BHOC: FLASH #265

The DC Explosion was finally upon us! As advertised for months leading up to this moment, DC’s entire line of titles increased their cover price to 50 cents from 35, adding an additional 8 pages of story to each issue. This was an attempt to combat the low profit margin that comic books were able to offer to retail outlets who stocked them (much as DC’s concurrent experiments with Dollar comics were). We’ll never know how this brave experiment might have played out under other circumstances, but this increase wound up timed with one of the worst winters in memory, one whose massive snowfalls led to many comics never getting distributed at all. Numbers were way down, and DC went through significant layoff and line reductions, shedding something like 40% of their output in what fans termed the “DC Implosion”. But that was all still to come. Right here, right now, possibilities awaited.

As I’ve mentioned earlier, one of the outliers of this whole thing was the fact that THE FLASH stopped showing up at my local 7-11 after around issue #260–just about at the same time that I let my long-running subscription lapse. I wouldn’t find another issue at a local outlet until #277 a year after this, so it was a dicey process to keep up with what was still one of my favorite titles. As i recall, I found this issue of FLASH while out shopping with my family–I believe we stopped in at some remote 7-11 far from home for some sundries, and they had a copy on their spinner rack. This would be the way of things for me for the next several months, and in fact I wound up missing a bunch of issues along the way (including the one in which Flash’s wife Iris Allen was killed off. So that was a surprise when I eventually was able to dial back in.)

The main story in this issue was nothing great, but it was decently and directly told by the usual FLASH team of writer Cary Bates and artist Irv Novick, operating under the direction of editor Julie Schwartz. This had been the way of things since I first began reading comic books several years earlier, and it was as much a bedrock fact to me as oxygen in the air. Cary would continue to write the series until its end almost 100 issues later in #350, but Irv Novick’s days on the title were at this point numbered, unbeknownst to me. The story begins with the now-reconciled Barry and Iris Allen going off on a second honeymoon to a remote hotel to help smooth over their problems from the past couple of issues. But Barry is suddenly compelled to change direction and drive them to a different, hidden hotel–one where they are expected and instructed to wear their pendants openly. It was the 1970s, so this definitely sounds like some cult business.

But this is THE FLASH, so of course its alien invaders instead. Barry and Iris learn that all of the people who have been drawn to this hotel are secretly inhabitants of a parallel world threatened by the approach of a radioactive comet. In order to safeguard their planet, these aliens have worked in secret over the past year to charge up four Cosmictrons that will swap the positions of their homeworld and earth. Which means the Earth will be horribly irradiated, but they’ll be fine. Flash isn’t too keen on this plan, and moves to intervene–having to fight his way past a number of super-sophisticated weapons to do so. But it turns out these aliens are actually benevolent. The last time the comet irradiated their planet, it gave them all immunity from a variety of space-borne diseases, and their efforts here have all been in the service of sharing that gift with mankind. But now, thanks to the Flash, they no longer have enough power to make the transfer.

But of course, this is a simple problem for the Flash to fix. He races into the nearby turbine and accelerates it to ridiculous speeds, generating all of the necessary power in seconds. The Earth is successfully swapped and inoculated by the passing comet, not that anybody on the planet other than the Flash will realize that. And the aliens, their job done, go back home to their own dimension. And the story wraps up with Flash and Iris heading off to resume their vacation. It’s a nice, simply conflict-light story that’s as much about the mystery of the remote hotel and what’s going on there as anything else.

The issue also included a lengthy DC Publishorial from Jenette Kahn explaining the change in format to the readership. Jenette’s columns were always a lot less bombastic and exciting than the ones crafted over at Marvel, but they were thoroughly professional, and evidence a genuine enthusiasm for the work she and her team were doing. I don’t know that I fully grasped who Kahn was and what her role was when I was a kid, but I liked these columns just the same.

DC promoted the DC Explosion hard and heavy, as in this house ad that spotlights some of the changes in the Dollar Comics line and plus DC’s new reprint titles and the new feature appearing in the try-out series SHOWCASE. I was interested in the new dollar-sized ADVENTURE COMICS, but like FLASH, it never showed up at my regular 7-11 source for comics, so I wouldn’t get to read those books for many years.

In order to fill up the expanded page counts necessary to justify the greater cover price, DC added back-up series to most of its titles. (One exception was JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA, which had been running in a monthly double-sized format for a while, and which wound up losing pages as a consequence of the shift.) These back-ups were places to try out new features, break in younger talents, and give a spotlight to favorite characters and concepts from the DC back catalogue whose fans might help to buoy sales on the costlier titles. Coloring well within the lines, editor Schwartz decided to devote the space in FLASH to solo adventures of the hero’s protege Kid Flash–just as had been done in the 1960s.

The series was written by Paul Kupperberg, who had just transitioned into being a writer from the world of fanzines, and artist Alex Saviuk. Saviuk would go on to replace Novick as the main artist on the lead feature in just a couple of issues as an attempt was made to modernize the series. As with the lead, the story here isn’t anything especially memorable–while on a camping trip with some friends, Wally West comes across a spaceship. At first, he interprets the actions of the alien pilot as hostile, and becomes Kid Flash in order to protect his friends. But as in the lead story, this alien means no harm–and Wally is eventually able to work out that his seemingly hostile actions were all actually benign. So if you were just judging by this issue, you might come away thinking that the Flashes were needlessly alarmist and distrustful towards people who looked different from them. And you’d have a point.

I haven’t shown one of these in a while, but I was a real maven for the regular Daily Planet plug page that DC ran in the 1970s and early 1980s–it was their equivalent of Marvel’s Bullpen Bulletins page, only dedicated almost entirely to plugging the following week’s releases. I know that DC COMICS PRESENTS frustrated me, as it was another new series that I never saw hide nor hair of for many months. As the Flash was the guest hero in the first two issues, this did not make me happy. One thing that was more happiness-inducing was staffer Bob Rozakis’ regular Answer Man column which graced each edition of the page, in which Bob would answer questions posed by letter writers. The answers were occasionally foolish, occasionally mercenary, and typically pretty fun. It was a good way to pick up a broad smattering of DC knowledge.

6 thoughts on “BHOC: FLASH #265

  1. Tom,
    Thanks for the great article. Am I wrong, but isn’t there a contradiction about what Kahn and DC were saying and what they were doing? If their argument for the price increase (43%) was to justify their page increase (47%), something seems off. She says in the publishatorial that they could now “do full length” stories….but this FLASH contains 2 short stories, right? I mean, why didn’t they jettison the Kid Flash story and make headliner FLASH fill all 25? As you say here, they wanted to fill things out, introduce new characters, etc., but that seems counter what what Jeanette Kahn envisioned the page increase for. ??

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    1. It may have been their intention to switch to more full-length stories over time, as many titles would have had a backlog of stories already in production at the old page length, as this issue’s Flash story is. But the reality was that they wanted to try a bunch of different things, depending on the editor.

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  2. The first of the 50¢ issues of the DC explosion hit the newsstands in June, 1978. By September 1978, the comics were cut back to 32 pages, but now at 40¢ instead of the pre-Explosion 35¢. The winter storms which are blamed for the Implosion had to occur between December of 77 to March of 78, seven to three months before the first of the Explosion-era comics hit the stands, but within the time frames when those comics were being written, pencilled, and inked. DC had to have had a clue that they would not have had the money to continue the Explosion past the summer months before the first of the 50-centers even hit the stands.

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    1. All true; however, FWIW, I’m almost positive that DC’s post-implosion story page count was 22-23 pages (typically 17 pages with a backup feature) while Marvel stayed at 17 so you were still getting something a little extra for your 40 cents.

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  3. I remember that winter well — it was my senior year in high school, and the Blizzard of ’78 was a big event. We got a week’s vacation in February, and the snow had school closed for another two weeks, so only one week of school in the whole month! I actually snowshoed over to friends’ houses for get-togethers and parties — something I definitely wouldn’t have been willing to do for school.

    I would have enjoyed that month a lot less if I knew it was going to kill off so many comics.

    And the DC Implosion was also why DC would up firing young editors Larry Hama and Al Milgrom, both of whom wound up at Marvel. Comics in the 80s might have been very different if that hadn’t happened…

    Note to Donald — the blizzard hit in February, at which time there would have been a lot of stuff in the pipeline, and DC didn’t know the full effects of it on newsstand distribution immediately. Plus, they probably figured “It’s a bad month, it’s over now, things will go back to normal.” But higher-ups (above DC, I think) saw the sudden sales plunge when the numbers came in months later, and overreacted, slashing production without seeing what later months would bring.

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