A Tribute to the of

I was reading a story about Neil Young recently and learned that he likes to work on his songs during the full moon.  I'm not that superstitious, but I do try to think about what stories or characters might be particularly inspiring to me at the time when I prepare to sit down at the PC and start knocking these reviews out.  Lately for some reason The Flash has been calling to me.  That presented something of a dilemma in itself since I have a lot of Flash material and much of it is cream of the crop stories from his long run.  I finally settled on not one but two stories that share a very interesting and unique connection.  I hope you'll find them and the concept as intriguing as I did when we start with issue #159 of The Flash from March of 1966 (on sale in late January) featuring "The Flash's Final Fling!"  Our writer is the immortal Gardner Fox with Carmine Infantino doing pencil work, Joe Giella with inks and the legendary Julius Schwartz in the editor's chair.  Take a moment in particular to look over that startling cover.  It plays a key role.

The text on the splash page gives us an interesting prelude of things to come:  "Disillusioned and bitter at the lack of public appreciation for his efforts, Barry (Flash) Allen makes the supreme decision of his life—to quit as a super-her to become the Ex-Flash!  But he reckons without his protégé, Kid Flash, who refuses to allow his mentor to go into limbo without a last-ditch effort to bar his way!"  We then see that very same Kid Flash being enveloped from the waist down by some sort of bubble weapon wielded by strangely garbed men on an even stranger conveyance in a futuristic setting.  Another is warning off the streaking Flash that if he interferes then Central City will be blown up.  Flash replies that he should go ahead if that's the price for capturing him. 

As we turn the page things get interesting immediately.  We see a scarlet-gloved hand knocking at a door that bears a brass plate bearing the name Charles McNider, M.D.  A surprised nurse opens the door when she sees Kid Flash and Barry Allen.  She says it's after hours and the doctor probably won't see them, but Kid Flash asks her to announce them.  McNider insists they come in at once and Kid Flash tells Barry that while this won't be pleasant for him they need to go in.  Barry says it's a waste of time, but in they go.  They are warmly greeted by McNider, the blind physician who also has a secret identity of Dr. Mid-Nite of the Justice Society of America.  Charles asks why Barry isn't in his Flash uniform and Allen replies rather curtly that he's the Ex-Flash.  Wally (Kid Flash) West begins to fill in the gaps for McNider, revealing that it began that morning.  He'd spent the night with Barry and the next morning discovered Allen painting a large resignation banner identical to the on the cover.  A baffled Wally asks why, reminding him that he's at the height of his career, with many people depending on him.  A snarling Barry replies that even a super-hero likes appreciation and he never thought he'd see the day when the police make cracks about why it took him so long to turn over criminals to them.  He continues that despite all his efforts he never makes the headlines.  Wally again protests, insisting that the newspapers have him on the front pages, but Allen is adamant that The Flash had had his final fling.  West does a quick change into his Kid Flash uniform, hoping it will snap Barry back to his senses, but he only strides with greater determination to his car with his suitcase, saying he's leaving Central City to start life anew as a research scientist and parlay his talents into cash.  Wally inquires about Barry's fiancée, Iris.  Allen says he's had it with her nagging about his being late all the time and she can just find someone else.  As they drive to the outskirts of town and debark from the car, Barry jettisons his uniform from the compartment in his ring saying it's time to get rid of this "long underwear."  He then hangs it and his resignation banner on the tree with the yellow boots lying at the base and then headed for his car.  Wally's mind is racing, grappling with the strange shift in Barry's behavior and wondering how he can help when he determines to get him to possibly the only doctor who can help without risking the secret identity of the Flash.  Wally does the super speed vibrations that will open the portal to Earth-2 and Dr. McNider, bringing Barry along for the ride. 

Now that McNider has been briefed, he places Barry into a deep narco-synthetic state and begins to interrogate the Fastest Man Alive.  He begins by asking what happened to him after he fell asleep the night before.  Barry responds that he awoke around midnight to a strange nimbus light in his room.  From the brilliant light stepped a man in odd gear who quickly identified himself as Chronal Officer Petar Thrant from the year 3780 and he needs the help of the Flash.  He further explains that in the future world that he calls home there is a master criminal known as Frand Mattar, who stole a vibrational bomb from a military arsenal and sent it back through time, concealing it in Central City in the year 1966.  Mattal then announced to the local law enforcement that his gang is going forth to commit robberies and if anyone should try to stop them he'll explode the bomb and destroy Central City in 1966.  Thrant continues that the bomb is activated to go off when its inner shell vibrates at super-speed in response to an electronic impulse.  The activation runs down after awhile, but Frand Mattar simply resets it to keep it ready to blow.  The trigger mechanism is a button at Mattar's immediate reach. 

The Chronal police immediately investigated why they should be concerned about Central City in 1966 and discover that The Flash lived there and that his super-speed vibrations could accidentally trigger the bomb.  They determined that one of them must travel back in time to make certain the Flash never uses his super-speed again.  Barry asks the policeman how he knew his secret identity and he replies that it is no secret in the far-flung future and is in fact a part of history for him.  He then reveals a strange, shining orb in one hand that will guarantee the Flash will not use his super-speed. 

After this, Barry is brought out of his trance-like state and briefed about what they learned.  He now understands how he could believe the things he thought had transpired, but he is now determined to make things right by traveling to the future to capture Frand Mattar and get back to being the Flash.  Part I closes on that proclamation.

Part II opens with Kid Flash warning Barry that if he uses his typical method to travel in time, via the Cosmic Treadmill, he'll only trigger the bomb.  Allen replies that they'll go another way, but go they will.  Barry then gets into his uniform (maybe he had a spare?) and Dr. McNider opens a door to a secret closet revealing his own uniform and offers to accompany them.  Flash declines, however and he and Kid Flash are soon racing across Earth-Two, vibrating with increasing frequency until building up compounded vibrations that allow them to slip into the time stream.  Soon they've successfully arrived at the year 3780 on Earth-One.  First stop; police headquarters so they can learn where to find Frand Mattar.

The surprised police said they thought they'd fixed things to where he couldn't use his super-speed and the Monarch of Motion replies that Kid Flash "un-fixed" it and they've come to capture Frand Mattar.  The police reply that Mattar will simply activate the bomb, but Flash assures him they have things well in hand. 

Soon the Scarlet Speedster and the Boy Blazer are observing Frand Mattar and his gang from the balcony on the police tower.  The criminals are brazenly stealing an entire bank.  As the heroes rocket toward their foe, Flash tells Kid Flash that it took them three minutes to travel into the year 3780 from 1966, timing their speed to match that of the electronic frequency.  He also tells Wally to remember their plan.

When Mattar spots them he warns them not to make another move or he'll activate his trigger mechanism and blow up Central City in 1966.  Flash retorts that they are going to capture him and Frand then says that if they plan to move at invisible super-speed it won't work as his eyes have been treated to enable them to see super-speed just as Flash and Kid Flash can.  He again warns them to stop, but the Crimson Comet says he'll stop only when Mattar is his prisoner.  Frand hits the trigger, saying the die is cast and that the deaths of everyone in Central City will be on Flash's head.  The Sultan of Speed doesn't so much as break his stride when he scoops his futuristic foe up and begins to swing him around and around, back and forth at incredible velocity.  Kid Flash urges him to hurry up, that he's already spent a precious half-minute and Mattar's gang is coming.  As they disembark from their flying platform, the henchmen fire a strange weapon at Kid Flash that envelops him in bubbles that simultaneously lift him off the ground.  With his thoughts moving rapidly, the teen hero begins to spin his body, shedding the material and whipping it down at his opponents.  In the next moment the Flash arrives to render aid and the felons reveal new weapons, shaped like triangles that emit a destructive beam eliminating everything in its pathway. 

As the Fastest Man Alive burrows under the ground to sneak attack, Kid Flash states that they are down to two minutes to get back to Central City and stop the bomb.  Emerging beneath the feet of the gang members, Flash rises into mid-air by "bicycling" his feet at super-speed while simultaneously whirling his arms with an assailant on each one.  Kid Flash tells his mentor that they're down to one minute.  Barry releases his foes and the duo dash back into the time stream.  Allen tells West to remember to vibrate along the same electronic trail of the impulse Rand Mattar sent back to trigger the bomb.  Wally replies that it's bringing them directly toward the bomb just as a plane follows a beam to a landing field.  When they arrive in Central City at the appointed time, the explosive is just detonating.  Immediately the twin blurs of motion encircle the blast site creating a high velocity tunnel that carries the shock waves and heat upward into the atmosphere where they can harmlessly dissipate.  Their combined force is just enough to do the job and later the next day Kid Flash shows Barry some front page headlines and banners honoring the Flash.  Flash is even presented with a key to the city, ending this story on a happy note.  Next to that ending panel is a "Flash Announcement!

"Don't miss the next issue for a comic book first!  It will feature an entirely different story based on the very same cover portrayed on this issue!"

Well, issue #160 ended up being a collection of stories in an 80-page GIANT (#G-21) format, but in issue #161, from May of 1966 with the same players other than writer Robert Kanigher in lieu of Gardner Fox, things continue as promised in "The Case of the Curious Costume!"

One of Carmine Infantino's famous text blocks with the pointing hand inform us on the splash page next to The Flash banner that this is a "…sensational comic mag first!"  I'll let the rest of the text speak for itself:

"The provocative scene depicted below (which is a direct duplicate of the cover of #159 – Prof) was the basis for last issue's memorable "The Flash's Final Fling!" Written by Gardner Fox, it was based on an original cover idea dreamed up by the editor.  But how would another writer treat the same idea, we wondered?  To satisfy our curiosity, we commissioned Robert Kanigher (originator of the Flash in its Showcase tryout) to write his own version—which turned out to be entirely different than Fox's story, as you'll see for yourself when you read…The Case of the Curious Costume!"

By way of prelude to this story the first two pages are devoted to comparing the relationship between a solider and his weapon to that of the Flash and his uniform. An appropriate starting point for Mr. Kanigher since he was editor of the majority of DC's war titles at the time. It is proposed that there is a bond between a warrior and his tools of battle.  In the case of the soldier it shows a .45 sidearm being used in combat and the Sergeant saying "Thanks, pal!  You always come through when all the marbles are down!  I'd rather give up my right arm—than you!"  Then the imagined reply of the pistol:  "I'll never leave you, Sarge!  I'm yours for keeps!  Nothing'll ever separate us!"  In the case of Barry Allen, we see him doffing his uniform with a similar sentiment:   "Thanks, "Pal"!  The two of us make a great crime-fighting team!"  And again an imagined response from the crimson costume:  "I'll never leave you, Barry!  I'm your "second skin"!  I only come to life when you put me on!  We've been through too much for us ever to be separated!  I'll never leave you!  Never!  Never!  Never!!

The actual tale begins on the next page as we see Iris West, her father, a minister and Wally West gathered in all their finery as it is the day when Barry Allen and Iris are to wed.  The minister asks if they can count on slowpoke Barry to make it on time and Iris, brimming with confidence, says she planned ahead and gave Barry the time as an hour prior to the actual ceremony as insurance.  Unbeknownst to the lovely Iris, however, Barry was ensuring things himself earlier that day by deciding to arrive an hour early.  As he dons his tux and takes note of the short distance to the judge's chambers and the lovely day, he decides to walk.  As he heads out he beholds a fantastic sight.  A turtle is dashing down the street, outracing cars.  Allen is drawn like a moth to a flame and takes a quick detour in order to don his costume and chase down the amazing creature, hoping to add it to the Flash Museum.  The change and pursuit take place almost instantaneously and Barry mentally congratulates himself on having all the time in the world to get to the wedding, planning to feign being asleep when Iris arrives for the wedding.  The pursuit, however, doesn't go as planned as the Fastest Man Alive cannot seem to catch the creature.  Faster and faster he pours it on until a tremendous crack sounds and the Flash feels as though he's broken out of an egg.  The next thing he knows he has emerged in a fast and furious dimension.  A man in a futuristic costume is holding the turtle and explaining that it's the slowest creature in this world and that it travels to Earth on occasion to overcome an inferiority complex by outracing everything there.  Meanwhile, the Crimson Comet looks on incredulously as a skyscraper is fully constructed in less than a minute.  The man replies that the contractor is slow and will probably have to pay a penalty for the delay.  On that bizarre note Part I comes to its conclusion.

Part II shows the stunned Scarlet Speedster observing a second skyscraper being erected and asks his companion how long sixty seconds is here, when compared with Earth time.  The man says he'll have to figure it out with pencil and paper as electronic computers are too slow and then asks if the Flash has a pencil on him.

Apparently our hero has had enough and in the next panel he reverses his vibrations to the exact frequency which brought him there so that he can return to his time and place on Earth.  He then enters the judge's chambers to find a furious Iris West who informs him that he is 5 hours late and the wedding is off. 

That night Barry cannot sleep, so he ventures over to Iris' apartment to try and make amends, but only finds her father, Professor West there.  He explains that Iris left for a mountain cabin at Rainbow Lake with her friend Ramona to get away and forget everything.  The dejected Barry finds his loneliness consuming and regrets having put on his uniform and scuttling his nuptials.  He then makes a fateful decision and drives to the outskirts of town to ditch that uniform by hanging it from a tree along with the banner announcing his resignation.  He is determined to find Iris and pursue a life of happiness with her, and without the distraction of being the Flash.  As he walks away a tear falls from his eye.  We also see a tear falling from the eyehole of the costume. 

A couple of days later, holding fast to his resolve to put the Flash behind him for good, Barry traveled by plane and car to reach Rainbow Lake, just as Iris and her friend are encountering a menacing bear.  As he tries to defend the women the bear cuffs him around until his trainer shows up, reminding "Dickie" that he's retired from the circus as a boxing bear.  Rather than gratitude, however, Iris shows only scorn to her former fiancée and accuses him of trying to be like a real man, The Flash, rather than a habitually late stumbling clown who couldn't even get to his own wedding on time.  Barry comes to realize that she doesn't know about the Flash's retirement and he's now his own rival.  Iris announces that since its Leap Year, she's going to do something about her admiration of the Flash. 

When Barry returns to Central City he notices the headlines blaring that a hitchhiker has discovered his abandoned uniform and it is now on display at the Flash Museum.  Out of curiosity he goes to the museum and listens as various people talk about their sadness that the Fastest Man Alive has hung up his uniform.  Finally only he remains and he absently tells the uniform that he had to do it in order to try and win Iris back.  As he turns away, the uniform seems to respond:  "Barry!—Barry Allen!  Please don't leave me here all alone!  Don't desert me!  Barry—you're The Flash!  Think of all we've been through together!  Put me back on!  Please--?  I'm as close to you as your own skin, Barry!  Don't leave me!  We were made to fight together!  Don't turn your back on me!  Please--!"  Barry turns away, thinking he's losing it altogether when another bit of dialogue seems to issue forth from the costume:  "I—I guess th-this really is the end, Barry…okay…y-you can go…I—I'm not g-going to keep you…sob-sob…I d-don't want to stand in the way…sob-sob…of your…happiness…"  Meanwhile tears drop from the mask.  Barry decides to put the familiar togs back on and mutters to himself that Iris has flipped for the Flash, so he might as well become the Flash and win her back.  What he hadn't counted on was the fact that Iris was arriving on assignment from her newspaper job to cover the story and caught what he'd just said.  A shocked Barry realizes that he's just blown his cover in front of the woman he still loves.

Right when things seem to be darkest, things take an even worse turn when some thugs show up with the intent to steal the uniform.  Reacting instantly the Scarlet Speedster goes into a super-speed spin, using the force of his motion to send the slugs fired at him right back at his assailants.  He whisks Iris aside and out of harm's way, plants a swift kiss and becomes a human cyclone, knocking each of the three thugs for the 10-count.

Now it's time to face the music and Barry tells Iris that now she knows who and what he really is, but she has an odd far away look in her eye that puzzles him.  She responds that something about the uniform hypnotized her into believing Barry was actually able to move as quickly as the Flash.  She continues that he tried so hard to impress her, even to the point of impersonating the Flash and it's a good thing the guards arrived in time to take care of the criminals.  She forgives her man and all is well. 

In the final two panels of this alternate story, Barry is again addressing his uniform in the privacy of his own home:  "I imagined it all!  Imagine a uniform trying to pull me back with empty sleeves?  Crying from empty eyeholes?  Calling after me from an empty slit in a mask?  I might just as well imagine the uniform laughing with joy—because the Flash and it—are in action again."  He then grasps the right hand of the uniform in a faux handshake and says, "Good gosh!  Am I shaking my uniform's hand—or is it shaking mine?"

As you may have noted, while this was the headlining story, the second tale featuring the Mirror Master in "The Mirror with 20-20 Vision!" took top billing on the cover, most likely to avoid any confusion at the newsstands and racks by having a duplicate cover just a couple of months after the first time it was seen.  One of my long-time readers is a big fan of the Mirror Master, but I can't quite squeeze that one in this time.       

While John Broome did the majority of the Flash scripts in the Silver Age, Gardner Fox contributed some key stories, particularly #123, "The Flash of Two Worlds!" which brought the Golden Age greats from DC's vaults back to us.  I hardly need mention, for that matter, that the original Flash character was co-created by Gardner Fox back in Flash #1 from 1940 and the Golden Age.  Robert Kanigher, meanwhile, holds a special place in the history of DC as his Flash story in Showcase #4 reintroduced the character in a revamped uniform, origin and secret identity and consequently began our beloved Silver Age.  So, while I'll always honor Kanigher for this important contribution and freely admitting a strong bias in favor of Gardner Fox, the sad fact is that this one, if it were even ever intended as such, was just no contest.  Fox's story was superior in every way to Kanigher's which frankly I found a little silly and creepy.  A weeping, animated Flash costume?  Come on now.  I found Gardner's story much more palatable and of course it contained many of my favorite elements to include the appearance by Golden Age or Earth-Two Dr. Mid-Nite, even though he stayed in his civilian persona of Dr. McNider, a trip into the time stream and even the aid of Wally West aka Kid Flash.  Good, solid science fiction and quite entertaining.

The entire concept as a whole was something new and fresh and high marks go to Julie Schwartz for coming up with it.  Unfortunately, at least to my knowledge, they never tried it again.  Even though I panned #161 the overall effort taken as a whole gets a 10 on my 10-point rating scale.  This was a very original idea and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

More reviews of these classic pulp wonders will be forthcoming, so be sure to tap your way back to this URL in about two weeks for the latest.  In the mean time I invite you to send me any feedback or thoughts to professor_the@hotmail.com.

See you next time and…

Long live the Silver Age!

© 2000-2006 by B.D.S.

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