Thanks to the issues Jim sent me last week combined with the ones already in my collection, I finally have the opportunity to read the last great Flash epic before Crisis on Infinite Earths. This story spans a whopping 81 issues from #270 to 350 (cover dated May 1979 to Oct 1985). I actually don’t have the first three issues yet, but hope to pick them up next week at the Baltimore Comic-Con. However, I think I got the gist of what happened from the letter pages and the continuous recapping in subsequent issues. This morning I finished issue #284, which actually turned out to be the end of the first major story arc (not that we called them such things back then.)
Normally, a bold new direction coincides with a new writer on a title, but not so in this case. Cary Bates, who had at least been on the book since issue #233 remained on board, but the big change primarily came from his new editor, Ross Andru, who succeeded the legendary Julius Schwartz. Andru had returned to DC after a tremendous stint on Marvel’s Amazing Spider-Man (in fact he is one of my favorite Spidey artists). Under his leadership, Cary began chronicling a more serious Flash tale, but one that was still rooted in one of his past stories. Look at the cover to #233 below where Reverse-Flash wants to kill the Flash and steal his wife. It just goes to show you that much of the writing in the Silver and Bronze age was subject to the Comic Code Authority restrictions, which is why old-school writers can embark on much more “modern” stories today, meaning don’t judge the writer by the conditions they were working under. For my part, I enjoy the code books, because they make the writer more inventive to get across his story ideas (kinda like off-camera violence can be more effective than on-camera blood and guts).
#270-272: In these issues the Flash encounters a new Joker-esque villain called the Clown, Clive Yorkin and the Nephron project are introduced, as well as some supporting police department characters, including a mysterious heroin operation. After a fill-in or two, Alex Saviuk becomes the regular penciller with inks primarily by Frank Chiaramonte. Alex is best known to me for his work on Web of Spider-Man in the 90’s and the Spider-Man newspaper strip. His work is capable and he tends to draw rather wide faces, but I really grew to like his work on this title, which continued up through issue #279. Oh, Barry and Iris are having some marital troubles with Iris feeling neglected.#273-275: A sixteen year-old girl named Melanie has used her ESP powers to control the Flash, diverting him to her location and into a brick wall. Like most young girls she’s infatuated with him, seeing him as someone extra-ordinary and worth her time and affection. Iris out of desperation decides to get a new hair-do and foolishly believes that Barry will like the drastic change. Although, he does as good as any husband might under such a stressful situation. (My wife and I established early on in our marriage that she would never ask what I thought of any haircut, instead waiting for the eventual time when I would get used to it. Ladies, it’s quite simple: guys normally like long hair and wish for their wife’s hair to look similar to the why it did on their wedding day.) The Nephron project is similar to the treatment used in A Clockwork Orange, where the criminal is trying to be rehabilitated with pain for bad and pleasure for good behavior. Unfortunately, Yorkin is dyslexic so that means he was actually getting pleasure for evil attitudes (I know that doesn’t make sense). This turns him into a 10-person strong maniac that feeds off the fear of others. After quelling a prison riot by inmates who didn’t want to be involved in the project, the Flash finds Yorkin giving himself repeated pain doses on the machine.
Issue 274 is one I actually bought on the stands, so its familiarity made it especially enjoyable. The Flash does a lot of vibrating his molecules in these stories and that’s often his major method of escaping dire situations. Barry has discovered that the heroin operation is being funneled through the police department with an effort to implicate him. He becomes partnered with Detective Frank Curtis and the two of them are subsequently ambushed for a mob-like hit. In an unbelievable move, Barry quick-changes into the Flash beneath a moving car – I know he’s fast enough, but how did he find the room? Oh I know, he just used his molecular ability to give him the space to not be hit in the head with a muffler! Barry is rushing back home to Iris, who is being stalked by the fugitive, drooling Yorkin, when Melanie again takes control of his movements.
I just realized how much is going on in these issues and I’m going to have to really strive to be brief, if I’m ever going to finish. Issue #275 is excellent and marks a major turning point in the life of the Flash. Melanie forces him to reveal his identity and is repulsed by his looks. Iris and Barry make up and decide to start having kids, but Iris is murdered at a masquerade party while Barry is suffering from exposure to Angel Dust. Yorkin is the obvious suspect.
#276-280: After learning of Iris’ death the grief-stricken Flash in an Angel-dusted rage attacks the JLA. After he’s subdued and treated, it’s time for Iris’ funeral. He’s obviously still in shock, because he’s taking things a bit too well. He decides to retire as the Flash and reveal is secret ID, but Melanie convinces him to “keep on runnin’” after a brief chocolate battle with the Mirror Master. Happy days are here again until next issue when Yorkin begins a killing spree that almost leaves the Flash himself dead. Both Captain Boomerang and Heat Wave make an appearance too. You know the Flash can run on water, but did you know he can also run on water spurted out of a fire hose? Well, he certainly can (if there’s enough pressure)! Thanks to Melanie’s help (augmenting his emotions); the Flash escapes Yorkin by thinking good thoughts about Iris, which are painful to the hulking monster. After ten issues the menace of Yorkin is ended at the bottom of a sink hole.
But wait, there’s more…Frank Curtis has learned that Yorkin is NOT Iris’ killer. With issue #280 Don Heck becomes the regular penciller (after his Flash stint in the Adventure Comics Dollar issues (that I want to get now). His artwork seems very loose and Frank’s inks come out slightly muddy over his pencils. However, while the super heroics are not very dynamic, the individual caricature faces are quite expressive and it’s actually starting to grow on me now.
#281-284: Now, this is some good stuff. Professor Zoom becomes the prominent foe and turns out to be the mastermind behind most of the Flash’s troubles since issue 270. But first he taunts Barry with the fact that he knows who murdered Iris and sends him on a wild goose chase to the 25th century, only to have him blown up by a booby-trapped cosmic treadmill! He even impersonates the Flash and does battle with Hal Jordan (long before the excellent Mark Waid penned Return of Barry Allen storyline). Zoom was indeed the killer and did the deed, because she spurned his lustful advances (see same plan as #233). The Flash escapes molecular dispersion across time and space and follows R-F into the time stream, before abandoning him to his pre-Creation fate “where human beings can’t exist”. The Flash ends up in limbo without speed powers (cut off from the Speed Force?) and battles the tyrannical ruler of the timeless void, which affords him a reason to flash his way through a “clip-show” of “This is Your Life”. Len Wein took over editorship with #284 and the saga ends with some genuine closure this time (not the faux one from #277). “The End…And A Beginning!”
Most of this series of issues sport some really great Ross Andru/Dick Giordano covers. One of the hallmarks of this era of DC Comics is the stellar covers that DON’T match the interiors to the same level. Just look at all the great Andru Superman covers with the traditional Curt Swan art inside. It definitely sells the books though. I know this will make a great collected edition someday, but it’s really cool to see all the house ads, the Hembeck and Answer Man features, as well as the letter pages.