A good deal away from my family’s home in Farmingville was the Sun-Vet Mall, situated at the intersection of Sunrise Highway and Veteran’s Highway. It was too distant to be any sort of regular shopping destination for my parents, but they did wind up going there occasionally despite the distance–there must have been some specific store they wanted to visit. There certainly was for me, as I discovered on our first trip there. Squirreled away in one of the smaller shops was Ed’s Coins and Stamps,. a collectibles store of the sort that permeated the landscape back in the 1970s. Ed specialized in what his sign said: coins and stamps, though he also dealt in gold items and other such ephemera. But what was of interest to me was that he had situated, way in the back of his shop, a whole bunch of boxes of old comic books for sale. A few of them adorned the walls–I can remember seeing both DAREDEVIL #2 and AVENGERS #93 there. Ed’s stock seemed to be made up primarily of reasonably-priced books from the 1960s and early 1970s, so it was very much my meat. My first time through, I came out with a small haul of magical treasures, of which the book shown above was one.
I had read about this story in one or another of editor Julie Schwartz’s letters pages, learning that it was the first story to feature Earth-Prime, the world in which we the readers lived, where there were no super heroes. It was described as a seminal story, and that cover was a bit of a grabber, so grab I did. Cracking it open, I discovered that the issue had been written by Cary Bates, which didn’t surprise me. Cary was still the regular writer on the series at that moment. What I didn’t realize was that this had been Cary’s first FLASH sale to Julie, and that it would be a long while still before he would make a second. Still, it meant that I was in somewhat comfortable hands in terms of the style of story I was about to engage with.
A quick pause here to share this inside front cover house ad announcing three new series launches from DC. While none of these books would last all that long (and INFERIOR FIVE had been around for a while, it was just receiving a creative facelift) they do point to the fact that DC under new editorial director Carmine Infantino was beginning to try a variety of interesting things. of course, the trade-off for this was that Carmine was no longer available to draw FLASH.
The artist hand-chosen to replace Carmine on the feature, selected by Carmine himself, apparently, was Ross Andru. And it proved to be not the best fit. Andru was a consummate professional who had done some beautiful work on WONDER WOMAN and other titles. But his style just wasn’t a good mesh with the world of the Flash. His figures tended to be stocky and blocky, and just a little bit stiff. He certainly didn’t excel in capturing motion. What’s more, Andru deliberately was trying to make his version of the Scarlet Speedster more massive, more cut in the mold of the popular Marvel heroes as depicted by Jack Kirby. As a result, Ross’s Flash didn’t have much in the way of zip.
/Quick pit stop to showcase another house ad, since it’s so painfully, thoroughly late 1960s in its execution. This issue of SUPERBOY revealed the untold origin of the Legion of Super-Heroes for the first time.
So what’s the story about? Well, it begins with a strange psychedelic creature manifesting itself in Barry Allen’s police laboratory. Changing into his running clothes, the Flash engages the whirling thing, only to be blasted through the wall for his trouble. By the time he recovers, the thing is gone. This scenario plays itself out again and again over the next few days, with Barry no closer to figuring out what’s going on. Fortunately, he’s approached by an alien intelligence who tells him that the creature is a Nok, which the alien was transporting between worlds. But the beast has escaped, and appears to be drawn to Barry for some reason. The alien also tells Flash that if he can’t overcome the Nok within six hours, the alien will be forced to leave it behind
As Flash goes about his business, he’s accosted once again by the Nok, but this time the creature zaps him so hard that he’s propelled out of his universe and into another one, just as when he travels to the Earth-2 home of Jay Garrick. But he’s not on Earth-2–the people stare at Flash in his costume like he’s a kook. It’s all relatively mysterious until a young boy comes racing up to Flash with a copy of a comic book featuring his exploits and asks for an autograph. From this, Barry is able to deduce that, just as Gardner Fox was able to “tune in” to what was happening on Earth-2 and make comic book stories about Jay Garrick on his Earth, he must now be on another world where somebody has been able to do the same with him. That somebody will likely believe his wild tale–so the Flash sets out for Manhattan and a meeting with his editor, Julie Schwartz.
Barry has to convince Schwartz that he’s not some crazed fan, but this proves a simple matter given his super-speed abilities. He asks for Julie’s help in purchasing the components he’ll need in order to build a Cosmic Treatmill like the one he uses to travel to he past and the future in order to get him. Julie agrees–though how a comic book editor is going to procure the technological components necessary to build such a device (and on an Editor’s salary at that) is a question left unanswered. True to his word, Schwartz soon returns with the gear the Flash needs, and the Scarlet Speedster bids farewell as he races back to his home dimension. This whole dogleg doesn’t really have any impact on the main plot, it could have ben excised entirely. But it is the concept that makes this story noteworthy, the whole reason for doing it, and so even though it doesn’t contribute to the story meaningfully, it’s still about the most entertaining part of the issue.
A quick pause here for the Flash-Grams letters page, which this month includes a note from future DC editor and writer Tom Peyer. The conversation is dominated by the question of who won the latest race between Superman and the Flash a few issues earlier, which was deliberately shown from two different angles, each of which favored a particular hero. Like all right-thinking Americans, Peyer feels that the Flash triumphed, showing that he was a wise and canny individual even back then.
There’s also a full page installment of Direct Currents, DC’s version of the Marvel Bullpen Bulletins page, dedicated to hawking other DC releases. Carmine’s ascension is an interesting moment for DC, and so it’s interesting to see just what else the firm was trying to do in these days.
With Flash back on Earth-1, the Nok wastes no time in assaulting him once again. But in this conflict, Barry picks up a clue as to why the creature is pursuing him so hungrily. It turns out it’s attracted to the invisible aura that protects Barry’s body from friction and other factors while he’s moving at super-speed. Having doped this out, Flash races to his lab, where he builds himself a gun, as you do. This one is designed to project a radiation similar to that of his own aura, and so he’s hopeful that he can pacify the Nok with it. But there isn’t anything more to do but to wait until the beast strikes again.
As the issue is nearly over, this works out perfectly, and with the Nok pacified, the alien reappears to take the creature into custody and back into space. So the threat is over–and Flash is left with the knowledge that, even now, somewhere on another Earth several thousand readers are privy to his every innermost thought. Brr–that’s a bit chilling. For his part, Julie Schwartz ends up with a working Cosmic Treadmill, which he stashes in a DC store room. That treadmill will come into play in a number of future Earth-Prime stories, most notably the one in which the author of this issue, Cary Bates, became a super-villain:
This issue of FLASH also includes a second letters page, this one dedicated entirely to reactions to new artist Ross Andru’s approach to the series. One of the correspondents this time out is Steven Grant, who will later enter the field as a writer and whose name served as the inspiration for one of the Moon Knight’s alternate identities. As with the majority of readers, Grant was skeptical that Andru would be able to fill Infantino’s boots.
2 thoughts on “BHOC: FLASH #179”
I hated Ross Andru taking over the book and unlike some artists I hated as a kid, that hasn’t changed.
But I do enjoy his Wonder Woman and his Metal Men.
Has it ever been stated that the Cosmic Treadmill itself requires very advanced technology, rather than perhaps being akin to a fancy Van de Graaff generator? That is, the materials themselves could be pretty basic, and the hard part is getting it charged with something like Speed Force. If the CT is constructed itself with stuff that techie hobbyists could have, then it’s actually not too much of stretch that a comic book editor in New York City with lifelong Science Fiction fan connections could rustle up some components quickly, and for the cost of a few favors within his abilities. I can see putting the right person on a list to be sent all DC comics free for years, or promising some boxes of original art, would easily immediately get all the wire coils or civilian-allowed radioactivity equipment needed here.
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