Hawk arrives at Vandemeer to join the fray between Jack Sawyer's Godfreyites and Firestorm. Ronnie and the Professor continue to dispute fusing as Firestorm. Ronnie and Professor Stein continue to disagree about forming Firestorm due to the President's ban on all superheroic activities. G. Gordon Godfrey instructs Sawyer to seize books about legendary characters and heroes from the Central City Library.
*** Note: This issue is Chapter 10 of the Legends crossover story arc. The full list of Legends issues can be viewed here:Legends. ***
What’s the worst way you can think of dying? For some it’s by drowning. For some it’s by falling. For some it’s a slow illness. For many, it’s to be burned alive.
“No nonono stop howdare you!” Professor Stein furiously rambles, “Release me! Nownownownow!”
“Professor! Stop…fighting me!” Ronnie groans under the strain, “Can’t focus! To use power! To stand up! Starting to burn!”
The nightmare for the Nuclear Man began with his defeat not once, but three times at the hands of the Apokolips-spawned menace named Brimstone. In Pittsburgh, a man claiming to be G. Gordon Godfrey’s acolyte had incited a mob to rush the student library and bring out all books dealing with heroes, with legends, so they could be burned.
Professor Stein - - one half of Firestorm’s alter-ego - - was determined to obey the Presidential edict banning superheroic activity, but Ronnie Raymond - - the other half of the Nuclear Man - - was determined to defy it and forced Stein to merge into Firestorm…The struggle between the two alter-egos has continued to the point where it is all Ronnie can do to maintain the Firestorm persona. Weak, open to attack, they fell upon the burning books - - and the flames now threaten to consume not only paper and ink, but the Nuclear Man as well!
“Where is your vaunted strength, O Hero, without our belief! It is nothing! A thing of smoke!” cries Jack Sawyer as he stands near the book pile, wearing a green khaki pseudo-uniform. The students lean forward in anticipation when a voice calls out to Sawyer.
“Yak, yak, yak! You lack faith, Jerko! Let Saint Hawk pound some into ya!” Hawk yells as he runs up to the scene.
Normally a student at Elmond University, Hank Hall has accompanied the football team to Vandemeer for a game and came upon a game he prefers. Head-bashing.
WHAM! Hawk barrels into the crowd of students standing with Sawyer. “C’mon, ya pinko weenies!” Hawk challenges. “You wanta pound a hero? How about one who doesn’t just stand there and take it?!” THUNK! Hawk unleashes a powerful left leg that smashes two students to the ground.
Ronnie struggles to get up as the flames creep closer. “Is he…calling me…a wimp?!” he thinks. “Huh. Right now, guess that’s what I am. Professor’s screaming…tearing us apart! Can’t fission…yet, gotta focus past…pain! Get up! Away! But first…zap flames to steam!”
FZAP! Ronnie quickly aims transforming beams at the flames around him. Instantly, they reform as steam that wafts up from the book pile. “Uhhhnn!” he groans as he gets to his feet. “Hold’ em, Hawk…a few seconds more! If you can!”
Behind Ronnie, Hawk knocks down student after student as they charge at him. WHAM! “Suck my fist, you lousy bunch of commie perverts!” Hawk yells as he lands a punch across a student’s jaw. KRAK! CHUD! Two more students fall in quick succession.
If sheer viciousness were enough, Hawk would triumph! Unfortunately, there’s also a thing called numbers.
“Where’s he getting all these loons?” Hawk thinks as he fights. RREEEEEE! Sirens grow louder as police cars approach the disturbance. “Got a reprieve for now, Barf-Breath! But I’ll be back with a little something to equalize the odds!” Hawk yells to Sawyer as he breaks off and runs.
“Victory!” Sawyer yells to the students. “Disperse for now, my friends, but stand ready! We shall not stop until the lie of legends has been purged from our society!”
As Sawyer’s group disperses, Ronnie slips behind the Library to a secluded spot. “This will have to do…Can’t hold us together a moment longer..!” he thinks. In a flash of atomic light, Firestorm disappears as Ronnie and Stein step back into their separate personas.
“How dare you?! How dare you?!” an irate Stein barks at Ronnie.
“Look, I’m sorry, but you nearly got us…” Ronnie begins.
Stein sharply interrupts. “Sorry?! After…After what you did, you’re sorry?!” he asks angrily.
“What’s the big deal?!” Ronnie asks in shock.
Stein shoves past him roughly. “Get out of my way! Stay out of my way! Don’t ever come anywhere near me again!” he fumes at Ronnie. “And don’t ever try forming Firestorm, you understand? Or so help me…I’ll get a gun and kill you!”
Ronnie looks at Stein in wide-eyed disbelief. Stein turns and stomps off. “I don’t understand, Professor..?” Ronnie calls to him. “…Professor..?”
Dusk. Hawk reaches into the weapons locker at the campus ROTC Building. “Stupid bunch of dorks!” he thinks. “I’ll show ‘em who they’re dealing with!” He pulls out two M-16s, and then a voice from behind calls to him.
“Ammo’s locked away,” the voice announces.
“Huh?” Hawk asks. He turns to see four students dressed in clothes that match Jack Sawyer standing in the doorway. “Fair warning, creeps! I’m walking out of here with these guns and through anyone who tries to stop me!” Hawk cautions them.
“We’re here to help, not hinder, sir,” a student answers. “I saw you in here, guessed what you were up to and called the rest of my squad over.” Another student smiles at Hawk, explaining, “It’s our campus, too, sir, and we want to help protect it.”
The students walk in and pick up rifles. “I got a sister who’s infiltrating the Godfreyites, sir,” the squad leader tells Hawk, “She’ll call us as soon as she hears where they plan to strike next.”
Hawk nods, answering, “Get armed, get loaded, and stay ready. This is ‘Red Dawn’ for real, pal!”
Ronnie walks dejectedly to his dorm room. Rrring! Just as he opens the door, his telephone rings. “Professor?” he quickly answers. “Oh, hi, Mom. How’s Dad?” he replies after listening.
“He’s fine. He has no idea that you’re really Firestorm,” Felicity Smoak answers. “I, on the other hand, have been a nervous wreck ever since I heard about your fight with that Brimstone creature. And then the President’s ban and all…Well, I just wondered if you were all right?”
“Yes. No. I don’t know. Felicity, I think I’ve really messed up and I don’t understand how,” Ronnie answers.
Felicity Smoak Raymond is Ronnie’s step-mom and the only person outside of Martin Stein who knows Ronnie is a part of Firestorm. She’s also a good listener and, withholding only Stein’s name, Ronnie tells her all that has occurred.
“Ronnie, you have to understand that what you’ve done is violate your partner,” Felicity explains.
“C’mon! You make it sound like rape!” Ronnie answers hastily.
“Ronnie, in a way, it was,” Felicity continues. “Rape’s not simply a crime of sex; it violently forces one person’s will on another. That wasn’t what you intended, I know. But you betrayed a trust, made your partner less than equal. Unless you can make amends, you’ll have to accept you can never again become Firestorm.”
Professor Martin Stein sits alone in his darkened office. A revolver and several bullets lie on his desk. He picks the gun up and looks at it for several long moments. Then, he reaches for the bullets and begins to load the gun.
“This is a great honor, Mr. Godfrey,” Jack Sawyer says with pride into the telephone, “I…We’ve just tried to act on the truth you’ve revealed.”
Far away in his elegant office, Godfrey replies, “Yes, and so far you’ve done admirably. But now you must take it the next logical step forward, hm? Demand the city turn all hero-related books in its Library over to you for disposal. Likewise, demand all hero-tainted books in the city’s bookstores be given to you. If they don’t comply, why, you seize them, okay?”
“Well, they might call out the police and the National Guard,” Sawyer answers with a bit of worry in his voice.
“Let them. Defy them. Yours is the moral right,” Godfrey directs him. “And you cannot be denied, hm?”
On the Vandemeer Campus, Hawk holds a phone to his ear and listens intently. “We’ve got the word,” he tells the ROTC students, “They’re hitting the Central Library.” He quickly leads them outside and they run towards the Library. “Move out, you heroes! We gotta get there first and take the high ground!”
Night settles like doubt on the campus. “Professor?” Ronnie asks softly, “You in here, Professor?” He cautiously opens the door to Professor Stein’s darkened office.
“Oh, yes, Ronald. I am here,” Stein answers angrily, aiming the revolver at Ronnie’s chest. “What is it you want, Ronald?”
Ronnie proceeds carefully. “Just to talk, Professor, please?” he asks.
Stein relaxes his aim and answers, “Fine, Ronald. Go ahead. Shoot.”
Ronnie steps next to the desk. “Thought a lot about what happened, Professor. I realize now just how wrong what I did was,” he begins. “And I’m truly sorry, Professor. And truly appalled. I meant well, but that doesn’t excuse what I did. What I did to a friend. Or what I’ve made of myself.”
Stein holds out the revolver. “Know why I bought this gun, Ronald?” he asks. “Because I knew you could make us into Firestorm again any time you wanted. That it could happen again. So I decided to kill you.” He wipes a tear from his eye. “Schtupid idea. I’m no killer,” he sobs. “So…I thought I’d kill me…Decided that washn’t fair. Why should I die ‘cause you’re a jerk? So finally I jusht sat here in the dark being afraid of you…”
A tear slips down Ronnie’s cheek. “Stop it, Professor! Please! Don’t be afraid!” he pleads. “Firestorm’s dead! I swear it!”
Stein rests his hands on his desk and looks up at Ronnie. “Tha’s nice, Ronnie. But it don’t solve anythin’ because, y’see, you were right,” he answers. “Not…Not your actions, but your reasoning was right…Firestorm is needed.” Stein gestures at his TV set. “Television, Ronald. Turn it on,” he directs.
Ronnie walks over to the TV. “Professor’s speech is really slurred!” he thinks anxiously, “Did I drive him back to the bottle? But his eyes are clear..!” He clicks on the set, and a news bulletin appears on the black-and-white screen.
“…as you can see, a squad of armed ROTC students have taken over the roof of the Central Library, led by the masked vigilante called Hawk,” the announcer explains. The image cuts to a shot of Jack Sawyer as the announcer continues. “A mob of Godfrey supporters, led by a man identified only as the Acolyte, is threatening to raid the Library. Only a thin line of police, led by Commander Len Davis, keeps the two groups apart.”
Stein points at the TV. “Do you schee…see, Ronald?” he asks. “People are going to die. Needlessly. We…Firestorm could prevent it. But the trauma I felt is still fresh. I can’t guarantee that I won’t go into hysterics again. So, how do we achieve a safe merger?”
Ronnie feels relieved. “Any way you want, Professor. I’ll do whatever you want. Or nothing if you want. It’s your shot,” he answers. “I’ll play it whatever way you call it.”
Stein gets up and stands next to Ronnie. “I’ll close myself off; participate only passively,” he sighs. “Do not look to me for counsel. Nor do I promise another merger beyond this one. Agreed?”
Ronnie nods, cautiously resting his hand on Stein’s shoulder. “Agreed,” he answers. “Truce, then?”
Stein turns to him. “Truce,” he replies. “But not trust.” Ronnie begins the transformation, and a bright atomic ring forms around them.
FZZAP! Seconds later, Firestorm phases through the office wall, flying into the sky over campus. “How you doing, Professor?” Ronnie asks, but the Professor remains silent. “No answer. Can’t feel him anywhere. Really am on my own.” He turns in the air, setting course for the Central Library. “Okay, Raymond. How do you plan on stopping a potential riot without really messing up there, too?” he asks himself.
The Central City Library, a fortress of knowledge and learning. Tonight, a fortress under siege. The books are the physical objects of contention. The true targets, however, are the ideals they contain, the legends, anything that sets humanity’s eyes and goals above their own existence. Crush those and the way is prepared for the dark and savage god who is waiting. And it seems tonight humanity will take one step closer to him.
Jack Sawyer leads an angry group of armed students to the edge of the police line outside the Library. Commander Davis and his squad of police officers stand in a line opposing them. High overhead and behind the police line, Hawk and the ROTC students watch from the Library rooftop.
“Gab, gab, gab. If you’re going to shoot, shoot. Don’t talk,” Hawk gripes as he watches Sawyer’s followers chanting below.
“Sir, we have friends down there!” the ROTC squad leader answers. He leans over the parapet wall and yells down to Sawyer’s group. “Last chance! We don’t want to hurt anyone but we can’t allow any more book burnings! Disperse now while you have the chance!”
A student just behind Sawyer scans the rooftop. “They have guns up there!” she cries out anxiously.
Sawyer shakes his fist with determination. “So have we. And we have the moral imperative,” he rallies his group. “Behold the ‘heroic ideal’ in its truest form - - the face of war! In the name of their cause, it’s all right to kill! I say this false ideal must die! Purged by fire! Forward, my friends! Death to heroism!”
The ROTC students kneel down at the parapet wall. “If you’re ready to die for what you believe, then you should be ready to make someone else die for it,” Hawk calls out. “On my command! Ready…aim..!” Clak! Clak! Clak! The ROTC students steady their rifles and lock and load.
“Get ready, Captain, we’re going to have to drive the Acolyte’s people back,” Commander Davis explains. Several officers surprisingly turn and point their guns at Davis and the Captain.
“How, Commander Davis?” the Captain asks, “Half our men are siding with him!”
“Fire!” Hawk yells out. Braaaap! The ROTC students squeeze off bursts of automatic fire. Flip! Flip! Flip! Flip! Just as quickly as their bullets leave their weapons, the bullets transform into harmless daffodils!
On the ground, the Acolyte’s troops start to slip and fall suddenly. “Chaarglumph!” one grunts as he falls. Fwip! Fwip! Fwip! The students tumble and stagger on the slippery ground. “Hey! Where’d this oil slick come from?” one yells in surprise.
“Protect yer butts! Warning shots…waist high! Fire!” a police officer directs his comrades. Skwirt! Skwirt! Skwirt! Each time an officer pulls the trigger of their revolvers, it squirts not a bullet but a harmless spray of water!
An officer points the barrel of his gun up to his nose. Sniff! Sniff! “Water?!” he says in disbelief. BLAM! The barrel of his gun explodes, coating his face in black smoky residue. “I feel like I’m under attack by Chuck Jones!” he thinks in bewilderment.
“WHO DARES..?!” Sawyer yells, scanning back and forth quickly for the source of the disruption of his plans. SPLOOCH! A cream pie suddenly splatters in his face.
“Haw!” Hawk laughs as he watches Sawyer. “The geek’s got a pie right in his…” SPLOOCH! Hawk’s face disappears in a blast of pie filling! Whip! Whhip! Whhhip! SPLOOCH! SPLERCH! Pies rain down in a driving hail of cream filling on the stunned crowd.
“What is this?!” the surprised Police Captain asks.
Commander Davis smiles. “I sense the delicate touch of Pittsburgh’s resident super-hero,” he answers.
“Firestorm?! But…pratfalls? Water pistols? Pie fights?!” the Captain replies, looking at the comedic scene around him.
“Stroke of genius, if you think about it,” Davis answers. “Last time Firestorm appeared, it nearly touched off a riot and the situation was nowhere near as tense as this one. Or was. Do you hear the laughter? Kid’s defusing the situation with humor. Hard to be intense when you got the giggles.”
The Captain watches for a moment. “I dunno. Seems kinda stoopid, y’ask…” SPLOOCH! A pie smacks on the side of his face!
“Mmmkkk! Sorry, didn’t mean to…mmmkk!” Davis laughs.
“Grrrr…” the Captain grumbles.
“You’re right, Captain. It’s not funny at all,” Davis answers, returning to seriousness, “I’ll see what we can do before the situation gets out of…” SPLOOCH! A pie splatters on the side of his face!
“Mmmkkk,” the Captain says with a grin. “Oh, I dunno, Commander. Just saw everything in a different light.”
Ronnie leans out from the side of a building. “Gotcha, Len,” he whispers to himself.
Sawyer stands in the confusion trying to regain control of his followers. “Stop! Stop laughing! Stop running! They’re only pies! They can’t hurt you!” he yells, pleading loudly, “We have to save humanity…”
An officer snaps handcuffs on Sawyer. “Okay. We’ll start by arresting you,” he tells Sawyer. He grips Sawyer’s arm firmly. “This way,” he orders.
SPLOOCH! Pies splatter into the faces of the ROTC students on the Library rooftop. “Back to your posts! Pick up those guns! Drop that pie, soldier!” Hawk orders his laughing squad. “What a bunch of wahoos!”
Several police officers burst through the rooftop access stairway door. “Okay, kids. Guns down. Hands up. Recess is over,” an officer orders. The ROTC students drop their weapons and raise their hands as Hawk slips away behind the stairway wall.
“Gotta split!” Hawk thinks. “Firejerk’s behind this fiasco! Creep better hope we don’t meet anytime soon!” He leaps away and runs off fuming. “No one makes a laughingstock of Hawk and gets away with it!”
FZZAP! Ronnie lowers his atomic density and phases through into Professor Stein’s apartment. “Well, that seems to have chilled everything out!” he thinks. He lands on the floor next to Stein’s desk. “Now for a really tough job. Seeing if the Professor can stand the sight of me.”
Atomic rings circle around Firestorm and two men separate into their individual personas. They stand in an uneasy silence, looking at each other. “…Pies..?!” Professor Stein asks.
The laughter is loud, sustained, and healing. Finally…
“That felt good. Necessary. But we still have some very serious matters to discuss, Ronald,” Stein tells him. “I accept your apology and I understand your motivation, but that is intellectual, not emotional. I no longer fear you but I don’t trust you as I did, either. A breach like that takes time to heal and I can offer no assurances. I’m not sure about heroes in general but I can see how Firestorm is necessary. It’s a dilemma and, frankly, I don’t know how to resolve it.”
Ronnie listens carefully. “Strange as it may sound, Professor, I’ve got an idea that might actually work,” he replies. “Until you say otherwise, we’ll make it a rule only you can initiate Firestorm. Let you control our destiny and call the shots.”
Stein nods. “Hm. All right, yes, I think that might do it. Good thinking, Ronald,” he answers. “I want it understood you may still initiate if you perceive lives are at risk and only Firestorm can save them. We must also find a way to alert one another when the merge is going to take place. A beeper system, perhaps.”
Ronnie turns and heads for the office door. “Oh, and Ronald?” Stein adds, “Perhaps the two of us should get to know each other a little better, talk to each other more…”
Ronnie looks back at him. “Hey, all sounds good to me, Professor,” he answers. “But I better run right now and see if Doreen’s still talking to me. We were supposed to have a date last night! See ya.”
The campus is quiet tonight. For the moment, the crisis has passed and all souls are at peace. Professor Stein watches Ronnie go. He looks out the window as police disperse the last of the assembled students. “…Pies…! What a mind,” Professor Stein laughs.