Flash #174 is a particularly notable comic book for several reasons, most of which have to do with Carmine Infantino. To begin with, there’s the book’s cover, pencilled by Infantino and inked by Murphy Anderson — rightly renowned as one of the best by that superlative team, featuring a transformative, convention-shattering treatment of the title logo that would have been even more astonishing if the same artists hadn’t pulled off something similar just a couple of months back, on the cover of Batman #194.
Then there’s the fact that this issue of Flash was, for Infantino, the last one in an unbroken eleven-year, seventy-four issue run illustrating the adventures of the character he’d co-created with writer Robert Kanigher way back in 1956’s Showcase #4. As we’ve recounted in previous installments of this blog, over the course of the year 1967 Infantino was taking on more and more behind-the-scenes responsibilities at DC Comics, beginning with overseeing cover design for the company’s whole line, and culminating in his becoming Editorial Director by the end of the year. It was part of a remarkable career trajectory for the veteran artist, one that would eventually lead to him being named Publisher of DC Comics in 1971 — but it also meant that he had to give up his regular pencilling gigs. Infantino would return as the artist of the Flash series years later, in 1981 — but things would never again be quite the same.
But in September, 1967, my ten-year-old self didn’t know that Infantino was about to be gone from Flash (“gone”, at least, in terms of any creative role I could perceive or understand as a young reader). No, I was simply stoked by that great cover, and by the prospect of seeing the Scarlet Speedster take on six members of his Rogues’ Gallery at once — including several I hadn’t yet encountered in the pages of his comic. And I was also mightily looking forward to the resolution of a dangling (and for me, very irritating) plot thread that had been introduced in the very first issue of Flash I’d ever bought, some two years previous.
To recap: in Flash #156, an alien villain revealed the Flash’s secret identity to the whole world, including Barry Allen’s , Iris West. By the end of the story, Barry not only defeated the alien (with the help of Kid Flash), but also figured out a way to reverse time, and thereby remove the knowledge of his secret identity from the memories of everyone in the world. Before doing so, however, he did the right thing by his beloved by explaining the situation to her, and leaving the choice as to whether he should proceed with his plan up to her:
Having received Barry’s promise, Iris acquiesced to having his secret wiped from her mind. And my eight-year-old self, reading that story in September, 1965, trusted that the Fastest Man Alive would be as good as his word, and come the wedding day (if not before), would finally tell his bride-to-be the truth.
So imagine my annoyance a year later when, in Flash #165, our hero began having second thoughts:
Hello? You promised Iris, Barry. You don’t get to ignore that, just because she doesn’t remember it. Jeez Louise.
Come the issue’s ending, Barry and Iris were wed, and he hadn’t shared his secret — although he was still mulling over doing so. The guy even had the nerve to kick the question to us, the readership:
I’m guessing that editor Julius Schwartz got a majority of responses landing firmly in the “tell her, you doofus, like you promised” column, because some eight issues later, in Flash #173, he and scripter John Broome had Barry’s Earth-Two counterpart Jay Garrick and his wife, Joan, pay a visit to the Allens to give the younger hero a much-needed talking-to. After all, Joan had known that Jay was the Flash even before they were married, and it had never presented them with any problems.
And here we were, now, a month later — two years’ out from Barry’s original vow, one year on from the wedding. I knew that this issue would have to feature our hero coming clean to Iris at last — but I also knew that there would be a slew of Flash-foes showing up in the story as well; so I don’t think my ten-year-old self was too surprised when “Stupendous Triumph of the Six Super-Villains!” (written by Broome, pencilled by Infantino, and inked by Sid Greene) kicked off, not with Barry and/or Iris, but with a scene featuring one of those selfsame bad guys, Sam Scudder:
Yes, what a great idea! Give the Mirror Master a mirror to fool around with unsupervised in his cell! No wonder the super-villains of DC’s Silver Age comics seemed to break out of jail so easily, with the kind of intelligence demonstrated by the prison authorities in this story.
Scudder’s main interest is in getting out of stir, of course, but in the process of tinkering around with the shaving mirror, he inadvertently manages to open a window to another world:
As Scudder soon realizes, in this mirror-world, the moral natures of its respective heroes and villains (at least, the only ones that he, or we, ever see) are inverted; it’s the Flash who’s a super-criminal, and the Mirror Master who’s a crusader for justice.
Scudder is certain he can replicate the mirror that he’s seen his duplicate use to defeat the other world’s Flash, and use it to finish off his own arch-foe — although, of course, he’s got to break out of prison first. But after just a bit more mirror-polishing, using his mysterious “secret methods”, he’s ready to make his move:
You gotta say this about the Rogues — they’re a mutually supportive bunch. The Mirror Master feels he won’t enjoy Flash’s defeat nearly as much if he doesn’t share it with his criminal pals — so, before going after the Scarlet Speedster, he takes the time to break five of them out of prison as well, using a “body-switching” mirror that plucks each felon out of his cell and replaces him with a randomly selected law-abiding citizen:
As the Mirror Master fills in the other villains about his new scheme to take out the Flash, the story finally takes a moment to check in on the titular hero and his wife:
Whew — looks like Barry’s not going to back down from his promise this time. And to make things extra-special (as well as to add a little more suspense to the upcoming action), he’s resolved to reveal his secret to Iris at 11:00 a.m. — one year to the minute from when they were wed. Of course, that means the chronically late Mr. Allen will have to be early for once, when he goes home for lunch.
While driving to work, however, Barry hears a news report on his car radio that the six super-villains who’ve just escaped from prison have launched an assault on the Central City Museum of Art. He changes into the Flash and races to the scene — where he’s surprised to find the Rogues aren’t trying to rob the museum, but are simply waiting patiently for him:
Somehow, despite the Mirror Master’s certainty that he’s built a perfect replica of his mirror-world counterpart’s weapon, his efforts against the Flash prove futile — leaving it to his five partners to try to defeat the speedster by more conventional means:
Even with the odds against him, however, it seems like the Flash might manage to recapture all six Rogues — until Captain Cold manages to buy them enough time to escape by sending the hero skidding on a thin film of ice:
Needless to say, even though they manage to escape recapture, the guys aren’t too happy about how things just went down:
Upon reflection (heh), MM decides that he must not have been operating his new mirror doohickey just right. He’s sure he can do better on a second go-round, if he can just see his counterpart use it one more time — so, he opens a portal to the mirror-world, and then pops over to engineer a live demonstration that he can observe up close and in person:
To execute his plan, he has to spring the criminal Flash from jail — but to do that, he first has to convince the sinister speedster that he’s not the Mirror Master that that Flash already knows:
(I love the skeptical, slightly sour expression that Infantino and Greene give the felonious Flash in that last panel.)
The Mirror Master says he’ll prove he’s on the level by leaving the Flash’s cell unlocked, but asks his fellow villain not to make his escape until he himself gets clear. Of course, as soon as he leaves the city lockup, he uses a “focusing mirror” to beam a message onto the clouds above, alerting that world’s Mirror Master that the Flash is breaking jail, and telling him to come at once:
(Did you notice the clever [?] way that DC slipped in a plug for their brand-new, destined to be very short-lived magazine Teen Beat in the panel above? Teen Beat is now, man.)
The mirror-world Flash figures out almost immediately that he’s been double-crossed, but he sucks it up and makes a good showing against his nemesis — though how the battle will end is hardly in doubt:
Armed with his new understanding, Mirror Master returns to his own world and convinces his five compatriots that this time there’ll be no slip-ups. Captain Cold then uses his cold-gun to write a message to the Flash on the clouds above, much in the same way that the Mirror Master summoned his mirror-world counterpart earlier:
Nice of scripter Broome to remind us of that 11:00 deadline. Gotta wrap this up in 30 minutes (and 8 pages)!
The Flash immediately races to the location specified in Captain Cold’s message, City Hall Plaza, where the sinister six are, of course, lying in wait:
Uh oh, looks like they’ve got him. But what was that business about him seeming to disappear?
Time for one of Carmine Infantino’s patented “hand-captions”:
As the flashback continues, we see how the bad-guy Flash put his plan into action, swapping himself out for our Flash at the precise moment that Mirror Master unleashed his new mirror’s speed-sapping beam. And since MM is holding the mirror at just the right angle this time, it works — only it’s the bad-guy Flash who’s on the receiving end. Oops! Of course, neither Mirror Master nor any of his fellow villains have any idea what’s happened, and so…
Ouch! Serves that rotten mirror-world Flash right. But what about our Flash, stuck in a jail cell on that world, while the clock ticks down to eleven a.m.? Time’s a wastin’!
Good thing the bad-guy speedster left behind an informative (if nasty) note for his counterpart. Thanks to that, Barry soon has a full grasp of the situation, including the fact that the radiation-fortified prison cell built to hold the other Flash can hold him as well. On the other hand, he reasons, both he and the other Flash had to have passed through the radiation barrier somehow, or the switch couldn’t have happened in the first place:
So much for the so-called “Stupendous Triumph of the Six Super-Villains”. Barry delivers the unconscious Rogues to the Central City police, and his equally insensible bad-guy doppelgänger back to his cell on the mirror-world, and that’s that. It’s a pretty abrupt wrap-up to the adventure, but hey, we’ve only got a page (or, more accurately, a half-page) left to deliver the scene that my ten-year-old self had been waiting for for the last two years:
From my mature perspective of fifty years later, the “out” that Broome and company give Barry for not keeping the vow he made back in Flash #156 — hey, he really did keep it, because he spilled the beans in his sleep on his wedding night! — seems cheap and contrived, especially when you realize that the middle panel above is the first time since that issue that the creative team has even acknowledged that he made the vow in the first place (and, as far as we readers were concerned, had broken it). And looking at it from a moral perspective, since Barry didn’t make a conscious decision to keep his vow on his wedding day, is he really off the hook? I don’t think so.
But, I must admit — as best as I can recall, none of those objections occurred to my ten-year-old self back in September, 1967 — or, if they did, they didn’t faze me much. I was just happy that Barry’s two-year old vow had been dealt with in the storyline, and that he was now once again an Honest Man, however we happened to have gotten here. And I was delighted to have seen the Scarlet Speedster in action against six of his greatest foes, thrillingly illustrated by Infantino and Greene, both working at peak form.
And, ultimately, I was looking forward to many more years of Flash stories drawn by Carmine Infantino — to many more years enjoying his brilliance at depicting motion in a static medium, his elegant sense of design, and, yes, even those nutty hand-captions.
Alas, such was not to be, as I would learn in the following month. But — that’s a topic for another post. I hope you’ll join me then.