Besides being featured on a few pages in Infinite Crisis, Donna’s group starred in five issues once they took off into space on New Cronus. Specifically, these issues were Firestorm #20-22 and The Outsiders #31-32. Such involvement was logical, given the fact that Firestorm and members of the Outsiders had gone along with Donna.
It’s not difficult to place these five issues in narrative order. Firestorm #20 specifically notes that it occurs before Outsiders #31. In fact, as previously noted, some of Outsiders #31 occurs during Donna’s recruitment phase, though most of Outsiders #31-32 tells a single story that occurs once Donna and crew are already in space. Firestorm #21-22 tell a two-part story focusing far more on Firestorm than the larger group and clearly take place after the Outsiders tale.
This issue opens with Starfire lecturing Firestorm about war and how it sweeps people up, how it’s beyond control, and how it changes people. She tells him that she’s there to help get him through this coming experience, presumably because he’s a novice hero. But there’s tenderness too, and a bit of sexual tension: she suggests she’s talking to him in part to get herself through the coming experience.
Then she asks him if his hair is really on fire and flips him onto a mat. Apparently, she’s giving him and the others “Okaaran battle lessons.” Firestorm Jason Rusch isn’t as annoyed by this, it seems, as he is by his friend Mick, who merged with him in the previous issue, just before Firestorm took off into space.
The rest of Donna’s crew is there as well: Supergirl, Mal, Bumblebee, Shift, Animal Man, Alan Scott, his daughter Jade, Cyborg, Red Tornado, and a still-tormented Airwave. In fact, as Firestorm walks off the mat, Starfire starts training with Shift instead. They’re all in New Cronus, Donna Troy’s planetoid spaceship.
Then Donna calls the others over. She’s at a computer control and has spotted a small ship, sitting dead in space and leaking radiation, up ahead — obviously, New Cronus is on the move at this point to the center of the universe. The ship has a Rannian radiation signature, and the radiation is preventing the detection of life signs.
Airwave freaks out as normal, battling about people screaming around what we readers know to be the rift at the center of the universe. His typical position is crouched, with his hands over his ears.
Starfire calls to investigate the ship, but Supergirl says they should continue on to their goal, where millions of lives are at stake. She adds, strangely, that there aren’t many Tamaranians or Kyrptonians left, as if she’s saying that she and Starfire shouldn’t be put in danger whatsoever — certainly strange given their mission with Donna Troy.
Donna decides to slow her ship and let Firestorm, who can control radiation, and Starfire check out the radiation-leaking vessel to see if anyone’s alive on board.
No sooner has she given the orders, however, than a fleet of Thanagarian cruisers shows up. Donna decides to keep Kory, a.k.a. Starfire, with the ship for defense, and Animal Man volunteers to go along with Firestorm.
As Firestorm and Animal Man take off, Firestorm’s pal Mick maintains his character by complaining that they got Animal Man to go along instead of one of the “hotties.”
En route to the stranded craft, Firestorm asks Animal Man about his powers, and Animal Man explains how he can absorb characteristics from nearby animals. While this isn’t much use in space, Animal Man explains that he’s connected to something called “the morphogenetic field” — a web connecting all animal life. Through this field, presumably, he could feel an animal on board the leaking Rannian vessel — though he didn’t mention this before departure. The animal feels “very fierce, proud,” “very old,” and “in great pain.”
Firestorm worries about the Thanagarians surrounding them making a move. Animal Man, a.k.a. Buddy Baker, expresses worry about his family — and the fact that he may not be coming back from Donna’s dangerous mission. Firestorm says that he misses his father, who he couldn’t stand while on Earth. Animal Man continues, saying that weirdness just seems to happen around him — apparently trying to warn Firestorm. Firestorm cracks a joke and, in narration, says that he likes Animal Man, adding only that “they don’t come much whiter than him” — a nice reminder f how much Jason Rusch is hiding from the others, including not only Mick’s presence inside the Firestorm matrix but Jason’s own race.
Getting into the tiny Rannian ship, Firestorm begins to absorb the radiation. Surrounding the two heroes are dead crew members.
Then two Rannian survivors appear: a man who identifies himself as Artus and his wife as Leyna. They say that the Thanagarians attacked them in space near the Perseus arm. The ship’s reactor failed and they made a jump in space, apparently using Rann’s Zeta Beam technology.
In response, Firestorm begins to look to the couple’s radiation burns, but Animal Man remains incredulous about why the Thanagarians have chased this tiny ship so far and with so many Thanagarian ships. Artus says the Thanagarians hate Rann, but Animal Man doesn’t believe this.
So Animal Man steps into the next room and finds a large bird within a cylindrical blue force field. Artus explains that it’s “a royal Ca’arra hawk” — Thanagar’s “most revered animal” and “the basis of most of their military culture.” There aren’t many such birds left — apparently, the species is near extinction.
Naturally, there’s a story here. Leyna begins by recounting the devastating Thanagarian invasion of Rann, as seen in The Rann-Thanagar War. Rannians, apparently including Artus and Leyna, were put into refugee camps by the Thanagarians. One day, these two say some Thanagarians carting the bird through camp — having rescued it from Thanagar before that planet’s destruction. Artus and Leyna saw a chance for revenge and stole the bird.
The current situation seems to be a standoff: the Thanagarians won’t fire because they don’t want to kill the hawk, but would do so instantly if they had the hawk back. Firestorm’s worried about the ship’s reactor, which is getting more unstable.
Animal Man has been communing with the hawk. Now, he comes away with its fighting ability, but also its pain and bloodlust. He says the animal is sick from radiation. Since the Thanagarians won’t let them take the hawk back to New Cronus, Animal Man tells Firestorm to shut down the ship’s reactor. Firestorm notes Buddy Baker’s lack of concern for the two survivors in comparison with the hawk, who Buddy seems to feel is the real victim.
Animal Man, seemingly possessed by the hawk’s lust for battle, suits up and takes off to fight the Thanagarians, who are flying out of their ships and heading to the disabled Rannian ship. Donna’s crew, including Jade, Alan Scott, Starfire, and Supergirl, join the battle. Animal Man seems even more possessed than before, calling on the Thanagarians to “give this old hawk one last battle to remember.”
Leyna has now gotten into a space suit and is accompanying Firestorm as he attempts to calm the ship’s reactor. Leyna explains that the reactor is powered by something similar to a Zeta Beam but more unstable. She’s a botanist, not a mechanic, and neither she nor Firestorm seem to know how to shut down the reactor.
Elsewhere, Animal Man battles more Thanagarians. One talks with him and uses an “art-sphere” to project an image of Thanagar burning, being destroyed as seen in The Rann-Thanagar War. Animal Man’s notion of simple good guys and bad guys seems shaken, but he now stands to protect the two Rannians. He and the Thanagarian begin battle once more.
Unable to come to a solution, Firestorm simply pulls the reactor off the Rannian ship and tosses the reactor away, where it blows up in space, far enough away from the Thanagarian ships.
Then something strange happens. Firestorm hears a voice inside his matrix calling him Ronald and warning that “something terrible is about to happen!” Those familiar with Firestorm’s past incarnations will know that this is Professor Stein, part of the original Firestorm matrix along with Ronald Raymond. Then Stein disappears, replaced by Jason’s friend Mick. Concerned, Jason flies off — heading back inside the ship.
In space, Animal Man seems to have lost his abilities in the midst of battle with the Thanagarian. Inside the ship, Firestorm finds Artus holding the hawk, who’s now dead. Animal Man, who knows what has happened due to his connection with the hawk, tells his foe the news. On a Thanagarian cruiser, the ship’s female commander hears the news and orders the ship to fire.
As those in Donna’s contingent who are fighting watch in shock, the Rannian ship is blown to bits.
From the smoke comes Firestorm, holding the hawk’s body within a force bubble. He flies over to Animal Man silently, as if in mourning, and hands him the hawk’s body. Animal Man, in turn, hands the hawk’s body over to his Thanagarian foe, expressing his appologies. The Thanagarian leaves, saying that Animal Man “will always be welcome in Thanagarian space.”
The heroes head back to New Cronus. Inside the Firestorm matrix, Mick is silent, seemingly traumatized. The two Rannian survivors, while not mentioned, are clearly dead. And Firestorm narrates that he guesses he knows war now, connecting the ending to the beginning.
It’s not a particularly important issue, but it’s a very enjoyable one. The encounter with the Rannian vessel seems like a side story to the main narrative of Donna’s contingent, but it’s a nice one. Even before reaching the center of the universe, Donna’s group had met a couple Rannians and the Thanagarians — and had seen death. Firestorm, as the novice of the group, is the perfect vehicle for this story. The sense of tragedy isn’t overplayed and doesn’t escape a certain sense of sci-fi corniness, but comes off nonetheless. And Firestorm’s characterization, like Mick’s horny comments fading to silence by the end, is also well done.
But it’s Animal Man who really steals the show, absorbing the hawk’s bloodlust and bonding with a Thanagarian warrior over conflict and mutual, largely unspoken respect for a sacred animal. Animal Man comes off as a weird super-hero, which is right given his past under Grant Morrison and his successors. Frankly, it’s the first time in a long time that Animal Man has gotten such space in a comic, and it’s nice to see.
So the issue succeeds on many levels, not the least of which is artistic. Jamal Igle does his usual good job, though the end of the issue does seem a bit rushed, both in terms of narrative and artistic style in a few places. Nonetheless, this is what such side stories should be: it adds to the main narrative of the crossover, has solid characterization, a memorable little story, and nice graphic storytelling.
The issue’s conclusion notes that readers should “follow Firestorm and Animal Man into Infinite Crisis #3 — and especially #4.” It’s a nice note on continuity, firmly setting this story between Infinite Crisis #2, in which Donna’s crew set off into space, and #3. Infinite Crisis #4 would be especially important because it would feature the apparent death of Firestorm, leading into Firestorm #21-22.
Read the Rest
“Your Guide to Infinite Crisis” attempts to spell out and outline the whole of this sprawling, complicated crossover. It has several other installments, organized by the narrative thread under discussion:
The OMAC Project
- DC Countdown
- The OMAC Project
- “Sacrifice” Concludes
- The OMAC Project Concludes
- “Sacrifice” Aftermath
- Tie-Ins to The OMAC Project #6
Day of Vengeance
The Rann-Thanagar War
- A Brief History of Adam Strange
- “Adam Strange: Planet Heist”
- “Adam Strange: Planet Heist” Concludes
- A Brief History of Hawkman
- A Brief History of Hawkman, Part 2
- Hawkman #46
- The Rann-Thanagar War
- The Rann-Thanagar War Concludes
- “Coalition in Crisis”
- The Rann / Thanagar War Special
The Return of Donna Troy
- you’re reading Firestorm in Space
Crisis of Conscience
- Identity Crisis Epilogue
- Dr. Light in Teen Titans
- “Crisis of Conscience”
- “Crisis of Conscience” Epilogue