This was a significant issue for me as it represented the final delivery in my subscription to THE FLASH, which I had allowed to lapse. Since I had begun to be able to go to the 7-11 regularly and knew when the new comics would be arriving, I was often frustrated by the fact that a new issue of FLASH (and JUSTICE LEAGUE) would show up there first, and I’d have to wait for my copy to arrive in the mail. So after several years, I decided not to renew when my subscriptions came up. This turned out to be a mistake on my part, as I did this just as DC in particular started to have distribution problems in my area. It was already impossible to find new titles that had launched, and even mainstay books were becoming sparse on the ground comparatively. End result being that it would be another three months before I would have an opportunity to buy another new issue of FLASH.
To add insult to injury, albeit after the fact, this issue’s story was the first part of what turned out to be a four-part epic. So I was going to wind up with a cliffhanger left unresolved for months. Writer Cary Bates had begun playing around with having ongoing subplots in the manner of most of the Marvel titles of the time–DC was still very much thinking in terms of story-and-out, regardless of whether that story took a single issue or four. But the Marvel influence was beginning to creep in as DC’s sales continued to flag and Marvel continued to outperform them. Cary had been building the growing threat of the Golden Glider in the background for a few issues now, ever since she learned Barry Allen’s real identity back in issue #257. And now he was ready to bring that storyline to the fore.
The issue opens with Barry Allen being attacked by the Golden Glider as he leaves police headquarters on his way home. As a reminder, the Glider is seeking revenge on the Flash for the death of her boyfriend, the villainous Top. She’s also the sister of Captain Cold, which gave her a bit of pedigree among new Rogues. Barry is able to survive her initial attack long enough to slip into his red longjohns and launch a counter-offensive. But it doesn’t prove especially effective.
The Flash gets trounced, although he comes close to capturing the Golden Glider, who flees rather than pressing her advantage. But her thoughts indicate that this is only the first part of her plan for revenge against the Scarlet Speedster. Having fallen into a dumpster in order to break his fall from the top of a skyscraper, Barry makes his way home, defeated, and manages to make a mess of the Allen family couch in his filthy uniform. As a suburban kid from a stable home, I always found a certain comfort and familiarity in these domestic scenes of the Allens at home–they were kind of like my own parents.
The next morning, as he arrives for work at the precinct house, Barry is stunned to discover that the Golden Glider is in custody. She had been waylaid and defeated the night before by the Ringmaster, a new crime-fighter who was making his first appearance in Central City. Their battle was caught on film by a roving news crew, and so Barry gets to watch the footage of his new rival in action. As his name implies, the Ringmaster has a series of gimmicked rings that he uses as weapons, and he’s a lot more effective when it comes to besting the Glider. As his Police Captain praises the Ringmaster’s efforts especially in the wake of Flash’s failure, Barry cannot help but to feel pangs of jealousy.
And then, in a sequence that could have been cribbed from SUPERMAN THE MOVIE (except that film hadn’t yet opened) the Ringmaster agrees to give Picture News reporter Iris Allen an exclusive interview introducing himself to Central City. He’s charming and flirtatious, and Iris is immediately taken with him. She asks for a demonstration of more of his ring-based powers, and in response, the Ringmaster fires off a succession of rings at Iris, knocking her off of the rooftop terrace on which they’ve been conducting their interview. Wha? Is he a bad guy?
Barry is on his way to Iris’s studio, though, and when he sees his wife falling from the building, he swiftly costumes up and races to her rescue. But not fast enough–because the rings that the Ringmaster fired at her serve as anti-gravity devices, and they lift Iris back to safety in seconds. This has all been the demonstration of the Ringmaster’s skill and powers that Iris was asking for. She is clearly attracted to the new crime-buster, and compares him favorably to the Flash–who is himself hiding just over the edge of the building, close enough to hear this exchange and come to the conclusion that the Ringmaster is making a play for his wife. Elsewhere, in Central City lockup, the Golden Glider confirms this thought–she admits to herself that she is the one responsible for the creation of the Ringmaster, and it’s all part of her web of revenge to destroy the Flash’s happiness. (The CCPD apparently lets the rogues wear their costumes even when incarcerated, which is awfully decent of them.) And that’s where we are To Be Continued–but not for several months in my case!
This issue of FLASH happens to include that year’s Statement of Ownership, so that we can ascertain just how well or poorly the title was selling in 1978. According to the figures given, FLASH was selling 147,308 copies on a print run of 398,235, giving it an efficiency of the slightest hair under 37%. This is way down from the 45% efficiency it was showing in 1977, and even down from the 1976 efficiency of 42%. So while that number of copies sold still seems pretty good by today’s standards, FLASH was a title facing some challenges right that moment.