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Flash Fridays – The Flash #167

posted on May 19, 2017

Where to begin? After nearly a decade of cultivating a bright young audience of readers steeped in the belief that science and technology were the salvation of the future and encouraging those readers to buy into the conceit that their heroes were men and women struggling to use their knowledge and power to make things better in a real world,  Julie Schwartz and Gardner Fox decided to drive the book right off the dock and deliver a cold splash of water in the face to all of the acolytes they had inspired. To those loyal followers who had come to expect scientific (even if stretched to the breaking point) premises and solutions… they now served up vapid fantasy. To those who had come to expect a certain seriousness… the creative team now paraded silliness across the page. And to those loyal readers who had bought into the rules that the architects themselves had originally laid out… they thoughtlessly threw all of the rules out the window. It’s a miracle that a whole subset of baby boomers didn’t all have a stroke at the same time. Talk about blood on your hands. It’s hard to describe the feelings you had opening this book for the first time.

To start with, the art (while not the source of the problem) was different. Inker Joe Giella had moved over to Batman with Carmine Infantino and had been replace by Sid Greene. As I recall, Greene did pretty much the same thing on Green Lantern and the Atom as well obviously owing to the fact that, with Julie now off of Mystery in Space and Strange Adventures, he had some time on his hands and an editor who needed a ton of inking done. No problem there because Greene was an elegant and distinctive inker. The problem as I said earlier was that it was different and different is an anathema to the hidebound loyalists who read comic books. But as I said, the art wasn’t the problem. The problem was that Gardner Fox had tossed the quasi scientific story of the lightning smashing the shelf of chemicals as the explanation for how the Flash acquired his super speed, and replaced it with a story about it coming about as an initiation rite for a heavenly helpmate named Mopee. Yes, you read that right… a heavenly helpmate. So now we suddenly have the heavenly powers decide that a man of Earth should receive super speed and they dispatch a gnome initiate tenth class, Mopee,  to Earth to make that happen as a part of his initiation rite. Mopee causes the lightning strike in the police lab to give Barry Allen super speed, and then discovers that it won’t last because Barry didn’t own the chemicals that drenched him. So the Flash has to go out and raise money to buy the chemicals himself, thus justifying the silly cover. If all of this sounds a little nuts, you have a glimmer of how it felt to encounter it back in the day.

As a reader, you always felt that Julie and his crew weren’t just knocking stuff out to separate little kids from their coins, but were really trying to play fair and create something that was better than that and that elevated the form. I still believe that this was the case. It was unlike Julie to treat his readers sensibilities with such reckless and casual carelessness, and yet it happened. Just to make things a little worse, at the end of the story, Fox has the Flash wondering if Kid Flash’s speed came from a lightning strike or from Mopee. It drove a lot of Flascinados to despair. You just didn’t know what was coming next. It was a textbook example of how not to treat your readers. You risk everything when you change the things that your readers have come to expect from you. It just shouldn’t be done… unless of course you have a really good reason for doing it 😉

Flash Fridays – The Flash #166 December 1966

posted on May 12, 2017

Once a team always a team must have been one of Julie Schwartz’s mottos because instead of a solo return for either Captain Cold or Heat Wave, they’re back again as the temperature twins. The story opens with the Flash tooling along in the Central City lab mobile and pondering whether or not he should tell his bride Iris that he’s the Flash when he suddenly spots a warehouse fire. He changes to the Flash and rushes in to save a man and woman trapped inside. As he’s about to get then out, the floor collapses beneath them and the Flash sprains his ankle as he saves the couple. Medics attend to the Flash and he hobbles away on some crutches, but not before a newspaper photographer gets a picture. The Flash is concerned that when Barry shows up at home on crutches just like the Flash, the jig will be up with Iris. Luckily he’s attacked by the thermal thieves who turn out to be a quasi team of physical therapists. They attack the Flash with alternating waves of heat and cold and actually help heal his swollen ankle. More Advil than adversaries at that point the titans of temperature get themselves captured and rushed off to the police station. As Barry gives Iris a happy one month anniversary kiss he thinks: “My secret identity is still safe… but for how long? Only time will tell!”

Interestingly, in the book’s other story, Barry’s dilemma plays a central role in an even more psychologically telling way. Barry is working on a truth serum in the lab and tries it on himself. As he’s walking home, he encounters a robbery. In the midst of of capturing the crooks as the Flash, he feels compelled to rush of and tell Iris that he’s the Flash. Iris turns out to be on deadline and, when she puts him  off, the moment passes.  When this same thing happens a second time, Barry realizes that it’s the truth serum causing the problem and he gives himself the antidote. Obviously his guilt over not telling Iris about his alter ego is playing havoc in his inner world, but the story nevertheless ends with: “I still haven’t told her I’m the Flash! *sigh* I suppose one of these days she’ll have to know. I won’t be able to keep my secret forever… or will I?”  It appears that Barry’s decision was not only haunting him, but writers Broome and Fox as well. This little stall also gives the readers more time to weigh-in on things.

Speaking of readers, as if more evidence was needed that the Flash and Julie inspired and spawned a plethora of future comics talent, the Flash-Grams letters page features letters from two future pros: Marvin  (Marv) Wolfman and Stephan (Steve) Leialoha. Even as it was beginning to be eclipsed by Marvel, the Flash was still ground zero for future comics pros.

Flash Fridays – The Flash #165 November 1966

posted on May 5, 2017

Starting in the Fall of 1965 and continuing on through my college years, my reading of The Flash entered a different period. While I was away at school, I would still buy comics but never The Flash because I had a subscription to the magazine and knew that the issues would be waiting for me when I got home. However, those home visits were usually just for a weekend and those weekends were invariably packed what with seeing my future wife Cathy, and then filling in whatever else needed to be done around that. There wasn’t much time for comic book reading, and certainly not at the intense level and scrutiny that had taken place before. The Flash, however, continued apace, and so, even though the wedding invitation had appeared in the previous issue, it was still a bit of a shock to see that Barry (the Flash) and Iris were getting married.

Normally, whenever you saw a cover like this back in the day, the big wedding event was strictly a ruse to get you to pick up that issue of Superman or Batman only to find that it was some sort of imaginary story (a redundant term, I know) or an intentionally faked plot device of some kind. Not this time. This was the real deal. Of course, the Flash book had previously broken some ground when the Elongated man had gotten married, but he was a secondary member of the cast. Plus EM had made his identity known to the public so there was no issue or writer’s dilemma about lying to his bride about his superhero identity. But for the eponymously titled book to have the lead character actually get married and stay married… well, Flashinados, that was a pretty big deal. And that’s what editor Julie Schwartz and writer John Broome decided to do. They also created a rather large problem for themselves in the process as I alluded to a couple of sentences ago. Maybe their decision the have the Flash get married was influenced by the fact that, in The Fantastic Four, teammates Sue Storm and Reed Richards were a married couple. In that case, however, their identities were already known to each other and the public at large. But here, the bridegroom Barry, is faced with two rather untenable choices. Either he tells Iris that he’s the Flash and, ippso pippso, admits to having lied to her throughout their relationship, orrrrr… he goes right on deceiving her. Neither choice is a happy one. So how does writer Broome solve the dilemma? He doesn’t. In the very last panel in the story, in a really cheesy move, he employs the Pontius Pilate ploy and has Barry break the fourth wall to ask the readers for for their advice. As cheesy things go, it could be worse (as we’ll find out a few issues hence, clever bit of foreshadowing there), but it’s hardly a satisfactory resolution and it makes Barry look like a wimp. But the editor and writer have made their marriage bed, and now they’ll have to lie about it.

The other big thing about this issue is that the story opens the door for Eobard Towane, AKA Professor Zoom, AKA The Reverse Flash, the villain with two of the lamest names in comics history, to begin to separate himself from the rest of the Rouges Gallery. He’s the one who escapes from his prison in the far future to travel to 1966 and, “with a few simple adjustments” turns an electric shaver into matter-distributer (I kid you not) that changes him to look like Barry Allen so he can replace Barry at the wedding. He imprisons the Flash in his place, but the Flash escapes and returns just in time to keep Iris from marring the wrong guy. He then battles the Reverse Flash in a super speed battle that RF loses when he finds that he hasn’t learned to run on water as the real Flash has. Even though the future police come to take RF back/ahead? to his future prison, this moment is a huge turning point in the Flash canon. I’m not sure that even John Broome knew where this was headed when he was writing this tale, and I suspect even he would have been surprised as anyone by what was to come.

One last note, the cover to this issue was a beautiful Murphy Anderson solo job which he signed by using the illuminated letters in the open bible. No need to thank me, that what I’m here for.

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