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Flash Friday – Showcase #14

posted on November 14, 2014

Showcase no.14

Welcome back Flash aficionados or as I like to think of you Flashionados. The subject of today’s Flash Friday is the Flash’s final tryout in Showcase No. 14, the cover of which shows the Flash leaping upward through the sands of an hourglass. Now I’ve often read that Julie Schwartz was the one more often than not who came up with the ideas for the covers. So I’m thinking that perhaps that was the case here. However it came about though, it created quite a pickle for the poor writer who was in this case Bob Kanigher. In order to work the hourglass into his story he had to somehow get us to believe that a scientifically advanced culture from another dimension was still using hourglasses… as cages no less. It calls for a suspension of disbelief on the part of the reader that borders on illegal. But I figure, if Kanigher was game, well, count me in too.

On the second page of Giants of the Time World!, in an opening triangular panel Infantino’s art is really beginning to shine aided and abetted by the inking of Frank Giacoia. The art is elegant as it shows Barry meeting up with Iris on the sidewalk. He’s a little late as usual and whosever idea it was to have them meet under a large clock deserves some retroactive kudos for the nice touch. We’re immediately treated to Kanigher’s reuse of observing the Flash’s speed from Barry/Flash’s POV. Again, it’s a beautiful way of showing what super speed would look like from the Flash’s perspective and I remain surprised that it is little used going forward. The main reason it won’t be used much is that this is Kanigher’s last Flash outing. He’s a fine writer but firmly wedded to the old school format that was DC Comics forte up to that point. Which means that each plot driven story has a certain stand-alone status without much reference to past events or character continuity. So you get things in this story like the fact that Iris West can suddenly pilot a fighter jet (like I said, borders on illegal) and the fact that the Flash somehow instinctively knows how to use his speed to reach other dimensions. Sure these stories are unsophisticated, but one of the things that attracted me to the Flash in the first place was they were just a tiny bit more sophisticated than the typical DC fare. The change was incremental and largely the purview of writer John Broome, but it was discernible to my twelve year old self, and distinct enough to lead me to think about how, as a writer myself, I might take these stories even a bit further. They opened doors in my thinking. To have a viable suspension of disbelief on the part of the reader, you need to start from a believable and recognizable base which this particular story lacks and why this formulaic type of comic book story was on its way to being relegated to the old school comic book story abbattoir. The time giants are disposable straw men who have the ridiculous ability to pass through a life cycle every hour. Why this would be considered a good thing still has me scratching my head. We will never ever see them again and, for me, it’s not nearly long enough. Oh, and the Flash rescues Iris from the giants (probably could have just waited and hour until they were all dead). Surprise.

The second story on the other hand, The Man Who Changed the Earth!, continues to build on the Flash mythos as Mr. Element returns albeit with a new name, Dr. Alchemy, and a new outfit. The idea of a recurring villain is nothing new to to the comic books, but here we’re not starting over from scratch. The previous story is referenced and the thread is picked up from there returning us to a world we understand and are familiar with and that’s a very important distinction. Again the villain’s background is fleshed out which allows us to invest in the character as well. The plot is the standard one where Dr. Alchemy outwits the Flash in the early encounters until the Flash finally outwits him in the end, but because of the aforementioned touches the result is somehow more satisfying and it leaves you wanting to know what is going to happen next with these characters. And what happens next is that the Flash finally gets his own book.

Akron Comicon

posted on November 11, 2014

 

Akron Comicon

I spent this past Saturday and Sunday at the Akron Comicon and for my money there was no better way to wrap up the year’s signings. The venue was the Quaker Square complex in Akron and the setting was once again as good as it gets. There’s just something about having all the dealers and guest artists together in one big hall that seems perfect for an event like this. It’s very reminiscent of the early years of the Mid-Ohio Con, and, like that hallowed gathering, the crowds are growing with each passing year.

I had a chance to meet a lot of Funky and Crankshaft readers as well as some pros whose work I’d admired over the years. We comic artists lead a fairly hermit-like existence so the opportunities to get together and talk shop are always fun. I even had a little time to hunt down some old Captain Atom stories that I’d been looking for. So a tip of the Funky Felt Tip to Akron Comicon’s founders Michael Savene and Robert Jenkins along with all of their volunteers for putting on such a great event these past three years. I wish them continued success and find myself already looking forward to next year’s con.

The weather report says that winter will be setting in later tonight so it appears that I’m off the road just in time for my winter hibernation in the cartoon castle. The firewood is laid-in, the art supplies are stored, and it looks like I’ll have the time to dig into a slew of stories I’m planning to write along with the intro to The Complete Funky Winkerbean Vol.5. Volume 4 is wrapped and due to come out in February. Once I get the final cover in house I’ll share a sneak peek with you. For now, it’s time to fix a mug of hot chocolate, settle in by the fire and toast the arrival of the first snow flakes.

Flash Fridays – Showcase #13

posted on November 7, 2014

I’ve got to admit that the cover to Showcase #13, the Flash’s third tryout appearance, is pretty cool. When you’ve got a skull and crossbones painted on the nose of a torpedo that’s chasing after your hero… what’s not to like? Again, while the cover is credited to Infantino and Giella, it looks a little odd to me and makes me wonder. I wondered about it when I was twelve and I wonder about it now. The handling of the (for want of better words) ear wings and boot wings seem very un-Giella like to me. But who am I to argue with the credits in The Flash Archives? Chalk it up to everyone still getting a feel for the new character.

Which is what I did when the splash page shows the Flash referring to Center City rather than the Central City it’s supposed to be. Mistakes like that don’t bother me though because it tends to humanize the artists and writers. It’s reassuring to know that my heroes make mistakes like calling Peter Parker, Peter Palmer. Plus it provides me with a little cover whenever I refer to Crankshaft’s home town as Circleville rather than Centerville, or spell the last name of the science teacher in Funky as Kablichnick rather than Kablichnik (or vice versa?). It’s times like these that will send me to a Funky fan site to see what the correct spelling of my characters names really are.

The splash page is the symbolic splash that editor Julie Schwartz will explain to me in the letter column of issue #115. It was my introduction to the vernacular of comic books and what made Julie’s letter cols so special, and I will have much more to say about that when we reach that halcyon issue. We see the Flash running around a figurative world apropos the title Around the World in Eighty Minutes!, a take off on Jules Verne’s Around the World in Eighty Days which had been made into a popular movie at the time. The set-up is a fairly simple one opening with Barry Allen and Iris West agreeing to a date the next day and Iris chiding him to be on time. The monkey wrench in the plan is special watch that Barry has created that allows him to monitor police calls around the world. This allows the writer, as the first calls for help from around the world come in, to begin to expand on the Flash’s bag of speed tricks as well as the scope of what he can do. So we see the Flash racing around the world to Paris and up the side of the Eiffel Tower to foil a mad bomber, race to Egypt where upends a kidnapping by using his speed to tear down and reassemble a pyramid, stopping an avalanche in Tibet, and foil some pirates at sea. Pirates who have a submarine and the aforementioned skull and crossbones torpedo. It all serves to to demo Flash’s expanding skill set which Barry seems to be mastering at an almost alarming rate. The writer makes us think that Barry has missed his date with Iris by a day because of all of his around the world crime fighting, but all ends well when we find out that he has only crossed the international dateline allowing him to meet with Iris on time. The story does a good job of advancing the Flash’s powers, but contributes little else to the nascent Flash canon.

In the second story Master of the Elements however, writer John Broome adds a new member to the still small cast with the creation of Mr. Element. Once again building on a scientific fact, the table of elements, he creates a character who gains “mastery over the elements”. He uses those elements to launch a criminal career and bedevil the Flash. He’s also the first villain who tries to get rid of the Flash by shooting him off into space. Yes, this will happen more than once believe it or not and I’ll try to remember to keep a running tab as we roll along. Somehow providing a villain with an established background and motive, along with the ability to possibly return at some time in the future seemed imminently more interesting at the time and even today in rereading the stories. To a child reading these stories, the villain becomes a stand-in for whatever real life villains they face, and the story becomes an allegory for life’s real battles. Just like football is often touted for teaching life lessons, these comic book stories taught life lessons as well. Except that you solved things by using your head rather than getting your head traumatically bopped. In any event, Mr. Element fills that role quite nicely and immediately becomes a keeper. By the way, the Flash saves himself disappearing into outer space by vibrating enough to be captured by the moon’s gravity and to use that gravitational pull to slingshot himself back to Earth. Just like NASA would later do to sling exploratory probes through our solar system. Hmmmm. Maybe there’s a little more going on here than we thought. Stay tuned.