As Flash comics go, issue #275 is right up there on the impact meter. One of the definitive issues of the 1959-1985 volume, it molts characters and standards, experimenting with tone and depth not before seen in the Flash title. It cast a long shadow over Barry Allen, extending to his death in Crisis on Infinite Earths. It is also the first recognizable installment in the drama that arguably ended with the return of Allen to the DC Universe proper, and eventually the current Flash series.
This is the latest installment in our breakdowns of writer Cary Bates’ Flash saga, leading up to Showcase Presents: The Trial of the Flash. Links to additional artwork and research are included throughout this post.
UP TO SPEED: Last week, we witnessed the demise of Dr. Nephron and the escape of his deranged guinea pig, convict Clive Yorkin. Barry teamed up with Detective Frank Curtis, a fellow cop who was investigating the heroin smuggling operation based in Barry’s police lab. Iris’ concern over Barry’s attentions continued to grow, while an ESP-powered teenaged fan named Melanie once again established her mental hold on our hero. Meanwhile, Yorkin trailed Barry home and found Iris, alone…
COVER: Dick Giordano turns in one of the nearly one-hundred covers he is credited with in 1979.
PG. 1: ESP is extrasensory perception, the ability to gain information using the mind itself and not the physical senses. In Parapsychology, the Ganzfield Experiment is used for detection of ESP in individuals. This continues the psychology intimations that have been present since issue #270, with examples such as the Nephron Process (radical behaviorism), Barry’s reaction to domestic and professional stress, and darker regions to come. The captions say Flash life is about to become “unglued,” so what happens to the man himself?
PG. 3 & 4: It is hard not to see Melanie as a commentary on fandom in general. Her analysis of Flash’s physical makeup (kind of like what we’re doing here) to the literal unmasking of the hero, to her fickle response all seems to point to this. Her insecurities rub off on Barry, who is left doubting his own looks.
PG. 5: Iris arrives to the motel just as Melanie is leaving. Iris, assuming the worst, bolts.
PG. 6: Iris causes a major auto accident as she flees from the hotel. She had suspected Barry was seeing someone else due to his late nights at the lab and the Nephron Project. Given some recent developments in Geoff Johns’ Flash, maybe there’s something to that… There’s also some great super-speed pacing here by Bates and artist Alex Saviuk, from Barry vibrating Iris through the windshield and the inventive use of broken sound-effects, to the rescue of the truckers. The Allens’ car is left at the scene of the accident…
PG. 7 & 8: These pages are the final harkening to the Barry/Iris adventures of the last couple years’ stories, including the then-recent Golden Glider/Ringmaster arc that was the first to put truly their marriage to the test. Iris’ understanding and Barry’s genuine reaction really highlights their bond, and the scene turns from a motel room confrontation to talk of parenthood. In another part of Central City, someone wants Barry Allen dead…
With the introduction of children comes tragedy in the Flash mythos. Jay and Joan Garrick never had children of their own, but had adopted an unnamed son who passed away. Bart Allen was also essentially their “son” when he was murdered by the Rogues. Barry and Iris’ children, the Tornado Twins, were hunted down and murdered in their own future era. Wally West has two children, Iris and Jai, but the Speed Force nearly killed them. There have also been references, from The Life Story of the Flash, to The Kingdom: Kid Flash, to Jai’s being de-powered, that Wally would face some kind of tragedy involving his son. Here, Iris is put on the chopping block just as the topic arises.
PG. 9 & 10: I look at Frank Curtis’ dressing-up as Flash as a way of giving the reader a visual foil for Barry. It helps enhance the notion, despite the Melanies of the world, that only Barry could be the Flash fans know and love. Barry attending the costume gala in his Flash costume is also a nice resolution to his frequent hints to his secret identity, and perhaps a farewell to that theme.
PH. 11 & 12: Yorkin, for all of his drooling madness, was able to keep quiet in the trunk the whole way to the party. I’ve always wondered about the significance of the use of Sandman here, beyond the obvious sleeping gas/hallucinogenic drugs link. It seems to represent certain circumstances, once taken for granted, turning on our hero.
PG. 13: The shots of Curtis smoking in the Flash costume are pretty funny, and well-used. This is another use of Curtis as a foil for Barry, showing perhaps why Barry’s squeaky-clean image had worked so well for the character and book to this point. You’d never see someone dressed like DC Comics’ Flash anywhere near a cigarette today. Recently, Clark Kent’s beer with Pa Kent was turned into root beer.
PG. 14: Barry’s general level of confusion is captured in the off-hand comment “I always thought the Sandman was only supposed to shoot his gun at bad guys!” Bates uses the Sandman figure to keep the reader and characters off-balance. He is not out-of-place at a costume party, but is acting strangely enough to be noticed. Hal Jordan also shows up in costume, another great use of the party setting to maintain both the superhero tone of the artwork and the real-world anchors the book was going for. His appearance is somewhat of a farewell, as the two would not team up again in the pages of Flash after this issue. G.L. appears on the cover in two upcoming issues, but as an “antagonist”.
PG. 15 – 17: Iris’ “death scene” is effectively disorienting. Readers are already concerned about Barry, and wondering about the nature of the “Sandman” character, when Iris is attacked off-panel. Things spiral out of control from there; a beleaguered Barry struggles to overcome his drugging and collapses with Iris. All of this happening while Barry is in uniform creates the additional tension that makes the cliffhanger work so well. Which one of the couple is dead? Is Barry’s identity still at risk, given his mental state?