giant silver fork smashes into him! “What happened, Ronald?” Stein asks. Ronnie’s abdomen is pinned between two tines of the strange weapon as they hover in mid-air. “Don’t know, Professor,” he answers, “Feel like…a hot dog on a stick!”
A voice from below calmly calls up to him. “Consider yourself fortunate,” it tells Firestorm, “I’m in a good mood.” Ronnie looks down to see his opponent, a strange man in a silver suit. He stands next to the melting experimental pile as energy radiates around him in a crackling pink aura. Just behind him, Wendy Olsen lies motionless on the floor, her wheelchair tipped on its side. A few feet behind her, Stu Schwab is face down, also motionless.
“But if you attempt any further interference with my efforts here, I might lose my temper,” the silver foe continues, adding, “and you won’t like me if I lose my temper.” Ronnie aims his hand at the fork. “You wanna talk about bad tempers, pal,” he answers, “Let’s talk about a really whizzed off Nuclear Man!”
FZZAM! Ronnie guides the fork away from him and pours restructuring energy into it. “I’ve been on edge all day - - and I’m not in the mood to pay one-upsmanship with some creep in a tin suit,” Ronnie calls down to him, “Whoever you are, you’re history.”
FZOOM! Ronnie transforms the fork into a giant toilet plunger and it races towards his foe! “Wh-h-at?” the silver man cries out in shock. SKA-SKOOSH! The plunger envelops him as it sticks hard to the floor!
Ronnie swoops to the floor, calling out, “Wendy? Dr. Olsen - - you okay?” He lands next to her but she does not respond. “We’ve got to get her and Stu out of this room,” Stein urges, observing, “The reactor pile’s melted - - and even if you manage to control the spread of radioactivity outside this structure using our nuclear powers - - Wendy and Stu may already have received a fatal overdose…:
Ronnie quickly picks up Wendy. Stu tries to lift himself up, and Ronnie grabs him as well. He quickly carries them both up and out of the smoldering lab. “Somehow - - I know it sounds incredible - - but somehow, I don’t think they did, Professor,” Ronnie answers, adding, “I can sense radioactivity the way other people can smell a bad stink - - and believe it or not, that lab was clean.”
Ronnie lands in the grass, gently setting Wendy and Stu down. “But that isn’t possible! The reactor…” Stein blurts in disbelief. Wendy sits up slowly as Stu tries to get to his feet. “I’m telling you something sucked up the radiation in that place,” Ronnie asserts.
KARUMMP! “That’s right, I did!” the silver foe’s voice calls. Ronnie wheels around in shock. “You never allowed me the opportunity to introduce myself before,” the strange man announces, “Let me do it now. I am Silver Shade! Master of Metal!”
Silver Shade rises on a metal pedestal that grows up from the floor inside the lab. Two gigantic silver hands push away the roof and supporting structures as he rises through. “For your amusement and edification…a small demonstration,” Silver Shade continues.
SHAMM! A purplish beam bursts from Silver Shade’s hand. It strikes a car right next to Firestorm and it instantly starts to transform in a radiant aura of light. “What’s he doing to that car, Professor?” Ronnie asks. Stein watches a moment, answering, “Nothing good.”
In seconds, the car has reformed into a silver metallic snake-like creature. A skull head twists and turns from the body. “That’s sick!” Ronnie blurts. Silver Shade aims more beams from his hands, and they strike lamp posts nearby. “One man’s fine art is another man’s odium. I enjoy what I do. And that’s all that matters to me, my flame-headed foe,” Silver Shade explains, “I’ve wasted years enough sculpting my dreams in lifeless metal - - expending my talent on mediocre craftworks for the rich. I’ve always been able to mold metal at will into any shape I please. But never any great mass of metal. Never anything substantial!”
Powerful tentacles of silver metal flail around in the air, animated from the lamp posts into a strange and angry octopus of monstrous size. Several tentacles wrap tightly around Ronnie, clutching at his neck and chest.
“It was quite frustrating. Here I was - - a being with the power to master metal itself - - but only an ounce at a time!” Silver Shade explains, “I became a sculptor - - it seemed logical, after all, for one with my gift - - but my gift did not extend to artistic talent. Not real talent. I admit, this second frustration drove me quite mad.”
He waves his arms, directing the tentacles to squeeze tighter. Ronnie clutches at his neck, gasping for air, trying desperately to pull the silver tentacles off him. “For the last dozen years, I’ve studied metallurgy and molecular physics,” Silver Shade continues, glaring at Firestorm through his thinly slit goggles, “I may be devoid of artistic talent, but I am still quite intelligent. Experimentation showed me how to feed my power. I built a device to channel energy through my flesh. But I soon learned I required a great deal of energy. And so I constructed this suit to absorb energy like a battery. The suit absorbed the energy of that small nuclear pile - - and now it feeds my power. Now I am indeed a Master of Metal.”
Ronnie gulps a quick breath, fighting against the pulsing and squeezing tentacles. “That’s…all…I…needed…to…hear…” Ronnie says softly with a newly determined focus. Instantly, he unleashes a massive full power nuclear burst with both hands! The bursts smash into Silver Shade, overloading and overpowering him! Unable to absorb the explosion of energy, the suit splinters into thousands of tiny shards of jagged metal! Silver Shade falls to the ground stunned as his metallic creations quickly weaken and fall away.
Epilogue: Ten minutes later… “You know, Professor, he’s not as pretty to look at as Plastique was when I did the same thing to her a few years ago,” Ronnie says as they watch the police leading Silver Shade away clad only in his underwear. Paramedics tend to Wendy and Stu nearby. Doreen sees Ronnie and rushes over, relieved that he and Professor Stein are okay.
“I’m still not sure what happened,” Stein wonders, asking, “How did you defeat Silver Shade?” Ronnie explains, “With a lucky guess. I figured his suit might be overloaded after he absorbed that nuclear pile.” Ronnie turns to face Stein. “Look, Professor - - about the way I talked to you before this started..,” he says. Stein looks at him with all seriousness. “Ronald, believe me, I haven’t lost my sobriety,” he replies. Ronnie sighs, still worried. “Yeah, but, the way you sounded - - what’s wrong, Professor?” Stein turns and starts to walk away. “I need to think, Ronald, to work things out,” he answers, adding, “Then I’ll explain. But for now…Please…there’s nothing I can tell you.”
Doreen grabs onto Ronnie’s arm and together they watch the Professor slowly walk off. “I’m worried about him, Ronnie,” Doreen tells him. “So am I, Doreen,” Ronnie answers, “but if he won’t open up and tell us what’s wrong, that’s all we can do. Worry…and hope this bad feeling I’ve got in the pit of my stomach doesn’t mean a thing after all…”