The Flash # 270 (February 1979). (In Praise of Cary Bates.)

I remember seeing the cover of this issue advertised in other DC Comics around the time of its publication. That made it seem more desirable – I supposed that something important or special must be happening in that issue! Certainly, the cover looked dramatic. You could see that things were going seriously wrong for the Flash. Writer Cary Bates was a master at putting his heroes through intense psychological anguish which the reader shared through identification. How I’d suffered, for example, with (and ‘as’) Barry Allen when his wife Iris had fallen in love with a new superhero in town, called the Ringmaster.

These issues came out before comic shops existed in my city. I could only buy whatever I happened to find in local newsagents’. This made things more exciting, though, occasionally, of course, also frustrating. By the time comic shops did come along, I was too ‘grown up’ to care about old issues of The Flash. That was why I never read this issue until 35 years later (2014) when I found it in Tilley’s Vintage Magazines shop in Sheffield, near Bramall Lane.

As the story starts, the Flash is returning home from a round-the-world jog, looking forward to having breakfast with his wife, Iris. However, reaching his home city, the Flash encounters a crime in progress. The criminal is a new costumed menace, dressed as a clown. The Flash gives chase but is rendered unconscious when the clown shoves a meringue pie laced with ether in his face. A passing boy’s dog has to lick the Flash back to consciousness. Barry not only misses breakfast, he is late for work. The day can only get better, he thinks. He is wrong. His boss at the police headquarters wants Barry to attend a meeting that evening about a proposal for a new way of treating criminals. (The proposed method relates to a thesis Barry wrote as a student.) Barry now has to telephone Iris and explain that he will miss dinner as well. Iris hangs up on him. Meanwhile, we overhear a mysterious woman announce her determination to learn the Flash’s secret identity as part of her plan to ensnare him.

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Dynamic art by Irv Novick, inked by Frank McLaughlin.

 

 

The proposed new way of treating criminals, Barry learns, when he attends the meeting that evening, involves a combination of behaviourism and electronic stimulation. A criminal is selected to undergo the treatment. When Barry finally gets home, Iris is not speaking to him. Back at the police headquarters, some crooks disguised as police officers conceal a stash of heroin on a shelf in Barry’s laboratory. Later, as the Flash, Barry fights the clown again. A clever touch by Bates is that the clown never speaks, which somehow makes him seem more unbeatable. The Flash ends up trapped, his legs having merged with the molecules of a brick wall, as the clown fires deadly rockets at him.

‘To be continued!’ says the last panel.

Great issue! Cary Bates – one of the masters.

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