Shortly thereafter, my local mailman also brought me my subscription copy of that month’s issue of THE FLASH. I have to admit, this cover really freaked me out when I was younger. There was something about the manner in which the Flash’s skin was melting off his bones that I found especially disturbing. When coming across this issue in my stack of comics, I would try to avoid looking at the cover, so strong was my reaction to it. And yet, somehow the Comics Code approved it. Who could ever fathom the thought processes of that mysterious body.
But just before this book arrived, CBS aired the very first INCREDIBLE HULK television movie, starring Bill Bixby and Lou Ferrigno. I dutifully watched it, as I would do with the series that it would spawn in the weeks ahead. But I honestly found the whole thing kind of dull. Part of this speaks to why the Hulk was never a particular favorite of mine: while he existed in a super hero world, he himself wasn’t what you could call a genuine super hero, and so my interest in a monster was minimal. Strangely, it was this very quality, I expect, that allowed the HULK show to be a success where the other Marvel adaptations weren’t. My brother Ken became a big fan of the character at this point, and for a number of months he bought comics staring the Hulk, all of which eventually ended up with me.
Anyway, back to the Flash. I was already familiar with the foe he’d be facing in this story, Black Hand, as I’d encountered him a few years earlier in a Green Lantern story reprinted in a 100-Page Super-Spectacular. It didn’t trouble me that ere he’d be going up against not the Emerald Crusader but rather the Scarlet Speedster, even though such hero-swapping was still a relatively rare occurrence. And of course, this was decades before Geoff Johns would bring him to great prominence as one of the key players in BLACKEST NIGHT. The character also had a secret: he’d started out as a slightly-nasty parody of BATMAN co-creator Bill Finger.
Black Hand also had a tendency to break the fourth wall on occasion, another trait that wasn’t nearly so common in 1977. Here, after an introduction showing Green Lantern preventing a meteorite from striking Coast City an an artist proclaiming the remnants of the meteorite a timeless work of art, Hand uses his power-light gadget to draw out the residual power beam energy in the rock sculpture before he takes his leave of Coast City in favor of the Flash’s home, Central City.
Transitioning to Central City, we find the Flash receiving a civic award from the mayor for all his good works over the years. Flash’s young neighbor, Barny Sands, is in the crowd taking pictures of the affair–and also watching is Lisa Snart, the Golden Glider, who as sworn to kill the Flash’s wife Iris. The ceremony is interrupted by the surprise arrival of Green Lantern. When Flash shakes his friend’s hand, he’s engulfed in a strange red energy, and GL proceeds to kick him under a nearby bus. because this isn’t Green lantern at all, but rather Black Hand employing a disguise. Flash is able to vibrate into intangibility so that the truck passes harmlesssly through him, and he brings the fight back to Black Hand.
Black Hand escapes–and while Barry can’t seem to figure out just why the villain showed up and attacked him out of the blue, Black Hand once again directly addresses the readers, and lays out his master plan. He reveals that, when he first shook hands with the Flash, his power-light set up a siphon through which it has been gradually stealing away the Flash’s protective super-speed aura. Once this process is completed, Flash will have no protection from the effects of his own speed–and the next time he takes off running, he’ll be burned to a crisp by the friction.
It’s worth pausing at this point to note that this issue carried house ads for three books that I never saw as a young reader, for they didn’t turn up at my regular 7-11: Power Girl’s origin in SHOWCASE, the debut of FIRESTORM in his own series, and the oversized SUPERMAN VS MUHAMMAD ALI. In this era, with circulations falling, outlets in my area weren’t bothering to stock any new DC titles, which was becoming a problem for me.
Back in Central City, Barry Allen is still mulling over the question of just what Black Hand could be up to while working on his gardening in the yard. His neighbor Barney asks Barry for a favor: Barney is trying to draw the Flash–he’s a would-be cartoonist–but he can’t get the pose just right. Would Mister Allen pose as the Flash for him? The jovial Barry is happy to help–but as he’s doing so, he sees evidence of Black Hand at work in the distance, and so distracts Barney by telling him that the Flash is racing by. When Barry turns to try to snap a picture of his hero, Barry changes into his costume super-swiftly and races off.
Barry confronts Black Hand, who has created an enormous black hand in the sky with his power-light. The two combatants tussle, leading to a chase across the city. But Flash’s aura is almost exhausted by this point, and before he knows it, his whole body is heating up dangerously. As Black Hand taunts his foe and Flash is unable to reduce his speed in time, the crimson comet burns up and is seemingly reduced to ash–only his boots remain. Is this the end of the Flash? Well, I doubt it–but I’d know more in a month’s time. To Be Continued!