A Tribute to the of

I stumbled across an unfulfilled promise from an old edition of the Sage. I think I'll take the opportunity to rectify it by reviewing the sequel to the story from Superman #199. It's "The Race to the End of the Universe!" from Flash #175 with a publication date of December, 1967. Editor Julius Schwartz oversaw the efforts of E. Nelson Bridwell on the script with Ross Andru and Mike Esposito on art, though Carmine Infantino penciled the cover. The Grand Comic Book Database indicates this was Andru's first pencil job on the Flash taking over for Carmine.

It seems Central City is about to get an unwelcome visitor in the form of the Weather Wizard. An anonymous tip to police HQ has the additional benefit of alerting Barry Allen, police scientist. He takes the opportunity to field test his new lightning rod against the Weather Wizard, but he no sooner gets the device deployed when the Man of Steel arrives, taking the bolt on with his invulnerable body. After the Weather Wizard and his gang are hauled off, Flash demands to know why Superman upstaged him and his fellow JLA member replies that he got an alert from Flash's JLA signal device. Barry wonders, however, if Superman is actually still trying to prove he's fastest. Later, back in Metropolis, Clark Kent comes upon a gangland fracas and inserts himself between one criminal and the hail of bullets headed his way, but to the Man of Tomorrow's surprise, no slugs strike. He then notices the Scarlet Speedster intercepting them. In a case of déjà vu, Superman demands to know why the Crimson Comet has horned in on his gig and once again, the culprit is a JLA signal. Just then, both heroes receive another emergency signal calling for a meeting at JLA HQ.

Upon arrival, they find the League assembled, but no one seems to know why. The cause is then revealed when Rokk and Sorban, who rule Ventura, the gambler's planet speak up. Editor Schwartz lets us in on the fact that they were previously met by Superman and Batman in World's Finest #150 [June, 1965].

Apparently the duo were aware of Superman and the Flash's race, each having bet on one of the heroes and since it ended in a tie, they want satisfaction. (Does anyone else wonder if this could have been an inspiration for the Star Trek episode, "The Gamesters of Triskelion"?)

Rokk and Sorban have come up with a truly epic course, too, traveling 40,000 light years from earth to the nearest end of the Milky Way Galaxy. Just a nice stretch of the legs at 240,000 trillion miles. The incentive, or blackmail, if you will, is that refusal to cooperate will result in the destruction of Central City and Metropolis. On the other hand, the loser's city will also be forfeit.

Flash points out that he can't survive or run in the vacuum of space, but the aliens take care of that by charging his aura in such a way that it will provide both air and a runway for him.

The other members of the Justice League have seen enough and Green Lantern goes on the offensive, only to be stymied by energy hoops that bind him and naturally they are yellow in color, impervious to his power ring. J'onn J'onnz is similarly stopped in his tracks with a cage of flame, while Wonder Woman finds herself bound with her own magic lasso and Aquaman is incapacitated with a paralyzing mist from his life-preserving shower stall. The other members are also bound with the mentally produced energy bands while they simply immobilize the Atom.

There is nothing but for the race to proceed and each hero is consumed with thoughts of their loved ones lives hanging in the balance as they burst into space. The Flash received a briefing just prior that his oxygen supply is good for only a week.

The first obstacle encountered is a red sun solar system, forcing Superman to take a detour. He finds himself on a trajectory toward Ventura, home planet of the fiends who have cooked up this scheme and he notes a huge volcanic eruption. The hero in him will not allow anything but rescue action, but he then spies something else that causes him to fly swiftly away with the thought that he must immediately stop the race.

Elsewhere in space, the Scarlet Speedster has stumbled upon a space capsule and while he knows it isn't Earthly in origin (being set in 1967 before the first successful lunar expedition) he spots life forms in the drifting craft. Stopping to investigate he sees the forms aren't actually humanoid, but pulpy growths. Then the door slams shut and he finds himself suffocating, to the delight of one of the Venturans who is monitoring his progress.

Then, when all seems lost, reviving oxygen returns and our hero is able to vibrate free. As he dashes away the capsule changes into a strange plant and the Flash deduces it is a shape shifter that lures oxygen breathing victims in, but like other plans "inhales" carbon dioxide and "exhales" oxygen, explaining the brief cycle of suffocation and revival.

The Venturans are unhappy at the turn of events, but hopeful that the next trap will succeed. Green Lantern, silently observing, thinks that something is amiss as one of them had supposedly placed their wager on his crimson clad teammate.

Soon after, the competitors meet and Superman tries to dissuade the Flash from continuing, using sign language to make his plea. Thinking it's a ploy, the Flash refuses and before the silent discussion can continue a meteor shower of Kryptonite arrives on the scene, forcing Superman into a hasty retreat, while the Flash uses the meteors as stepping stones.

Once again from the monitor at JLA HQ the Venturans approve of how things are going, noting that with Superman out of the way, they can proceed, but incredibly, the Man of Might has appeared behind them. Moving quickly, a piece of Gold Kryptonite is deployed, which permanently eliminates the super powers of natives of Krypton. Superman collapses, but quickly transforms into the Martian Manhunter, who explains that he was able to muster enough strength to shape shift into Superman, gaining his invulnerability, allowing his escape from the flame cage, but then losing the powers from the Kryptonite, which he has successfully converted to lead. He is re-imprisoned and it's back to the progress of the racing Flash.

He has stepped off the last Kryptonite meteor onto an ordinary looking one, but it is of a soft and sticky consistency that holds him fast, to the point he cannot even vibrate free. A frustrated Green Lantern, watching the monitor, laments that his power ring has lost its 24-hour charge or he could perhaps send assistance, but Superman is on the job, using another meteor to carom the Flash into a nearby planet's earth-like atmosphere.

As the speedster enters the atmosphere, the friction burns away the meteor while he enjoys the protection of his aura. He then whirls at super speed with his arms extended, creating a helicopter effect to get back into the race.

Superman, meanwhile, is weakened due to some Green K fragments, but tries again to warn his comrade with super ventriloquism, but the Flash remains suspicious and the race is on again.

A new hazard presents itself to the Fastest Man Alive when alien craft fire on him. Superman uses heat vision to disable the menace, but the Flash is getting fatigued from the evasive maneuvering. He takes a rest stop on a nearby planetoid, feeling he's failed when he hears a voice, but before we can learn its origin and message, we join Superman, who has reached the turnaround point, but is abruptly sucked into a massive dimensional vortex that overcomes even his super abilities. He beams a hasty S.O.S. to the Flash who immediately responds and combining his speed with Superman's and moving opposite the vortex they destroy it.

Resuming the race, the two heroes are neck and neck to the finish line and the other members of the League note the victory of Superman or Flash depending upon their individual perspective, but rather than quibble, the racers instead confront Rokk and Sorban, who respectively deploy magic and super speed, but are no match for the powers of Superman and the Flash.

It turns out that "Rokk" and "Sorban" are actually Flash foes Professor Zoom from the 25th century and Abra Kadabra from the 64th century. Superman then explains what he'd spotted on Ventura, which was Rokk and Sorban observing the volcanic eruption on their planet that they'd wagered upon, alerting the Man of Steel that something was fishy.

And speaking of fish, Flash queries Green Lantern as to how he was able to relay a message to him via a fish on the stopover world and GL explains he was able to use a reserve in his ring to expand Aquaman's telepath abilities to warn their colleague.

So it was all an elaborate hoax by two of Flash's most formidable enemies to destroy him, but the question remains as to who won the race with the last panel presenting it to the readers. "Look at the pictures of the finish and make up your own mind!"

This sophisticated and action-filled tale kept me guessing and I enjoyed it thoroughly. I always like guest appearances in titles, too, and having the entire Justice League along for the ride was a nice bonus. Andru and Esposito used some of their signature images with oversize and unusual panel arrangements and overall it was a great rocket ride that I'll give a 9 on the 10-point rating scale.

This story is reprinted from Limited Collector's Edition #C-48 [10-11 1976], which contains some nice bonus features along with the first two Superman/Flash race stories and as DC seemed to like to do, it included a 2-page spread by Carmine Infantino on "How to Draw the Flash!" Other of these art lessons were contained in similar treasury editions like Curt Swan's lesson on Superman from #C-31 and Carmine's take on Batman in #C-25. Even the competition got into the act with John Buscema and Stan Lee's "How to Draw Comics the Marvel Way" and naturally the great Joe Kubert, ever the teacher, had instructions on how to draw Tarzan in Limited Collector's Edition #C-22 and provided the answer to this question. I'm uncertain where the Gil Kane Green Lantern tutorial was first printed, but I have these examples in my copy of the Green Lantern "lost 1963" [1998] 80-page annual.

I'd also be remiss if I didn't make mention of Wallace Wood's famous "22 Panels" reference sheet.

My good friend Clem Robins offered some observances of strengths and contrasts, particularly between Carmine and Gil Kane that he's agreed to let me share with you:

"The selection of Gil and Carmine points out an essential difference between the two guys. Gil was terribly structural, as the layouts demonstrate. Carmine is a scribbler. Neither approach is "right", but everyone ends up going one way or the other.

You can also see this among the great painters. The Impressionists are scribblers. They had to be: their whole shtick demands envisioning the finished picture all at once.

The modern academic painters, like Jacob Collins especially, are structurists.

Both Gil and Carmine's demonstrations reveal as much about their limitations as their strengths.

Gil's point out something else: The expressions on the faces are corny. This was seldom the case when he drew a story, which is the point. Both guys were storytellers, not artists. Take away the story and there's nothing there. It's not like either one of them was a formidable draughtsman, not in the real sense of the term, although Gil was a lot closer to it than Carmine. Their whole bag was telling a story, as excitingly as possible.

Jack Adler went to a figure drawing group with Gil once, and Gil asked him what he thought of the drawings he (Gil) made there. Adler always shot from the hip, and he told Gil that they weren't all that great.

Gil never forgave him for this.

You can quote me on all of this. There is no more dedicated fan of Carmine or Gil on the planet than me, but comics are storytelling, not fine art. A lot of people spend their careers in the field and don't realize this until they're so straitjacketed by the demands of comics that there is nothing left with which to respond to nature."

I hope you enjoyed this little "art lesson" and that you'll continue to swing by to see what else we can conjure up about the great Silver Age of DC comics.

The next edition will, of course, be here in about two weeks (October 1st) and as usual, if you've got suggestions for things you'd like to see I'm always interested. Just drop me an e-mail at: professor_the@hotmail.com

Until next time…

Long live the Silver Age!

© 2000-2012 by B.D.S.

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