A Tribute to the of

I don’t know how I missed this, especially because these Earth Prime stories gave me a particular kick as a kid and, between you and me, the kick remains. I’m pretty sure I alluded heavily to that when I reviewed the great JLA two-parter here for issues #123 and #124 from late 1975 [Sage #214].

As it happens, there was another Earth Prime story that predates those books (more than one actually, but I’ll get to that) in the pages of the Flash #228 (July/August 1974). The on-sale date was April 23, 1974. In the credit where credit is due department, that imaginative cover was by the great Nick Cardy with Tatjana Wood colors and Gaspar Saladino letters and the issue’s editor is Julie Schwartz. “The Day I Saved the Life of the Flash!” was illustrated by Irv Novick and Tex Blaisdell and is written by Cary Bates, who also features prominently in the story, though the splash page merely teases the appearance of this bearded, long-haired and glasses-wearing mysterious visitor to the home of Barry and Iris Allen in Central City.

With the beginning of the story we get a pretty good idea of where things are going when the panel captions start to capture the flavor of things: “What can you say about a 25-year old writer who tried? Tried to convince himself the events described in this story never happened?...

We soon see a classic Japanese import that I should recognize, but they tended to look awfully similar back then. I can’t even believe I called it a classic. I happen to own a classic Super Sport, but I digress. Anyway, the realistically rendered compact is navigating I-70 eastbound from Ohio to New York and being piloted by Cary Bates. Of course, there’s then an immediate flashback to the week prior when that same vehicle and driver going westbound to Athens, Ohio and Ohio State University, Cary’s alma mater, for a class reunion. In his haste to get there, he runs afoul of the law for driving 13 miles over the speed limit. Then, the officer recognizes the name on the registration. “Waitaminit! Bates…Cary Bates of Queens, New York! Could you by any chance be the Cary Bates that writes the Flash?” Bates confirms his identity and the cop explains his son’s favorite super-hero is the Flash and therefore he’d seen a lot of issues bearing Cary’s writing credits. It doesn’t save Cary from getting a citation, but he does agree to provide an autographed slip of paper to “Flash-Fan Steve Garson.” I wonder if ol’ Steve is still out there somewhere? I’m suspicious this event might have actually taken place.

So, now free to go, our writer finds himself in a sudden thick fog bank just outside Athens and when he emerges, he realizes that Athens, Ohio doesn’t look quite right. In the next surreal panel, he sees a sign welcoming him to Central City. Incredulous, Cary is agape at what is unfolding before him. “How often have I seen that very same skyline drawn by Infantino and Novick B-but how can I be seeing something real…when Central City exists only in a comic book?” (Hummm...I wonder why Cary didn't mention the art team of Ross Andru and Mike Esposito who were assigned to the book between the tenures of Infantino and Novick?)

After parking, things just get more unreal as the Trickster, using his jet shoes that allow him to defy gravity, is bursting through a bank window with a satchel full of greenbacks. Inevitably the next fantastic addition to the drama is the arrival of the Fastest Man Alive. Cary’s internal monologue continues to chronicle the events: “I can hardly find the words to tell you, reader, what it was like to see the Fastest Man Alive in glorious living Technicolor…

The Flash begins a whirlwind under the felon, sucking him back down to Earth when the Trickster unleashes a gimmick yo-yo that shoots out multi-colored beams that cause the Flash to depart at super speed. Bates is flummoxed at the turn of events and continues the monologue in thought balloon fashion: “I still haven’t figured out an explanation for all this madness! I feel like I’m walking through the pages of a comic book! I bet even my Flash-editor would reject a far-fetched plot like this!

It then occurs to Cary that right before he entered the fog, he was mentally plotting his next Flash story and it was to involve the Trickster. Could he have inadvertently caused what has come to pass in Central City? “It reminds me of a fantastic story my editor once printed—about the time Flash actually visited him in his editorial office.” You can count on Julie to fill in the gaps with his editorial note: “’Flash--Fact or Fiction” in the May, 1968 issue of the Flash!’” [Sage #42]

Julie’s explanation was that there’s another plane of existence—a parallel Earth, he called it…where most everything that happens in our comic books actually happens! It’s a world where Flash and Central City really exist! It could be that I’m living in that world right now! Suppose my imagination was especially vivid when I plotted my Trickster story behind the wheel…and my mental concentration opened up a rift between the two Earths!

As Cary continues to ponder and connect the dots, he drives to a familiar street, parks, walks to the door and rings the bell of Barry Allen. He continues to think that if his theory is correct, he’s to blame for the Flash’s current predicament. When Iris Allen answers the door, Bates piques her curiosity with his statement: “Hello, Mrs. Allen! How are your parents enjoying life in the far future—you know, in the year 2974!” Shocked, she invites him in and soon Barry strolls in and we continue to get the gaps filled in by Bates’ internal monologue: “Of course I knew! I knew Iris Allen was—would be—born 1000 years in the future—and that her parents sent her back into our time-era as a baby—because there was a Flash-story that explained it all!” Julie at the ready again: “’The Flash’s wife is a two-timer” in issue #203 [02/71] of the Flash!”

Cary continues, explaining that it’s his fault the Trickster is on the loose and offering his services to Barry Allen to help bring him down. Barry asks why he’s telling him this since he just works in the police lab. Blurting out, “Barry Allen, you’re the Flash—and I can prove it!” Bates lunges forward and releases the crimson uniform of the Sultan of Speed from the ring on Barry’s finger. Wasting no time, our hero gets into his uniform and spirits Cary away to a high point outside Central City to talk things over further. Cary tells the speedster that the Trickster is using the state fair pavilion as a hideout and while he doesn’t tell the Flash how he knows, he lets us know with more monologue: “You see, reader—just before the fog-lift interrupted my story-plotting, I had mentally chosen the pavilion as Trickster’s hide-out…so I knew it was where he had to be holed-up! Trouble was, that’s as far as my plot went! I had no idea what was going to happen next!

Leaving Cary outside, Flash vibrates through the wall, but his super-speed vibrations also alert the villain through his new yo-yo gimmick as it begins to spin wildly in response. In the next strange moments, the Flash is confused as to why he’s there. That is due to the spell the yo-yo has placed upon him, allowing the Trickster to remain invisible to his foe. Spinning the yo-yo in front of the Crimson Comet like a hypnotic device, he orders our hero to go back to where he came from. Outside the window, Cary Bates has been witness to the entire scene.

Vowing to set things right, Cary hatches a plan after hitching a ride back to town and then sneaking back to the pavilion where he finds the Trickster is in a deep, snore-filled sleep. He mentions a secret weapon and later is sitting cross-legged in front of the Central City Federal Bank. “I’ve written the Trickster character enough to second-guess him! I know he’s planning to pull a job today—and if I have anything to say about it, he’ll hit this bank! After all, since I “plotted” Trickster’s comeback…maybe I can “plot” his last job, too! Concentrate, Cary!

With the breaking of the dawn, Cary is using a good old-fashioned telephone booth to phone Iris and to alert Barry that the Trickster is about to hit the bank. He can’t even get the phone in the cradle before the Fastest Man Alive arrives on the scene. He blows by the over-confident villain, secure in the knowledge that the yo-yo is his salvation, when he gets caught in the super-speed wash of the Scarlet Speedster.

The Flash then runs through a car wash and the Trickster is left inside to get soaked and suds covered. Confused at how he could now be seen and heard by his nemesis, we are informed by Cary’s captions: “Poor Trickster! How could he have known I took his hypnotic yo-yo last night as he slept—and left him with an ordinary yo-yo I had bought in Central City…” Flash then mops up the Trickster and turns him over to the authorities.

In the closing panels, writer and hero say their farewells and Cary drives into a familiar fog bank. As he emerges, he gives we, the readers, his own farewell: “…and that’s my latest Flash story, readers—told to you exactly as it happened! And if editor Julie doesn’t believe this when he reads it…I’ve got Trickster’s hypnotic yo-yo to convince him! The class reunion was a gas…but it couldn’t match the excitement of “The Day I Saved the Life of the Flash!”

Apparently, Julie was convinced, because obviously this fun little tale made it into print. Like I said, this one gave me the same kick as when I read the JLA story all those years ago, so it was an exciting discovery for me. I hope you enjoyed it as well.

A Green Lantern tale written by Denny O'Neil and illustrated by Dick Dillin & Frank Giacoia rounds out this issue.

As your summer goes into high gear, take some time to visit us again the middle of the month and in the meantime, let your voice be heard. Got any comments? Questions? Kudos? You know what to do. Just express yourself via e-mail: professor_the@hotmail.com.

Until we meet again…

Long live the Silver Age!

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