BHOC: FLASH #158

Another similar thing that I did during my first trip to my very first comic book shop, Heroes World in Levittown, was to buy the oldest issue of THE FLASH that I could. As with FANTASTIC FOUR, there were some older releases on the wall–I seem to recall that SHOWCASE #13 with its pirate torpedo and FLASH #106 were both there. But in the regular bins, the oldest issue–and one that I could afford–was this beauty from 1966. It makes for a good contrast with yesterday’s FANTASTIC FOUR issue, as they were both released at relatively close to the same time, and they showcase the difference between the Marvel books of the period and what DC and other competitors were offering.

Now, I love the DC books–loved them then, love them now. So this isn’t meant as any sort of a knock on that outfit. But there was absolutely a difference in what Marvel was offering by 1966 and where DC was putting its efforts, and looking at it, it’s no surprise that Marvel spent the decade overtaking the “Cadillac of the Industry.” On a purely physical level, this issue of FLASH is printed on better, sturdier paper and is better printed overall. Te cover stock is clean and appealing. It’s a nicer package all around.

We spoke yesterday about the Kirby and Sinnott artwork in FANTASTIC FOUR having an openness to it, but nobody’s work excelled in this regard more than Carmine Infantino. His compositions were almost always about the negative space in his panels, and they gave his work a sleekness that was very appealing. In this issue, it’s apparent that the switch to the smaller size art boards had begun, but Carmine is able to adapt to the new size without much problem.

Less immediately able to make the transition appears to be writer John Broome, and as a result, some of the pages are almost swimming in copy that crowds the art, as this one is. Broome and his editor Julie Schwartz had a format and a formula and they really didn’t change it as the years went on. Consequently, there’s an emphasis on plot in this story, with only the slightest attention given to characterization. Also, there’s a certain sense of silliness in the proceedings, like Broome and Schwartz aren’t really taking their work seriously. The difference between what they do here and what Stan Lee was doing in the Marvel books is that here the limp attempts at being humorous actually undercut the drama, rather than enhancing it.

This opening story concerns Flash’s battle against the ridiculously names Zedabon Zarr, an alien gun runner who was forced to jettison the weapons he stole on Earth when a failsafe caused them all to activate. Zarr is a silicon-based lifeform with the ability to separate his body in the manner of the Carl Burgos version of Captain Marvel. His brain is also in his hair, so Flash can’t knock him out by punching him in the face. It’s a solid enough romp, but the stakes seem minimal–nobody in the story is particularly emotionally involved with it, in marked contrast to almost everybody in FANTASTIC FOUR.

The letters page was also a marked difference from Stan Lee’s more casual off-the-cuff bombastic style. Here, it feels as though both editor and readers are wearing smoking jackets as they contemplate the most recent releases–it’s all very formal. The replies are even signed Editor rather than giving out any name. One letter comes from Mike Friedrich, who’d go on to be both a writer and later a pioneer in the nascent Direct Market.

It was also rare for a DC release to contain a single full-length story (let alone the multiple-issue epics that were starting to become de rigueur over at Marvel ) preferring to run two or even three stories in each issue. This second story was written by original Flash creator Gardner Fox and tied into characters from his JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA stories. In this adventure, right from the start, Barry Allen finds himself transformed into the various members of the JLA, complete with their costumes and powers.

The culprit is the League’s old foe Professor Ivo, the creator of the android Amazo who once drained and duplicated the League’s powers. Ivo’s decided that his mistake was using an android as an intermediary, so here he’s trying to steal the League’s powers for himself. However, the Flash’s super-speed aura becomes an unlikely complication, causing Barry Allen to gain the same powers and costumes as Ivo whenever he uses his device. In the end, Ivo’s machinery isn’t powerful enough to handle the might of trying to duplicate the powers of Superman and it overloads, transforming Barry back into the Flash and letting him wrap up his adventure in his rightful uniform but without ever knowing what had caused his bizarre transformations. It’s another simple gimmick story without the emotional underpinnings that the Marvel work of the day had.

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