Wednesday, December 07, 2011

The Flash's Final Fling--Twice

Here's a real oddity from DC's Silver Age. In March, 1966, Flash #159 bore this cover:
That's something of an unusual cover for DC; we'd expect to see it more from Marvel (as indeed we did several times in Spiderman). But more unusual still was seeing this cover on the next regular issue of the Flash, #161 (#160 was an 80-Page Giant):
Notice, down at the bottom, that Julius Schwartz was advertising another, completely different story, also based on the cover from #159. As the splash page notes:
A couple of comments before I proceed with the review. First, it's worth noting that neither story was written by the Flash's main writer, John Broome. The first version was scripted by Gardner Fox, while the second was contributed by Bob Kanigher. Second, the stories amount to breaking the fourth wall, as announcing that you're publishing a second story based on the cover is admitting that these are fictional stories.

The Fox story starts with Kid Flash and Barry Allen visiting the offices of Dr McNider (aka Dr Midnight), an Earth-Two physician. The doc is pleased to see the Earth-One heroes, but he wonders why Barry's not in his uniform. It turns out that the Flash is no more, because he feels underappreciated:
Dr McNider puts him under and probes to find out the real answer:
It turns out that a future criminal with the improbable name of Frand Mattar had sent a bomb back in time to Central City in 1966, which would explode if a high-speed wave hit it; Mattar had a trigger that would cause this to happen and was blackmailing the authorities to force them to allow him to loot at will. Of course, there was another thing that could cause the bomb to go off; if the Flash traveled at super-speed. Thus the "chronal officer" had hypnotized Barry to make him believe that nobody in Central City appreciated his efforts, so that he would resign.

Armed with this knowledge, Flash and his junior partner travel to the future, defeat Frand Mattar, and return to 1966 just in time to prevent the bomb explosion from destroying the city. Flash gets banner headlines and the key to the city, showing that he is still Central City's hero.

Comments: Some tricky time paradox problems with this story. Wouldn't the future world know that the Flash had saved the city? And why would Frand Mattar send a bomb into the past in the first place (other than to provide Fox with a rationale for the cover)? Wouldn't a bomb about to affect a city in 3780 be more compelling to the people of that era?

However, the Fox effort is a masterpiece compared to the second story. Kanigher compares Flash's relationship with his uniform to that of a soldier and his gun.
Whaaaaat? And even more oddly, Kanigher has the uniform answer:
The scene shifts to the day of Barry and Iris' wedding. Iris has planned things so that even her perennially late boyfriend will arrive on time; she has told him the nuptials take place an hour before the actual scheduled time. But as Barry is walking to the church he spots a super-speed turtle (no, I am not kidding):
He finds himself in a super-speed dimension, where ironically that turtle is considered quite slow. But when he travels back to our dimension, he discovers:
Iris breaks off with Barry, and in the days that follow, he begins to feel like his costume has ruined his life. So he discards it:
He visits Iris in the secluded cabin where they had planned their honeymoon, but when he arrives she is being menaced by a giant bear. He tries to save her without using his super-speed, but is kayoed by the grizzly. Fortunately, it turns out that the bear is a retired circus performer. However, Iris is not thrilled at Barry's effort, and indeed, compares him unfavorably to the Flash. Barry returns to Central City, where his uniform, discovered by a passing hitchhiker, is on display at the Flash Museum:
Moved, Barry puts on the uniform again, just as Iris enters the room, followed shortly by some crooks.  As the Flash, he quickly corrals the villains.  But now Iris will know his secret identity, right?  Well, no:
Cue happy ending, with Barry back as the Flash and Iris back in love with him.

 Comments: Sweet jeebus, this is a wacky story!  Kanigher's anthropomorphizing inanimate objects works in the war stories, but it is wildly out of place here.  One thing that I do find interesting is that Kanigher gives Barry a better reason for quitting (and one that is more in line with what Lee would do with Spiderman a year later in ASM #50).


Martin Gray said...

That Kanigher story is so very creepy - it likely gave future Marvel creators nightmares and inspired Venom. Yeah, that's it ...

The first story is worthwhile for Barry's hat, he looks so cool. But fancy having to go all the way to Earth 2 in order to find a shrink.

Mike Frank said...

I was just 9 when the Kanigher story came out. At the time I thought it was good. Just goes to show that either Julius Schwartz knew his audience or I was already brain damaged at that early age.

Pat said...

Martin, I noticed the hat as kind of an anachronism; men supposedly stopped wearing hats when JFK didn't wear one to his inauguration in 1961.

Mike, good point (about Schwartz knowing his audience). Kids do tend to anthropomorphize inanimate objects with some sentimentality. I didn't think about it that way, partially because this is another one of those stories that I hadn't read in many years.

Anonymous said...

The time paradox is one that crops up a lot in comics and movies: If you send a bomb back 500 years and it explodes 24 hours later, the effects won't be felt in the future until 24 hours after you launch the bomb. Which makes no sense, but it serves dramatically ("In six seconds, our future will be no more!").