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These best stories of the comic books are preceded by their issue number. They were edited by Julius Schwartz.
The 1956-1966 Flash features Carmine Infantino's spectacular 1960-era design. The clothes, furniture, architecture and machines that run through The Flash are a remarkable example of design. Today 1960 style has had an upsurge in popularity due to the TV series Mad Men. 1960 design is seen everywhere from furniture stores to museum exhibits to TV shows set in the 60's like Endeavor and Breathless. One suspects that the Silver Age Flash might startle and fascinate people today, looked at in terms of sheer visual style.
Like Erle Stanley Gardner's lawyer-detective Perry Mason in mystery fiction, and Albert Camus' The Plague in mainstream literature, the Flash can be seen as an example of positive middle-class values and energetic productivity.
Most Flash tales fall into the category of "non-horror science fiction". The sub-genre of "non-horror science fiction" contains a vast number of books, stories, comic books, films and TV shows. It is a very rich and often underrated field, full of intellectual and cultural interest.
There is a pleasant mystery surrounding the Flash, as a cultural source: Why has a simple-sounding super-hero like the Flash produced so much first rate work? After all, the Flash has a single super-power, his speed, and the stories are set in contemporary times rather than some exotic locale. This sounds simple. Yet there are a huge number of really good and highly enjoyable Flash comic book tales. And the two TV series are likely the best super-hero adaptations ever made. (My list of Best Science Fiction, Fantasy and High Technology Films has a section on Best Super-hero Films.)
I've seen little criticism or analysis of the Flash. Most intellectuals do not seem to be aware that the Flash is a "hot spot": a major source of first-rate culture. I would welcome the analysis of scholars in many fields on the Flash.
The Flash can be seen as the un-Batman, his diametric opposite:
Unless otherwise noted, all stories discussed in this article were written by John Broome, with art by Carmine Infantino. With a handful of exceptions, Broome wrote all the stories in The Flash up to #136. From #137 (June 1963) on, he shared script writing duties with Gardner Fox.
Also notable is the reflexive title page, showing Flash emerging from a comic book. The panels are random selections from the story we are about to read, a memorable piece of recursion and figure of style. There are also reflexive elements in the tale itself.
This story emphasizes Flash's ability to do very fine work in slow motion, controlling intricate events. By contrast, Gardner Fox's origin story for the Golden Age Flash (1940) stressed Flash's tremendous speed. The Silver Age Flash here seems extremely thoughtful.
The villain in this story, The Turtle, had previously appeared in Golden Age Flash stories, such as "The Slow Motion Crimes" (Comic Cavalcade #24, November-December 1947), a story possibly written by Kanigher, as well.
The Flash origin is an extraordinarily vivid story. It relates to personal traditions of Kanigher and Infantino. Kanigher's heroes often discover that they are different from other people. They are unique types, and do not fit into standard social or biological categories. Barry Allen's discovery of his unique speed is an example of this. This helps give the story emotional resonance. It can be read as exploring the emotions of a discovery of personal uniqueness or difference. Barry Allen becomes a character, like Johnny Thunder or Tin in the Metal Men, whose life is a metaphor for difference.
Kanigher wrote several tales in which he shows what it might be like to experience some movie scenario in real life. Often times, these are story films, such as a film noir or monster movie. The Flash origin recalls high tech films showing extreme slow motion. Such films regularly amazed people. Here, Flash is living such an experience in his own life. His perceptions match those of high speed films. The story shows what it might be like to extend such a motion picture experience into our personal lives.
MORAL CHOICES. The Flash has a universal idealism: the dialogue says that he wants to "help humanity". While it is not further discussed in the tale, this goal has implications: the Flash wants to help all of mankind, not one particular race or religion or country. It is also selfless and altruistic: it is not something the Flash does for hope of personal gain.
The Flash is like the later super-hero the Atom, in that both men get their super-powers entirely by chance. Unlike Green Lantern, they are not assigned a mission when getting their powers. It is entirely up to them, to figure out what to do with their abilities. Both make a choice to use their powers for good.
Neither this origin tale, nor subsequent issues, shows any sort of authority figure who gives the Flash orders. The Flash works because he has made a moral choice to help others, not because he is on a mission from an authority figure.
The Flash and the Atom also differ from Batman, in that there is no trauma or tragedy in their past. They are not driven by some obsession. Instead, they make a calm, thought-through decision to use their powers based on a belief in helping others. In my judgment, this is at least as interesting as Batman's obsession. In the past few decades, seemingly an endless parade of commentators have lauded Batman's obsession and psychological compulsion to become the Dark Knight as something profound. But the Flash's morally and socially grounded concern to "help humanity" seems as least as worthwhile a basis for a character - maybe more so.
SCIENCE. The tale refers to Barry as a "young scientist". He works as a professional police scientist, and both here and in later tales is shown working in the police lab. Like the later Atom, he is a professional scientist turned super-hero. Scientist heroes were omnipresent in Mystery in Space and Strange Adventures. the first-rate science fiction comic books created by the same writers, artists and editor as The Flash and The Atom.
This origin story stresses chemistry:
AGE. In the art of "Mystery of the Human Thunderbolt", Barry looks maybe 28 or so, perhaps a bit younger. He is both a "young scientist", as the tale describes him, and fully grown-up. Later "Secret of the Stolen Blueprint" (1961) will take place ten years after Barry got his college degree, making him in his early thirties. An age of around 31 or 32 seems like an "official" age for Barry throughout most of the comic book tales of the Silver Age Flash (1956-1966). He does not seem to age at all during his stories.
One can compare this to the portrayals on the TV series:
The Flash's middle class status forms another contrast to Batman, who is secretly millionaire Bruce Wayne. In contrast, Barry Allen is an educated middle class man who works for a modest living and is not rich. And the Flash is not a "big shot". Both as Barry and the Flash, the hero leads a middle class life.
The Man Who Broke the Time Barrier (Showcase #4, October 1956), A criminal from the future is accidentally sent back to our present, where he commits mysterious robberies. This is the first Silver Age Flash tale written by John Broome. It appeared in the same issue as Flash's origin tale, as the second story. Unfortunately, this inoffensive tale is stiffly written, and not as good as story telling as many later Flash tales. It has some decent ideas, though.
Best Feature: The story exemplifies some paradigms used by Broome in later Flash tales. All of these paradigms are good, and make strong contributions to the Flash series as a whole:
The Flash shows the ability to travel into the future. His time trip is shown in some good detail. I might have been more impressed with the sequence had I read it in 1956. Unfortunately, the Silver Age Superman tales regularly showed Superman time traveling, in often fascinating stories. There were countless such tales from 1956 to 1966. Such tales have worn off any novelty the time travel in "The Man Who Broke the Time Barrier" might have possessed.
The Coldest Man on Earth (1957). The origin of Captain Cold: small time crook Len Snart becomes a super-villain after he obtains a gun that can freeze everything around him.
ORIGINS. This is the first of a series of super-villains that Broome created for The Flash. The stories in The Flash often revolve around new super-powered characters the Flash meets, both heroes and villains. Often times, we are treated to a full "origin" of these characters, with descriptions of how they got their powers.
The Flash was born in Showcase magazine, a DC comic that specialized in trying out new super-heroes, to see if they met with reader approval. The successful ones, like the Flash, would go on to get their own magazines. This process of new super-being creation continued in a transformed form in The Flash magazine itself, with all the stories it ran about new super-beings. It is as if the business/reader communication aspect of Showcase became the main artistic/storytelling content of The Flash. There is something reflexive or recursive about this.
Broome especially concentrated on origin tales during the period September 1959 to September 1960. This was the period in which he built and put into place all the main elements of his Silver Age Green Lantern revival: Green Lantern himself, Carol Ferris, the Guardians of the Universe, and Thomas Kamalku. These Green Lantern tales appeared in Showcase and Green Lantern. During this same period, he was prolifically inventive in adding new characters in The Flash.
Origin stories during this period include the first appearance of Kid Flash in "Meet Kid Flash" (#110, 1959-1960), the Weather Wizard in "Challenge of the Weather Wizard" (#110, 1959-1960), the Elongated Man in "The Mystery of the Elongated Man" (1960), The Trickster in "Danger in the Air" (#113, 1960), and a return of Captain Cold in "The Big Freeze" (#114, 1960). Both The Trickster and Captain Cold will make appearances in The Flash TV show of 1990-1991. Many of these characters seem to be able to control the weather, or have affinities with the elements. Flash himself owes his origin to a lightning bolt that spilled chemicals over him; there are lightning symbols on his costume.
The Flash would often go on to have battles or contests with the new super-powered characters. This anticipated the Marvel comics stories of the 1960's, in which such battles were one of the main plot lines.
GOLDEN AGE LINKS. John Broome had written about both the Golden Age Flash and Green Lantern, as part of his Justice Society of America tales in All Star Comics. Broome's stories appeared in issues 35 and 39-57 (1947 - 1951). So Broome's duties as the principal Silver Age revivalist of Flash and Green Lantern were something of a return to old home week. When the Flash was revived in 1956, Broome had retired from the characters for just a little over five years.
Captain Cold shows some similarities to a Golden Age villain Broome had written about, the Icicle. Both men have the ability to shoot cold at objects, freezing them. The Icicle appeared in Broome's Justice Society story, "The Case of the Patriotic Crimes" (All Star Comics #41, June-July 1948).
HALLUCINATIONS. Captain Cold's gun in this story also has the power to cause hallucinations. Such hallucinations would be a common feature of Broome's stories in Green Lantern.
CYCLOTRON. This story contains a cyclotron. Broome liked to include the latest scientific devices in his stories. They are usually depicted intelligently and with accuracy - Broome clearly must have read many articles on the science of his day. The cyclotron was invented in the 1930's. There had been a handful of 1940's tales that mentioned it.
LEN SNART. There is perhaps an in-joke in the art of this tale. Len Snart, the crook who becomes Captain Cold, seems to be drawn by Infantino using John Broome as a model. One can compare the art here to Infantino's portrait of Broome in "The Secret War of the Phantom General" (Detective Comics #343, September 1965). The resemblance is especially close in the flashback sequence showing Len Snart before he became Captain Cold. Broome frequently used flashback sequences in his tales. They are clearly marked, as in this tale, by a panel consisting of nothing but text narration, alerting the reader to the flashback that follows.
ART. The Radiation Laboratory is one of Infantino's beautiful modernist buildings (page 6). We see three exteriors and an interior. The front steps have an unusual, quasi-trapezoidal outline. Other buildings in The Flash with trapezoidal doorways include:
A uniformed watchman outside the lab is frozen by Captain Cold (page 6). He anticipates the prison guards frozen in the tale's sequel "The Big Freeze". The similar uniforms in both tales are exceptionally dressy. They come with peaked cap and a holster. Both uniforms are police-like, although neither the watchman nor prison guards are police, technically. The prison guards are even more muscular that the watchman, with broad shoulders and bulging arms, and have even bigger and higher officers' caps.
Master of the Elements (1958). The origin of Mr. Element, a villain who uses various pure elements, such as gold and silicon, to battle the Flash and commit robberies. DC comics loved stories about the various elements. One suspects that the writers and editors were trying to convey some chemistry lessons to their young readers. One also suspects that they were trying to create role models, to show young readers what a powerful thing science was, and what might happen if one took an interest in it.
FINALE: A TRAP. The finale of this tale also uses astronomy; it is one of the most sf oriented of the early Flash stories. The finale is a trap in which the Flash is caught: a favorite kind of plot development in Flash stories. As in other Flash tales of traps, the Flash finds an ingenious way to escape from the trap. Infantino shows one of his specialities in this finale: beautiful depictions of the night sky full of stars (page 10).
IMPOSSIBILITIES. Mr. Element looks for ways to stop the Flash. His first two attempts have aspects of the impossible. These recall the "impossible crimes" in other Flash tales, although they are briefer: both are just single panels:
GETTING POWERS. Mr. Element gets his technological abilities by his own efforts. This is atypical of the Rogues, many of whose technologies come to them either by accident or partly by accident. Instead Mr. Element is closer to Broome's super-powered character The Elongated Man, who developed his powers based on his his own efforts. And for both Mr. Element and The Elongated Man it is a life time quest: Broome shows them searching after their powers right from childhood, in flashback sequences. They are completely self-made men.
ART. This story has a building in which blocks of windows wrap around a corner (page 6). This wrapping is a feature of Art Deco. These windows have the typical Infantino construction of a rectangular grid of smaller panes.
COSTUMES. Mr. Element also designs his own costume - what self-made super-character would be without one?
Mr. Element's henchmen also have costumes. These look surprisingly similar to that of the Flash himself. They are different colors from his, and they also have a cap over the ears, where the Flash has winged appendages. Still, they have the form fitting cowl that goes half way over the head, just like the Flash.
The Man Who Changed the Earth (1958). Mr. Element discovers the Philosopher's Stone, which allows him to change one element into another; he adopts the new identity of Dr. Alchemy. He discovers the Stone by chance: typical of the way many of the Rogues get their technology.
ART. One of his "changes" leads to especially good Infantino art: he changes the walls of a cave to crystal, causing the Flash to see dozens of replicas of himself.
I particularly liked the bank in this story. It is the first of Infantino's "modern" interiors in The Flash (although perhaps the earlier single-panel view of the Radiation Laboratory interior in "The Coldest Man on Earth" also qualifies). It is the last word in elegant 1950's design, looking sophisticated and affluent. It also has the large windows made up of many small panels that would become an Infantino trademark. The banker we see looks very dressed up, in a spiffy suit.
This is the first Flash story to show us the interior of Iris West's Picture News office.
VILLAIN. The villain looks strikingly different in his hooded medieval costume, than when he is in contemporary clothes earlier in the tale. It is a drastic change in both era and personality. Like several Rogues in The Flash, I think he actually looks better in modern-day civilian garb than in costume.
The Master of Mirrors (1959). The origin of the Mirror-Master, a criminal who can project mirror images of people as part of his robbery schemes.
HOW THE MIRROR-MASTER GETS HIS TECHNOLOGY. The story shows how the Mirror-Master gradually discovered the mirror technology he uses. Broome likes to show situations evolving step-by-step.
There are parallels - and differences - in the ways that Captain Cold and the Mirror-Master acquired the technology that made them super-criminals:
PRISON. The Mirror-Master is in prison in one episode. This is a common locale for plots involving Flash's Rogue Gallery. It is also a favorite locale in Superman tales about Lex Luthor. Luthor, like most of the Rogues battled by Flash, is a non-super-powered professional criminal who uses high-tech devices in his crimes.
Prison is a dramatic location, and it also allows the possibility of unusual jail breaks.
One also suspects that showing the crooks getting punished in prison satisfied censors and moralists, establishing that Crime Did Not Pay. Also, censors and comics critics seemed particularly worried that comics might glamorize Organized Crime, such as mobsters and gangsters. By contrast, in prison the Rogues and Luthor are by themselves, completely isolated from any gangs or henchmen.
ANTICIPATIONS. There is an interesting scene where Barry detects that something is wrong with the images because they have been reversed from left to right. Broome would reuse these ideas in "The Amazing Theft of the Power Lamp" (Green Lantern #3, November-December 1960). In the Green Lantern tale, it is aliens who have the mirror image projection capability, and they use it in much larger and more systematic ways, projecting a whole copy of an air base.
Another anticipation in this story: the scene on page 7, showing multiple mirror images arranged in a polygonal pattern, anticipates Infantino's art for a similar shadow trap in "The Deadly Shadows of Adam Strange" (Mystery in Space #80, December 1962).
ART. Infantino is careful to depict floor surfaces. In the bank, the floor is shiny, polished, and full of reflections. In the old house, the hardwood floor is full of separate boards. The lines of the boards give a strong perspective effect to these scenes.
Also, at the bank, the marble panels between the teller cages are drawn by Infantino as being full of irregular zigzag lines. These lines make beautiful abstract patterns within the composition. The panels form rectangular sub-areas within the surrounding frame. Throughout this tale, Infantino breaks his panels up into a series of rectangular sub-regions. He uses many different techniques to do this: using walls, floors and windows, incorporating the villains' television monitor into the panels, mirrors, bits of machinery, bookcases and doors.
Infantino's speed lines trailing behind the Flash are full of irregular white waves crossing from top to bottom of the bands. These speed lines with their waves create a tremendous illusion of speed. But they can also be considered as abstract art. Infantino often found ways to incorporate both abstract and representational patterns into his designs. The beautiful image at the top of the last page shows Flash running along side a rail road track. The speed lines are pure abstraction; the tracks and an outlined rail sign are Constructivist style geometric objects; the rock adds a beautiful curve to the composition, almost biomorphic, and the image of the Flash, the crook he is carrying, and the tree and foliage are all representational.
Also beautiful on this last page is the panel showing the Flash and the crook in the dark. Night scenes are rare in Infantino, but they always convey special moods. This one is modeled with bright chiaroscuro, with the front of the two men in bright light, their sides and back in total darkness. The yellow trim on the ears and arms of Flash' costume are also highlighted, against the black. The scene is "motivated" by the story - only by turning off the lights can the Flash neutralize the Mirror-Master's powers - but the feelings it conveys go far beyond this.
Return of the Mirror-Master (1959). The Mirror-Master breaks out of prison and tries to rob a bank.
The opening of this story has a structure like "Danger in the Air" and "Space-Boomerang Trap":
The Mirror-Master has a major new power, not present in his origin tale. The story exploits this twice: once in the opening in prison, and later on when he attacks the Flash. The power is used in completely different ways in these two episodes, leading to vigorous story telling in both parts. This is an example of comic book tales trying to wring all possible plot possibilities out of an idea: a standard approach in much traditional comic book scripting.
BLINDING LIGHT. The Mirror-Master also gets a second new power: the ability to create a blinding light. This is used to confuse people, including the Flash - but it is not the subject of an "impossibility".
The Flash is able to see through this bright light into reality, by running fast (page 5). Having the Flash get a clearer view of some phenomenon by running fast is a trope appearing in a number of Flash tales. See Flash running next to Grodd's high-speed vehicle in "Menace of the Super-Gorilla" (page 5).
EPILOG. An epilog to the main story, has Flash using the Mirror-Master's illusion power: the original power from "The Master of Mirrors" that otherwise plays no role in this sequel. This is an interesting plot structure. If a plot structure can be called "stylish", this one is. There is something elegant or atmospheric about this structural pattern. The Mirror-Master plays no part in this finale, which concentrates on Barry and Iris.
Barry clearly enjoys the devilishness of his romantic scheme. He gets a look on his face of sneaky pleasure (page 12). His look, scheme to win a girl, and crew cut make him seem more like a teenager than an adult.
VILLAIN. The Mirror-Master is quite handsome, especially when he wears civilian clothes rather than his costume. This is typical of the Rogues: they tend to be good-looking leading man types, although not quite as handsome as heroes like the Flash or the Elongated Man. This is different from the way movies and comics often present villains as ugly.
The Mirror-Master's Magic Bullet (1961). The Mirror-Master tries to steal from an exhibit of classic mirrors owned by the Duke of Ferrand; he hypnotizes the Flash, and makes him into a servant to do his bidding, like a genie in a bottle. Broome had written about hypnosis before, in his Justice Society of America tale "The Case of the Patriotic Crimes" (All Star Comics #41, June-July 1948). In both stories, the bad guys use hypnosis to make the heroes into their servants. Both tales conclude with the heroes breaking out of their hypnotic trances. The earlier story is especially moving, with Green Lantern struggling to restore his sense of self worth. The struggle of Broome's heroes to believe in themselves, and to see themselves as worthwhile people despite what society says about them, is one of Broome's persistent themes.
Carmine Infantino's art is especially beautiful in this tale. The art often is made in series, with different panels displaying different angles on the same location. The two external shots of the museum are striking: their different angles reveal different facets of the architecture, and create two interesting compositions. The museum interiors throughout the story are the height of chic, some of the most elegant settings in the whole Flash series. These show a mastery of composition, based on rectangles and occasionally trapezoids. The museum somewhat recalls the futuristic Space Museum series drawn by Infantino in Strange Adventures.
Also noteworthy: the fairy tale like frieze on page 7, showing the country cottage surrounded by trees. Infantino also makes beautiful compositions out of the curved mirrors on this page.
Barry meets the Duke's charming daughter, and Iris gets jealous, in a funny scene. This is one of the few times in the whole series that the middle class Barry meets anyone in high society, unlike Broome's other hero, Green Lantern, who is always hanging around with cafe society. Barry seems like a remarkably contented person. He seems to like his job as police scientist. And he and Iris are totally devoted to each other. Barry does like to make friends with people, and he especially likes hanging out with other super-heroes. These, such as the Elongated Man and Jay Garrick, the Flash of Earth-Two, seem to be just as middle class as himself.
We see the books in Barry Allen's lab. They are mainly biographies of great, paradigm-breaking scientists: Newton, Einstein, Copernicus, Darwin.
In Broome's Green Lantern tales, he liked to dream up new feats and new ways of GL to use his power in each story. Similarly here, Flash's scene with the key is a one-time stunt, not found in any other Broome Flash story before or since.
This story contains architectural features, especially about doorways. In addition to the key, the Mirror-Master gets access to the museum from a passage next door.
There are hints that Central City is perhaps a fictionalized version of Chicago:
The Pied Piper of Peril (1959). The Pied Piper uses sound-based technologies to commit robberies. The origin of the Pied Piper, a perennial Flash villain. Such Flash villains are known as "Rogues". Unlike many origin stories for Flash Rogues, we do not get a life-history for the Pied Piper, or an account of how he discovered and/or invented his powers.
POWERS. We get a look at five different abilities the Piper possesses. Three are used to stop the Flash, two of these putting him in traps from which he needs to escape. None of the Pied Piper's powers are used to commit "impossible crimes". Two other powers:
"The Pied Piper of Peril" does something related-but-different. It opens with a mysterious event: crimes being abandoned mid-execution. This event is NOT "impossible". But in terms of motive, it is hard to explain. Next, we get an explanation of why the crimes were interrupted: an explanation based in the Pied Piper's technology.
To sum up: the Flash "impossible crimes" open with an event whose physical details seem impossible and need an explanation; "The Pied Piper of Peril" opens with events that seem physically possible, but whose motive needs and explanation. Both kinds of tales then proceed to give an explanation in terms of their villain's technology.
DETECTIVE WORK. The Flash is able to track down the Pied Piper, by visiting locales of crimes left uncompleted earlier in the story. The Flash will use a similar idea to locate the villain in "Return of the Mirror-Master", three issues later.
The Flash typically uses such sound detective work to find the villains. He does not guess: he instead uses reason in the form of detectival skills to solve crimes. Similarly Broome emphasized real detective work in his Big Town mystery tales.
The "interrupted then resumed crimes" are the main unusual structural feature of this tale. This pattern gives an unusual rhythmic feel to the plot progression.
URBAN SOPHISTICATION. A strong point: the sophisticated urban atmosphere throughout the tale. Visualized by Infantino's art, we see:
Danger in the Air (1960). The origin story of the Trickster, a perennial Flash villain.
Broome's script is well-constructed. It goes through a series of stages, each revealing more about the Trickster. Each stage reveals the facts underlying the mysteries of the previous stage:
ORIGIN. The trickster is a bit unusual among Flash's Rogues, in that he owes his technology and skills entirely to his own efforts. Chance and accidents do NOT play a role, unlike the origins of Captain Cold or the Mirror-Master. Instead, the Trickster develops everything himself.
There are aspects of corruption in the Trickster's origin:
Perhaps both young men are representatives of the normal, non-corrupted honest people who are the victims of the corrupt-and-famous villains in Broome tales. However, this situation is made more complex by that fact that Infantino is responsible for the visualization of these men. Their representation is the product of both Broome and Infantino's work.
ART. Infantino's art has interesting close-ups of faces filled with cross-hatched shadow (page 6, page 8).
This story has a "progressive" series of three panels, each showing a different stage of the Flash's ascent of a circus platform (page 11). Such progressions recall both Muybridge's photographs, and the comic strips of Winsor McCay. Unlike McCay, however, each panel is taken from a slightly different distance, offering a rich effect of new compositions, a pulling back point of view, and a sense of Flash's ascent. I'm not sure if this is a full, accurate description of Infantino's effect here. It is an effect impossible to achieve in any other medium than the narrative art of the comics.
The Big Freeze (1960). Captain Cold returns, attacking an entire city. This tale is related to the transformed city stories Broome wrote for Green Lantern, such as "The Day 1000,000 People Vanished" (Green Lantern #7, July-August 1961), "The Origin of Green Lantern's Oath" (Green Lantern #10, January 1962) and "Zero Hour in Silent City" (Green Lantern #12, April 1962). As in those tales, a villain causes everyone in the city to be transformed. This Flash story is earlier than any of the Green Lantern stories.
One can look at such a story in two ways. It can be seen as a story about Captain Cold, or as a tale about a transformed city. In the one case, this tale is about a battle with a costumed villain; looked at the other way, it is about an adventure in a science fictional landscape. Many of Broome's best stories about costumed villains have this ambiguity. One might note that while the villains return in a series of stories, the sf background their appearance triggers varies from tale to tale. Simply classifying these tales as being "about their series villains" ignores the often highly imaginative science fictional content of these tales.
This story extends the properties of Flash's ring, showing how his costume gets back into the ring. It also explains how Flash deals with his street clothes while wearing his costume.
Iris West plays a major role in this story. Broome had nothing to do with her creation, but he did have a major role in depicting her as a character through the huge number of Flash tales he wrote. One becomes impressed with how straightforward Iris West is throughout these tales. She never plays games or launches any sort of schemes. She always tells everybody the exact truth. She is serious about her job, and seems to be a good reporter. She can be awfully bossy towards Barry, demanding he take her places and wait for her. But she is otherwise completely decent in her relationship, never being manipulative. She is virtually the only comic book girlfriend to like the hero's secret identity, not that of the hero. This somehow raises the stakes on her relationship. This is a real woman in love with a man, not someone with a crush on a super-hero.
ART. Infantino liked to experiment with diagonal shaped panels in the comic book. His jungle foliage seems modeled on that of Burne Hogarth ("Tarzan"), but is cleaner and more simple. Infantino also liked panels shaped like horizontal friezes, using these for landscape pictures - also for cloudscapes seen from airplanes. Some of his richest landscape work is in "The Big Freeze". These landscapes are often seen in the background, and from a distance, like the landscapes in Renaissance altar pieces.
UNIFORMS. Just as his interiors are very chic, Infantino's uniformed characters are often duded up to the max:
Here Comes Captain Boomerang (1960). The origin of Captain Boomerang, an Australian villain who uses boomerangs to commit thefts. The Captain is a comic character, and much less sinister than many of the villains in The Flash.
Broome's story pokes fun at such commercial crazes as the hula hoop, taking us back stage to the board room of a toy company. Young readers of the magazine probably enjoyed this inside look at and satire of the toy industry, something which they were familiar with as consumers. The story is in the tradition of such business spoofs as Frank Tashlin's film Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? (1957). As in that film, the business types here are presented as a bunch of driven, gung-ho organization men, energetic, conformist and lacking in individuality. Infantino has them all dressed in a series of nearly identical, expensive looking but very dull suits. There is little sense here that being rich will lead to a more fulfilling life. Instead, it looks like a world of stifling conformity.
Infantino does a good job with the boomerang art. The art is quite diagrammatic, showing us the paths of the boomerangs. The comic book medium is uniquely well suited to explain boomerangs, and other scientific devices. It can illustrate every detail of their operation, explaining in both words and pictures how they work. Broome and Infantino take full advantage of this, giving their readers a real educational experience.
Many of the continuing villains in The Flash work with "everyday objects based on the laws of physics". These include:
Origin of the Flash's Masked Identity (#126, 1962). Soon after getting his super-powers, the Flash wonders whether he should wear a mask or reveal his identity to the world. This is basically an Imaginary story, something that is very rare in the comic books edited by Julius Schwartz. It is presented as a daydream of Barry Allen's.
In the daydream, Barry makes a public sensation both in the scientific community, and in the world at large. The whole story is related to the many tales Broome wrote, about villains who become world-famous celebrities, then turn to a life of crime. Fame and celebrity is presented as the start of a slippery slope, that leads an initially decent man into corruption and crime. Barry clearly finds such daydreams gratifying. But he also realizes it would interfere with his serious work as the Flash.
Even in this tale of the dangers of celebrity, Barry's big temptation is not public fame, but applause from his scientific colleagues. Barry has no desire to be part of café society or the beautiful people. Instead, what he would enjoy is being hailed as a major scientist. Broome's story suggests that this can be just as self-defeating as any other craving for fame.
The Heat Is On...For Captain Cold (1963). To help ensure that Central City's poor get a charitable bequest, Flash looks for a missing heiress; meanwhile, Captain Cold meets his opposite number, a heat using crook known as Heat Wave. The origin of Heat Wave.
Flash develops a social conscience in this tale for the first time. This extends to the story in the next issue as well, "The Mystery of Flash's Third Identity" (1963). In both stories, Flash tries to help the poor in Central City. Broome also continues his attack on dictators here. This time, he is satirical, showing what happens to dictators after their fall from power. Broome's stories, like those of other Silver Age writers, often have considerable political and social realism.
Infantino uses sketchy art to depict unusual states with his typical creativity again here. This time, it is used to depict Flash vibrating (p 13). The art showing Infantino's characters in a car under the stars a the end is also one of his romantic night scapes.
Barry is in a jet black tuxedo in this tale, while Iris is wearing a high fashion gown after a night on the town. Both look sensational. Later, the Flash will be in a fancy lawyer's office, wearing his brilliant scarlet costume. Flash looks utterly dignified and at home, wearing a costume that is utterly different from the high-priced lawyer's suit. In real life, it would be difficult to pull something like this off: businessmen all try to look as well dressed as possible. The fact that Flash is a real hero clearly helps him to dress as he pleases, and to look like himself at all times. There is a strong "be yourself" lesson in all of this.
The Mystery of Flash's Third Identity (1963). In a slum area, Flash intercepts a costume being sent to the Top; it leads him to Paul Gambi, the villainous tailor who makes the fancy outfits for costumed crooks. The origin of Paul Gambi. This witty tale provides an explanation of how the crooks in Flash's Rogues Gallery get their fancy uniforms. The whole story in pleasantly tongue in cheek. It answers the sort of "realistic" questions posed by fans, such as "just where do these crooks get all their snazzy clothes?" Broome comes up with surprisingly logical answers to such questions.
In terms of story construction, this tale is analogous to Broome's perennial process of science fictionalizing previous stories. Broome often comes up with a new plot by taking some plot aspect of a previous tale, and developing it into a whole science fictional concept in a new story. Here Broome has taken a part of previous tales that had always been taken for granted - the fact that his series villains had always worn colorful costumes - and come up with a whole logical explanation for it. The explanation in this case does not involve science fiction - Paul Gambi is an ordinary mortal with no science fictional powers - but his story is functionally equivalent to the science fiction explanations that Broome often uses in other tales.
Broome had used science fictionalizing to create the Guardians of the Universe in his Green Lantern stories. In his own comic way, Paul Gambi is a somewhat similar character. He is a person who works behind the scenes, supporting much more visible super-characters who are in the front lines of operations: Paul Gambi supports the costumed crooks, just as the Guardians back up Green Lantern. Both behind the scenes characters are older men, and have serious technical skills: the Guardians have awesome powers, while Gambi is a skilled tailor. Gambi is like a low rent, comic, partly spoof equivalent of the Guardians. He is as evil as they are good, and is definitely a two bit character. For all his villainy, his humor makes him oddly endearing.
The Flash goes undercover in the underworld in a new identity in this tale. Years before, Broome's newspaper detective hero, Steve Wilson, had done similar undercover assignments in new identities: see "The Man Who Stole Steve Wilson's Face" (Big Town #39, May-June 1956) and "Masked Monarch of the Underworld" (Big Town #42, November-December 1956).
Infantino has Barry in a checked shirt. Its black grid lines over a white background echo Infantino's love for such grid lines in his art. The Top's costume is full of horizontal lines. They underline the curvature of his musculature. Infantino also makes a notable picture of the spinning cops (p8), rigid in their uniforms.
The Mirror Master's Master Stroke (1964). Both the Mirror Master and Barry Allen are coincidentally enrolled in Prof. Dobill's Success course. Broome's characters are often struggling to fit into society, and find professions in which they can succeed. It was inevitable that they would wind up in a Success course like this one. Barry is here against his will - he was enrolled there by Iris West in the previous Mirror Master adventure, "The Mirror Master's Invisible Bodyguards" (1963), and Barry's reluctance has its humorous side. However, Broome does not satirize such courses. Rather, he takes them seriously. The advice of Prof. Dobill seems quite plausible here, and benefits both Flash and his mirror nemesis. The tale actually made me wonder if such advice might be helpful in real life.
The story does have humorous touches - the fact that Barry and the Mirror Master are both there under their secret ID's, and neither is aware of each other's true identity - but it takes the basic premise of Success courses straight. The secret ID aspects continue the tradition of "The Mystery of the Flash's Third Identity" (1963), in showing us more of the personal lives of Broome's Rogue's Gallery.
This is the closest Barry and one of the continuing villains have ever been without fighting. It gives them a chance for a calm encounter, something that is very interesting.
This story is unusual in several ways. Both the story's location and its plot structure form a welcome change of pace. Apart from a few flashbacks, it takes place entirely within the classroom and adjoining areas. This is a far more geographically restricted area than most Flash tales.
Secondly, it has a format that partly recalls that of a mystery tale. We see the Mirror Master do his nefarious deeds, then we see Flash unravel them. This is essentially the same structure as the "inverted" mystery story, a structure pioneered by British mystery writer R. Austin Freeman. Flash's detective work also resembles the fascinating model scientific investigations that often pop up in Schwartz comic books.
There are differences between Broome's heroes and his villains. His heroes in The Flash, such as Kid Flash and the Elongated Man, have their powers grounded in biology. Something has actually changed in their bodies. By contrast, his villains tend to be the inventors of machines, typically machines based in physics.
This story is notable for its non-stereotyped Chinese characters. It reminds one that Broome was one of the first Silver Age writers to include non-white characters in his stories, such as Green Lantern's Inuit assistant Thomas Kamalku.
Both the Elongated Man, and Jimmy Olsen's super-hero identity of Elastic Lad, are in the tradition of Jack Cole's 1940's Golden Age hero Plastic Man. All are beings who can stretch their bodies into various shapes. Otto Binder wrote the first Elastic Lad tale, "The E-L-A-S-T-I-C Lad" (Jimmy Olsen #31, September 1958).
The Flash develops the concern for public reputation, and jealousy of others, that are usually the marks of Broome villains. Fortunately, he does not go all the way down this road. The interesting finale shows him learning to accept sharing public attention with others.
The Elongated Man's Secret Weapon (1960). While exploring in the Yucatan, the Elongated Man comes across mysterious science-fictional phenomena.
The brief opening section continues the origin story of the Elongated Man, showing what he has been doing since his first appearance in "The Mystery of the Elongated Man". He has been successful in show biz, and making money there. While the Elongated Man is a hero, this is a career trajectory more typical of Broome villains. Unlike such villains however, the Elongated Man does not become obsessed with wealth and fame. He makes enough money to retire, and quits his show biz career. By contrast, Broome villains learn to love money, fame and success, become morally corrupted, and try to become even bigger big-shots through crime or dictatorship.
Much of this opening takes place in a circus. It is one of several Flash tales set in a circus or carnival.
The rest of the story is a nice-but-mild science fiction tale. It is not too different from those Broome, Infantino and others did for comic books like Mystery in Space. There are differences however:
Like the previous two tales, this opening section is part of the "origin" of the Elongated Man: it sets up basic facts about the character and his life.
The couple's honeymoon is in the Caribbean. This recalls the previous tale "The Elongated Man's Secret Weapon" which took place in the Yucatan.
The undersea plot is yet another Broome story about humans who are enslaved, and who eventually revolt against their masters. The scene where the humans are fished for by aliens recalls the many Broome stories in which humans are treated like animals. Both of these Broome themes have found better treatments elsewhere.
Infantino depicts the Flash building one of Infantino's Art Deco houses (p9). It is unusual to see such a dwelling under construction. See also the high school building under construction in "Danger On Wheels".
Space-Boomerang Trap (1961). The villainous Captain Boomerang temporarily joins forces with the Flash and the Elongated Man to stave off an alien invasion. Delightful tale that takes full advantage of the special powers of all its characters. Both the Elongated Man and Captain Boomerang are basically comic characters. The Flash himself is a light-hearted figure, full of the life force, and the joy of running.
The aliens in the story are not really sinister. They do not kill anyone, and their invasion of Earth is based on fear and paranoia, not malice or a desire for conquest. There is a bit of Cold War allegory here: the story is warning how easy it is to let fears of an enemy goad one into rash action. During the Cold War, commentators were constantly warning about this, urging government leaders to use level headed calm. The Hot Lines were installed in the White House and Kremlin just to prevent the sort of problem shown in this story.
SPOILERS. The opening of "Space-Boomerang Trap" has a similar structure as "Danger in the Air" (1960). Both tales show a costumed Rogue villain pulling off a spectacular robbery. The robbery is seemingly impossible. The next section in both tales explains how the villain did it, using advanced science and technology. At this point however, "Space-Boomerang Trap" introduces something startling and unexpected: the robbery has upset aliens! The way the aliens enter the story "out of left field" is truly funny. There is no parallel to this in the purely earthly "Danger in the Air". What Broome has done is taken the robbery+explanation structure of "Danger in the Air", and science-fictionalized it, adding the wild involvement of aliens. Such science-fictionalizing of a previous plot or situation, is a standard Broome method of constructing a new plot.
The costumes of both the Elongated Man and Captain Boomerang are called "uniforms" in this tale. Picky note: by definition, a uniform is "an identical costume worn by a group of people". By contrast the Elongated Man is the only person in the world to wear his costume; ditto for Captain Boomerang. So it doesn't seem that one can really call their costumes "uniforms".
Kid Flash Meets the Elongated Man (1962). Kid Flash and the Elongated Man team up for the first time, to fight the Weather Wizard. This simple but pleasant story brings together the two "supporting super-heroes" in the Flash saga. Both behave with becoming modesty and friendliness, each eager to cooperate and do their best to capture the Weather Wizard. Broome liked tales of friendship.
Unlike several Kid Flash tales, there are no juvenile characters here other than Kid Flash himself. So "Kid Flash Meets the Elongated Man" is perhaps more typical of the Elongated Man stories than the Kid Flash series. The Elongated Man is indeed the one to instigate the adventure, with Kid Flash joining in after the events have begun.
The splash page refers to the frozen barriers the Weather Wizard has erected around the town as an "ice curtain". This recalls the real-life "Iron Curtain" that Communists kept around the territory they had conquered. The phrase Iron Curtain was constantly used in the news in 1962, and would be familiar to most 1962 readers. Broome liked his tales to have political significance, and serve as allegories of real-life events. However, the rest of the story does not develop any parallel to the Iron Curtain. I cannot see any political commentary in the rest of the tale.
The landscape of the small Wyoming town and surrounding countryside plays a key role. Many episodes are set specifically against a background of some building or landscape feature. Both Broome's script and Infantino's art use such features creatively.
Two buildings are shown in spectacular Modern architecture style. It is perhaps a bit odd to see such modernist architecture in a remote, small town or countryside setting. Still, the buildings are fun to look at.
The Man Who Mastered Absolute Zero (1963). Flash and the Elongated Man fight Captain Cold. The Elongated Man tales are among the best Flash stories. This is partly because of the friendship between the two heroes. Broome is strongly oriented as a plotter to tales in which Flash interacts with a friend. These tales are also the epitome of exciting, light-hearted adventure. The presence of the Elongated Man in the stories seems to trigger some vein of creative storytelling in Broome.
Infantino's art for the Elongated Man is also strikingly inventive. The Elongated Man is continuously stretching. His body is stretched out to a unique shape in every panel. This is different from Jimmy Olsen's Elastic Lad, who tends to perform separate, discrete "feats" of elasticity in his tales, such as reaching his arm through a long tube, or stretching up to a great height. Jimmy will be normal looking in some panels, then in a complex shape while performing some feat. Curt Swan often drew Jimmy's body in some overall, symmetrically designed geometric pattern. By contrast, Infantino often shows nearly every part of the Elongated Man's body stretched out to some degree in an unusual direction. The Elongated Man is often doing this for the most casual reasons in every panel, to get a better look at some object over a wall or around a corner, or to bend in closer to another person to hear them better. He is a casual, friendly guy. His stretching reminds one of people who have informal, even sloppy posture, and who are typically leaning against a wall, sprawling in a chair, or who are otherwise all over in their position. Such people tend to be good-natured and informal, and that is precisely Ralph's mode. He is not a heroic figure. Instead, he reminds one of some guy in the neighborhood. This is a comic, friendly characterization.
The villains in Flash's Rogues Gallery are always escaping from prison at the start of their stories. By this time, the warden of the State Prison seems to be a frequently recurring character in The Flash. It is not clear if all of these warden figures are the same person, or whether they are supposed to be wardens of different prisons. The warden often shows up at the beginning of the story, explaining to Flash how Captain Cold or whomever has broken jail. The warden's appearance is always brief, just a few panels, and none of the wardens are given a name. Infantino always depicts these wardens as handsome, macho men in good suits. They look like serious authority figures. Their portraiture is often visually striking. They are much younger looking than most of the wardens shown in movies, and much better dressed. They are usually in the height of fashion, for the serious executive look. The warden in "The Man Who Mastered Absolute Zero" is especially young looking, and wears a light gray suit. He looks somewhat different from the warden Infantino drew in "The Plight of the Puppet-Flash" (#133, December 1962), in the previous issue. That warden is perhaps the best dressed authority figure in all of The Flash, an executive type done up to the nines in a dark suit.
The Pied Piper's Double Doom (1963). Writer: Gardner Fox. The Pied Piper hypnotizes both Flash and the Elongated Man, and uses them to commit crimes. This ingeniously constructed crime tale resembles several of the mystery stories Fox wrote for the Atom. The amnesia aspects of the plot recall "The Case of the Innocent Thief" (Atom #4, December 1962 - January 1963).
There are SPOILERS in the rest of his discussion.
Fox often constructed his stories out of "Fox cycles". A "Fox cycle" is a series of steps a character performs. The cycle in "The Pied Piper's Double Doom":
Fox cycles often are performed with a change of protagonist. This is true in "The Pied Piper's Double Doom": the Piper recalls how he used to force a gang of crooks through the cycle. But the Flash stopped this. So the Piper "changes the protagonist": he makes the Elongated Man perform the cycle. Next, the Piper puts the Flash through the cycle: changing the Flash to protagonist.
Fox plots often have a cycle interfered with: somebody does something that prevents the cycle from being completely executed. However, this does NOT happen in "The Pied Piper's Double Doom": every instance of the cycle is perfectly executed, through all of its steps. Instead, Fox does something unusual for him. This Piper cycle gives its protagonist amnesia, causing him to forget the cycle events ever took place. So Fox has sleuths using detective work, that uncovers the fact that the cycle occurred, and discovers what transpired during the cycle. This is a clever approach to undermining the effectiveness of the cycle. (This cycle needs to be undermined: it is used by a villain to commit crimes.)
The detective plotting in "The Pied Piper's Double Doom" is of the kind known as the inverted detective story. In an inverted tale, first we see a villain commit a crime. It often looks like a perfect crime, without flaws. Next, we see a detective investigate the crime. Although the crime look perfect, the detective is soon ingeniously finding clues, that tell him what happened and who did the crime. The sleuth then uses information from the clues to arrest and convict the villain. Fox follows this inverted tale paradigm very strictly in "The Pied Piper's Double Doom".
The inverted tale has a long history: its invention is often credited to mystery writer R. Austin Freeman and his book The Singing Bone (1909-1912). The format is most famous with the public, for being used every week on the Columbo TV show (1968-78, 1989-2003). It has been employed by many authors, and is a standard part of detective fiction.
The detective work in "The Pied Piper's Double Doom" follows the inverted paradigm precisely: each cycle looks like a perfect crime, but the detective uncovers clues revealing what happened and who did it. Fox shows skill in coming up with such clues and reconstructions: they are not easy to invent.
The detective work builds up a beautiful symmetry of plot, with the sleuths investigating each other's cases. Such "formal patterns of plot" are important elements of several Gardner Fox tales, such as The Star Rovers series.
At first, the heroes in "The Pied Piper's Double Doom" are enslaved, with their free will and dignity taken away from them. Movingly, they are able to use their reason to break free from the villain's power. It is an involving and admirable event. Their detective work is the specific kind of reason that makes this possible.
Ten Miles to Nowhere (1964). Writer: Gardner Fox. After crossing the Canadian border, the Elongated Man notices something odd on the odometer of his car. Simple-but-nice tale with some pleasant humor.
First of a series of tales about the Elongated Man in Detective Comics. These stories star the Elongated Man and his wife Sue - but not the Flash. While inoffensive, I found many of these solo stories disappointing. Like the original tales in the Flash magazine, they are wholesome family entertainment: a good thing in my view. But they are not as creative as the Flash magazine stories.
This tale has a delightful splash panel. It shows the Elongated Man stepping off the cover of the Flash magazine, on the way to his new "home" at Detective Comics. This shows Infantino's skill at reflexive imagery.
"Ten Miles to Nowhere" has features that will recur in many of the later solo adventures of the Elongated Man:
Curious Case of the Barn-Door Bandit (1964). Writer: Gardner Fox. Why does a thief steal a farmer's barn door? Eventually this mystery is given a sound explanation. The theft at first seems absurd. It is the sort of surreal event often found in the Elongated Man stories.
This seems to be the first story in which the Elongated Man's nose twitches in delight when he encounters a good mystery. This becomes a standard part of later Elongated Man tales.
The story is set in "Florida Beach": a thinly disguised version of Miami Beach. This is a much closer fit to a real-life city than is typical of the Flash or the Elongated Man tales. There is a funny look at a slightly renamed Miami Beach architectural landmark.
The local policeman at the tale's end is another of Infantino's handsome young cops: a bit younger looking than the police chief in the previous tale. The Elongated Man also looks great in his striped swimsuit.
Puzzle of the Purple Pony (#329, July 1964). Writer: Gardner Fox. Why would a cowboy paint his horse purple? This is a pleasantly surreal puzzle. But the solution at the tale's end is uninspired. It also unfortunately takes us into the realm of magic: a really bad idea in a science fiction story like the Elongated Man tales. Sue's guesses at the start of the tale are actually better explanations of the purple horse. On the positive side, the puzzle reminds us that comics were a color medium, and took full advantage of this with stories that "think in color".
Also, too much of this none-too-interesting story is taken up by routine fighting and action. There is a good picture of the Elongated Man under water, doing ingenious things to conceal himself yet still breathe (p4).
Best feature: the cowboy clothes worn by the Elongated Man, the cowboy with the purple horse, and the bad guys. The Elongated Man's are the kind of clothes designed to make Westerners look really slim.
Break Up the Bottle-Neck Gang (1965). Writer: Gardner Fox. A crooked gang uses carefully planned escapes that prevent the police from following them. Simply plotted but pleasant tale, full of nice examples of the Elongated Man using his stretching powers.
There are two full sequences of the Elongated Man chasing after the gang. These two sequences could be considered simple examples of Fox cycles. The two chases are indeed repeated: as is typical of Fox cycles. However, the chases do NOT seem to break down into a series of repeatable steps: a feature of true Fox cycles.
And the scheme with the uniform the Elongated Man borrows can be seen as an attempt to interfere with the cycle, a standard Gardner Fox technique to construct a plot.
The Warners' classy living room, and the well-dressed people in it, exemplify 1960's chic (p2).
The House of "Flashy" Traps (1965). Writer: Gardner Fox. The Elongated Man battles a booby-trapped house that was created to trap the Flash. Richly detailed story that also serves to reunite the Elongated Man with the Flash.
The Elongated Man fights three different traps in the house. Each time the Elongated Man encounters a trap, he goes through the same series of steps:
This cycle has a small difference from the typical Fox cycle: Steps 2 and 3 are often performed at the same time. The Elongated Man will simultaneously be realizing how hard it would be for the Flash to escape the trap (step 2), and taking his own actions to escape the trap (step 3). In most Fox cycles, each step takes place strictly after the previous step is complete. The steps are not mingled together, as they are in this tale. This partly reflects the fact that Step 2 is purely mental: a realization by the Elongated Man about the Flash. So Step 2 can go on in the Elongated Man's thoughts, while he is also escaping (Step 3).
Gardner Fox liked plots in which his "clever hero escaped from an ingenious trap". He wrote some memorable trap-escapes for Adam Strange.
Mystery of the Millionaire Cowboy (1965). Ralph and Sue attend a hit musical, but the theater is mysteriously empty of spectators.
The musical theater aspects recall the way Broome liked to science-fictionalize plot situations, to create his plots:
The couple are visiting "Midwest City", one of those imaginary cities in Silver Age comic books. It is "famous for its culture and night life": suggesting it might be a thinly disguised version of Chicago. On the other hand, a cattleman has a mansion near town, suggesting it might be out West: maybe Denver?
The millionaire cowboy's mansion shows Infantino's skill with Art Deco architecture (bottom of page 4). It looks like something one might see on another planet, or in the far future. I don't know of any real-life homes, however Art Deco, that actually look this futuristic.
The Elongated Man's Change-of-Face (1965). Writer: Gardner Fox. The Elongated Man travels to the small mining town of Powderkeg, where his deeds are attributed in the press to a local man, rather than to himself.
The deeds referred to are actual cases of the Elongated Man, from previous issues. They were all also written by Fox.
Fox liked to transform his "Fox cycles" of plot, by putting new protagonists in them, different from the original hero. Something a bit analogous is going on in this tale. We have real, pre-existing cases of the Elongated Man, but with their actions ascribed to a new character.
The Bandits and the Baroness (1965). The Elongated Man and Sue foil jewel robbers at a swanky hotel in the US Southwest desert. Light-hearted mystery tale, with some decent twists.
Tales of jewel robbery have a long history in prose fiction, dating back to the 19th Century. They tend to be comic: there is little violence or tragedy, just rich people getting their jewels stolen. They also tend to be in elegant settings among swell characters - as is the case with "The Bandits and the Baroness". However, "The Bandits and the Baroness" lacks the sort of criminal Rogue figure who often served as a master jewel thief in prose fiction. Instead, the hero of the tale is the honest Elongated Man, whose detective work solves the mystery.
PLOT AND MYSTERY. Sue makes an important detective observation in "The Bandits and the Baroness". Her sharp-eyed discovery of this clue makes her a partner in the detective work.
Despite its short length, "The Bandits and the Baroness" has two mystery sub-plots: the jewel robbery, and the sub-plot about the guests. This abundance of mystery plotting is an admirable positive feature.
The opening contains an interesting plot idea, about the guests at the hotel. SPOILERS. This idea recalls "The Six Jimmy Olsens" (Jimmy Olsen #13, June 1956), written by Otto Binder. Later, "The Bandits and the Baroness" comes up with a new twist about these guests, not present in "The Six Jimmy Olsens", as part of the mystery's solution. This twist is the best mystery plot idea in the story.
MODERN-DAY WEST. Broome and Infantino return to the topic of "upper crust people out West" featured in "Mystery of the Millionaire Cowboy". Affluent modern-day Westerners were featured in films like Giant (George Stevens, 1956), and seemed to fascinate people in the 1950's and 1960's. Broome and Infantino include the deluxe convertible cars associated with Western millionaires. The Elongated Man wears one of the spiffiest Western suits ever seen. Its short jacket would in fact have been considered too swaggering for most Western TV shows of the era. Later, he and the other men get into white tuxedos.
Peril in Paris (1965). The Elongated Man and his wife go to Paris.
FRANCE. This is a delightful tale, more notable for its celebration of Paris, the French and the wonderful feats the Elongated Man performs there, than for its crime plot.
France is the United States' oldest ally. The USA would not exist as a country without France's help. This story shows the love that Americans have always had for everything French.
In the early 2000's, vicious conservatives relentlessly attacked France, demonizing all aspects of its culture. Shame, shame shame! Once again, we see rotten conservatives trying to destroy traditional American values.
This tale is unusual in that the Elongated Man visits a real place, Paris, rather than a fictitious city.
SUE SUB-PLOT. An early event involving Sue is pleasantly surreal and imaginative. Unfortunately the explanation of this event at the end is implausible.
Both several Frenchmen and the Elongated Man speak French in "Peril in Paris". The event with Sue can be seen as a science-fictionalizing of this speaking French. Broome often constructed plots, by science-fictionalizing a previous situation.
The bad guys have technological devices. But nothing radical like the advanced tech used by Rogues like Captan Cold or the Mirror-Master, which gives the Rogues near-super-powers.
IRIS WEST. It is in this story that we first learn that Flash's girl friend Iris West is a reporter, and works for the Picture News. Iris had previously appeared in Kanigher's origin tale for the Flash, "Mystery of the Human Thunderbolt" (1956). Iris is absent in Broome's first two Flash tales, which appeared in the same issues of Showcase as Kanigher's.
As a character, Iris bears a certain similarity to reporter Vilma Hobart in Kanigher and Infantino's King Faraday story, "Thunder Over Thailand" (Danger Trail #3, November-December 1950). Vilma also works for a publication called Picture News. Iris is much more haughty than Vilma, however. There are other reporter girl friends in the comics: the tradition started with Superman's girl friend Lois Lane in the 1930's. Before that women reporters were common in the movies: see the Loretta Young character in Frank Capra's Platinum Blonde (1931), for instance.
VILLAIN. This story is related to a series of tales Kanigher wrote, in which a laughing villain taunts and torments the hero. These tales include the first Knights of the Galaxy tale, "Nine Worlds to Conquer" (Mystery in Space #1, April-May 1951). As in that story, the villain has an identical looking brother. See also Kanigher's "Guns of Destiny" (All-Star Western #115, October-November 1960); the linked article has a detailed discussion. "Play With Fire" (Girl's Love Stories #178, July - August 1973) is also related. Some of the villains in these tales wear glamorous, phallic headgear: a top hat in "The Secret of the Empty Box", an officer's peaked cap in the motorcycle uniform in "Play With Fire".
Iris also chews out the hero. She too resembles a related Kanigher villain: some of her dialogue, in which she assigns a task of getting food to the hero while also putting him down for being slow, anticipates the rock star boyfriend in "That Special Man" (Love Stories #152, October - November 1973). "That Special Man" is in an issue edited by Kanigher, but the tale may or may not be scripted by him. The similarity in dialogue and situation suggests "That Special Man" is indeed written by Kanigher.
At the end, the villain tells the Flash that the villain has figured out all the steps of the crime scheme in advance. A Kanigher romance comic hero who reveals at the finale that he is manipulatively ahead of the protagonist is in "Hard to Handle" (Love Stories #150, June - July 1973).
ART. A panorama of Central City shows its many skyscrapers (page 5). It also tells which parts are North, East, etc. Related views show a cityscape from a tightrope (the splash on page 1, and page 7). I don't recall a map of Central City, or any clear guide to its geography, in any Flash tale. These panoramas are perhaps the closest to such a map. They have appealing art by Infantino.
Around the World in 80 Minutes (#13, April 1958). Writer: Robert Kanigher. The Flash deals with four emergencies in Paris, the Sahara, Tibet and the Pacific Ocean, while circling the globe in 80 minutes. Minor tale which suffers from unpleasant incidents.
PLOT. The tale has similarities to the Flash's origin story, "Mystery of the Human Thunderbolt" (1956):
PIRATE. The pirate torpedo on the cover and in the story, has the pirate symbol of skull-and-crossbones on it. This anticipates the skull insignia on the motorcycle uniform in Kanigher's "Play With Fire" (Girl's Love Stories #178, July - August 1973). The torpedo looks enormously phallic; so does the motorcycle in "Play With Fire".
ART. The tale resembles the Adam Strange stories to come, with Flash battling menaces against visually spectacular backgrounds. The scene of the tidal wave in Tibet (page 11) looks a bit like Hokusai's "The Great Wave Off Kanagawa" (circa 1831), and is presumably Infantino's homage to traditional Japanese woodblock prints.
Giants of the Time-World (1958). Writer: Robert Kanigher. Science fiction story involving aliens from another dimension, who start out very tiny, and who grow into giants. This story has spectacular art by Infantino.
Flash regularly met aliens from other dimensions throughout the Silver Age. And sometimes visited such other dimensions himself. In The Flash and other Julius Schwartz-edited comic books, travel between our dimension and other dimensions is simple: one passes through a hole joining the dimensions, with or without the aid of high-tech equipment. By contrast, The Flash rarely featured stories of outer space, travel to other planets, or spaceships. The use of other dimensions helped The Flash avoid showing space travel or outer space aliens. Space travel was mainly NOT part of the world of The Flash. One can speculate that this avoidance of space travel was a primary motivation for The Flash stressing other dimensions. The Flash was set on contemporary, 1960-era Earth. It was not a futuristic saga of life on multiple planets. Introducing space travel would have drastically changed the subject matter and feel of the series.
Aspects of the aliens' lives remind of (in broad terms) of the section about the video-game in the prose science fiction novel The Three-Body Problem (2006) by Liu Cixin. Both feature speeded-up life cycles and unusual manipulation of time.
PARDY'S. The fictitious restaurant Pardy's in the story, is a version of the famous real-life restaurant Sardi's in New York City. Both have walls full of framed caricatures of celebrities. The Flash is one of those pictured on the wall of Pardy's: a witty touch.
It is odd to see a New York City institution like Sardi's finding an echo in Central City. Most tales in The Flash scrupulously remember that Central City is NOT a version of New York, but rather somewhere in the middle of the American continent.
TECHNOLOGY. Iris is depicted as a skilled pilot and daredevil in "Giants of the Time-World". I don't recall this being part of her characterization in the later Broome-scripted tales. It recalls the female ship's Captain briefly seen at the end of "Around the World in 80 Minutes".
I don't recall Barry's "wrist-TV" watch-like device in later tales, either. It is clearly based on the earlier radio-watch invented by Barry in Kanigher's "Around the World in 80 Minutes". This technology seems to disappear as Broome becomes sole scripter of The Flash.
Kanigher's vision of The Flash in these early tales seems to have Barry, Iris and villains all as users of technology - fairly standard, conventional technology. The actual approach by Broome would be different: Barry and Iris will be less technological, and the Rogues will use way-out, non-standard technology.
This tale has a dramatic Infantino cover, showing the Flash trapped inside a giant hour-glass.
FRIEND. Barry Allen gets involved because one of his friends is in trouble. The friend has similar characteristics as Barry's friend in "Secret of the Sunken Satellite":
ART. The best parts of this tale depict the space ship used by Grodd to travel to Central City. The scenes on page 2 show the ship traveling against a series of exotic Earth locations; these anticipate the locales Infantino would soon draw in his Adam Strange stories. The art often shows the ship as a small object that is the only inhabitant of a vast nature area; these scenes have a romantic, evocative quality, showing the wild places of the world. The express the loneliness and awe one would feel journeying through such a region. The ship's path is often strongly geometrical, consisting of straight lines joined by harshly angled turns, often an exact 90 degrees. These paths convey that that ship is controlled by an intelligent mind: the geometry is the result of a thinking brain, and forms a contrast to the natural world around it. One can also see here the mixture of artistic styles beloved by Infantino: the ship's trail recalls the purely geometrical lines of Constructivism, while the scenery around them is part of the realistic landscape tradition.
Page 5 shows a sequence, a series of illustrations which reveal the progression of a series of events. In these pictures, the Flash is chasing the speeding rocket ship. Both are moving at tremendous rates of speed. At first, the ship is just an invisible blur, but gradually its outlines become clearer and clearer as Flash catches up with it. It is a virtuosic sequence.
Return of the Super-Gorilla (1959). The Flash journeys to Gorilla-City in Africa, and to the underground world of the bird-men inside the hollow Earth. This is the most science fiction oriented of all the gorilla tales in The Flash, and the most imaginative.
SPOILERS. The use of vibrational frequencies to communicate by the gorillas is also an impressive sf idea. There are other sf concepts debuting in this tale, such as the boring machines and the devolution ray; all in all, this story seems like an episode of Mystery in Space, Julius Schwartz's companion sf magazine. The way in which Gorilla-City is first concealed, then revealed, is one of the most magical moments in The Flash. It anticipates many scenes in Green Lantern, in which large complexes of buildings are made visible or invisible.
Broome has taken his original concept of Gorilla-City from the previous issue, and made it much more science fictional. This is a typical approach to story development in Broome: the science fictionalization of previous ideas. Broome frequently employed this approach in his Green Lantern saga.
ART. This science fiction tale has some of the most detailed high tech cities in the early Flash books. These cityscapes by Infantino show the influence of Art Deco. Some of the buildings have elaborate terraces on them, which project just like the nautical ledges on actual Art Deco buildings. The buildings show many diagonal lines. Rings envelop several large towers; the rings are often consistently angled to slope upward from left to right. The buildings are a riot of geometric forms, in the Deco tradition - circles and spheres, diagonal lines, buttresses. Their geometric forms also recall Erich Mendelsohn's expressionist Einstein Tower in Potsdam near Berlin (1920 -1921). So do their abruptly rising towers and lack of symmetry. Infantino also designed the scientists' equipment in the story to look Deco, both the good guy's lab machinery and the ray gun used by the villain. There are actually two cities by non-human races in the story, both in a Deco style. Gorilla-City, owned by a race of intelligent gorillas, is the most spectacular, but there is also the city of the underground bird men. At first glance, the two cities look much alike, and I actually mistook one for the other. However, the bird city is less "advanced" looking than the Gorilla-City. The buildings are smaller, the towers are shorter, the buildings hug much closer to the ground, and there are no rings around any of the towers in the bird city. This perhaps corresponds with the lower degree of civilization attained by the bird people, compared to super intellects of the Gorillas.
It is not only scientific aliens who have Art Deco buildings in The Flash. The lab of the noble scientist in "The Challenge of the Weather Wizard" (#110, 1959-1960) is also a triumph of Infantino's futuristic Art Deco. So is the new school being built for the kids in "Danger on Wheels" (#112, 1960). This is the least exotic of any of these buildings in location: it is just a new high school being built in a typical USA small town. All of these futuristic buildings are associated with science: the gorillas have an advanced scientific civilization beyond current humans, the lab is a building for research, and the high school is where young people get education. Science and education were treated as being of the highest value in the DC books, the most valuable thing in life and human society.
Infantino's work shows a direct continuity with earlier Deco traditions of the 1930's and 1940's. He shows little interest in the International Style sweeping the US in the post war period and the 1950's, and treated by most real life architects as the Only Permissible Style for new buildings. Infantino's buildings are quite similar to George Papp's Krypton architecture in the Superboy tales. Just as the plots of the DC comics in the period are the direct descendants of pulp magazine tales of the 1930's, so is the art a living heir to early American traditions in design. Art Deco is a vague term, referring to several related styles of the 1920's and 30's. Infantino's and Papp's is closest to what I have called "The Moderne Deco Style". This flourished during 1935-1941, and formed the core of Miami Beach Deco buildings, and many other cities' residential structures, small hotels, and bus stations. It was revived for more buildings after World War II ended in 1945, but gradually gave way to the International Style of the Bauhaus, which is NOT an Art Deco style of architecture. Please see my article on Art Deco for more details.
Infantino's interiors are often very 1960's. Barry's apartment has a curving coffee table, like a Miro biomorphic form, that was very popular in the era. It is also full of trapezoidal chairs, low divans, tables and chairs, and running low book cases. It is startlingly vivid, and evokes an era in US interior design. Infantino loved trapezoids, and we often see tilting angles of the "vertical" walls of his futuristic buildings. Infantino also got much mileage out of the hanging lamps in the Picture News office where Iris West worked, with their sloping shades.
Super-Gorilla's Secret Identity (1959). Super-Gorilla escapes from captivity once again, and uses his evolution machine to turn himself into an advanced human of the future, under which new identity he becomes a famous Earth businessman. This businessman becomes a famous celebrity on Earth; he is a recurring type of Broome villain who comes out of nowhere, has awesome powers, and becomes a very famous public sensation.
Super-Gorilla is an early attempt by John Broome to create a super-villain that recurs from story to story. In this he resembles Sinestro, the classic Broome villain of Green Lantern tales to come (1961 - 1963). Like Sinestro, Super-Gorilla is a renegade representative of an advanced, decent group of beings, the Gorilla-City here, the Green Lanterns of Multiple Worlds in Sinestro's case. Also like Sinestro, at the end of each story Super-Gorilla is captured and placed in an "escape-proof" cage; at the start of the next tale, we learn how Super-Gorilla or Sinestro ingeniously escaped again. Both Sinestro and Super-Gorilla are awesomely powerful, with a wide range of skills and devices; both are very intelligent; and both villain's main motive is power: each wants to conquer the world.
While this story was running, a non-series tale about gorillas by Broome and Infantino also appeared: "The Human Pet of Gorilla Land" (Strange Adventures #108, September 1959). Infantino was very good at drawing gorillas. He could make them seem very sensitive. They had a wide variety of facial expressions, indicating thought and intelligence.
The Day Flash Weighed 1000 Pounds (#115, September 1960). Grodd migrates his mind to another body, so he can escape his prison cell. Minor tale without much plot inventiveness.
Some earlier tales show friends of Barry's in mental distress: blackouts in "Menace of the Super-Gorilla", strange dreams in "Secret of the Sunken Satellite". Here it is the Flash who has a bad psychological experience: amnesia.
REVERSING TRANSFORMATIONS. When villains transform the Flash in sinister ways, he tries to find antidote processes that reverse the change:
Transformation-and-reversal tales are specialities of writer Otto Binder. He frequently contributed them to the Superman family of comic books.
BUILDING. There are other features of Infantino's work that seem influenced by Art Deco. Infantino liked large windows made up of many small square panes. This is a typical style of Deco windowing. We often see such windows from the inside, especially in Barry's apartment, and in the large prestigious offices occupied by authority figures in the series. Infantino loved large rooms, in general. Occasionally, we see such windows from the outside of buildings, such as the factory in "The Day Flash Weighed 1000 Pounds" (page 11). This building also has such Deco features as windows without elaborate frames, windows that wrap around corners, and irregularly spaced windows.
The building is built up of a large central building and two smaller flanking additions, showing the classic Deco "Rule of Threes".
The Reign of the Super-Gorilla (1962). The villainous Super-Gorilla develops a radiation that makes him irresistible to everyone who sees him. This story extends the hypnosis of "The Mirror-Master's Magic Bullet" (1961). In that tale, the Mirror-Master hypnotized the Flash to make him his servant. Here, Super-Gorilla creates huge masses of devoted slaves.
This story is both comic and disturbing. Everywhere Super-Gorilla goes, masses of people proclaim their love for him. Super-Gorilla uses this ability to get into politics, hoping to become first President of the United States, then world dictator. The tale is a satire on the cults of personality that surround dictators in totalitarian societies. Broome was deeply anti-totalitarian, and wrote many stories about the menace such governments posed. Here the scenes of Super-Gorilla's adulation are hilarious. They form a satire on all such real life scenes. But they also have a deeply troubling quality. They remind one exactly of newsreels, showing crowds of people surrounding Hitler, worship and adoration in their eyes. There is something extremely frightening in the ability of human beings to give such love and devotion to the most evil dictators. This story confronts us head on with this sinister phenomenon.
This story continues Broome's links between celebrity and villainy. Many of Broome's villains, such as Sinestro in his Green Lantern tales, want the adulation of crowds of people. This is exactly what Super-Gorilla receives here.
The later stages of the story show the Flash investigating the properties of Super-Gorilla's new powers. These sections are in the Schwartz comics tradition of the scientific investigation of a mystery. Both Broome and Gardner Fox wrote such stories. They are always fascinating. They give readers a model of how a scientific investigation works. Among Broome's tales, this is perhaps closest to "The Fish-Men of Earth" (Strange Adventures #56, May 1955).
Flash's initial desire to step back from the events and think things out is a key step. It suggests that the best way to react to a bad situation is to cool it, and start thinking instead. This seems to me to be profoundly good advice. It shows considerable psychological realism on Broome's part. The stepping back actually helps the Flash break through and solve the mystery, in the most literal way possible. This is an ingenious allegory.
CRISIS. A number of early Flash tales deal with a friend of Barry's who faces a mental crisis. See: the blackouts in "Menace of the Super-Gorilla", the dreams in "Secret of the Sunken Satellite". The man here is not originally a friend of Barry's - but he resembles them in being a good man with a mental crisis: amnesia. He also develops a friend-like feature: Barry takes him to his apartment.
In all of these tales, the mental crisis is eventually explained. The crisis turns out to reflect a science fictional situation.
Eventually Barry/The Flash will himself suffer from amnesia, in "The Day Flash Weighed 1000 Pounds". Barry's experiences will be more anguished, than the rather serene treatment of amnesia in "The Amazing Race Against Time".
NEAR-IMPOSSIBLE STUNT. Some Flash tales start with a seemingly impossible crime, then look backward into a villain's past to find a science fictional explanation of how he did it. See: "Return of the Mirror-Master", "Danger in the Air", "Space-Boomerang Trap". This early tale does not follow the paradigm strictly. However, while not a crime, the way this man can run faster than the Flash does seem almost "impossible", or at least startling. And we do later learn about this man's past, and the science fiction way he got his power.
SCIENCE FICTION. The man's past is eventually made clear. BIG SPOILERS. It involves a mission from a council-like group known as "The Rulers of the Galaxy" (page 8). This anticipates a major organization that Broome will soon create in Green Lantern: The Guardians of the Universe. The Guardians appear first simply as a voice from the lantern in "Summons From Space" (Showcase #23, November-December 1959). Then explicitly as a fully-developed organization in "The Planet of Doomed Men" (Green Lantern #1, July-August 1960).
Infantino's art here in "The Amazing Race Against Time" is quite different from Gil Kane's to come in Green Lantern. The two artists create a different feel.
Note: Earlier Broome wrote the Captain Comet tale. "The Guardians of the Clockwork Universe" (Strange Adventures #22, July 1952). It introduced a group that anticipated later features of The Guardians of the Universe.
IRIS WEST. Iris West arranges a public competition between Flash and the new speedster, through her newspaper. Similarly, in "Super-Gorilla's Secret Identity", her paper will pit the Flash and the new businessman in the tale against each other in a contest for "Man of the Year". Iris is often at the fringes of the stories in this way. Her newspaper interviews the characters near the start of the story, and then she is with Barry Allen at the end for the wrap-up. She is a sort of "framing" character, but she does not take part in the actual adventure itself, which is for the Flash alone. In this she is different from Lois Lane, who is often at the center of the action throughout the story. Broome's stories tend to be constructed in different zones. One scene will contain Iris, and involve the heroes' romantic relationship; others will be science fictional. This adds a great deal of variety to each story. Broome's Green Lantern scripts often involve a similar episodic construction.
There is a sharp separation between Barry Allen's private life, and his career as the Flash. Barry dates Iris, holds a job, and leads an uneventful life. The Flash fights crime. The Flash rarely encounters Iris, and there is little interaction between Barry's police job and Flash's cases. Broome actually gave Barry his richest personal life in his team-ups with the Green Lantern, in GL's magazine. Barry gets to pal around with Hal Jordan in these stories, and Barry's knowledge of advanced technology as a police scientist actually is of use in the Flash's adventures.
ART. Like other comic artists of the period, Infantino sometimes included multi-media material that was not conventional "illustration":
Broome loved flashbacks in his stories. This story contains a flashback within a flashback. This is not a record: the motion picture The Locket (1946) became famous for having a flashback within a flashback within a flashback. Still, Broome's storytelling here is pretty tricky. Broome also uses the Flash as a narrator here, guiding the reader through the flashbacks. This too is similar to the film noir thrillers of the 1940's: their flashbacks frequently employed a character in the story as a narrator as well.
The art in this story is especially beautiful. Page 7 is very rich: the storm scene at the top; the beautiful curving line representing motion in the middle panel, the curved surfaces of the Flash' mask below, and the abstract patterns of the museum exhibits at bottom.
Secret of the Sunken Satellite (1959). An astronaut friend starts the Flash on an undersea adventure.
LOST WORLD. This tale is exceptionally science fictional for a Flash adventure. Like "Menace of the Super-Gorilla" earlier that year, it brings the Flash to a hidden city of intelligent, peaceful non-human beings in an obscure region of Earth. Such tales belong to the science fiction sub-genre known as the "Lost World" or "Lost Race". Such books were popular in the 19th and early 20th Century. See the Science Fiction Encyclopedia.
SPACE PROGRAM. It would be two years before Yuri Gagarin became the first man in space (1961). So the astronaut in "Secret of the Sunken Satellite" is science fictional. The tale does a good job with its realistic depiction of space flight: the events look much like those of real-life space flights in the 1960's. Earlier than this science fiction comic books like Mystery in Space and Strange Adventures had depicted astronauts and Earth spacemen.
Because the astronaut's capsule has orbited Earth, it is called a "satellite" in this tale. One can argue that this usage is technically correct. However, I don't recall this terminology used in the real-life space program of the 1960's and beyond. Manned vehicles used by astronauts were called "capsules"; the term "satellite" was restricted to unmanned objects.
FEELINGS. The astronaut's adventures return to him in the form of dreams. This anticipates "The Challenge of the Crimson Crows", in which Kid Flash thinks the previous day's events he experienced were just a dream.
The relationship between the Flash and his friend astronaut Fred Jansen can be read as having a gay subtext. The two men's dinner together can be seen as a date. The astronaut shares his intimate feelings with his old friend Barry Allen. These are thoughts he is afraid to share with others. SPOILERS. The tale ends with the Flash presenting his friend with a ring. In the plot, the ring is from the sea-people, and Flash is just conveying it. But the imagery suggests one man giving another man a wedding or engagement ring. The presentation is in private, and has a romantic atmosphere.
ART. Infantino's sea art is outstanding. The recovery of the capsule is beautiful (page 2). The air bubbles underwater make beautiful compositions (pages 2, 3, 5, 7, 10, 11). They recall the patterns of stars in outer space in Infantino science fiction tales.
Infantino gets geometric patterns out of the grappling hook.
The astronaut looks better in his flight suit (page 5), than in the corny bow tie he wears in civilian clothes. I do not know if this effect is deliberate. The navy doctor also looks handsome in his uniform (page 3).
The Case of the Real-Gone Flash (#128, May 1962). Abra Kadabra, a magician from AD 6363, when the art of magic is dying out, goes back to the 20th Century and takes up a life of crime to get publicity for his act. The origin of Abra Kadabra. Abra Kadabra is more pathetic than sinister. His various thefts are done not for gain, but to try to publicize his stage act. His need for applause and public celebrity strikes a familiar Broome theme, the corrupting side of the search for fame.
Abra Kadabra's motives anticipate those of Green Lantern's comic nemesis Sonar, a man who steals not for his own profit, but to try to get publicity for his otherwise obscure Balkan nation. Sonar debuted two months after this tale in Broome's "The Man Who Conquered Sound" (Green Lantern #14, July 1962). Both characters are essentially comic.
This is a pretty minor tale until its second part, when the Flash is unexpectedly put into a small outer space adventure. This three page sequence is really neat. In this sequence, and the story finale that follows it, Broome tells us a lot about Flash's powers we never knew before. It is a burst of imagination. Flash gets involved in the sort of scientific situation we associate more with Gardner Fox's Adam Strange tales, such as the Aurora Borealis sequence in "The Planet That Came to a Standstill" (Mystery in Space #75, May 1962). In both stories were learn about mechanisms that might protect the protagonist during extreme conditions, such as the upper atmosphere or outer space. In Adam Strange's case, that is his spacesuit; for Flash, it is his aura, something being introduced here for the first time. These two stories appeared during the same month; one wonders if editor Julius Schwartz played a role in extending both hero's capabilities.
Broome includes a statue in Central City celebrating American Freedom. This is consistent with Broome's anti-totalitarian views.
Infantino's art is also good during this sequence, including one of his outstanding starscapes (p13). Later (p 16) we see Central City and its skyscrapers from above. There is also a fine portrait of a young man in a blue suit on the street (p5). Infantino loved to draw background crowds, and they are full of well characterized individuals of all types.
Trail of the False Green Lanterns (#143, March 1964). Writer: Gardner Fox. In this team-up story with Green Lantern, Flash and GL combat three duplicate Green Lanterns created by villain T.O. Morrow. The idea of fighting three duplicates of yourself had been explored in "The Plot Against Jimmy Olsen" (Jimmy Olsen #71, September 1963), a story whose author is currently not known. Fox loved doubles, so it was natural he'd do his own version of this idea. This is a minor tale, notable mainly for some felicities in Infantino's art. These include the frieze of policemen on page 2, and the cop at the water fountain above it; the close-up and full figure portraits of Barry Allen at the bottom of page 3, the vertical landscape on page 5 showing the speed lines of GL in the air and Flash on the ground; the encounter with the arrogant Green Lanterns on the bottom of page 5 and page 6; GL's encounter with the yellow balls and the water on pages 15 - 17; the two panels of overhead artwork showing the tiled floor on page 24, and the doubling effect of Carol Ferris and Iris West on page 25.
The bow-tied Barry Allen depicted here is both striking and obsolete. Grown men typically did not wear bow ties in the early 1960's; for Barry to dress this way marks him out immediately. This might be part of the idea: most comic book figures had their own personal style of dressing that made them instantly recognizable to readers. However, Barry also looks astonishingly elegant. Barry does come across as an individualist, someone with a unique place in society. The fact that he is a lone scientist attached to a squad of uniformed policemen also emphasizes his unique position.
The Cloud Creatures look like the sort of menaces that Infantino sometimes drew in his Adam Strange tales. However, they are underdeveloped as science fictional beings. And thus are less interesting than most of the menaces Adam Strange faced.
CRACKPOT. "The Invasion of the Cloud Creatures" unfortunately takes us into subjects later popularized on The X-Files: alien invasion of the Earth, lone scientists who believe this is going on but who can't convince their skeptical colleagues. I don't like such material. Dr. Wiley Summers, like Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) of The X-Files, is essentially a crackpot who is advocating ideas on the fringes of science. I am uncomfortable with works that promote or glamorize such figures. And therefore I'm also glad that the Dr. Wiley Summers series was short-lived and ended after two episodes.
ROMANCE. Dr. Wiley Summers is intended as a romantic rival to Barry for Iris' affections. And he is given every advantage:
Iris' apartment returns. It was previously seen in "The Pied Piper of Peril". Some books on Iris' shelf are labeled: one is marked "Science", another "Jazz". This suggests Iris' interests are intellectual and substantial.
OLD FRIEND. Dr. Wiley Summers is an old college friend of Barry's. The Flash would soon include a loose series of tales in which Barry's old friends lead him into adventure. The Dr. Summers tales might be a precursor to that series. However, these "old friend tales" tend to show Barry's friendships in a positive light, unlike the unpleasant romantic rivalry in the Dr. Summers tales.
ART. There is a good portrait of the Flash in the rain (page 12).
Dr. Wiley Summers is black-haired, liked DC's most important super-hero Superman. He contrasts with Barry Allen, who is blond.
The Man Who Claimed Earth (#113, June-July 1960). Powerful aliens claim ownership and authority over Earth. Dr. Wiley Summers returns.
The aliens have no relation to those in "The Invasion of the Cloud Creatures", and the story is thus not a sequel, strictly speaking.
STORYTELLING. "The Man Who Claimed Earth" is unusual in that the tale does not explicitly spell out all of its plot ideas. Instead, it gives readers all the information they need, then leaves readers to figure out certain twists for themselves. I think this is unusual in 1935-1970 comic books, which typically spell out their plots clearly and explain everything in detail.
Concepts left for readers to figure out:
VIRTUAL REALITY. This story gives a fascinating forward glimpse at where the future of photography might lie. It can be compared with the Virtual Reality tales Broome wrote in the 1950's, such as "Explorers of the Crystal Moon" (Strange Adventures #56, May 1955). The duplicate is essentially a "snapshot" of the city, complete with all its inhabitants. The story has the city-wide point of view of many of Broome's tales, an event that happens to everyone in a city.
The tale also recalls Broome's Green Lantern story "The Amazing Theft of the Power Lamp" (Green Lantern #3, November-December 1960). As in that tale, the virtual reality duplicate is out of temporal synch with the real original, in both cases by around an hour. This is an unusual idea that gives Broome a good deal of room to create plots. Like many of Broome's best works, this is highly science fictional.
Please see this list and discussion of Virtual Reality in comic books.
The small size of the duplicate recalls the bottled city of Kandor, created by Otto Binder in the Superman mythos.
MALE BONDING. The teacher and student scenes relate to other Broome themes. The students show the sort of male bonding among high school and college age men that is an important Broome theme. Their teacher acts as their mentor, in a way similar to Flash's mentoring of Kid Flash. The duplicate city here is perhaps related to the simultaneity effects in other Broome bonding stories: see the discussion under "The Midnight Peril" below.
VILLAIN. The villain is another Broome bad guy who rises from obscurity to wealth. Such life-histories occur in several Broome tales.
He also recalls some other Broome villains in that he is not the inventor of the technology that he exploits for his "success".
This wealthy villain is egotistical. He doesn't believe in paying taxes on his wealth. He is not explicitly linked to libertarianism or related right wing extremist views. But his attitudes seem similar to those of contemporary libertarians. Broome clearly takes a negative attitude towards the villain's views.
ART. The beautiful splash shows a contemporary house in close-up side view. This is similar in structure the side views of Art Deco houses Infantino often shows in his future cities. However, this 20th Century house is not Deco; instead it looks like a combination of Contemporary and Gothic. Such side views both show the main details of the architecture, and created an intriguing 2D graphical form in the image.
The Big Board in the brokerage house (p7) is one of Infantino's trademark grids.
We get a look at Flash's apartment (p 10); it is book filled, like that of Adam Strange. It is most pleasant, but a bit more middle class that Adam Strange's more elaborate New York City spread. Infantino contrasts this with the villain's luxurious mansion, one of Infantino's most ostentatious digs (p8). Infantino is clearly satirizing dreams of luxury. He makes them seem pointless and over-elaborated.
The Heaviest Man Alive (1962). The Flash travels to another dimension with an advanced civilization. Sequel to "The Man Who Stole Central City".
The villain causes the Flash to become vastly heavier. But the Flash does not change his muscular physique, or become fat. He simply gains huge amounts of mass. "Mass" is an important concept in physics. Villains who use physics are a Broome tradition in the Flash tales.
The Doom of the Mirror Flash (1962). The Mirror-Master goes into another dimension by traveling through a mirror. Well done science fiction tale that recalls the previous Broome Flash tale about other dimensions, "The Man Who Stole Central City" (1960). In both stories:
Infantino's cover shows one of his Mondrian-like walls, composed of rectilinear but irregularly arranged blocks.
Note: the dimension in this tale, is a different dimension from the one in "The Man Who Stole Central City" and its sequel "The Heaviest Man Alive".
THE SCARECROW. Infantino's cover shows a sf scene involving a scarecrow. Broome probably was given the job, as usual, of creating a story around this cover. I'm sure Broome could have come up with something, and developed some sort of sf plot that would give a rational explanation about why a bunch of bad guys are shooting at a scarecrow. However, instead of this typical comic book approach, Broome set this story in Hollywood, and had the cover depict an episode in a movie made about the Flash.
The scarecrow scene is made the title of the story, "The Doomed Scarecrow", gratuitously but poetically. Broome used a similar approach in "The Skyscraper that Came to Life" (Strange Adventures #72, September 1956), where he also treated Gil Kane's cover simply as a scene in an sf movie being shot by characters in the tale.
Broome does makes a successful attempt in the story to "explain" this cover by giving us the sub-plot of the Hollywood film about the scarecrow. SPOILERS. In the film-within-the-story, evidence is hidden inside the scarecrow, and bad guys are attempting to destroy it by shooting the scarecrow with incendiary bullets, thus setting it on fire. This gives a logical explanation of what on the cover seems nonsensical: why would anyone want to shoot a scarecrow? Broome thus puts the scarecrow scene into a logical context.
ART. Carmine Infantino, the artist of both the cover and the story, also got into the spirit of the switch as well. Infantino's scarecrow cover is Gothic and sinister. But his story is a sun-soaked, glamorous picture of Hollywood. While the cover shows dark Gothic fantasies from the inner world of dreams, the art in the story seems unusually real. One feels one can reach out and touch the furniture and buildings in the story. One scene with the Flash seated by himself in a studio projection room watching rushes is incredibly tactile. Like the Flash, one can almost feel the furniture he is sitting on, the backs of the chairs, and the walls of the room. Infantino imagines what it might actually be like to be in Hollywood, a strange, exotic, but hyper-real place in the actual world.
Infantino does a delightful job on the Hollywood and L.A. atmosphere. Whether he is going down palm lined streets, or in a studio projection room, he conveys a rich image of this glamorous environment.
Vengeance Via Television (1961). A villain kidnaps people using television broadcasts. Broome had earlier explored science fiction ideas involving television and brain waves in his Captain Comet tale, "Beware the Synthetic Men" (Strange Adventures #17, February 1952). The two tales are part of a common science fictional imagining. Broome tales never see anything positive about TV. It is closely allied to the celebrity machine that Broome finds so sinister in modern society. Broome also sees TV as a way of spreading lies in society- people often cannot trust what they are hearing on TV in his tales.
DETECTION. The end of the story shows Flash doing detective work, and tracking down the villain. Broome regularly included such detective scenes in his stories. He always includes a logical way for the hero to track down the villain's trail and find his lair. The Flash, like Broome's other detective heroes, often comes up with an ingenious scheme at this point of the tale as well, to aid him in his detective work. Both the trailing and the clever scheme elements are present in this tale. Other Broome detective stories include his Star Hawkins and Big Town tales.
ART. This story has beautiful art by Carmine Infantino. Many of the panels involve complex rectilinear compositions. Infantino often constructs these out of several rectangular regions, each one containing a different kind of image. One region might contain a TV screen broadcasting from a studio; another region might show a lab. A third region might contain curtains or a door. These regions combine to make an over-all rectilinear collage.
Other panels (p 10) show Flash running over curving hills. This is the sort of view of fields that one might get from an airplane. The fields are interspersed with regions that contain dense growths of trees. The whole image forms a beautiful abstract pattern.
Other noteworthy images: the beautiful repeating windows on the building (p3). Infantino does a good job with his policemen here, as he also does in "Beware the Atomic Grenade" (1961).
The relationship between Flash and Kid Flash is described consistently in the tales. The word used most often to characterize it is that the Flash is Kid Flash's "mentor". The idea is that Flash is advising Kid Flash, training him in the use of his super-powers, and in general helping him grow up and take on the job they both share. This suggests a number of things. The relationship between Flash and Kid Flash is a universal one, one in which an experienced person mentors a younger one. This relationship is a positive one, and one that is part of standard human experience. Mentoring is often done by one person teaching another a job or profession. Here both Flash's have the common job of being super-fast super-heroes.
But mentoring is also used between members of a minority group, with an older member of the group guiding a younger one. The two Flash's are members of a minority group with just two members, that of super-fast humans. Both keep their membership in this group secret. In many ways, they are both "passing" as non-fast human beings. This too is a common experience for many minority group members. There is a huge literature dealing with passing. The film School Ties (1992) gives a powerful look at passing.
The Challenge of the Crimson Crows (1960). Wally begins using his Kid Flash powers, including trying to protect and reform a gang from his high school, the Crimson Crows. Immediate sequel to "Meet Kid Flash". It shows Kid Flash still discovering his powers. It is thus something of an origin story, extending his primary origin tale "Meet Kid Flash".
Kid Flash promises the Flash, never to use his powers for personal gain (page 2). It is a key moment in the saga of Kid Flash. It anticipates the later oath by new members of The Legion of Super-Heroes not to seek personal gain. It is an idealistic moral and social principle.
An entertaining, essentially comic episode has Kid Flash using his new powers without realizing it, to win a basketball game (pages 4, 5). Kid Flash will not be able to do such things again: if he deliberately uses his powers to win, it would be cheating. And the exploitation of his powers for personal gain, something he has promised the Flash he will not do. It is amusing and innocent fun to see Kid Flash doing this sports feat without intending to. But he could never do this on purpose.
The Flash only appears briefly at the beginning and end. Mainly this is a solo adventure for Kid Flash. Many of his subsequent tales will also be solo efforts.
This is another early Broome Flash tale involving weather. Here the weather is manipulated benevolently by a good character, Kid Flash, instead of a villain like Captain Cold.
The tale disapproves of gang life. But the gang is presented as sympathetic young students who are misguided. They are not really bad.
The gang members have cool uniform jackets and caps.
Danger On Wheels (1960). Kid Flash deals with two problems: dangerous go-cars sold to teenagers, and a dubious construction company building the new high school.
The chicken contest involving the go-cars recalls a similar bike contest in "The Challenge of the Crimson Crows". Both recall the film Rebel Without a Cause (Nicholas Ray, 1955). These comic book tales also resemble the film in that they show middle-class teens raising hell, rather than slum kids whose gangs commit actual crimes.
The drawing of the proposed school shows an ultra-modern Art Deco based structure (page 2). It looks great. And would be fun to attend. However, I think that in real life in 1960, schools based in Art Deco were not much being built. Infantino later has an interesting panorama of the school under construction (page 4).
The clothes worn by the teen go-car drivers recall the uniforms of the gang in the previous Kid Flash tale "The Challenge of the Crimson Crows". One wonders where the town's teens get these.
Ralph Parker, the town's Youth Adviser, wears a shirt and tie, under a windbreaker rather than a suit. His casual but neat "sports clothes" recall a bit those often worn by Barry Allen. They also evoke Hollywood, a town where men famously often wore dressy sports wear rather than standard suits.
King of the Beatniks (#114, August 1960). A teen in trouble winds up prisoner of his adult cousin's gang, a robber gang who masquerade, dress and talk like beatniks. Lousy tale, rock bottom for the Kid Flash stories.
This story seems modeled on "The Challenge of the Crimson Crows". Both have:
Real-life admirers of the Beats I've encountered mainly resent the way mass media circa 1960 presented negative images of the Beats. "King of the Beatniks" is an example of what they are mad about.
The Race to Thunder Hill (#116, November 1960). Wally West (Kid Flash) and his Dad Bob West take part in a car rally-race that is infiltrated by escaping criminals. This minor tale anticipates the sf sports stories that Broome would later write for the short-lived Strange Sports Stories, although the only sf element here is Kid Flash's powers. The tale explains rally-races in detail. The story describes them as something new and innovative at that time. This is typical of the Schwartz magazines interest in the new and innovative, especially it if involved science or technology.
Bob West is an engineer in an appliance factory in Blue Valley. He is one of many sympathetic scientist characters in the Schwartz comic books. Friends of Mr. West who are also taking part in the race are Mr. Cooper and Mr. Gardner. I do not know if "Cooper" is a reference to anything, but Gardner is clearly a tongue in cheek tribute to Broome's fellow writer Gardner Fox.
Many of the solo Kid Flash tales suffer from Broome's incorporation of the clichés of juvenile boys adventure stories. The Big Auto Race Threatened by Crooks has been done to death. Wally lives in an upper class suburb, and always seems to be the sort of proper, upper crust young man one finds in massed produced boy's fiction of the 1930's and before. By contrast, Supergirl took the lead in the same sort of complex, grown-up adventures that her cousin Superman did. Such an approach was explicitly feminist, proving that Supergirl was Superman's equal. It also led to adventures that were a lot more exiting than most of Wally West's. Kid Flash was the only juvenile sidekick in any of the Schwartz titles, and the creators clearly didn't have a good idea at first about what to do with him.
The Midnight Peril (1961). Kid Flash spends the night in an allegedly haunted house, as part of his fraternity initiation. Such haunted house stories are common in children's mysteries, but this tale is pleasant. As in most such tales, there turn out to be no real ghosts in the house: just fakes. There is never anything supernatural about any of the Silver Age Flash stories, and this one is no exception.
The Flash was science fiction, not horror. Even in this haunted mansion tale, there is no feeling of horror. The house itself must be one of the cheeriest haunted houses in fiction. Infantino does a good job with the mansion's exterior (page 2). It is topped with concavely curved gables: an unusual and visually fascinating touch. The house used by the villain in "The Mirror-Master's Magic Bullet" in the next issue, will also have concavely curved peaks. Infantino varies the arrangement of the peaks in the two houses, to pleasing effects. And the side-peaks on the Mirror-Master's house are concave, those in "The Midnight Peril" are not.
MALE FRIENDSHIP. This is one on many Flash stories emphasizing friendship between men. Here we see Kid Flash hanging out with a close friend, Pete Willard. We also see both trying to get into the Eta Pi fraternity, an organization devoted to male bonding. The name Eta Pi (say it out loud) suggests Broome is burlesquing such institutions, which is partly true. He often takes a humorous, satirical tone to his material. But the feelings driving his hero seem strong here, and are echoed in other Broome stories. One thinks of a tale involving the adult Flash, "Secret of the Stolen Blueprint" (1961), and Broome's Strange Sports Stories work, "Warriors of the Weightless World" (The Brave and the Bold #49, August-September 1963). All of these stories deal with friendships between young men who are students together. In both of the latter two tales, the men are college roommates. They share their entire lives together. The men have close personal and emotional bonds.
Kid Flash gives a special demonstration of his speed powers, playing all the instruments in a band at once. This sort of experience can be described as simultaneity, the apparent creation of a multiple number of people by a single person. The adult Flash does a similar stunt in "Secret of the Stolen Blueprint". These stories stress male brotherhood. Here the hero himself seems to become a number of men. He is part of a very close group of men, all of whom are literally expressions of himself. The image is related to and derived from ideas and feelings of male bonding.
The band episode recalls a famous similar scene in Buster Keaton's film comedy, The Playhouse (1922), although Buster used trick photography, not super-powers, to build his scene.
Infantino has the fraternity members all dress alike, in sweaters with the initials of Blue Valley on them. Wally West wore a sweater with BV on it in the previous tale "King of the Beatniks". The members all also wear identical bow ties.
Infantino draws Wally's friend Pete Willard to look like a younger Barry Allen. This gives an echo of the Flash-Kid Flash relationship in the friendship between Wally and Pete.
ART. The lightning scenes in this story recall Infantino's skill at drawing lightning. He often makes the lightning form complex patterns, in the tradition of abstract art. See also his Space Museum tale, "Secret of the Tick-Tock World" (Strange Adventures #109, October 1959).
The police station scenes, like those in some other Flash tales, feature a high desk for the presiding Desk Sergeant, a desk outfitted with globes on short posts. This is a traditional design that instantly conveys the idea of "police station". The desk, posts and police uniforms also express the idea that these are authority figures. The globes and posts, along with the rectilinear desk, create a purely geometric environment. Infantino likes geometric patterns.
Land of the Golden Giants (1961). Flash and Kid Flash have a joint adventure in South America, where they help a scientist prove his theories about Continental Drift. This science fiction tale is full of unexpected twists and turns. In many ways, it starts out as another tale in the tradition of Conan Doyle's prose sf novel The Lost World (1912), with a scientific expedition going to the Guyana Highlands, just as in Doyle's novel. But Broome develops his plot in innovative ways.
This is the only sf story I can ever remember reading about Continental Drift, and it is hard to imagine a more exciting or dramatic one. Continental Drift is now a well established scientific theory, and the subject of huge interest to both geologists, and to zoologists and botanists, who are eager to integrate it into the evolutionary history of plants and animals. I think it was less well established at the time of Broome's story, and that people were still gathering preliminary evidence for it, just like the scientist in his tale. Broome does an excellent job with his science in the story. This tale would make a terrific reading experience for students, teaching them about an interesting topic.
Two panels shows Infantino's use of sketchy lines for innovative experiences. The caveman art (p 13) shows wavy lives in its outlines of animals. All the borders of these figures are fascinatingly waved, they are still very recognizable portraits of animals.
The Face Behind the Mask (1961). Kid Flash helps out teenage singing idol the Silver Mask when he is threatened by a gang of crooks.
Broome refers to the teenage singer here as a "bobby sox idol". This term dates from the 1940's, when it was applied to Frank Sinatra, and other young singers who were the idols of teen age girls. The story never explicitly refers to rock and roll. Broome sees continuity between the 1940's and the 1960's, with no essential change of character. By contrast, many rock fans tend to see Rock music as Something Unique and Special, something without historical precedent, and something that marks a complete change-over from all musical and social traditions of the past. I think Broome's depiction is largely accurate, at least sociologically: the crowds of young screaming fans that pursued singers were largely the same in the 1940's and 1960's, however different the music they sang was.
Broome does a closer look at male bonding here, with Kid Flash and the Silver Mask forming a "mutual admiration society", as the story puts it. This anticipates the later friendship between the adult Flash and Green Lantern.
We see the house of Wally West and his parents. It is more Early American in style that most of Infantino's interiors, which tend to be either elegantly modernistic (when set in the 20th Century) or positively Art Deco (on other planets or the future). The West home is in a small suburban town, and its Colonial style decoration was in fact typical of many American middle class houses of the era.
Wally West is one of the few genuinely suburban characters anywhere in the Schwartz comics. Most others tend to live in apartments in big cities, such as the Flash or Adam Strange, or in a rooming house near their work, such as Green Lantern. The Atom lives near Ivy University, where he works. Wally West's suburban lifestyle is shared by Snapper Carr, the other teenage character in the Schwartz world (Snapper is the teenage chronicler of the Justice League of America tales). Perhaps there was something about teenagers that triggered suburban settings in these series. There is something protective about the Schwartz treatment of kids. When young kids showed up in the Schwartz sf comic books, they were always in gentle, non-threatening tales. Similarly, both Wally and Snapper are in the most protective, secure environments possible, with comfortable and comforting suburban homes, safe communities in which to live, and a generally well-buffered environment.
The Silver Mask wears a string tie for some of his stage appearances. Infantino favored such ties as part of a "suit and tie" look in many of his futuristic tales, such as his Space Museum stories. It looks dignified, elegant and middle class, without any hint of ostentation or upper class mannerisms: all criteria used by Infantino when creating clothes.
In other scenes, the Silver Mask is in a green gaucho costume, something I cannot recall being worn by any other Infantino hero. It looks terrific.
The Conquerors of Time (#125, December 1961). The Flash invents the "cosmic treadmill", a kind of time machine that enables travel into the past and the future. The cosmic treadmill will recur in later Flash tales, as well. It is part of the "mythos" of the Flash.
I have mixed feelings about the cosmic treadmill. It is good that the Flash has a systematic way of traveling through time: it enables time-travel stories to be written about him. And the way the treadmill is powered by the Flash's super-speed running on the treadmill is moderately interesting. This both links the treadmill to Flash's super-power - and forms a vivid piece of imagery. But on the whole, the cosmic treadmill is just another time machine: a device that has been standard in science fiction since H.G. Wells invented it in The Time Machine (1895). So the cosmic treadmill is only of mild interest.
As the Flash's dialogue explicitly points out, he has previously accidentally travelled through time. He invents the cosmic treadmill so that he can travel deliberately. This is an example of Broome constructing a plot by science-fictionalizing a previous tale. What happened once by accident in a previous story (in this case, time travel) now has a science fiction device (the cosmic treadmill) that enables it to happen systematically.
Unfortunately, the rest of "The Conquerors of Time" is one of the less likable Flash tales. Its glorification of weapons gives me the heebie-jeebies. SPOILERS. Its best feature: Flash trying to muster his strength and walk out of prison. This shows grit.
Kid Flash plays a big role in "The Conquerors of Time" - but nothing he does is very interesting.
Mystery of the Troubled Boy (1962). Kid Flash assists Tommy Elkin, a Cherokee teenager, to track down a ring of spies. This is one of the most important Flash stories. It is one of the first, perhaps the first, Silver Age comic book tales to confront the reality of racial prejudice. Broome was a pioneer in racially integrating the Silver Age comics. His stories about Green Lantern's Inuit assistant Thomas Kamalku included the first non-white continuing characters in a super-hero comic book. Tommy Elkin in this story has to endure racial prejudice. His family moves from Stoneville, a racist community where Tommy is refused social acceptance by the other kids, to Blue Valley, the more accepting community where Kid Flash lives.
Thomas Kamalku was a highly skilled and admirable person, and deeply integrated in all senses of the word into Green Lantern's world. But he never had to confront actual racial prejudice, in any of the stories. This tale is different. It explicitly explores one of society's most important issues.
A key scene in this tale has Tommy's father talking seriously to Wally West. There are suggestions that he is crossing some line that separates children and adults here. In the rigid, tradition oriented 1950's and early 1960's, this was perhaps Not Done. It is a measure of how serious the father views the situation that he is willing to take this step. It also puts Wally in a role where he has to take on adult responsibility. There was a similar scene in "Land of the Golden Giants" (1961) of Barry Allen pulling Wally aside for a serious conversation. Both scenes have emotional reverberations that far transcend any action scenes in the tales. Both of these conversations are seen as positive, necessary steps that produce good results. But both are also seen as daring ventures, ones that perhaps break social traditions and barriers.
Secret of the Handicapped Boys (1962). Kid Flash visits a summer camp devoted to disabled boys. This is one of the most dignified looks at the handicapped in the popular culture of the era. It treats these teenagers with great respect, depicting them as people of ability and skill. Broome's previous "Mystery of the Troubled Boy" (1962) had included a Cherokee teenager and the problem of racial prejudice into the world of the Flash; here Broome looks at another often-invisible minority.
This tale suffers from the fact that it never actually builds up a story. It is more a succession of disconnected incidents at the camp. However, it does focus on its subject matter throughout, the lives of the disabled, and manages to pack a lot of different characters into its brief length.
Mystery of the Matinee Idol (1963). During the Summer Arts Festival in Blue Valley, Kid Flash befriends a now forgotten elderly Shakespearean actor, Dexter Miles. The veteran Shakespearean actor, now fallen on hard times, is a fairly familiar figure in popular culture. Film directors as diverse as John Ford (My Darling Clementine, 1946) and Curtis Harrington (What's the Matter With Helen?, 1971) have included such men in their works. These men are intellectual, wonderfully articulate, good natured, and possessed of hugely colorful personalities and life experiences. They are eager to share their gifts with everyone they meet, but are often rejected by society around them. Their lives are ending in poverty and neglect. These men typify the fate of many artists in our society. Their stories have strong pathos. There is also a sense of triumph to them: they show what can be accomplished by a life devoted to art.
Broome includes his thoughts on fame and success here, subjects on which he has frequently expressed great skepticism. Dexter Miles points out that it is much easier to go down the ladder of success than up it. Unlike many of Broome's characters that have achieved celebrity status, Dexter Miles has mercifully not been corrupted by his experiences. He is still a good guy.
Miles also fits in with another Broome hero type, the man who has trouble finding a role and occupation for himself in society. Typically, these men who don't fit in and who cannot find suitable work are young men, just starting out in adult life. Here we see an older man experiencing the same problems. Broome is suggesting that these problems do not automatically solve themselves with age. People of all age groups have trouble finding a place for themselves and their talents in society. Broome's stories consistently find fault with society over this. Her and elsewhere, Broome suggests that society is often wasting the talents of its members.
This tale shows us much of the civic life of Blue Valley. Its opening festival is presided over by the mayor and police commissioner of the town, and at the end Flash meets the young sheriff of the city. We also see a great deal of daily life in the community. All this seems very interesting and appealing to me. It is fairly rare in the Flash to see its characters having any contact with government officials at all. Barry Allen has no boss or colleagues on the police force, for example, and rarely if ever carries out missions for the US government.
Infantino depicts the sheriff as one of his leading men. It is one of the best portraits in the series. He looks very young to be a sheriff, and is very friendly and mild mannered looking. He is more a welcoming presence of a small town, than a ferocious figure of the law.
Gangster Masquerade (1965). The Flash encounters the now destitute aging Shakespearean actor Dexter Miles in Central City. Dexter Miles had previously met Kid Flash in "Mystery of the Matinee Idol" (1963). He is a wholly likable character.
This story is a nicely constructed detective story, without any sf aspects. It reminds one of the detective tales that Broome used to write for the newspaper comic book Big Town. As in several of the Big Town works, this story involves actors and doubles. As usual, Broome exploits the possibilities of these concepts to create a complex tale. Crooks are always finding ways of distracting people from their criminal schemes in Broome tales. This tale comes up with new ideas in this regard.
As a later letters column pointed out, Infantino has included portraits in profile of himself and Schwartz as pictures on the wall behind the restaurant table holding Barry and Iris.
Infantino has one of his major architectural triumphs with the building in this tale. It is not much like any other I know of, whether real life or fictional. The building has some Art Deco features, like much of Infantino's work, but in other ways it is unique.
The Flash carried a number of stories that appeared in the back of the magazine, after the main Flash adventure. Some of these dealt with continuing secondary characters, such as the Elongated Man and Kid Flash. But the magazine also published some stories dealing with Barry Allen's personal life, especially when he was a younger man. These tales are not flashbacks. They are set in modern times, and feature the adult Flash. But they also have him meeting people again who were important to him in his earlier life.
During 1961-1962, many of the best Flash stories dealt with the personal lives of Broome's characters. The web of personal relationships that form, and the feelings experienced by his characters, form the central elements of the tales. This concern starts right away in #118 (February 1961) and persists throughout this period. Broome was working on his most important science fiction stories during this same period, the Green Lanterns of Multiple Worlds stories that appeared in Green Lantern. This was a period of major creativity for him. It is interesting that Broome's science fiction imagination would soar in one of his series, while in the other, he would be producing an up close, personal look into his characters' lives and friendships. At least on the surface, these seem like two completely different kinds of stories. But in practice, the two types of imagination seem to be going hand in hand, producing stories that are deeply absorbing as reading experiences.
This story takes place in Sun City, Florida, where Barry Allen got his college degree at Sun City University in 1951. This is an imaginary city Broome has invented for the tale. It resembles Coast City, Green Lantern's home town, which is clearly set somewhere in California. Broome loved Sun Belt locations. It was clearly a romantic dream for him to have his characters live in such glamour filled locations. He also associated such scenes with male friendships for the Flash. Here, Flash is reunited with his college roommate; in the Coast City set "The Duel of the Super-Heroes" (Green Lantern #13, June 1962), Flash and Green Lantern meet and exchange secret identities, forming an important friendship in their lives. Flash also went to Guyana with Kid Flash in "Land of the Golden Giants" (1961), as well as Los Angeles and Hollywood in "The Doomed Scarecrow" (1961), not to mention his trip to Keystone City to meet Jay Garrick in Gardner Fox's "Flash of Two Worlds" (1961). The traveling seems linked to the personal relationships. Usually when he goes somewhere, he also has an important meeting with somebody.
Infantino's art is very beautiful here. The reunion (p2) is full of balloons; there are circles everywhere in the composition. The Florida landscape is full of palm trees; Infantino likes to draw them in a windswept mode, with the branches turned up. A landscape is full of telephone poles and wires (p 7). Barry Allen wears an unusually sophisticated blue suit and red tie here. His friend Pete is also in a sharp three piece suit at the reunion. The other story in the same issue, "The Trickster Strikes Back", had shown Barry and other men in sharp tuxedos. This issue is a highlight for spiffy clothes in The Flash.
Beware the Atomic Grenade (1961). The Flash meets the Top, a crook who uses top-like devices for his crimes; meanwhile, Iris gets a fashion make-over from Barry's old friend Anton Previn, now a famous Parisian fashion designer. The origin of the Top. Infantino's cover shows a giant spinning grenade; such imagery probably has much to do with the genesis of the Top and his devices in the actual tale. In the story, Barry eventually gets trapped inside the grenade; this is consistent with Broome's interest in room-size traps that physically enclose his heroes.
Anton Previn is a man Barry met and became good friends with five years ago; he has since become a famous designer. This pattern will recur elsewhere in the Flash, with Barry's old friends becoming famous. Celebrity in Broome stories often leads to corruption; it is a favorite Broome theme. But Previn is a 100% good guy, and has not succumbed to any such temptations.
There are no explicitly gay characters in Silver Age comic books. But Anton Previn comes close. Both Broome's writing and Infantino's art suggest that Previn is gay. The fact that Previn is an entirely sympathetic character is also interesting. This is very different from movies of the era, in which gay people were often villains or stereotyped losers. Also notable: the close friendship between Barry and Anton. The Flash stories are full of male bonding between Barry and other men. Here this bonding is extended to a man who seems obviously gay.
The relationship that develops between Iris and Anton is very detailed in the story. There is no hint of attraction between the two people, who become close friends. Instead, Iris is thrilled to meet such a talented and celebrated designer, and Anton is thrilled to be able to dress such a beautiful woman. This is a sympathetic view of a relationship that often exists between designers and their women clients.
The finale shows Iris in her Parisian finery. Infantino would give a similar Paris couture look to his heroine Alanna in the Adam Strange tale, "The Robot-Wraith of Rann" (Mystery in Space #88, December 1963). Barry himself looks sharp earlier in the tale in his suit and overcoat.
The prison wall (p9) is made up of irregular stone blocks. Such rectilinear walls are an Infantino trademark; they recall the earlier abstractions of Mondrian. This one combines such an approach with some irregularly waving, squiggle like lines. Also notable: the aerial view of the city (p10). Such views also recall the rectilinear abstractions of earlier 20th Century art.
Snare of the Headline Huntress (1962). Flash meets his first love again on a return trip to his home town, who has since become a rising young actress in Hollywood. This tale repeats Broome's concerns about the dangers of fame, which is seen as corrupting. Once again, a friend of Barry Allen's has become famous, although Barry and the friend met while both were unknowns.
The whole approach somewhat recalls the series about the Jordan Brothers that appeared in Green Lantern, simultaneously with these Flash tales, from 1961 on. As in that series, we meet the hero's family, in this case, his parents. Those tales had a tongue in cheek quality; so does this one. Both feature parodies of the Superman mythos. This tale features a spoof of Superman's hometown, Smallville, the Green Lantern series has a character who burlesques Lois Lane. Like "My Brother, Green Lantern" (1962), which offered a movie satire of The Maltese Falcon, this tale spoofs Hollywood pics about the Old South. Broome would go on to do a pastiche of silent movie comedians in his New Look Batman story, "The Joker's Comedy Capers" (Detective Comics #341, July 1965), but that tale is much less successful than this earlier one. When Broome actually sent his characters to Hollywood in "The Doomed Scarecrow" (1961), he included no movie satire at all. That tale plays it absolutely straight. Instead, all of Broome's movie take-offs occur in daily life, among towns set in regular America. There is a sense of the absurd about having movie situations suddenly erupt among the events of ordinary daily life.
Broome includes a costume party here, just as he will in the best Jordan Brothers tale, "Dual Masquerade of the Jordan Brothers" (Green Lantern #22, July 1963), as well as in "Secret of Green Lantern's Mask" (Green Lantern #4, January-February 1961). Costume parties were a natural for comic books, and were frequent in both the Schwartz and Weisinger magazines. They gave the artists a chance to create a wealth of interesting clothes for all the characters. They also allow both costumed super-heroes and villains to mingle with crowds of people that are also brilliantly costumed.
The splash panel contains a dream sequence. It is similar in its power and gripping logic to the dreams that Broome included in two early Green Lantern tales, "The Creature That Couldn't Die" (Showcase #24, 1960) and "Wings of Destiny" (Green Lantern #7, July-August 1961). All of these dreams involve the hero and someone close to him. They also tend to involve transformations - people turning into something else. Some of them also have direct real life consequences for the dreamer - here Barry is sleepwalking while his has his dream. Infantino's portrait of the sleep walking Barry is excellent. It is one of Infantino's moody, evocative night scenes. Such scenes always seem to convey delicate, rich emotions.
Infantino includes several outstanding portraits of Barry here. In addition to the sleep walking scene, we see a grown up Barry shown from below (p4), and another portrait (p8).
The forest scene includes many small dots representing leaves on trees (p10). The dots form a beautiful abstract pattern. An aerial view (p11) combines dots on the ground with the S curve of a road. It too is a beautiful composition. Infantino excelled at starscapes, in which the stars formed patterns made up of small spheres and dots of light; here Infantino is doing something analogous with a day time nature scene.
Captives of the Cosmic Ray (1962). Flash and Green Lantern deal with an alien invasion of Earth. Broome often wrote anti-totalitarian tales, depicting people revolting against dictatorships. This story is in that tradition. It deals not with the military conquest of Earth, but by a revolt by Flash and Green Lantern after that conquest has taken place.
This is the second team-up of Green Lantern and Flash, and the first in Flash's own magazine: their original meeting took place three months earlier in Broome's "The Duel of the Super-Heroes" (Green Lantern #13, June 1962). The story is the last in the series of Broome tales about meetings between Flash and his old friends. Like most of these stories, this one centers on the warm male bonding that takes place between Flash and his buddy. Green Lantern is not a truly old friend of the Flash, the two men having met fairly recently, but otherwise, the tale fits well into the series. The story makes it clear that Green Lantern and Kid Flash are the only two people to know Flash's secret identity of Barry Allen.
This story also recalls the earliest of the friendship tales, "Secret of the Stolen Blueprint" (1961), in its technical look at the deeds Flash pulls off. In that earlier tale, Flash seemed to be in two places at once. Broome builds on that concept here in rich and complex ways.
Like "The Duel of the Super-Heroes", the Earth sections in this tale take place in California, and show the glamorous outdoor sporting life of that state. Here we are near Carol Ferris' estate; the tale makes explicit what has been obvious all along, that all of the Green Lantern stories are based in California.
This book length tale has its open and closing sections on Earth, and its middle section on another planet. Unlike Green Lantern, Flash only rarely went into outer space. This second chapter is considerably weaker than the two Earth sections, which are very good. It does contain a good idea about Flash practicing.
After the opening, the tale turns into one of a series of tales Broome wrote about how Flash has to perform some super-fast task in a blink of an eye, under the nose of someone who is standing right next to him. I always found such tales to be labored and uninteresting.
Slowdown in Time (1963). Iris' father, professor T. H. West, investigates when Barry's watch begins to run slowly. This logically constructed tale is one of the best Flash stories. It sticks to a single plot, all the way through, and develops it with story telling grace. Like earlier Flash tales, such as "The Speed of Doom" (1959), it shows that Broome is thinking seriously about Flash's powers, and their logical implications.
Big Blast in Rocket City (1966). On a visit to Florida, Professor West mistakenly helps crooks, who he thinks are space scientists. Broome regularly set stories in Florida: he seemed to like sunshine areas. Rocket City was a fictitious Florida town, somewhat based on the Cape Canaveral region, home of America's space program. Broome had sent Green Lantern to this town in "Zero Hour in Rocket City" (Green Lantern #15, September 1962).
Broome had written other stories about professors who fall into the hands of crooks, and whose technological know-how is exploited by them:
Infantino does a wonderful job with the architecture of Rocket City. Many of the buildings are constructed on outer space themes. Such novelty buildings are associated with Hollywood, but Infantino has them here in Florida. The whole effect is richly comic. It is like a visit to an entire other world.
Infantino does a good job with the bad guys' house. It has mild Art Deco features, such as multi-paned, frameless windows, but it also looks like a typical beach shack. It has an oddly sloping roof-wall, giving the structure a trapezoidal effect. A tower completes the unusual ensemble, giving a building that looks both low key and yet utterly different. The colorist has underlined everything by making the building a light green. It is very conspicuous.
Infantino scores with the circular chair in which Barry Allen sits in the motel lobby. Its geometric effect is enhanced by its isolation within the lobby, making it a solitary construction in a sea of empty space. Barry is the laziest, floppingest hero in the comics, and he has reached a new degree of creature comfort here. He and the chair make a vivid contrast with the standing Iris West, and Infantino gets some striking compositions out of this. The whole effect is both comic and visually exciting.
Most of the good ideas in this tale are in its first third. After this, the story settles into a routine tale of good guys versus villains. Most of the good ideas here are repeated directly in the follow up tale, "Vengeance of the Immortal Villain" (1963), a story which is much better written as a whole. Despite the serious weaknesses of "Flash of Two Worlds" as storytelling, its original plot concepts demand its inclusion on any list of significant Flash stories.
There is a separate article dealing with Golden Age Flash.
On Barry Allen's Earth-One, Barry has grown up reading comic book stories about Jay Garrick, stories he and everyone else has always believed to be fiction. Now it turns out that those stories have been true accounts of a parallel world, Earth-Two. Fox accounts for this by introducing himself as a character! Gardner Fox, the character, is referred to as the author of the Jay Garrick tales; he claims the stories came to him in dreams. He and everyone else had always regarded them as fiction: now we learn that these dreams are really telepathic visions of Earth-Two. There is a long history in the sf comic books edited by Julius Schwartz of tales about authors whose telepathic visions are the source of their "fiction", but which turn out to be real accounts of other planets, or of the future. Gardner Fox wrote one of these himself, "Menace of the Shrinking Bomb" (Strange Adventures #113, February 1960), a delightful comic tale which includes thinly fictionalized versions of Schwartz and himself as characters. Fox has modified this comic book tradition somewhat. First, the authors in the earlier stories tend to be protagonists of the tales. By contrast, the character "Gardner Fox" in "Flash of Two Worlds" is only referred to by name, in the dialogue of the tale. He does not put in an actual physical appearance in the story. Secondly, most of the author characters in the earlier tales had actual telepathic visions during their waking hours. This has been softened here to dreams by "Gardner Fox". One can see a process of both strengthening and weakening of the tradition here. "Flash of Two Worlds" is stronger than tradition because it includes Gardner Fox himself as a character, whereas the earlier stories all dealt with fictional author-characters. But since a real person, Gardner Fox, is now a character in the story, there has been some softening of the tradition. "Fox" is only referred to by name, and not dragged on-stage, thus preserving his privacy; and the claim is only that "Fox" dreams, a universal human activity, not that he is having visions, a much rarer and more unusual one. Other stories in this tradition include Otto Binder's "The Day I Became a Martian" (Strange Adventures #90, March 1958), Binder's "The Impossible World Named Earth" (Mystery in Space #30, February 1956).
Fox had long had a penchant for doubles. Here Fox's original Flash, Jay Garrick, and the Silver Age Flash, Barry Allen, function as doubles.
The letter column of Flash #123 suggests that this story had its origin in multiple reader requests to see a panel showing the costume of the original Golden Age Flash. This is a very tiny seed to grow into such a creative pearl. In this same letter column, Schwartz is already proposing that this tale will have a sequel. The tale was instantly acclaimed a classic by comics fans, winning a major award as best comic book story of the year.
Double Danger on Earth (#129, June 1962). Writer: Gardner Fox. Barry and Jay work to excavate the meteor in Meteor Crater, the only antidote to a cosmic catastrophe facing Earth-2; both the Trickster and Captain Cold give them trouble. This is a very minor follow-up to the original Barry-Jay teaming. The existence of the other Earth and Jay Garrick is revealed to the press and public in this tale.
Vengeance of the Immortal Villain (1963). Writer: Gardner Fox. The Flash returns to Earth-Two, where he and the original Flash Jay Garrick fight against the immortal Vandal Savage, and rescue the original Justice Society of America. Fox expresses a huge amount of nostalgia for the old Golden Age of comic books here. This tale is a return to his and Infantino's 1940's past. Much of the plot is based on references to details of the original Justice Society, their powers and their attributes. Barry is shown reading an old issue of All Star Comics right in the story, a neat reflexive touch. This recalls his origin story, where he is also reading an old comic book about Jay Garrick. Infantino does a good job drawing these old heroes. He makes some of them look like his elegant, dreamy leading men: see Johnny Thunder on page 12, or the original Green Lantern on page 24.
Fox immediately followed up this story with a two issue sequel, in which the Justice Society of Earth-Two meets the Justice League of Earth-One: "Crisis on Earth-One" (Justice League of America #21, August 1963) and "Crisis on Earth-Two" (Justice League of America #22, September 1963). These follow-up tales seem minor, with much routine good guys versus villains fighting; their main interest is the glimpses they give us of the original Justice Society.
When the city is blacked out at the start of the tale, Barry gallantly walks Iris West home. Barry is often shown walking in the stories, and much less frequently driving. As the Flash, of course, he runs everywhere.
Later, much of the story takes place in the air. Even though the Flash cannot fly, this is the locale in which Fox and Infantino feel most comfortable: it recalls the many Adam Strange stories they created set in the sky. The lights in the sky at the start of the story recall the several Adam Strange tales that open with unusual celestial phenomena.
Barry-Flash' ability to travel to Earth-Two and back recalls Adam Strange's similar ability to transport himself to another world, and return. It is a cycle, in the Fox sense: a repeatable series of events that leave its protagonist in the same state at the start as at the beginning. Please see the article on Adam Strange for a detailed discussion of Fox cycles, one of the fundamental building blocks of his stories. Many Adam Strange stories often have a separate cycle, one performed by the villain that menaces all the good characters. In "Immortal Villain" this cycle is the sequence of events that start out with the lights in the sky, continuing on to the trap at the machine, capture, imprisonment in a glass box, and final release from the box. This cycle is repeated over and over again, once for each Justice Society member the villain traps. In the Adam Strange stories, it is the anomalous presence of Adam Strange on Rann that interferes with the villain's cycle, causing it to be defeated. Similarly, it is only the unexpected presence of Barry Allen on Earth-Two that finally defeats the villain's cycle of capture and imprisonment here. It had already worked perfectly well six times on other Justice Society members before the story opened; it would have worked successfully again to trap Jay Garrick, had not Barry Allen been present to interfere.
Some of Gardner's pacifistic attitudes can be seen, in his making Savage be the secret identity of some of the worst generals and military men of history. This too has a cycle structure: it has happened again and again through history.
Menace of the Man-Missile (1964). Writer: Gardner Fox. Radiation affects an escaped convict, so that he can transform himself into any form he wishes. The origin of Luke Elrod. Fox sets up the rules of Elrod's transformations early in the story. They form a Fox cycle, a set of fixed, repeatable events that Elrod goes through every time he converts himself to another form. As is his story-telling construction approach, Fox then finds ingenious ways to vary this transformation cycle throughout the story.
Fatal Fingers of the Flash (1964). Writer: Gardner Fox. Flash travels to the far future, when the Sun is about to go nova; when he returns, his fingers cause everything they touch to age. H.G. Wells' The Time Machine (1895) sent its visitor to a far future, showing a barren Earth under a red sun; this tale goes one step further, showing the last stages of Earth before it is destroyed by the Sun's going nova. Fox had done other stories in the Wells tradition in the sf comics, such as and "The Man Who Lived Forever" (Strange Adventures #145, October 1962), as well as the Golden Age Flash tale, "The Race Through Time" (Comic Cavalcade #19, February-March 1947).
When Superman was exposed to Red Kryptonite, he underwent unexpected transformations, with which he then had to cope. There was no equivalent of Red K in the Schwartz comic books, but this tale comes close. It has the same structure as many Superman Red K tales: first we see the ingenious transformation of the hero; then we see him trying to perform his duties, without letting his transformation appear. Fox's transformation idea is original here: I do not recall Superman undergoing anything like it. This tale is nicely done. However, I'm not sure if I like seeing the Flash wander around in Superman territory. He should perhaps be sticking to his own traditions, and not having adventures appropriate to other super-heroes.
Captain Cold's Polar Peril (#150, February 1965). Writer: Gardner Fox. Captain Cold falls in love with the Maharanee of Jodapur, visiting royalty who requests Barry Allen to be her police escort during her stay in Central City. Like all of Captain Cold's crushes, this one is entirely unrequited: the Maharanee is a wholly honest and extremely respectable person who has little understanding of Captain Cold's criminal past. The Maharanee is one of several examples of visiting Indian royalty who showed up in DC comics in the 1960's; they were clearly part of an attempt to integrate the magazines by introducing Asian characters. She is also part of Gardner Fox's fascination with exotic places: several of his Adam Strange tales open in South Asia.
The story is most notable for Infantino's depiction of Barry Allen in extreme formal dress. He is in a tail coat and top hat, but instead of a white tie he is in black tie. The whole story is light hearted, but a little bit on the minor side. The basic plot resembles Broome's "The Mirror-Master's Magic Bullet" (1961), in which Barry also gets involved as a policeman with beautiful visiting female royalty. Such a theme is played as slightly comic tale of romance and jealousy on Iris West's part.
As usual, Fox includes alliteration in his title. Fox's stories for The Flash typically have alliterative titles, while Broome's do not.
Who Stole Flash's Super-Speed? (1965). Writer: Gardner Fox. Flash loses his speed abilities. This is one of Fox's intricately plotted sf stories. It builds up complex explanations about the speed abilities of its various characters. These plot ideas are woven by Fox into a pleasing pattern. Fox specialized in this sort of complex plot. The tale is no classic, but it makes for nice reading.
The best part of this story is its opening, in which Flash has some surrealist encounters. These recall a little bit the opening of Harold Q. Masur's mystery novel, The Big Money (1954).
The Day Flash Aged 100 Years (1965). Writer: Gardner Fox. The Top steals a newly invented chemical that can cause aging, intending to use it on the Flash.
The aging drug here has no antidote. Being exposed to it causes permanent aging. This is very unusual in Fox's work. Most of his stories involve cycles, step by step transformations that leave their protagonist in the same state as in the beginning. So the aging drug is actually a violation of Fox's fundamental paradigms. This gives it a sinister, ominous edge. Fox understands the implications of this: Flash has to avoid the drug; he cannot be exposed to it, then reverse its effects.
Fox immediately brings in Flash's friend Dexter Miles here, recently seen in Broome's "Gangster Masquerade" (1965) three issues previously. Dexter Miles is an appealing character. Fox has him be a positive assistant to the Flash, not just someone the Flash encounters. This is in keeping with Fox's positive, humane views of people. He sees their potential. Dexter here resembles Ellery Queen's character Drury Lane.
There is another top shaped building here: the Modern Art Gallery. Fox had been including spiral shaped structures in his stories since the 1940's. This one recalls the real life Gugenheim Museum, also a modern art museum. Fox loved museums; this one also recalls his Space Museum tales in the sf comic book Strange Adventures. Fox's narration pays tribute to "Picasso, Pollack and Still". Abstract painter Clyfford Still was still alive at this story's publication. Fox sounds as well informed about modern painting as he is on many other subjects.
The One-Man Justice League (1966). Writer: Gardner Fox. Machinations by the villainous Professor Ivo inadvertently cause the Flash to turn into various members of the Justice League, one after another. Delightful and deceptively simple story that shows much good craftsmanship in its details. Fox was the main scriptwriter for many of the members of the Justice League, and he knows all the details of their powers and characteristics very well. He is able to integrate these carefully into his plot. The reader is able to experience what it might be like to turn into Green Lantern or the Atom. The tale has an aspect of a day dream come to life. It is easy to sit there wondering what it might be like to be Hawkman, say, and this relaxed, upbeat tale keeps to this mood of pleasant fantasizing.
Fox's depictions of the various heroes also seem "accurate": they jibe exactly with what we know about these characters from previous stories. It occurs to me for the first time that it must have shown considerable skill on Fox's part to keep his various heroes straight across so many different magazines.
Infantino also does a terrific job at portraying Barry Allen in the uniforms of the various super-heroes. His depiction of Barry dressed as Green Lantern is a classic. His opening portrait of Barry streched full length along a couch is also outstanding.
The Mirror with 20-20 Vision (1966). Writer: Gardner Fox. The Mirror Master invents a mirror that shows events a few minutes in the future. Fox has fun with this science fiction idea, which resembles Isaac Asimov's series of prose sf tales about thiotimoline, the chemical that transforms ten minutes before you add water to it. Fox clearly liked Asimov's stories, and one occasionally finds stray echoes of his works in Fox's writing.
Fox had written a number of classic time travel tales in 1962, for the sf comic book Strange Adventures. This story can be seen as a late appendage to them.
The Flash had the ability to time travel himself, using his cosmic treadmill, an ability established in previous John Broome stories. He could return to his own time at any moment, by ending the special molecular vibrations in his body set up by the time travel. This is formally similar to Fox's tales about Adam Strange, who travels from Earth to Rann and back using the zeta-beam. Fox uses Flash's time travel abilities here in a way that recalls his plots involving Adam Strange and the zeta-beam. There is a similar sort of story construction in both tales. Fox did not invent Flash's time abilities, but he is more than capable of recognizing them as a Fox cycle, and incorporating them into his own creative approaches to plot construction.
Our Enemy, the Flash (#147, September 1964). Reverse-Flash returns from the future, and tries to force the reformed Mr. Element to take up his life of crime again. Al Desmond, Mr. Element, is the first crook to reform in Flash's Rogue's Gallery, as the tale points out. He becomes a friend of Barry's, and this element of friendship is the strongest aspect of the tale. Barry has a gift for friendship, and he goes to bat for Al with the same intensity as he did for his youthful friends in the earlier stories of 1961/1962.
Now that Al Desmond has reformed, he has found a girl friend, the very nice Rita. Only good guys in The Flash have girl friends - the villains are always single. Captain Cold always wants a girl friend - he is always in love with some woman from afar - but she never returns his affection. I think that the absence of crooks' girl friends in The Flash is designed to suggest that "crime does not pay". If The Flash had given its crooks glamorous gangsters' molls, the comic book could have been accused of promoting crime. Such accusations had been leveled at the comic book industry in the early 1950's, and it is plain that Schwartz and DC are trying to do everything possible to avoid glamorizing crime. This is not just a marketing ploy, however: I think that the creators honestly believed this themselves.
Al Desmond had long been absent from The Flash, despite numerous pleas from readers in the letter column to return. He originally had two different identities, Mr. Element and Dr. Alchemy. His return was exclusively in the persona of Mr. Element, presumably because this science-oriented character was in tune with the pro-science point of view of the Schwartz magazines.
The Mightiest Punch of All Time (1965). The Flash and villainous Reverse-Flash continue their battle for Al Desmond, the former Mr. Element, trying to steer him away or towards a life of crime. This is a sequel to "Our Enemy, the Flash" (#147, September 1964), and it is much better than the original. It is rich in plot inventions of all types.
In the previous tale, Reverse-Flash had used physical force to coerce Al Desmond, who was virtually his hostage. This second tale is much more science fictional: it involves 25th Century mental control rays designed to influence people towards or away from a life of crime. This is typical of Broome's approach, in that he takes ideas from an earlier tale, and science-fictionalizes them to construct subsequent story premises.
Broome shows skepticism about the infallibility of advanced scientific machines. He had written many tales in the sf magazines criticizing computers, and these stories are in those traditions.
The Super-Hero Who Betrayed the World (1965). Based on a cover by Carmine Infantino. Flash is accused of treason to the Earth, after he refuses to surrender himself to an alien who demands Flash's capture.
This is a rich, inventive story. Broome's plot has many features that build on previous tales. The time travel ideas recall earlier Broome works involving Flash's cosmic treadmill. Broome extends these ideas further. Broome often developed plots by science fictionalizing his previous ideas: taking a concept, and adding new dimensions of sf imagining to them. This story is a case in point.
This tale also recalls Broome's "The Man Who Mastered Absolute Zero" (1963). Both tales involve Flash with high speed electronic machinery. Flash has an ability to get himself in sync with such machinery, a concept that is fascinating.
This story is Broome's last truly major work for The Flash. He had a successful later outing with the light-hearted comic tale "Big Blast in Rocket City" (1966). But this story and "Gangster Masquerade" (1965) are his last Flash stories in which he was hitting on all four cylinders.
Flash's Final Fling (1966). Writer: Gardner Fox. The Flash quits his job in disgust, leaving his costume by a tree in the countryside. Based on a cover scene drawn by Carmine Infantino, with cover story idea by Julius Schwartz.
This is one of two stories based on the same cover. As the story itself points out, this is a unique comic book experiment. It is an anti-illusionist device: it underscores that the events in comic books are not real, but made up by artists and writers. However, comics have always seemed slightly more artificial than other media, somehow. Their contents seem like the personal products of their creators' imaginations. This makes this experiment somehow seem more normal in comics than it would be on film or print. The fact that there has always been an obviously artificial relationship between covers and stories helps here as well.
The two tales in fact stick very closely to the cover, treating it literally, and as a central part of the story: something not always found in other stories. Both writers' works seem completely sincere, as well. Both writers' works are utterly different, and one suspects that they worked independently, without comparing notes.
Fox's tale is calm and rationalistic. When Flash quits, he gives a long, logically reasoned, intelligently stated series of reasons for being dissatisfied with his job. This is in keeping with Fox's good-natured personality, one in which all details of a story are carefully thought through. Much of what Flash says has pith, especially his denunciation of his relationship to Iris West. This section is very funny.
Kid Flash helps Flash here. Although Flash is supposed to be Kid Flash's mentor, in actual practice Kid Flash does more to help Flash than the other way around: see "The Super-Hero Who Betrayed the World" (1965). Kid Flash in general is genuinely helpful to other people. He is a service oriented person, in the way Superman is. By contrast, Flash spends a lot more time fighting menaces and bad guys.
Fox's tale is full of science fictional invention. The part of the tale when Flash is hypnotized recalls other Fox tales involving hypnosis, including those he wrote for the Atom and Adam Strange. Fox describes the Flash as being in a "narco-synthetic state". This is typical of Fox's interest in advanced science.
Barry Allen's clothes here are great looking: a hat, white sports coat, black bow tie. This elegant look is almost like a white tuxedo. Men absolutely did not dress this way in 1966, so Barry's costume is almost a science fiction one. Men had almost entirely stopped wearing hats and bow ties by this era.
Infantino creates a fascinating cart (p6). It consists of small circles, joined by polygonal lines. It is an example of Infantino incorporating abstract art into his designs.
Case of the Curious Costume (1966). Writer: Robert Kanigher. The Flash quits his job in disgust, leaving his costume by a tree in the countryside. Based on a cover scene drawn by Carmine Infantino, with cover story idea by Julius Schwartz.
Kanigher's story is as intensely emotional, as Fox's was calm and rational. Kanigher's tale is positively operatic in its emotions. Kanigher pulls out all the stops. His story reflects two other kinds of tales in which he specialized: the war story and the romance comic book. The war aspect: Kanigher compares Flash's feeling for his costume to a soldier's for his gun. Both have an actual love for this part of their life, at least according to Kanigher. I've always been very skeptical of Kanigher's war fiction, regarding it as a bunch of dubious macho fantasies. But this metaphor does allow Kanigher to introduce a passionate torrent of feelings the Flash has to his costume. These serve as metaphors, for several things. They can represent the love men have for their work. For their tools. For personas they assume. Flash's costume is a whole other role, one that allows him to function successfully in a way he never could as Barry Allen. It is another life, an extension of himself in unique ways, one that allows Barry a whole other existence. The story recalls Kanigher's Johnny Thunder tales. In them, schoolteacher John Taine develops a whole new life when he assumes the extra persona of Johnny Thunder. This allows him to express feelings and talents that were completely repressed before. Barry similarly has an opportunity given him by his costume to become the Flash. In both stories, there is a sign of deep need. Neither Barry nor John would know how to express central aspects of their being and lives, without the other identities they have created. There is a sense in both tales of desperate personal expression.
A late line in the tale describes Flash's feelings for his costume as "the love a man has for his uniform". This too invokes a whole world of imagery.
The later stages of the story involve Flash with Iris West. They are in the direct tradition of the romance tales Kanigher often wrote for the comics. A line of dialogue at the end is echoed in the later "Hard to Handle" (Love Stories #150, June - July 1973), a story probably written by Kanigher, and drawn by Art Saaf.
This is Kanigher's first Flash script since his Showcase tales. It revives one aspect of them: Iris is attracted to the Flash, and the Flash becomes Barry's rival. This has been a comic book staple since the days of Lois Lane and Superman, and it recalls similar triangles in Kanigher's Johnny Thunder tales. But it is a bit of a faux pas in Flash's world. Broome's Flash stories had always clearly established that Iris had no romantic interest in the Flash whatsoever, although she admired his work as a super-hero. This is not a big problem, and if it is inconsistent with most Flash tales, it does return to Kanigher's original conception. The turtle in the story, a nice comic conceit, also echoes the villainous Turtle in Kanigher's origin of the Flash.