Friday, April 24, 2009

Single Issue Review: Flash #144

I was looking through some of Mark Engblom's older posts and discovered that he had dubbed this one of the best covers ever. I like the concept, while recognizing (as Mark does) that it's a swipe of an earlier (Flash #122) cover, but I do have to wonder at the "puzzle" being posed by the cover. If the Flash can run fast enough to generate sufficient updraft to prevent the bomb from falling, can't he run a little faster and push it back up into the air?

Now as it happens, I had never read this issue; it's one of the few that I was missing from around then, so I thought it would be a perfect candidate for a review, since I'd be coming to the story fresh.

The story begins with a convict on the run. Luke Elrod's car has run out of gas and he escapes into a desert cave. Unknown to him, he's near an underground nuclear test, and:

Wait a minute! Chemicals drip down on him in a cave? I know who wrote this story, because he recycled that some origin a year later in Detective #337: Gardner Fox. GCD confirms that this is indeed Fox's work.

Luke discovers he has superpowers when roots grow out of his feet to seek water. No, I am not kidding:

Realizing that he can do virtually anything he wants, he changes himself into a human drill and escapes the cave. And then he turns himself into an airplane... uh, no. He waits for a train to come along and take him to Central City. See the problem with Luke? He's got no imagination! He gets to the city, but worries that his prison outfit will give him away. So he decides to steal some clothes from the next person who comes along close to his size.

Can you guess who that might be?

Not only that, but with his powers, he changes his face to look like Barry as well. Well, you can probably guess what has to happen next, as I did before even turning the page:

But this seems to be mostly setting up a humorous sideplot to the story as Elrod begs off Barry's date with Iris, claiming a cold. Meanwhile, Barry has recovered and discovered himself next to the convict's uniform, which he dons and races off too fast to be seen. He gets a new change of clothes from his apartment and a tracking device to locate his signal ring. For once we see the value of him being a police scientist, as he simply calls his precinct and asks them about an escaped convict's prison number, getting the information about Elrod's name.

He dashes over to Iris' place, but she gives him a frosty reception, still thinking that Elrod was Barry. So now Barry has extra incentive to locate the escaped convict. Elrod has turned himself into water and seeped into a jewelry store, then changed back into Barry. When the Flash comes along, Elrod changes into a jewel and hides in the loot he was in the process of stealing, with a mental command not to change back until the Flash has left the store. Amusingly, the Flash grabs up the loot to take it to police headquarters as evidence, but the minute he exits the store Elrod turns back into human form again. The Flash kayoes him, but he recovers before they reach the station and turns himself into a piece of paper that flutters away from the Flash.

Realizing that his powers are waning, Elrod resolves to do one big job and retire. He hits Central City Savings, and gets away from the Flash by changing into a high-speed plane. But as he changes into a parachute to land safely, the Flash appears below him.

This is taking place near the desert cave where Elrod got his powers in the first place. Faced with an atomic missile on his tail, what does Barry do? He runs back to Central City with the missile in hot pursuit. Then we get the cover scene and Barry realizes the mistake of coming into the city, so he goes back out of the city again.

Having overheard Elrod's instructions to himself, the Flash realizes that his only chance is to change back into Barry Allen. Since the missile has no intelligence, it does not recognize that they are the same man. And it explodes harmlessly in the desert. Elrod changes back to his normal appearance (including, inexplicably, his convict uniform) with no memory of what happened after being in the cave, and the Flash takes him in.

Comments: Ghastly. As I mentioned earlier, Fox dusted off the plot a year later to use in an even worse Batman story. A villain who can will anything to happen is not that interesting actually. The story has the definite aroma of being written after the cover, which in a swipe situation like this seems especially likely. About the only redeeming feature is the sideplot involving Iris. Fox later reused the concept of the superhero switching to his secret identity to confuse a menace in the Blockbuster stories in Detective and Batman.

The second story is a Kid Flash story, which definitely perked me up. The early Kid Flash stories tended to be "moral" stories, like the one where the three handicapped kids figured out Wally West was secretly the Boy Speedster.

In Lesson for a Star Athlete, Wally teaches the local football hero that knowledge can be as important as sports. His buddy Pete is convinced that he'll go to college on an athletic scholarship, and so he doesn't need to study hard.

When a flash flood threatens some people having a picnic, Kid Flash manages to divert the water away from them, but he twists his ankle and seems about to get pounded by the water himself when Pete rescues him. They seek shelter in a nearby abandoned lumber mill, but crooks are using it as a hideout and lock them in a room with a strong door. How will they escape? Kid Flash shows off his book learning:

As far as I can determine by Googling, cellophane is not explosive; that seems a bit of literary license. They escape and capture the crooks, Kid Flash's ankle having healed enough to start running again, and in the end Pete resolves to start cracking the books.

Comments: A good story with a good message, but it does lack the punch of some of the other Kid Flash stories of the era.