This was the third of the three issues of THE FLASH that I picked up during that unexpected and much-begged-for trip out to the Heroes World store in the Levittown Mall. My regular 7-11 had clearly scaled back on how many DC titles their spinner rack was carrying, and so I not only missed out on seeing new series such as BLACK LIGHTNING or SHADE: THE CHANGING MAN, but I had also missed a batch of issues of FLASH since I had let my long-running subscription lapse. This was another of the wonders of comic book stores for me, the idea that they carried everything and had recent back issues in stock. It would still be a number of years before I would have that sort of service available to me on a regular basis.
This issue was a rare FLASH release that wasn’t illustrated by regular artist Irv Novick, who had drawn every issue of the series that I had experienced so far (apart from the reprints and back issues drawn by Carmine Infantino.) It was almost unheard of to me for Novick not to be at the helm of an issue of FLASH. By that same token, the substitute here was Kurt Schaffenberger, whose playful and open style I had always liked on SUPERMAN and SHAZAM stories, and which I really enjoyed here. Regular inker Frank McLaughlin kept everything largely on model despite Schaffenberger’s different approach. It is too bad, I think, that Novick wasn’t able to bring the book’s first four-part epic to its climax, but unbeknownst to me, he’d only be around for another six months or so on the title, so this sort of change was coming, like it or not.
As the story opens, we see that Barry Allen has been true to his word last issue: he’s sent his now-unneeded Flash costume along with a message announcing his retirement in favor giving rival crime-fighter the Ringmaster a clear field in which to work to police headquarters. The Commissioner ironically gives the uniform over to police scientist Barry Allen to authenticate–something he has no problem doing as he knows that it’s the genuine article without even needing to check. Barry himself is forlorn given that his wife Iris has left him. The whole thing is a vast revenge scheme being orchestrated by the Golden Glider, sister of Captain Cold who holds the Flash responsible for the death of her boyfriend, the villain once known as the Top.
Unfortunately for her, the Golden Glider’s revenge scheme has hit a snag, and it’s one of her own making. She’s come to realize that the Ringmaster, her super hero creation, reminds her an awful lot of her dearly departed beau the Top. So while she arranged for Iris Allen to fall for teh Ringmaster and throw Barry Allen over, she can’t allow Iris to keep him. She needs to get rid of Iris, and she’s decided to set Barry up for the crime. She implants a post-hypnotic suggestion in Barry’s mind to bring Iris a bottle of rigged perfume as a peace offering. When he does so, the bottle explodes, vaporizing Iris. Barry is taken into custody for her murder. But we quickly learn that, the instant the bottle began to detonate, Barry was able to whisk Iris away at invisible super-speed.
A quick break here for what must have been one of the first house ads I saw promoting the upcoming DC Explosion. New publisher Jenette Kahn intended to take the cover price of the line up to 50 cents a copy from 35 cents, adding 8 pages of material to every book. This material would take the form of back-up series, at least in most cases. Of course, a particularly harsh winter killed DC’s sales that year, and the touted Explosion became the DC Implosion instead, in which a big chunk of the line was cancelled, the expansion plans were scaled back, and a number of editors were fired. It was a nice plan at the wrong time. And even without the Implosion, just as had happened back in 1972, I suspect DC would have been at a significant disadvantage selling for a higher price point than rival Marvel.
Realizing that the Golden Glider is attempting to kill Iris, Barry stashes her with curator Dexter Miles at the Flash Museum, then fakes Barry Allen’s own immolation in prison so that he’s thereafter free to run the villain to ground as the Flash. His retirement lasts for only about ten pages, and Barry reclaims his discarded uniform from where it is hanging on a coat rack in the Central City Police Commissioner’s office. Meanwhile, though, the Glider has used her mesmeric powers on her creation the Ringmaster, to make him her boy-toy. So the stage is set for the showdown.
Not realizing that Iris is hiding out inside it, the Glider attacks the Flash Museum as a method of drawing the Flash out, figuring that he will show up in response to such a direct assault on his legacy. And sure enough, Flash comes racing up–only to be almost immediately clobbered by the Ringmaster, who traps the speedster within a massive ring that locks onto his atomic structure and causes it to distort. The science here is really just magic, so don’t think about it too much, but Flash is reduced to the form of a disk, which the Ringmaster hurls into the distance. But Flash’s super-speed-enhanced form give him complete control of his body’s molecules, and he uses this to reshape himself into a boomerang so that he will arc back where he can continue the fight.
Without the element of surprise, the Ringmaster is just a guy with a bunch of gimmicked rings and no great challenge to a super hero who’s spent decades polishing off the Rogues Gallery, and so Flash is swiftly able to disarm his male opponent by spinning him at hyper-velocity, causing his many rings (and possibly his teeth) to fly off of him due to the centrifugal force. Flash then turns to take on the Glider, but surprisingly finds her frozen solid. This is the work of Iris, who has armed herself with Captain Cold’s freeze gun on display at teh Museum. Earlier, when Barry rescued her, the ring that was compelling her to love the Ringmaster came off her finger, and so she’s restored to being the Barry Allen-loving woman we all know. The Ringmaster himself was merely a dupe of the Glider, his costumed identity a result of her mind-control, and so he announces his own retirement now that he’s clear-headed once more and Flash is back. And so, this epic adventure ends with the status quo restored–though it’s never really explained why, now that she’s in custody, the Golden Glider doesn’t reveal Flash’s civilian identity, given that she knows it. But it’s an ace she keeps to herself, at least for now.