Flash Fridays – #200 September 1970
posted on July 20, 2018
Not every superhero is fortunate enough to make it to it’s 200th issue. They fall short for one reason or another not the least of which can be attributed to shake-ups in the artist and writing teams. Even though the Flash had been plagued with those issues of late, Flash editor Julie Schwartz pulled out all the stops to try to make this a truly special and memorable issue for all the loyal Flashinados, starting with a return of the artistic team nonpareil of Infantino and Anderson for this special cover. How do I know that it’s special? Because it says so right on the cover in bold red letters – and, truth be told, it is. It’s a wonderful example of this storied penciler inker combo. When Infantino’s sketchy looseness was paired with Anderson’s somewhat stiffer style, the result was magic. The Flash shown here is perhaps just a tad bulkier than his earlier incarnation, but that’s truly a quibble. This cover rocks. If Julie was hoping for a classic 200th issue cover, he certainly got one.
Julie even brought Anderson back to ink the full length story inside over Irv Novick’s pencilling debut, but with decidedly mixed results. For whatever reason, the magic is missing in the pencils and even the stalwart Anderson can’t save it. The closest it comes to recapturing the “old” days is on the last page with Iris and Barry relaxing at home. Those four panels have a wonderful whiff of the familiar. The Robert Kanigher story, not so much. The tale is confusing and derivative. Kanigher keeps mentioning in narrative asides that there are obvious “clues” to be found rather than letting reader figure them out for him or herself. He has to do this because they’re not that obvious, folks. He also annoyingly sprinkles the number 200 throughout the story in dialog, narrative and art, and then asks the readers how many they were able to spot, much as he did with his “clues”. For a story with so many “clues”, it’s pretty clueless. In a nutshell: evil world leaders engage an evil female scientist, Dr. Lu, to brainwash the Flash into killing the President, she does so by convincing the Flash that she is Iris, and then blows it right at the end as she sends the Flash off on his “errand” by kissing him while wearing a lipstick that tastes of spice instead of Iris’s honey-tasting brand. Along the way, Kanigher throws in a gratuitous single page showing the Flash battling his entire Rogues Gallery, although it’s only Dr. Lu sending the Flash through some practice paces with a bunch of costumed dummies. Maybe the Flash battling his coterie of crooks for a full issue should have been a more fitting way to celebrate this bicentenary issue.
In the end, rather than a true celebration of past glories, the issue is more of a valiant last gasp at attempting to resurrect the old Flash mojo one more time before the book forever slips into a decidedly different future.
Flash Fridays – #199 August 1970
posted on July 13, 2018
The Gil Kane cover gracing this issue is a masterful piece of work. Even the fact that it’s another one of those gimmick covers that I’m not crazy about doesn’t dim the luster of this fine dramatic piece. Inside, Robert Kanigher does his workman-like job of turning the cover into a pretty goofy Flash tale. A Doctor Hollister has discovered a serum that slows life down to such a point that someone would only age one minute per year so that to all appearances they would seem to be dead. Okay, stop skipping ahead on me here. Yes, the Flash is injected with the serum when he tries to break up a robbery at the good doctor’s lab by a crook who wants to steal the serum and wake up in the future with some vastly appreciated art that he’s stolen (hey, it’s a plan, don’t be so judgmental). Hollister thinks that he’s killed the Flash and in his guilt ridden depression goes to the Flash Museum where he finds a bereft Iris giving one of the Flash’s uniforms to Dexter Miles (the docent/curator) to display in the museum. Hollister steals the uniform and wears it around Central City in some sort of twisted atonement long enough to fall asleep on the park bench and justify the cover. With that bit of business out of the way, he steals Flash’s body from the graveyard (I just this very moment, for the first time in my life, realized that graveyard almost spells gravy-ard describing a somewhat depreciatory sense of gravy. I’m pretty sure I’m the only one who finds that interesting, but, hey, it’s my blog – no filters). So where was I? Oh yeah, Hollister steals the Flash’s body and takes it to his lab to try to bring him back to life. Now this is where things get weird (oh, this is where things get weird you say?). No lie, because a lightning bolt comes through the window (stay with me here), ricochets off the gun of the returned robber/art lover, strikes the Flash smack-dab in the middle of the lightning bolt symbol on his chest, and shocks his heart back to life. Now this would be a cheesy bit for any writer to try to pull off since it was a lightning bolt coming through a window that turned Barry into the Flash in the first place. It becomes a giant cheese wheel when it’s written by the guy who actually wrote the selfsame origin story. Kanigher tries to pave things over by having the Flash think that lightning does strike twice, but that does nothing to absolve him of his sin. The Flash takes down the the robber and then is reunited with Iris. When Iris thinks that it’s a dream, Kanigher sins one final time by breaking the fourth wall and having Barry pull off his mask to point out that he’s back in the scene. Huh, uh, this ain’t Deadpool folks.
In the second story, Barry is visited in his lab by a mysterious Colonel-K of the U.S. In-T Agency. Colonel K knows that Barry is the Flash and sends him to China to find a mysterious Y-missile base where a nuclear Y-missile is about to be launched against the United States. The Flash stops the missile just in time and when he returns to Barry’s lab he’s finds that the mysterious Col-K has written a note on Barry’s desk calendar thanking him on completing the assignment as if he knew what was going to happen in advance, leaving Barry to ponder over whether we’ll be seeing Colonel-K again. Hmmmm…
The wonderful Kane/Coletta art on both tales goes a long way towards excusing everything. Sweet stuff indeed.
Flash Fridays – The Flash #198 June 1970
posted on July 6, 2018
This, for me, represents the nadir of the Julie Schwartz conundrum covers, at least up to this point. It is without doubt a beautifully rendered Gil Kane cover, but in every other respect and every other category of assessment, evaluation, critique and criticism, it’s a pretty sad case. The same wine has been spilled too many times, the boy has cried wolf once too often and Julie has played the same hand so often that this cover elicits little more than a yawn. It, along with the fact that I was busy teaching and learning the ropes on my new weekly comic panel, was one of the many reasons that The Flash pretty much dropped right of of my radar screen at this point in the run.
And the struggles continued inside. Robert Kanigher’s attempt to shape some kind of story from the cover is so silly that it can’t even be rescued by the excellent Gil Kane /Vince Colletta artwork. Contrived barely begins to cover it. In a nutshell: the Flash is grazed on his head by a bullet (which oddly never damages his uniform) by some crooks retrieving stolen loot hidden at a construction site which causes the Flash to act like a child. Some kids try a bunch of tricks to bring the Flash around but he remains stubbornly childish, even taking a nap at one point. The Flash then prays to God a la the cover and his powers return. So he captures the crooks and builds the kids a clubhouse. I rest my case.
True confession time: I really have a hard time separating Kanigher from his stories anymore after reading so many times about his cruel and vicious bullying of the sensitive and talented artist Mort Meskin among others. Normally, I’m a student of the “trust the art, not the artist” school of thinking, but somehow with Kanigher I’m unable to do that and I bring that baggage with me to every story of his that I read anymore. Maybe part of it is the fact that Kanigher’s contemptible behavior despoiled the golden realm that I imagined my artistic heroes inhabiting and forced upon me the sad realization that life beyond junior high school was still… you guessed it, junior high school. Which is no doubt why, in my approaching but not quite there yet comic strip, I would always inveigh against bullies and their ilk.
Okay, that took a bit of a turn… but on the brighter side, Mike Friedrich continues to prove himself a worthy acolyte of John Broom by turning in a delightfully Broom-like story featuring Zatanna the magician. In the Don Heck illustrated story, Zatanna disappears onstage and is sent back into the past where Friedrich basically reprises the princess and the frog story subbing a magical demon for the frog and a handsome knight for the prince along with a little help from the Flash. The Flash travels back to the past to help her by using his cosmic treadmill. I wonder what I would have thought if I had known back then that the cosmic treadmill would one day turn up as an homage prop in the Atomik Komix office in my approaching but not quite there yet comic strip.