A Tribute to the of

I've talked before about the recurring themes that happened during our beloved Silver Age and soon I'll delve into yet another one with this review.  I've speculated that sometimes a good idea is simply timeless and you can take it in different directions while keeping the theme fresh.  Other times I cannot help but think that it's simply a matter of only having so many concepts to draw from; leaving the writer facing a deadline scrambling to produce whatever can be done.  In any case, I've selected the very first in a sort of ongoing series of stories to highlight this time and the recurring theme is that of a race.  Not just any race, mind you, but between two of the fastest beings in existence.  So, please come along and root for your favorite as we witness "Superman's Race with the Flash!"  The story ran in Superman #199 from August of 1967, on sale 06/20/67. Cover art rendered by Carmine Infantino & Murphy Anderson .  The writer of the tale is the youthful Jim Shooter, with interior art provided courtesy of that long-time team of Superman artists, Curt Swan and George Klein.  Editorial oversight was given by Mort Weisinger.

The splash page shows a pretty unusual "split-screen" scene with two sets of crime syndicates describing the money they have riding on the respective heroes and how they'll ensure their man wins the impending race.  On to the main story…

…where we see Superman on his home turf of Metropolis, about to intervene in a collision involving a spanking new '67 Mercury Cougar (I just love those old muscle cars) and a couple of bystanders observe and clock the time for the Man of Might to lift the Merc out of harm's way.  The one man asks the other why the stopwatch and he replies that obviously he hasn't heard about the race.  Meanwhile, in Flash's hometown of Central City, a similar scene plays out when the Crimson Comet abducts six crooks at super speed.  Again, a citizen clocks his time and another comments that while the Flash is fast, how will he stack up against Superman?  Their attention is then drawn to a nearby billboard announcing the "Greatest Race of All Time" next week, Saturday, June 10th.

The next panel gives us a historical context as two colorfully garbed figures stand before the Secretary General of the United Nations two weeks prior.  The Secretary General has requested that the two heroes engage in a race.  It is to be a world wide sweepstakes with the proceeds being used to aid underdeveloped countries.  (Good thing no one had thought about food for oil yet.)  Superman and Flash agree and the Secretary General refers them to his secretary, who explains the race course they have worked out.  "Here it is!  You will circle the Earth three times…each time on a slightly different route!  Under normal conditions, it would take you less than a second!  However, these paths have been specially selected for the obstacles they include, which should make things more interesting, as that 3-D simulation suggests!"

Later, in their respective civilian identities, Clark Kent, reporter for the Daily Planet, is given the assignment to cover the historic event.  In Central City, Iris Allen, also a reporter, has written up an interview with the Flash, who is secretly her husband, though an editorial comment informs the reader that the joke is on Barry, as Iris already knows somehow that she is married to the Scarlet Speedster.

Segue back now to the present where the buzz is ubiquitous regarding the event.  People are taking sides as to their favorite in the race and apparently the U.N. has taken the precaution of limiting the number of sweepstakes ticket any individual can purchase to reduce the risk of loss.

And speaking of reducing chances for loss, the inevitable handicapping is taking place within the underworld as we peek in on the top gambling syndicate in the U.S. as they hold a meeting to discuss the event.  Apparently their European counterparts have agreed to cover their wager of one billion dollars on Superman.  The assembly comments that if The Man of Steel fails to conquer, they'll go bankrupt.  The leader replies that they'll make certain of victory through the use of the services of Werner Von Broder, reportedly second only to Lex Luthor as a criminal scientist.

Across the pond, the continental crime syndicate of Europe is hosting a similar gathering, while they have chosen to bet on The Flash.  They are also hedging their bets with the help of Dr. Robert Carson, criminal inventor.  As Sherlock Holmes would say, the game is afoot.

Finally, the following week, all wagers are securely in place and the contest is about to begin.  The Justice League of America is in attendance and seems to be divided in their loyalties as well, with Green Lantern, Aquaman and Hawkman rooting for The Flash while Batman, Robin, Green Arrow and the Atom appear to be pulling for Superman.  The duo shakes hands and wish one another luck as the official briefly explains the rules.  It is to be a footrace, so Superman cannot fly during the race and their speed will be limited so that their skill in using speed will be the determining factor.  As the heroes go into a familiar racer's crouch the call is made:  "Ready…On your marks…at the sound of the gun…Go!"  And they're off, mere brilliant blurs on the thoroughfare until reaching the docks where they promptly exit the end of the pier and enter the Atlantic Ocean, bound for Africa.  Superman swims through the ocean, using his super strength to his advantage by going directly through the waves that the Flash must go over as he runs along the surface.  Soon they approach the coast of Africa at a velocity of 140,000 miles per hour.  Their next destination is the Algerian Sahara, which proves to be the first major obstacle.  This time it is the Flash's advantage as he uses his ability to vibrate the molecules of his body through the sand dunes while the Man of Tomorrow must blast through them with brute strength.  Shortly afterward, however, Superman gains a slight lead as his fellow Justice Leaguer must slow down due to the scorching heat of the sand dunes.  Later still, he manages to catch up when they come upon the great pyramid of Cheops and he's able to again vibrate through while Superman must go up and over the tremendous structure.

Awhile later, the runners enter a village as part of the course and cannot completely control their abrupt stop when they encounter an errant merchant with his donkey-drawn cart filled with baskets of figs.  The contents of the baskets are thrown out, but then, faster than the eyes of the merchant can see, the figs appear to replace themselves and the race begins anew.  We follow the two heroes through the Red Sea; across the sandy wastelands of Saudi Arabia and Iraq; into the arid highlands of Iran and Afghanistan and ultimately to the Himalayas.  Here the Man of Steel enjoys an advantage as his invulnerability shields his body from the chilling cold and rarefied air.  Fortunately at the pace they travel, it isn't an issue for long as they head south for the coastal plain of India, where they pass through Lucknow and Benares on their way to the port of Calcutta prior to following the Ganges River to the Bay of Bengal.  It's into the water again until they re-emerge headed toward Rangoon.  While racing through a teakwood lumber camp, Superman and the Flash perform an act of altruism, knocking down some trees as they go to aid the Burmese lumberjacks, ending Part I of the story.

Part II is entitled "Faster Than a Speeding Bullet!"  A television broadcast is bringing us up to date with the progress of the race.  Apparently the two heroes have crossed Thailand and are in the South China Sea.  As we join them there, we see a vessel being tossed about in a storm, trying vainly to intercept the Flash and warn him of the typhoon.  Soon the trouble is obvious as the Monarch of Motion is having difficulty maintaining his stability on the choppy seas and amid the hurricane force winds.  Superman observes his friend and when an unexpected wave strikes the Fastest Man Alive (maybe), he offers discreet aid by issuing a puff of super breath to help right the running Flash.  He is careful to do so in secret so that his comrade won't feel indebted and perhaps fail to go all out to win the race.

On they run, through the Philippines and into the Pacific Ocean.  As they pass the Hawaiian Islands they see the famous Aloha greetings and they still continue on.  Back in the U.S., the JLA continue to monitor their progress with the Manhunter from Mars commenting that he can hear the cheers of the crowds in Acapulco, Mexico.  Green Lantern replies that they're traveling much faster than the speed of sound and that his power ring indicates they're in Colombia.

As the course takes the pair through the Colombian Andes mountain range, another bit of bad luck reveals itself.  The volcano Tolima is erupting and what should come flying out of the cone but a chunk of green kryptonite?  This time it is the Flash offering secret aid by using his super speed to vibrate his feet in such a way that a fissure opens, swallowing the green K and allowing Superman to continue without feeling he owes his friend a favor.

Now they continue through the Peruvian highlands and onto the Brazilian Matto Grasso.  A chasm presents itself and each man uses his own technique to cross it.  Superman executes a super broad jump while the Flash does a rapid wire walking act on the wires of telephone poles.  Crossing the Atlantic again, they approach Gabon, Africa where they approach the marker beacon leading them to the jungle.  As they work their way through the undergrowth, the Flash's vibrational ability again gives him an edge, but it is soon negated when they come to Victoria Falls in Rhodesia, where Superman can maintain his pace, swimming straight down the descent while the Flash must vibrate his feet to slow his fall.

We now join another monitor, this time in the use of the American Gambling Syndicate where they are preparing to use their insurance policy as they start the last lap.  Another brief check on our racers has them crossing the Australian desert, much to the surprise of a nearby aborigine.  At the European Gambling Syndicate's American headquarters they are also tracking progress and have the duo across the Pacific and heading for Canada.  They too are planning to put their plan into effect during the final lap of the race.

Back to the action, this time in Northern Canada, where the contestants encounter the latest obstacle in the form of a series of frozen lakes.  Advantage Superman as his "super-balance" allows him to slide along at a good clip while the Flash cannot gain purchase and slips around helplessly until losing his footing altogether and falling into unconsciousness.  Acting quickly, Superman switches to his alter-ego of Clark Kent (our editor reminds us that at this point in time the members of the JLA aren't aware of secret identities) and when the Flash comes to he finds a fire and a reporter who just happened to be there in his hour of need.  Now it's back to the race and somehow Superman manages to return the borrowed parkas from the nearby hunting lodge and catches up to his rival, who is scurrying across the North Atlantic.  They then encounter the next obstacle:  Massive icebergs.  Each man shatters the floating mountains of ice to keep shipping lanes clear, Superman smashing them with powerful blows while the Flash uses his vibrations to crack them. 

On and on they go, through Spain and France and now West Germany.  (Remember the days before the wall came down?)  Outside Munich, an unexpected problem appears in the form of a train.  Flash is able to simply vibrate through again, but Superman is momentarily flummoxed.  Finally he takes a page from his cohort's book and simply runs up and over a boxcar to continue on. 

They blast through Europe, covering Czechoslovakia, Poland and the Soviet Union (Boy has the map changed since 1967!) then crossing via the Aleutian Islands and speeding down the west coast of North America, passing beneath the Golden Gate Bridge as they reach the final leg of the journey where they will traverse the Lincoln Highway.

Sinister work is afoot, however, as the two syndicate groups place their plans into place.  Coincidentally, they're operating on the same deserted stretch of Nevada highway, though several miles apart.  One group is placing a glass plate across the side of the road where the Flash will pass.  The other is spraying Superman's half with kryptonite dust.  Am I the only one suddenly having flashbacks to Wile E. Coyote schemes?  Unfortunately, unlike the charmed Roadrunner, our heroes succumb to the traps.  First to fall is the Flash, who doesn't see the panel of bullet-proof glass and smashes into it at full speed, being knocked out in the crash.  Down the road, Superman also is trapped, the Kryptonite dust weakening him until he falls to the pavement.  The two groups of criminals are following a remarkably similar strategy, each replacing the fallen hero with a bogus substitute.  The faux Flash is sporting jet boots while the synthetic Superman runs with the aid of rocket boots.  Each man is to throw the race, but neither realizes they're facing an imposter.  The genuine Flash is being held with some sort of special rope that resists his ability to vibrate while the Man of Steel is under the influence of a small stream of green K dust from a pressurized cylinder.

The monitor from Green Lantern's ring abruptly goes blank.  He speculates that perhaps the yellowish haze of the Nevada desert is playing havoc with his ring's weakness. J'onn J'onzz uses his super-vision to continue to observe the race but is curious as to why the opponents are moving much more slowly.  Hawkman suggests that they may be conserving their strength for a final push to the finish line.

Somehow, Superman is able to retain enough of his strength to observe matters with telescopic vision, revealing the plot that is unfolding.  He then manages to locate the Flash and switch to heat vision to sever his bonds.  Once freed, the Scarlet Speedster does a quick recon job of all buildings in the vicinity until finding his friend and knocking the cylinder to the ground, jamming the valve dispersing the Kryptonite dust.  The two heroes then respectively clean house at each location.

Meanwhile, back at the course, a pair of phony racers looks at one another with growing suspicion as the "race" gets slower and slower, each man trying to throw it to his rival.  Ultimately they come to a complete stop and confront one another.  Threats are traded, but soon it's a moot point as the genuine heroes blow past them, renewing the race.

Faster, ever faster they speed toward the finish line until they cross it…simultaneously.  The agreed plan between the two heroes was to end the race in a dead heat, denying both criminal organizations any money.  Thus ends the race and the story, though of course there is no resolution as to who can truly claim the mantle of the Fastest Man on Earth.

As I mentioned at the start of the review, this particular story was only the beginning.  A few short months later in the Flash's self-titled magazine, it happened again, this time springing from the mind of E. Nelson Bridwell in Flash #175 in December of 1967.  We'll review that one in the near future.  A few years later Denny O'Neil tried his hand in World's Finest #198 and #199 in November of 1970. (The source for this review, Limited Collector's Edition C-48 was published in 1976.)  It happened again in DC Comics Presents #1 and #2 in 1978.  Twelve years after that, The Adventures of Superman #463, the first post-crisis race this time with Wally West wearing the crimson uniform of the Flash. In 1997 the producers of Superman: The Animated Series presented their take on the premise in the episode "Speed Demons."  Finally, even more recently under the banner of DC 1st it's a slightly different twist with the Man of Steel racing the Golden Age Flash, Jay Garrick.  Odds are that wasn't the last contest, either.  Also, check out this stunning Alex Ross rendition of the seemingly perpetual match-up.  The cover graces a collection of these stories.

I enjoyed this first match-up, even though there wasn't really a winner.  Maybe it's my fascination with geography, but I got a kick out of the mini-lesson as they sped across the globe, covering nearly every major country and certainly almost every major land mass.  The plots by the crooks were a bit simplistic, but I can overlook that for the most part.  I've always enjoyed Curt Swan's work on Superman, but its funny how you get used to the way a particular character is drawn and I can't say I cared much for his interpretation of the rest of the Justice League.  Still, it was a good concept and obviously the idea had legs to spare, so I'll rate this effort with an 8.

We'll be back, as always, in about two weeks with another offering right in this very space, so please don't forget to join us or to share your comments, thoughts or questions at: professor_the@hotmail.com

Long live the Silver Age!

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