Flash Fridays – The Flash #106
posted on January 23, 2015
In the second outing of his own book, The Flash and his readers are introduced to the Pied Piper. I was never much of a fan of this character and neither were too many other readers apparently because he was never destined to become one of the front line members of Flash’s rogues gallery. I think that a big reason for this is his costume which quite frankly is a little silly looking. He looks more like he should be entertaining at a kids birthday party rather than leading a gang of criminals. His story is frankly not the most inspired and we don’t even get the usual background build-up concerning who he is and where he came from. I think that for all of these reasons I just found him to be somewhat off putting not all that interesting. And I’m sure that his being on the cover is the reason I made one of the biggest mistakes of my twelve-year-old life! As mentioned on a previous Flash Friday, I didn’t climb on board and officially join the Silver Age until issue #115. But it could have happened a lot earlier because I actually stood in the Rexall Drugstore on Brown Street and held this book in my hands. I didn’t realize until years later when I encountered the book in an archive collection that I had actually leafed through it and decided that it wasn’t quite up to my standards. What a blunder! Not only did I miss getting inspired these characters and the art and writing a lot sooner, but I missed the first appearance of probably my favorite Flash villain of all time… Grodd the super gorilla.
Grodd was in the first issue I eventually did buy and I was so taken with him that I was green with envy when I saw in that story that I had missed his consecutive run in #106, #107 and #108. An amazing villain who was brought back in three consecutive issues to boot. That just wasn’t done in those days. Grodd obviously inspired the writer John Broome and it showed. The story also came with a super secret city of scientifically advanced gorillas located in the heart of Africa. For some reason, this concept was right in my twelve-year-old wheelhouse. I’d always been fascinated with the mystique and romance of the dark continent. A continent wherein existed a mountain with its base in the jungle and its snowy peak in the clouds. It’s no doubt why I wanted to one day climb Mt. Kilimanjaro and why I eventually did. Ramar of the jungle, Jungle Jim, Congo Bill, Sheena et al were heroes who fanned the flames of my imagination. I even created my own rip-off jungle hero in one of the comic strips I was always working on, an example of which can be seen in the intro to Vol. 2 of The Complete Funky Winkerbean.
The combination of super science and African lore was irresistible. And it apparently was to a lot of other discerning comic book readers because Flash editor Julie Schwartz would one day discover that a gorilla on the cover invariably seemed to sell more issues, and yet, the best character and best story in the book weren’t featured on the cover. Had they done that I’m more than sure I would have bough that book. If I had, I would have seen Grodd begin his plan of world conquest by trying to eliminate the Flash. I would have seen him clashing with the Flash and nearly succeeding before the Flash was able to run him to ground. I would have met the leader of Gorilla City, Solovar, and see Grodd steal the force-of-mind power from him. Solovar had been captured and had been playing dumb to avert suspicion and not give away the existence of Gorilla City. When Grodd steals his power, he seeks out the Flash, takes him to Gorilla City where with the Flash’s help Grodd is captured. There was something downright exciting about these characters and their secret civilization. It’d be clear why Grodd would endure while the Pied Piper would eventual be relegated to the abattoir of failed villains.
Flash Fridays – The Flash #105
posted on January 16, 2015
This fabulous Flash Friday first finally brings us to the start of The Flash’s run in his own book. After four tryout issues in Showcase, the accountants at DC Comics decreed that the The Flash was selling well enough to deserve his own title, and the Silver Age was officially under way thus setting the character on a trajectory towards the intersection with the life of yours truly on what I like to refer to as T-Day or Tom’s Independence Day. The independence would not come immediately or without struggle, but, in looking in the rearview mirror, that was where the storm broke.
However, that inflection point was still down the road a bit when The Flash #105 hit the spinner racks. The first issue of what was for all intents and purposes an entirely new character continued the numbering from the original Flash run because the publisher Irwin Donenfeld decreed that it would show that the character had a track record. He didn’t think that ten-year-olds would risk their ten cents on an unproven commidity. The cover featured the first appearance of the Mirror Master and one of my personal favorites among what would become the Flash’s rogues gallery of villains… but I never saw it at the time. Comic book distribution back in those halcyon days was spotty at best and, in the hinterlands of Ohio, we often didn’t see a comic book hero until it had been well established in the minds of the magazine distributors. Where I lived, the hunting down of comic books required first, foremost and above all else… a car. Something to which I had only limited access. I couldn’t drive but I could bum. Unfortunately, bumming a ride meant hanging out with the folks, as they ran various and sundry errands around town in Elyria. So it meant visits to the tire store, car repair shop, the barbershop, the hardware store and the supermarket. It was like riding a bus that was going nowhere you really wanted to go. Now the barbershop did have comic books, but they were only a cruel tease. You could see ‘em, but you couldn’t have ‘em. You couldn’t take them home and read them five hundred times or more (actually, you could, but that’s a story for another day when I’m positive the statute of limitations has really expired) . Supermarkets were iffy. Most supermarkets didn’t have comic book spinner racks… but every once in awhile you would get lucky (back before getting lucky would mean something else entirely) and you could check out the comics there while your folks bought asparagus. If not, then your only other option was to hope that one of the other so called “important” stops brought you within scurrying distance of a drug store or newsstand. My best opportunities to encounter those esteemed establishments would be on one of my family’s forced marches back to my mythical birth city of Akron where my grandparents’ house was within walking distance of that holy of holies the Rexall drugstore on Brown Street. But we were talking about the cover, weren’t we? I promise to return to Rexall the king of drugstores in a future Flash Friday.
Okay, so on the cover we see the Flash running past a series of mirrors showing images of the Master of Mirrors (later we won’t be so formal and we’ll just call him the Mirror Master once we get to know him better) all aiming a blaster at the Flash. Had I seen that, I would have bought it I’m sure. The Mirror Master’s costume struck me as very cool and I probably would have bought the comic for that alone. The first story inside, however, featured The Conqueror from 8 Million BC! This guy, much like Infantino’s depictions of people from the future, was bald. Apparently, people in the past and people in the future are all bald. It’s only those of us in the middle who have hair which makes it a lot easier to tell the good guys fro the bad guys. An archeologist is digging on the outskirts of Central City when he uncovers a cavern wherein resides Katmos a supreme ruler from Earth’s past. Katmos is all silver metallic and, had Stan Lee been writing this, he no doubt would have been dubbed the Silver Scion. It’s interesting to note that Katmos civilization was wiped out by a comet striking the Earth back in the day. I’ve often suspected that Flash writers John Broome and Gardner Fox had a copy of Scientific American at hand when crafting their Flash stories. The influence of editor Julius Schwartz, a science fiction fan and former agent for SF authors was no doubt considerable, but the Flash writers also seemed to have an avid interest in science and were aware of the cutting edge scientific theories extant at the time. The readers of the Flash were often given an early introduction to concepts that would only later become widely accepted and commonplace. It was one of the things that set the Schwartz edited books apart and that attracted ten-year-old-inquiring minds.
Since this was the Flash’s first outing in his own title, Broome briefly recaps the Flash’s origin story before moving on to deal with Katmos. Katmos immediately captures the Flash and imprisons him in a cylinder which Flash escapes by vibrating his feet so fast on the bottom that molecular pressure builds up and shoots the cylinder several miles into the air (the writers may have had an interest in science, but they weren’t necessarily fanatics about accuracy). While several miles into the air doesn’t mean the Flash was launched into space, it’s close enough for me to include it in my running tally of how often the latter happens which will now stand at two. The Flash returns, knocks out Katmos, and the story ends with Barry and Iris heading off to dinner.
The second story introduces a new villain to the Flash canon, the Mirror Master. Infantino as I stated earlier provides a cool costume and Broome an equally cool background for the man named only as Scudder. We learn that Scudder picks up his skills working with mirrors in prison and is soon proficient enough to create holographic images before the term was even coined (yet another example of the Flash writers being ahead of us on the curve). He sends a hologram of a bank teller to help set up a bank robbery and Barry happens to be in the bank when the hologram is there. He becomes suspicious when he notices that the teller’s wedding ring is on the wrong hand (and wrong finger actually) and he follows it to the Mirror Master’s hideout. There he discovers various other holograms such as a giant mosquito and a minotaur and defeats them when he deduces that they are creatures of light. One of the attractive things to me as a kid was how the Flash more often than not defeated his foes with his intellect rather than his fists. As someone whose intellect was better than his fists, I found that aspect of the character very appealing. It’s probably why I gravitated towards science fiction in general. The Flash then easily captures the Mirror Master. Since I came to his story late, I already knew that the Mirror Master would be a recurring villain, but, even without that foreknowledge, you could just sense that he would be making return appearances. After the Mirror Master’s capture we return to another recurring theme, Iris and Barry having dinner. They eat out a lot.
Flash Friday – Showcase #14
posted on November 14, 2014
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.