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.