This is one of the best and most memorable covers in the run of THE FLASH, and a good example of the appeal of the early Silver Sage DC line. Putting aside the actual image concept for a moment, look at how beautifully artists Carmine Infantino and Murphy Anderson use tone and texture on this piece to create a sense of three dimensions. Nobody was getting rich working in comics at this time apart from the publishers, so that makes it all the more astonishing that craftsmen such as these delivered works of such subtlety and sensitivity on a regular basis. It is a beautiful piece, by any measure.
I happen to have a scan of the original artwork to this cover (which was awarded to letter writer Joe Molenda of Florida in appreciation of his letter of comment on this issue in #136) which permits us a better look at just the linework. Certainly, the coloring done here is expert as well, but shorn of its easy contrast, this piece still separates its planes and creates a sense of substance–Flash hasn’t just been turned into a puppet here, he’s been transformed into wood, whose grain we can clearly make out.
I’m pretty sure that I’ve shared this inside cover house ad touting DC’s new in-house mascot Johnny DC before. But since this issue ran it as well, I might as well repeat it. It gives a good snapshot of what the line looked like that that particular moment.
Weird transformations were one of DC’s stock-in-trade items when it came to selling comic books to young readers in 1962, and the Flash was certainly no stranger to this phenomenon. It must also be said that, at this time, the Flash has the most colorful roster of recurring foes of any character in comics, and that roster continued to grow as time went on. This particular outing is only the second appearance of Abra Kadabra, a would-be magician from the future 64th Century. Abra had journeyed back to the 20th Century when it became apparent that his performances were met with scorn in his native time, when technology made magic seem secondary. Abra wasn’t driven by a profit motive like so many of Flash’s opponents–what he craved was attention, admiration, and applause. And his 64th Century science was so advanced that it appeared to 20th Century eyes to be literal magic.
The first time they met, Flash defeated the canny magician without ever tumbling on to his futuristic origin. And this story opens with Abra using his technology to arrange a pardon for himself from the outgoing governor. Having secured his freedom, Abra proceeds to mount a public show in which he depicts the Flash being clobbered by a made-up creation, Captain Creampuff. There isn’t anything that Barry Allen can do about this, though, since Abra was released legally and he’s not breaking any laws. But he fears the Flash’s reputation will be hurt in the public eye by these shenanigans–the DC heroes were often very concerned about their reputations, it seems–and so he’s looking for a reason, any reason, to give Abra a once-over. It’s especially galling that his girlfriend, reporter Iris West, thinks the Abra Kadabra Amazing Puppet Show is terribly amusing.
Time out here for another excellent house ad by Ira Schnapp. Strange Sports Stories was a concept that editor Julie Schwartz had a lot of faith and interest in, and he tried it twice, once in the 1960s and again in the 1970s. It didn’t land either time in the way that he’d hoped. Turns out that the comic book reading audience and those who were enthralled by sports didn’t overlap as much as was hoped for. But these stories were memorable for the artwork of Carmine Infantino, who was one of the most popular artists of this time. This ad touts the New Technique pioneered for this comic that will make the sporting events come to life. That technique amounted to a liberal use of silhouettes throughout the story, so it wasn’t as great an innovation as this blurb made it seem–but they were used to good design and graphic effect.
In order to strike back at Abra Kadabra’s efforts indirectly, Flash goes on a crusade clamping down on criminal activity throughout Central City, scoring headline after headline touting his praises and causing attendance for Abra’s puppet show to taper off. But the speedster is playing with fire and doesn’t really realize it–Abra is driven by his obsession for applause, and with his audience dwindling, he’s prepared to take direct action against the Flash as a counter-measure. As depicted on the cover, he zaps his enemy with his 64th Century magic, transforming him into a puppet the spitting image of the one Abra uses in his shows. Thereafter, it’s the Flash himself who is forced to endure the humiliation of Captain Creampuff’s pies in the face, unable to do anything to liberate himself.
Well, not quite nothing, as it turns ut. The Flash still retains his perfect control of all of his body’s molecules, a side effect of his powers (and one might argue, his real power all along, his speed being a byproduct of this control.) Using this ability, he’s able to inflate his wooden body like a balloon using “spare molecules”–how that quite works, I’ve no idea. This gives him enough control over his movements to first flatten the Captain Creampuff puppet and then the stunned Abra himself. He’s then able to use Abra’s wand to restore himself to normal–and lets the crowd know that he’s taking Abra back to prison, banking that the magician will confess how he coerced the governor into releasing him prematurely. I don’t know that this would hold up, but in a Comics Code-driven world, it does, and Abra’s return to jail is headline news the next day. Barry is even able to allay any suspicions that Iris may have about him being the Flash by confessing that he is in order to double think things. One wishes he could have been similarly forthcoming after he and Iris were wed a few years down the line–but that’s a story for another time.
Next up came this issue’s two-page letters page, Flash-Grams. The big attraction here, as indicated earlier, is that editor Julie Schwartz had begun awarding published letter writers the original artwork and original scripts for the issues they reviewed. This practice didn’t last all that long–I’m not certain why it stopped, though it seems obvious that somebody somewhere had an objection to it–but this practice did ensure that a bunch of this original artwork survived until the present day. These awards are even questioned by regular correspondent Guy Lillian in this very column, who felt that the prospect of earning original art was leading to readers writing what he termed gag or gimmick letters in the hopes of winning the prize, thus downgrading the value of the page itself.
The secondary tale in this issue of FLASH is a Kid Flash adventure. I’m not quite certain why Kid Flash had been introduced so early in the run of FLASH, especially since he was an infrequent player in the main Flash stories. But these Kid Flash backups had a small town charm all their own, dealing as they did with concerns more grounded at a teenaged level, at least by 1962 terms. This one I had read years before, when it was reprinted in a FLASH 100-Page Super-Spectacular I had purchased early on in my comics reading days. My review of that issue is linked below.
Like the lead story, this backup tale was the work of writer John Broome and artists Carmine Infantino and Joe Giella. The three of them were the backbone of the FLASH creative team, though other writers and inkers would occasionally sub in. In this tale, Kid Flash thinks back on a visit he made to a Boys’ Camp that catered to handicapped children, and how three of them individually were able to work out his true identity as Wally West despite their limitations. As a way of signifying their promise not to reveal what they have figured out, the three boys send Wally a small statue of the three monkeys: see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil. There aren’t really any great stakes to speak of apart from the potential exposure of Kid Flash’s real name, but he manages to pull off a number of high-speed feats in the course of the story, and it’s all highly entertaining.
And the issue closes with another Ira Schnapp ad, this one for two of DC’s 25 cent Annuals featuring in this instance Superman and Batman. I’m pretty sure we’ve shown this particular ad before, but once again, it’s too wonderful not to share one more time. Who could resist those covers and titles?