A Tribute to the of

If there is any DC hero out there that can give Batman a run for his money as far as a rogue's gallery, it must be The Flash.  Captain Cold, Heat Wave, the Mirror Master, the Weather Wizard, the Top, The Pied Piper, Mr. Element, Grodd the super gorilla and Captain Boomerang leap to mind, just to name a few.  Even with all those villains to fill the hall, new ones were introduced periodically and the focus of this edition of the Silver Age Sage is the debut of Professor Zoom, otherwise known as the reverse Flash.  The story by John Broome comes from Flash #139, the September 1963 issue and is titled, appropriately enough, "Menace of the Reverse-Flash!"  As you can see on the cover by Carmine Infantino & Murphy Anderson (interior inks by Joe Giella), the reverse Flash is just that, with an identical uniform, but colored in opposites and he's using his super speed abilities in the 25th century to commit crimes. 

The tale begins in an orbit around the Earth.  Specifically, it's a unique scientific breakthrough in the form of a satellite designed to travel through both space and time.  The capsule itself rotates on its own axis at terrific speed while simultaneously orbiting the planet until…POP!  It disappears on its journey into the future.  The idea was to send a time capsule into the future rather than bury it for later discovery.  This was the brainchild of Dr. Walter Drake, physicist and the capsule contained some of the usual bric-a-brac, such as current books and record albums (Psst!  It's only about 40 years later and we're having a hard time finding a record player, guys) along with one very unique item:  A uniform belonging to the Fastest Man Alive, the Flash. 

Now that the satellite has proven successful, the young scientist is presented at a press conference where he mysteriously says he has nothing to say and runs from the podium. 

In the next scene we join young police scientist Barry Allen and his girlfriend, reporter Iris West at a lunch counter where she describes the strange behavior of Dr. Drake.  Barry ponders the situation as he's met Drake in his persona of the Flash and believes the physicist must be in some sort of trouble.  He excuses himself and goes through a ritual as familiar to we fans as that of the charging of Green Lantern's power ring or the swift switch to Superman's red and blue uniform; the press of a button on a ring that causes a crimson uniform to fly forth, rapidly expanding on contact with the air as Barry Allen becomes The Flash. 

Soon he has arrived at the home of Walter Drake to offer any help that might be needed.  Walter decides to confide in our hero and mentions that one of the items in the time capsule was an atomic clock.  Something about it had nagged him and so he worked on some figures late into the night until discovering, to his horror that the movement of the clock through time would cause a nucleonic change that would essentially convert the clock into an atomic bomb!  Flash asks if he's certain and the scientist confirms that he's checked and rechecked his figures and is convinced that he's sent an A-bomb into the future and nothing can be done to retrieve it.  At that, the Fastest Man Alive scoops up Dr. Drake and takes him to the location of his cosmic treadmill.  Our good editor, Julius Schwartz reminds us that this device was first used by the Crimson Comet in "Conquerors of Time," Flash #125, dated December 1961.  The Monarch of Motion explains that with this device and the information he's received from Drake, he can go forward in time 500 years and avert a tragedy.  With that, the Flash pours on the gas and starts the treadmill, faster and faster until we blow right out of Part I.

Part II opens in a futuristic setting with Professor Zoom standing in all his reverse-Flash glory.  The year is 2463.  The thought balloon says:  "Ha-haaa!  I always boasted I would be the greatest criminal in all Earth history!  And there's no doubt that I shall attain my towering ambition!  For who can stop me—now that I possess the most precious gift a human being could ask for—the power of super-swift motion!"  He then recalls the events of the prior day:  "Ha-haaa!  It seems hard to believe that it all happened since yesterday morning!  Up to then I was just an ordinary thief—but with imagination!  Yes!  And I flatter myself I was ready for opportunity when it came a-knocking!"  I think that "Ha-haa!" is going to grate after awhile…  Well, the man who became Professor Zoom was walking along the street in mid-town when the time satellite popped into existence and crashed nearby, spilling its contents on the sidewalk.  He promptly snatched up the Flash uniform and recognizing it for what it was, stole away with it.  Apparently the Flash was his favorite historical figure, though he despised what our hero stood for.  Once he arrived at his home with the precious uniform, he used some equipment he had set up (perhaps in the 25th century, everyone has their own private lab) and detected that the suit contained faint traces of super-speed wave patterns.  Using another device, the criminal then amplified the wave patterns so that, theoretically, the wearer of the uniform would have super-speed as well.  Just prior to testing, however, as a symbol of his being the reverse of the Flash in every way, he dyes the uniform to a new, reversed color scheme.  The moment of truth has now arrived and sure enough, he has the abilities of super-speed.  Due to his scientific leanings he'd always been dubbed by the police and fellow crooks as "The Professor."  (Hey!  No messing with my good name!)  Building upon that, he chooses the new sobriquet of Professor Zoom and decides to begin his new career as a super criminal by seeking out and stealing the very valuable Cribi sculptures.  Another editor's note explains:  "It is necessary to interject here that in the year 2418 explorers from Earth landed on the strange world of Cribi.  The earthmen found almost nothing whatever on the lone planet except certain striking metal sculptures.  It was subsequently discovered that the metal of the sculptures would not tarnish, that it could not be dented or even analyzed!  The sculptures were taken back to Earth where the mystery about them grew as their fame spread!"

Their fame has indeed spread, straight to Professor Zoom, who has determined that he will corner the market on the Cribi sculptures and ensure incalculable wealth for himself.  He speeds away to begin his mission.  First stop:  The home of the man reputed to be the wealthiest in the galaxy, Mr. Bord Balsamo.  Bord is admiring his sculpture along with two female companions.  One of the women asks what the objects alongside the sculpture are and he explains that they're atomic robot guards that would destroy anyone attempting theft.  That little fact, however, does not deter the reverse-Flash, who vibrates through the wall and snatches the sculpture away before the startled gaze of Balsamo.  The security system fired into empty space.  To Professor Zoom's amazement, however, the police are soon in pursuit, but between his fantastic speed and the indestructible properties of the Cribi that he uses for a makeshift shield, he is soon safely home, gloating over his prize.  Not satisfied with only one Cribi, however, he immediately plots to steal the others, beginning with one owned by Ducland Phillips.  This particular sculpture is protected with a force shield of pure energy, but the reverse Flash is confident he'll find a way to overcome it and speeds toward his next quarry, ending Part II.

Part III begins with the appearance of the Flash in the 25th century.  His thoughts reveal that he must maintain his super-speed vibrations internally at all times or he'll instantly be whisked back to his own time.  Another handy editor's note elaborates:  Presumably this rule of time-travel only applies to Flash—or anyone reaching the future by means of his cosmic-powered treadmill!  Since the objects in the capsule kept up no "internal vibration" they remained in the future once they arrived there!  I guess they were trying to head off any letters to the editor.  Flash then interviews a nearby pedestrian who'd seen the time capsule arrive and learns where it is being held.  He speeds to the science center where the capsule and its contents are on display.  He soon learns that the contents were recovered with the exception of his uniform and the atomic clock, which were apparently taken by looters.  The puzzled Scarlet Speedster has no idea why anyone would want his uniform, but he hastily begins an exhaustive search for the clock, since Drake's calculations indicated he has less than an hour to find the clock before it explodes!

In the course of Flash's search, he comes upon a newspaper display.  He is startled that it's in full color (No USA Today in 1963) and depicts a reverse version of him on the cover. 

That same reversed personage is at that moment vibrating his way up through the floor of the building housing his next targeted Cribi sculpture.  In that way he is able to avoid the force field completely.  As Professor Zoom zips away with his loot, the Flash spots him and the chase is on.  With great effort, the Flash runs until he's slightly ahead of the thief and then he abruptly turns to grab him.  Professor Zoom, however, slips from his grasp.  "Ha-haaa!  Just a little improvement I've made on the super-swift velocity we both possess, Flash—twin portable electro-rockets to give me an extra boost of acceleration—whenever I need it!!  Ha-Haah!"  I knew that "Ha-Haa!" would get old in a hurry…  With that, he flies away from the Crimson Comet.  The Flash will not be so easily beaten, however, and he promptly uses his super-speed abilities to follow the faint trail of molecular agitation that falls in the wake of super-speed travel.  Soon our hero has arrived at Zoom's house and snatched away his rockets.  Then, the battle is on as the two Monarchs of Motion stir up individual whirlwinds.  Soon the house is demolished, but the fight continues, with the villain flinging debris at the Flash.  Flash veers out of the way and grabs hold of his nemesis and is then forced to roll with a super-speed blow.  Soon the two titans pause and Professor Zoom declares a stalemate.  They are too evenly matched.  He comments that he was even able to duplicate Flash's protective aura that protects him from the heat caused by friction at super-speed.  Our editor chimes in yet again:  "The accident involving lightning that gave Flash his super-speed also surrounded him with his protective aura at the same time!"  The criminal says that all he had to do was cover his uniform with a chemical coating, "Ha-Haaa!"  *sigh*  Make it stop…  Once Zoom makes his boast, Flash has an epiphany.  "His protection from air-friction comes from chemicals—while mine comes from the aura of protective radiation around me!  That may be his weakness!"  It's handy to be a police scientist.

The Fastest(?) Man Alive then seizes the reverse Flash and holds his body in front of him as he accelerates.  "I've got to go faster than Zoom has ever gone before…faster than I've ever gone…I've really got to travel…as if I had million-league boots!"  Another editorial note:  A reference to the seven-league boots of the famous fairy tale!  Famous fairy tale?  Seven-league boots?  Anyone out there heard of that?  I sure haven't.  Flash continues to pour it on, musing to himself that he expects at a certain velocity for the chemical protection to break down, while his aura will protect him.  However, he faces the slight dilemma that his aura usually protects anyone he's carrying, so he has to extend Zoom out as far as possible.  Soon the desired effect takes place.  The friction begins to burn Professor Zoom and he concedes defeat.  Flash delivers him to jail and relieves him of the uniform, but under administration of a truth serum he learns that Zoom knows nothing about the atomic clock.  Our hero's work is not yet complete.

At last he locates it in the home of an elderly woman.  Spiriting it away at invisible super-speed, he rushes it to the Arctic Circle just before it explodes, leaving a mushroom cloud in its wake.  At that point, the Flash relaxes his internal vibrations and returns to the 20th century.  He reports his successful mission to Dr. Drake, burns the uniform of the reverse-Flash and calls it a day.

I thought this was a very good Flash tale with ample science fiction, plausible explanations and dilemmas and a worthy new opponent, even if he did have an extremely annoying laugh.  It was good to see the cosmic treadmill in use, too.  Over the years the treadmill became a staple of DC lore. This review was inspired partly by a great e-mail from long-time reader Mark who wishes (don't we all) that he had access to the Cosmic Treadmill in order to head back to the great days of the Silver Age.

I judge this yarn, Professor Zoom's first appearance (but certainly not his last) in the Silver Age to be a good showing and I'll rate this story a solid 8 on the 10-point scale.

Thanks for joining us yet again in our journey of exploration into the greatest era of comics.  Be sure to return in approximately two weeks for the latest review and remember my standing invitation to drop me a line at professor_the@hotmail.com.

Until then…

Long live the Silver Age!

© 2000-2004 by B.D.S.

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