A momentous and unprecedented occurrence happened at this point in my young life. For some reason that I no longer remember, i was going to be spending a few days at my grandparents’ home in Valley Stream. They came out to our home in Farmingville to pick me up, and I went back with them when it was time to return home. But along the way, I talked them into making a stop-off at a destination whose whereabouts I remembered and to which I’d only been once before: the Heroes World comic book store in the Levittown Mall. My grandparents were, it must be said, patient and well-meaning people, and even though they had no connection or interest in any comic book material, they, like so many others over the years, indulged me in ways that are relatively staggering looking back on it. I didn’t have a ton of coin in my pocket, but I also knew that the grandparents could be depended upon to pick up the tab for such an outing, so long as it was reasonable by 1978 standards. And so, with that in mind, I made my run through the store.
At that point, HEROES WORLD featured several spinner racks chock full of new books, and I began my search there. Since my subscription had lapsed several months earlier, I had seen and bought only one issue of THE FLASH, once my favorite and most longed-for title. And here, I fond not one, not two, but three issues that I had already missed. So they were the first three books that I added to my shopping stack. You would think that I would have been more keenly aware of having not gotten an issue of FLASH for three months, but the honest truth is that, by this point, my tastes and interests were beginning to shift in another direction, towards the newfangled Marvel comics that I had started purchasing. I still loved FLASH, but it somehow seemed a bit more quaint to me in relation to the sprawling excitement and energy of the Marvel Universe. And even though this storyline was a rare four-part epic, it didn’t have quite the same compelling verve that the Marvel books I was experimenting with did. Now, if I came across an issue of FLASH, I would no doubt buy it: I still loved the character and the style, the comfortable reliability of Cary Bates teamed up with Irv Novick. But if I didn’t come across an issue, it wasn’t something that haunted me as it once would have. My tastes were changing.
Also changing–or trying to–was THE FLASH. As I mentioned earlier, this issue was the second part of an astonishing four-issue storyline, a length that was beyond the pale for this title in 1978. But clearly the rise of Marvel books with their soap opera concerns and serial storytelling were having an impact, and Bates, Novick, editor Julie Schwartz and FLASh raced to keep up. In the previous issue, we’d been introduced to the Ringmaster, a new Central City -based super hero who was succeeding wherever the Flash failed, in particular in bringing in the Golden Glider, captain Cold’s sister and the Top’s paramour who had been out for revenge against the Scarlet Speedster ever since the death of her spinning Romeo. Iris Allen, now having gone back to work as a reporter for Picture News, seemed smitten with the new hero, and this was enough to drive Barry Allen crazy with jealousy. Which was, of course, the Glider’s plan all the time. As she relates to a mesmerized police psychiatrist, the Ringmaster was her creation, all a part of a larger revenge scheme against the Flash. Having learned previously that the Flash was romantically paired with Iris, the Glider created a perfect rival for the speedster, one who would break up his marriage and also eclipse him in the public eye. Having finished her confessional,. the Glider effortlessly escapes capture, having only allowed the Ringmaster to bring her to heel in order to establish his bona fides as a crime-fighter.
The Glider’s escape draws out the Flash as she knew it would–she had earlier penetrated the secret of Flash’s true identity as Barry Allen, Police Scientist. And so she’s waiting for her swift foe to show up, having already booby trapped his approach. The Flash goes skidding through the window and out of the building, but he’s moving so fast that he can used the falling shards of glass like stepping stones to run back up the side of the building, avoiding the fall. That is, he could, until he’s startled by an image projected by the Glider of Iris kissing the Ringmaster. This causes Barry to leave his weight on the glass shard for a fraction of a second too long, causing him to plummet to the ground below.
Of course, the Flash is able to save himself with his super-speed, but by the time he’s able to give chase to the Golden Glider again, she has eluded him. And what’s more, the whole conflict was caught on film, resulting in more bad press for the Flash. Central City’s citizens seem to have more confidence in the newcomer, Ringmaster. Flash spends a few days being extra on-the-job, his own pride smarting from the manner in which the city has thrown him over for his rival. But it’s no use. Eventually, the Ringmaster televises an interview in which he publicly ask the Flash to team up with him, so that together they can bring the Golden Glider to justice. The Ringmaster seems to be the reasonable one, the compromising one, And what’s worse, he’s doing so in the company of Flash’s wife, Iris Allen, who appears to be wholly in the newcomer’s corner.
This all leads to a massive fight between Barry and Iris after the latter returns home. It’s a pretty nasty exchange for a 1970s FLASH comic, and while it’s pretty clear to all concerned that Iris isn’t herself, being controlled by the ring given to her by the Ringmaster which she’s wearing in lieu of her wedding ring, Barry’s behavior here is pretty inexcusable. He comes across as insanely jealous (even though he has every reason to feel that way) and he pretty much accuses Iris of being unfaithful. That’s the last straw for Iris, and she tells Barry that she’s moving out. She also urges him to be the bigger man and take the Ringmaster up on his offer. Barry is completely broken-hearted at this point, having both lost his wife and his reputation.
And so we get to teh cover scene on this issue, in which, as Iris and the Ringmaster stroll around town arm-in-arm, the Flash appears to have hurled himself off of a tall building to his death. The Ringmaster springs into action, though, saving the falling figure with a trio of his special rings. But it isn’t the real Flash at all, but rather a dummy hurled by the Glider to continue to mess with everyone. Speaking just for myself as a reader, I felt cheated by this, in a way that should have felt common for a DC reader by this point, but really wasn’t for me. (and despite the fact that the cover copy at least broadly hints at teh notion that it’s a dummy that the Glider is throwing.) Anyway, before the issue ends, the Flash comes racing up to the duo, and agrees to team up with the Ringmaster to hunt down their mutual foe, the Golden Glider. But this is clearly a trap of some kind, and that’s where the story is To Be Continued. I found this something of a slight issue the first time I read it, and so i was happy that I wasn’t going to need to wait another month for the follow-up. Had I bought it as usual, I think I would have been disappointed.