Ronnie Raymond hid a yawn as Martin Stein gave him a tour of the Hudson University Physics Department. Martin’s eyes gleamed with enthusiasm, and his voice gained a warmth and passion as he shared his love for science and his memories of the start of an academic career.
“Ronald, this was my first classroom,” said Martin. “I taught several labs here and had some promising pupils, too. For a time, I think under my guidance this humble department actually rivaled Ivy Town.”
Ronnie nodded. “Ray Palmer had quite a setup. Maybe we could visit there one of these days.”
Professor Stein smiled. “That would be nice. Perhaps now you would like to meet some of my old colleagues.”
Ronnie said, “Sure. That would be fine.” But he thought to himself, I like learning more about the Prof’s past, and since our bonding I have gained a decent understanding of physics, but this is boring me to death. I wish Typhoon or Slipknot would show up — even Bug and Byte, for goodness’ sakes!
This has been the worst night of my life. I’ve been humiliated and wish I were dead. Why did I ever emerge from my lonely, studious routine? Why did I try to become something I’m not? I thought if I helped the girls of the sorority that they would be nice to me. They used me. They let me help them, then cast me aside. It was all a joke to them.
Then again, why should a science major like myself be surprised to experience survival of the fittest? The others belong to the dominant species, while I am the outsider. Naturally, they see me as nothing more than fodder for their amusement. I deserve their scorn.
They led me to think Devin would meet me at the campus bookstore. They deliberately dressed me in provocative clothes and heavy make-up and then left me to wait for an hour in the cold while they knew he had never considered dating me. I’m even feeling sick. I suppose I’ve caught a chill. It’s not important. How could my world get any colder?
Ronnie never got to meet the Hudson University physics staff, since he and Martin spotted a scene of violence from one of the lab windows. Killer Frost was in the middle of the campus quad, and a blonde woman was being crushed by ever-growing clusters that closed in around her from all sides as Frost laughed that same inhuman laugh.
“Sharon, your popularity cannot save you now!” she hissed. “Tell me, dear, are your memories of your time as Hudson’s homecoming queen enough to warm you? Can beauty and success thaw the numbing chill of hate?”
Ronnie said, “We’re needed. It’s Killer Frost!”
He and Martin merged to form the Nuclear Man called Firestorm, who quickly passed through the wall as an insubstantial wraith. “Turning intangible does save on our insurance bills. Imagine paying for every wall we smashed through in hot pursuit!” joked that part of the hero that was Ronnie.
Professor Stein’s voice echoed in his head as he commented on all they experienced. “I think hot pursuit was a particularly ironic choice of words, considering our foe!”
Firestorm nodded as they flew closer. He waved his hand and converted the crushing ice to feathers, then created a huge fan out of thin air. They blew the mounds of feathers into Killer Frost, who shrieked as she vanished beneath the cascade.
“I knew she was chicken!” joked Ronnie.
Stein groaned and said, “I know this is your way to deal with the stress of a meta-human life, but I must caution you not to underestimate her. Dr. Louise Lincoln may not have the sheer brilliance of the late Crystal Frost, but she is equally mad.”
Firestorm gasped as ice formed across his body and he crashed to the ground. He fought to burn free of the formation as it continued to grow across his body. Prof! She created the ice sheath from afar, just by thinking. Didn’t know she could do that! he thought.
“Obviously, her powers have evolved!” muttered Stein.
Firestorm tried to alter his own density, but the numbing chill seemed to penetrate even his bizarre body to slow his reactions and stunt his efforts to concentrate. Killer Frost strolled over to where he lay and placed one high-heeled boot on his neck.
“Firestorm! How glad I am to see you here. You embody so much that I loathe. Masculinity in all its grosser manifestations. Male ego. Thoughtless, unfeeling braggadocio,” she said.
A whirling sphere slammed into her face as Nightwing appeared and said, “Sorry to interrupt, but there’s a Zamboni with your name on it over there!”
Killer Frost scowled and said, “You again? Perhaps I should eliminate you now and savor the dismemberment of my old foe in leisure.”
Nightwing bent over Firestorm’s prone form and slipped him a small device. He flipped it on, and a portable laser sliced through the ice, which had stopped forming when Frost’s attention wavered.
He bought me time to use our own nuclear blasts to melt free. If she had not dropped her concentration because of his blow, we’d be ice cream by now! thought Ronnie.
Firestorm generated a pulse of his own energy and emerged from the crushing sheath of ice. “Thanks, Nightwing. I guess I haven’t see you since that run-in with the second Composite Superman!” he said. (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See Justice League of America: World’s Fiercest.]
Nightwing grinned and said, “We can reminisce later. Now, let’s get that leggy Popsicle out of the way!”
Killer Frost smiled at them with malice and lethal intent. She moved effortlessly into air as nearly solid drifts of cold air lofted up skyward. She strolled toward them with no sign of human fear or any weakness.
“How it pleases me to return here to where I first felt the shame of being rejected by males. How delightful it will be when I leave all who scorned me as lifeless corpses,” she laughed.
Firestorm heard Stein’s voice in his head. The professor said, “She must be after all of those former students from her undergraduate days who mistreated her. I seem to recall some connection between Louise Lincoln and Sharon Dinning.”
Killer Frost saw the fallen Sharon being carried to safety, and she gestured to create a massive glacier of ice across the nearby trees. They shattered and fell directly toward the fleeing people as her laughter echoed like the crisp snap of crushed leaves in fall.
Nightwing fired a line across the distance and swung in to carry the threesome out of the path of the falling trees. He managed to get them out of the way but took a hard fall in doing so. Again he had placed others before his own safety.
Firestorm flew upward and said, “So, Frosty, are you still in love with me?”
She sneered in disgust and sent him reeling as intense cold blasted him downward into the pond below. Instantly, she solidified the waters around his body until they formed a solid prison. She lowered herself and said, “I am sick with shame about how I was forced to love you when those red skies swept across the world. (*) Let me redeem myself with your broken body!”
[(*) Editor’s note: See “The Summoning,” Crisis on Infinite Earths #1 (April, 1985).]
Ronnie frowned as she drew closer. He knew his incredible body energy had been too much for the original Frost to absorb. That villainess had died trying to do so; however, Crystal Frost had been damaged by the method used to imprison her during her last time in captivity, and this new Frost had no such limitations. Her kiss might be too much for us! Got to fight the sudden rush the cold has given me and concentrate, he thought.
He waited as she drew nearer, and, as her pouty lips drew closer to his mouth, she shrieked and fell back. “You craven male dolt,” she sputtered as she retreated from his proximity.
Figured changing the air immediately around me to pure freon would repel her. She can’t stand such intense cold, mused Firestorm.
“Well done, lad!” echoed Stein.
Nightwing returned as she vanished in a swirling storm of ice. He said, “Firestorm, I think the girl she attacked will recover. Her name is Sharon Denning. She was homecoming queen years ago. And the first girl Frost attacked was runner-up.”
Firestorm nodded. “Was a Louise Lincoln on the court, too? That’s Frosty’s real name.”
Nightwing nodded. “She came in third. Are you thinking this is all some delayed revenge against those who beat her in a college contest years before?”
Firestorm said, “She was a student here. I’d say she’s crazy enough to hunt down those kids who beat her long before, now that she has the power to do it.”
Stein said, “But Ronald, Louise had no hatred for men. That was Crystal’s obsession. Louise was pretty and popular, from what I recall.”
Firestorm said, “Hold it. We may be barking up the wrong tree. We need to tell you more about this model of K.F.”
Nightwing listened to his ally’s explanation. When it was complete, he said, “That changes everything. But I have a plan.”
Firestorm smiled. “You and Batman always seem to say that!”
Nightwing smiled and said, “Must be something in Gotham’s water.”
Later, as a graying scholarly man crossed the campus, he admired the festive decorations. The big game had been played, and Hudson had been victorious. The night’s gala included an assembly of many former homecoming courts. He figured Killer Frost would show up. He knew they would be ready.
He gasped as his breath began to visibly puff before his eyes. The temperature had dropped instantly. Killer Frost lowered herself from above and confronted him with gleaming eyes.
“Martin! You didn’t think I would forget or forgive you, did you, now? You took my love and cast it aside like a child would do with a toy of which he had grown tired. Well, Crystal Frost is no one’s plaything!” she hissed.
She moved closer as if to embrace him. To her shock, the bookish man twisted aside and flipped acrobatically over her shoulders. He kicked her from behind and rolled out of her sight. She frowned and said, “You aren’t Stein! You’re the other costumed man from before!”
Killer Frost hurried forward and saw the fake Stein mocking her across the quad. She lifted herself on icy winds and swooped down toward him as he disappeared in the woods near the edge of campus. She followed and gasped as the dark glade opened to reveal a massive tank. She whirled to see the air behind her turn to a smoking vapor. She stiffened in shock as the cascading liquid nitrogen enveloped her struggling form.
Firestorm swooped down and greeted Nightwing as he ripped off the Stein mask. The Nuclear Man said, “You were right. She was acting out a vendetta against Crystal’s college enemies, not her own. Denning and Reynolds may have beaten Louise on the homecoming court, but they also mistreated Crystal. Willis had apparently rejected her, too. If we had stuck to our original idea that she was after the women on the homecoming court, we would have lost precious time.”
Nightwing said, “I figured she was after the first Killer Frost’s enemies from their school days, because as you noted she was obviously expressing the original’s hatred of all men, too. This made it painfully clear. She dropped it before I led her in the forest where we’d prepared the liquid nitrogen tank.” He held out a small worn book.
Firestorm nodded as he examined it. “Crystal’s diary. Louise must have found it and been madly acting out revenge upon all that ever hurt her old friend. She must either think she is Crystal or still be so guilty for the fact that she was popular while Crystal was scorned, that she seeks to earn some weird forgiveness from her late friend.”
Stein’s words echoed in Ron’s mind. “I heard her call the disguised Nightwing her lover. She does now think she is Crystal herself, who deluded herself into thinking I loved her. Poor madwoman. Her madness has infected yet another victim.”
Firestorm said, “You know, with your brains and moves, you should be in the JLA.”
Nightwing shook his head. “Thanks, but I’m fine where I am. You know how the JLA is a group of heroes who assembles because of the need of the world? Well, the New Titans assemble because we are friends with individual needs. We’re more like family.”
Firestorm said, “So are we.”
Stein’s voice echoed with warmth in Ron’s mind, “That is one of the nicest things you’ve ever said.”
Later, Dick Grayson approached Frank McDonald and extended his hand. “Sir, long time no see,” he said.
Frank grunted. “Grayson. I wondered where you’d vanished when you dropped out so suddenly. Lori often wondered, too. You never wrote. It hurt her.”
Dick nodded solemnly. “I know. I was wrong. I wanted to see her and try to clear the air. I’ve been fixing the relationships in my life that I’ve let crumble.”
Frank shook his head. “It’s no use, kid. Lori’s been missing for a long time. I’ve tried everything as a cop and on my own. She just disappeared months ago. Frankly, I blamed you. I figured you’d hurt the kid so much she could not stand to be around your old haunts.”
Dick looked determined and said, “Tell me more. I want to help.”