Welcome to the second entry in our breakdown of Flash stories from the late 1970s and early 1980s, leading up to the July 20th release of “The Trial of the Flash”!
UP TO SPEED: Last week we looked at Flash #270 and the introduction of the mysterious Clown, who seemed to have gotten the best of Barry Allen. We also witnessed the birth of Dr. Nephron’s prisoner rehabilitation program, a female fan out to “ensnare” our hero, a jilted Iris Allen, and a heroin smuggling operation based in Barry’s crime lab!
This week, we’ll review the events of issue 271.
COVER: Rich Buckler and Dick Giordano give a variation on a scene appearing in this issue.
PG. 1: Buckler is also on interior art, filling in after the departure of Irv Novick. Captions describe the Clown as the most “baffling” and “bizarre” foe Flash has ever faced, putting him at the top of a long list.
PG. 3: The first clues to the Clown’s identity start to slip in. The cop noting, “The guy must be some kind of acrobat,” the powered flying trapeze and cotton candy trap are all hints to his background. The way this is written, as well as the Clown’s pending origin story, suggests we’ve seen him somewhere before, but this is not the case.
PG. 4-6: Flash had been through many memorable transformations by this point in his career, but being riddled with rubble is arguably the most violent physical trauma to date. The severity is compounded by his own errors leading up to the Clown’s missile attack.
PG. 7: The female fan has the ability to use mind-control on the police officers at the scene, but needs to collect “mementos” in order to manipulate Flash.
PG. 8: “Nephron” is the Greek word for kidney, used in English as the name for the organ’s functioning unit. It is involved in blood filtration, purification, essentially all functions of the kidney.
PG. 11 & 12: And now, the secret of the Clown, who he is and how he came to be! Note the luggage with stickers from Scranton, PA and Los Angeles. I wonder if Iris was the photographer from Picture News the night of the accident, and if her photo was the one in the scrapbook (above).
The name Lyle Corley does not appear to have any significance. I thought it might have been the actual name of a famous clown, or a combination of names. Writer Cary Bates uses no thought bubbles for this villain, which adds a significant level of mystery.
The Clown’s origin is essentially that of Robin, mixed with the Joker. Family’s death at circus / leads to transformation into vengeful clown. The one big difference is the accidental nature of the events. I wasn’t able to find another mention of Mayor Bradley in previous Flash comics, but he does appear by name in future stories.
PG. 13/14: As their argument would lead you to believe, these are the men “responsible” for the blackout that caused the accidental death of Corley’s high-flying family. At the moment of the Clown’s attack, his letter from pg. 11 is delivered to police HQ. Included is a clipping from the scrapbook, noting Flash was to appear the night of the fateful high-wire disaster.
Flash mentions he was called away on a JLA mission that night, “one year ago today”, but the March 1978 cover-dated issue of Flash does not refer to anything along those lines. According to DC Indexes, Flash does not appear in the March 1978 issue of Justice League of America. Super-Team Family #15 is the closest thing I could find in my collection. Dated March 1978, Flash teams up with a couple of New Gods and actually passes through the Source Wall. This story tends to be forgotten, but I believe Barry is the only “human” to have passed through the Wall.
I am using real time, because writer Bates sets issue #323 four years after Iris’ death, and at that point four years had also passed in real time (1979 – 1983).
PG. 16: The Clown has created his own high-wire trap for the men he holds responsible for his family’s death. The gyro contraption on the high-tension lines appears to be the same equipment from the scrapbook photo on pg. 12.
PG. 17 & 18: Flash deduces Corley’s identity, but the shock leaves him open to attack. Flash awakens, strapped into the acro-gyro with the mayor, governor and power company president, his super-speed nullified by a “subsonic oscillator”. I’m not a physicist, but I think Flash is actually the oscillator, and the calliope is the damper. I’d say Flash is “critically damped”.
LETTERS: The letters page refers to Buckler and Jack Abel as the new art team, but this would be their only issue together. Abel’s last DC credit was a little over a year later.
NEXT WEEK: The final confrontation with the Clown! And, what happened to all that heroin?