A Tribute to the of
Awhile back I received a copy of a DC offering from 1968 from my good buddy, the webmaster. Grateful for his largesse, as always, I piled into it, but was a bit puzzled because at first glance I didn't see any particular significance to it, though it did have a rather intriguing cover and he inevitably has impeccable taste in the choices he makes, be they for sentimental/nostalgic reasons or perhaps milestone efforts from the Silver Age of one kind or another. The comic I refer to this time that will also be the subject of this edition of the Silver Age Sage is The Flash #179, from May of 1968 and as you can see by the scan of that cover, courtesy of Ross Andru and Mike Esposito, the premise is, "The Flash, Fact or Fiction? YOU be the Judge!" As you can also see, it's a split cover, with one half showing our hero being squeezed pretty hard by a multi-colored,other-worldly figure and in the other a miniature of the cover, right down to the DC "bullet" and Comics Code Authority Seal of Approval, but being perused by a wide-eyed boy.
The splash page further piques your interest with a short quiz. It reads: "Warning! Do not read this story until you test your Flash I.Q.!" It then proceeds with "Answer the following statements--True or False!" "Flash has the ability to run at super-speed." "Molecular control of his body enables Flash to vibrate through solid objects." "In his civilian identity, he is Barry Allen, police scientist." "His wife, Iris, knows his secret Flash identity." "Flash is strictly a fictional character dreamed up for this comic magazine." "Now--get on with the story and check your answers--one of which will give you the most shocking surprise of your life!" A bit dramatic, to say the least, but still, it does get your attention, no? Let's see what writer Cary Bates came up with, shall we?
The tale begins in the laboratory where Barry "The Flash" Allen is winding up an uneventful day. Hold onto your white lab coat, Barry. That's about to change in a big way. He hears a loud whirring noise and comes face to face with a psychedelic whirlwind that's blowing things asunder. Deploying the familiar scarlet uniform from it's secret ring compartment, Barry switches to The Flash to take on this strange creature. After a short skirmish, Barry is sent flying by the creature, who then disappears. The baffled scientist has no recourse but to head for home where his wife, Iris, has dinner ready for him. Barry comments on the unusual aroma and then, the multi-colored whirlwind erupts from the casserole dish! Barry quickly escorts Iris to a handy Fallout shelter and again the mysterious creature vanishes as quickly as it had appeared. The next morning, The Flash is up at dawn to run an errand when he stumbles upon a gang of looters at Central City's Flash Museum. No sooner does he arrive than the odd visitor makes it's third appearance as well. Using his super speed talents, The Flash causes the crooks to vibrate at a velocity that allows him to hurl them through the wall, unharmed, to get them away from the weird being. Close on his heels, though, is the creature, who continues inexorably toward our hero. Barry decides that it is intent on pursuing him in both personas and as he prepares to engage in battle, it pops out of existence. Then, as if things haven't been strange enough, an eerie glow casts itself and an alien appears to speak to The Flash. He explains that the being who has been troubling our hero is a Nok, a species of wildlife captured on a distant planet by the alien. As the space traveler further explains, he was forced to land on the Earth due to a malfunction on his ship and the Nok escaped. He was able to successfully transport it back to his ship on three occasions, but the Nok is getting stronger and more difficult to control. The alien fades away as he explains that his ship will be repaired in six hours and if The Flash cannot round up the Nok, he will be forced to depart the Earth without it. Nothing like a little additional pressure, eh? Barry then delivers the crooks to the police and heads back to repair the damage to the Flash Museum when he feels himself being pushed along, even faster than his blinding pace. He also feels the same heat he'd felt in the prior appearances of the Nok. Sure enough, the creature reappears and smacks right into the Crimson Comet, who slips away into the black void of unconsciousness.
Part two opens with a groggy Flash slowly coming to and discovering he's in a warehouse rather than in the open countryside. Speculating that he might have been knocked right out of home dimension, as has happened before (like in The Flash #123, for instance), he makes an attempt to vibrate his way back home, but to no avail. Failing that, our hero decides to scout around and try to determine his whereabouts. He soon discovers he's in Willowdale, and the local populace, while recognizing him, also seem dismissive. To his growing wonder, The Flash encounters a boy who asks him if he'll soon change back to Barry Allen with the aid of his ring. Little Bobby's mother chides him that The Flash is only make-believe. Bobby then scoots around the corner to pick up a copy of The Flash #172, dated 08/67, for our hero to autograph! Quickly skimming through the comic, Barry is stunned to see that it recounts a recent adventure in great detail. He then disappears to collect himself and to ponder what's happening. He soon organizes some thoughts in his mind: "Back on my world, Earth-1, a writer named Gardner Fox wrote about the adventures of another Flash--a fictional character named Jay Garrick--Fox claimed the adventures came to him in his dreams--however what Fox didn't realize is-- that when he was asleep, his mind "tuned in" on another vibratory world--Earth-2 where Jay (Flash) Garrick really existed! My guess is that a similar phenomenon is taking place here! In the parallel Earth I'm stranded in now, another writer must "tune in" on my world--and then write about my adventures! Therefore, here I am just a fictional character--which explains this comic mag!" Deciding the only way out is to make use of the Cosmic Treadmill, (first used in The Flash #125 dated November 1961) Barry soon speeds away to find the only man on this Earth who can assist him. He changes into his civilian identity of Barry Allen and is soon at the address he found on page one of the magazine. It's 575 Lexington Avenue and he asks to see none other than Julius Schwartz, the editor of The Flash! The skeptical "Julie" allows an audience with the man who's been announced as Barry Allen, curious as to what the apparent Flash fan is up to. After relating his story and asking Julie for the money to build his Treadmill, the disgusted Schwartz starts to dismiss him, but at super-speed, Barry dons his uniform and makes a believer of the editor. Julie invites Barry to read through the bound volumes of The Flash while he scours the city for the materials needed for the Cosmic Treadmill. Flash gratefully agrees and hopes to stumble across something helpful to deal with the Nok. Julie returns a few hours later and The Flash quickly assembles the gadget before the agape Schwartz. He thanks Julie who brushes the praise aside saying he'll get a great story out of this experience. The Flash then boards the Treadmill and gets it up to sufficient speed to breach the inter-dimensional barrier and then...disappears.
Part three has our hero safely back in Central City for a few moments until the Nok again intercepts him, knocking The Fastest Man Alive to the ground. Quickly vibrating into the very earth beneath him, Barry escapes and pours it on back to his lab. His thoughts reveal that he has a plan. While perusing the exploits of his fictional self, he realized that the invisible aura he carries that shields him from the air friction of his super-speed, must be what is attracting the creature. The Nok actually feeds on it. Chemically reproducing it, Barry speculates that if he's unsuccessful, his career may be over if the Nok absorbs his protective aura. He rapidly assembles a spray gun with the synthetic components of the aura and waits for the Nok. It's a short wait. The creature arrives and upon contact with the radiation from the spray gun, literally basks in it's emanations, allowing the space alien, who has luckily just shown up, to subdue and escort the Nok back to his spacecraft, removing the threat to the Flash for good.
The final two panels provide the epilogue. The first is in the Allen home where Barry is gazing out the window thinking, "I still can't get over it! I'm just a fictional character on another Earth--!" The last panel takes us back to the editorial office of Julius Schwartz as he looks at the Cosmic Treadmill where he thinks, "I can hardly wait till Flash's adventure appears in a forthcoming issue! I'll know it really happened--even if the reader's won't!"
One thing the webmaster often gently chides me about is my neglect of commentary on the art in these reviews. These omissions aren't conscious on my part, it's just something I don't think much about, but it bears some mention here, because after a long, successful run, DC had recently (late 1966) promoted perhaps the seminal Flash artist, Carmine Infantino, to the position of Art Director for the entire DC line (shortly thereafter he was again promoted this time to Editorial Director--in 1971 he assumed the title of Publisher). The team of Ross Andru and Mike Esposito who had just finished their decade-long stint on Wonder Woman with #171 (08/67), were handed The Flash. It was causing such a reaction among the readership that this issue contained two separate pages of letters (entitled "Flash Grams") so that the extra one could be devoted totally to feedback on the pen and ink hand-off. The printed notes were a pretty even split between the horrified and those who approved, always with the tacit understanding that Carmine was the man. Me? I like Infantino's work a great deal and will probably always associate him with The Flash, but Andru and Esposito were no slouches, either and were given the nod to work on several titles during the Silver Age to include the Metal Men, as I mentioned above, Wonder Woman and Superman. I think they held their own quite nicely here and one of their trademark touches that I always liked was the way they often ignored the panel borders. To me it dovetailed nicely with an action-packed superhero epic where things were happening so quickly and so much bigger than life that they couldn't possibly be expected to be contained within those small panels. Check out any of their work and see if you don't agree. I think for the Flash, this artist team was a good call. So, in summary, the significance of this issue is that we saw, for the first time, Earth Prime, or our world, even though it wasn't identified as such until a later story in the Justice League of America, specifically issue #123 (10/75) where Julie appeared again, along with Elliot S! Maggin and Cary Bates. (Bates & Maggin, as drawn by artist Kurt Schaffenburger, are featured on the cover of DC's Bronze-Age fanzine The Amazing World of DC Comics #2 dated September-October 1974; Schaffenburger is on the cover too, between Green Lantern and Superman. Bates and other DC staffers are seen reacting to Superman and the Phantom Horseman of Metroplis on the mostly photo cover of Superman #289 [07/75]). Whether it was kissing up to the boss or just a surprise story twist, I got a kick out of this one, so I give it a 9 for a very original premise.
If you have thoughts of your own, share 'em with me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks for spending the time and remember to join us here in approximately two weeks for the next review.
Long live the Silver Age!
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