It was my neighbor Johnny Rantinella who got it, and boy did I want it. So much so, and so obviously, that I was in a terrible bargaining position. I don’t remember at this late date what I traded him for it, but it was considerable. But I had to do it. Because those were only things, but this was SUPERMAN VS THE FLASH, the greatest contest ever between two of my favorite heroes. Inspired by the success of the SUPERMAN VS THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN treasury, DC looked to duplicate that success by releasing similar-format books dedicated to the Man of Steel’s contests with other characters and people: Wonder Woman, Muhammad Ali, Captain Marvel (SHAZAM) and here, the Flash. As opposed to those other Treasury Editions, this first one was all-reprint rather than a new tale.
I loved these stories, in particular this first one. It’s such a simple concept, but incredibly effective. Just as comic book fans would argue endlessly about who was stronger between the Hulk and the Thing or any other two similarly-matched heroes, the question of who was swifter among the DC champions would come up as well. These two reprinted stories attempted to answer that question in a fashion that would leave both heroes their dignity. A young Jim Shooter wrote this first tale, expertly illustrated by Curt Swan and embellished by his best inker, George Klein.
The story opens with people around the world observing and clocking assorted feats of speed by Superman and the Flash, all in preparation for a coming contest. We’re told that the two heroes were approached by the United Nations and asked to run a race for charity, to which they both obviously agreed. A “worldwide sweepstakes” has been set up around the race–not quite sure how that works, but it feels like a sop to the Comics Code somehow, not wanting the good guys to be doing any gambling. But the bad guys aren’t similarly so limited, and we learn that competing American and European crime syndicates have staked huge amounts of cash on each hero to win–and they each intend to fix the race.
There’s also an intrinsic problem with the race, which the story tries to address but does so in an unsatisfying and haphazard fashion: both Superman and the Flash are swift enough to circle the Earth several times in the space of a single second, so their contest three times around the globe should be over in the blink of an eye. So we’re told that Superman and the Flash will be limited in the speed they can use (what???) and that the deciding factor will be the skill they display in using that speed (despite the fact that the winner is determined by who breaks the finish line tape first. Yeah, none of this really makes sense. Roll with it.)
But the story is nonetheless colorful and fun, as Superman and the Flash deal with a series of hazards in their journey, and prove their heroism by secretly helping each other out rather than take advantage of circumstances to achieve a win. In the home stretch, though, both heroes are waylaid by traps set by the Syndicates and replaced by stand-ins who are to deliberately lose. It’s a fun sequence where both criminals start to run slower and slower, finally stopping dead to try to force one another to get to the finish line first. Meanwhile, Superman and the Flash assist one another in escaping and capturing the Syndicate members before completing the race.
And, of course, the two heroes contrive to finish the contest in a tie, thus denying either party a win. Don’t know what that might have done to all of the profits the U.N. was expecting from the proceeds of this event, but there you go. And a rematch is promised in the very last panel, one that would be reprinted in just a few pages. I was so enamored of this story that I drew my own knock-off version featuring my own childhood super hero characters, Rocketman and the Swish.
After a few pages of features and games, the second event begins. This story is noteworthy for being the first FLASH story not illustrated by co-creator and artist Carmine Infantino, who had just become DC’s Publisher. His hand-picked successor was Ross Andru, who it turned out was a poor fit for the Flash. Possibly at Infantino’s urging, Ross made the Flash bulkier and more massive, built more like the Marvel heroes who were gaining sales ground on the DC mainstays. It didn’t work at all. Andru wasn’t especially good at depicting motion, which was a necessity when it came to drawing the Flash.
As was his way, author E. Nelson Bridwell (perhaps chosen for this assignment because he was also the Assistant Editor on the SUPERMAN family of titles) filled this story with callbacks to earlier adventures and some specific odd trivia. A pair of intergalactic gamblers, Rokk and Sorban, set up the contest this time, in which Superman and the Flash will race tot eh edge of the Milky Way Galaxy and back, all within one week. The loser’s home city will be wiped out. The gamblers also waylay the entirely of the Justice League so that no aid can be called upon, and arrange for the Flash to have an envelope of air and substance under his footfalls so that he can run through the void of space. With no other choice, the pair sets off.
As in the first story, the two heroes encounter hazards along the way, but these hazards are in particular aimed at the Flash, puzzling the observing captive JLA members. Forced to divert his course, Superman sees something on the Gambler’s homeworld of Ventura that convinced him that he and Flash must stop their race and return home–but the Scarlet Speedster, behaving like a jerk, won’t listen to him, and so Superman is forced to continue keeping pace with the Flash so as to be able to aid him as he encounters further trouble. It must be said, while the Flash’s motivations are laid out clearly in this story, he acts more like a Weisinger character than at any other point–petulant, prideful, stubborn and ultimately unheroic. Superman himself isn’t much better.
With some help from the JLA that turns on a fact established in a forgotten old story, the two heroes make it back to Earth–and depending on which angle you were seeing the finish from, it appeared as though a different hero won. Rokk and Sorban are defeated and unmasked as really being the Flash’s old foes from the future Abra Kadabra and Professor Zoom–this whole contest being a pretext to get their enemy the Flash killed in what may be the most needlessly-convoluted sinister plan of the Silver Age. (Superman saw the real Rokk and Sorban on Ventura, and knew the race was a fake. If only Flash had listened to him…) And once again, the ultimate answer to the question of who is the fastest is dodged. But as a true Flash enthusiast, I knew that it absolutely was the Flash, no question.