Tuesday, June 15, 2021

Showcase Corner - The Trial Of The Flash!

The Trial of The Flash is a dandy saga of a comic book story that occupies well over two dozen issues of the venerable characters pre-Crisis series from those halcyon days. The Flash, well Barry Allen at least was scheduled for death in the pages of Crisis and exactly when that decision was made I don't know. But somehow I suspect it was during this long tale which details how the Flash was put on trial for the death of Professor Zoom the Reverse Flash. Zoom had murdered (or so it seemed at the time) Allen's first wife Iris and now he set his murderous eyes on Barry's bride Fiona Webb. To keep her from death Barry breaks Zoom's neck and after that a somewhat overzealous district attorney seeks to put him on trial first for manslaughter and later for murder. The former might have been arguable but the latter seemed at best a reach. 

We follow this story by writer Cary Bates and legendary Flash artist Carmine Infantino as it winds its way from act to charge to trial and to result. Along the way Flash is called upon many times to do what he's traditionally done, save the people of Central City from harm from the infamous Rogues Gallery that dedicated itself to his defeat and humiliation if not death. We see schemes by Gorilla Grodd, Abra Kadabra, Pied Piper, Trickster, Rainbow Warrior, Captain Cold, Mirror Master, Weather Wizard, and Captain Boomerang among other villains of less colorful reputations. Bates tells the story of a celebrity trial that brings out the worst in society and of court officials who are both good and bad at what they do. The outcome I will leave to your scrutiny, but it's a wild ride, briskly told. The highlight of this collection is the artwork of Carmine Infantino who comes back to his most famous character with a potent style which is at once looser and more powerful than his sleek stylings from the 1960's. His pages whiz by and masterworks of storytelling, rarely faltering. The final chapters feel a little compressed but I guess that's because a lot of story was being squeezed to meet artificial deadlines. 

Below are the comics contained in this massive Showcase volume. The black and white pages actually serve to showcase Infantino's linework inked mostly by Frank McLaughlin, to a greater degree. It's magnificent for the most part.  I've noted where issues are skipped. 

Issue #328 is a reprint and not included in this collection. 

Issues #337-339 are not included in this collection. 

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Monday, June 14, 2021

Classic Crisis #24 - That Special Quality Of Freedom!

The general template of the Justice League and Justice Society crossovers had been set. The two teams would meet and the added value from year to year would be new heroes. This time the heroes of Earths One and Two would meet the Quality heroes on Earth-X. DC had control of these heroes since they had bought out Quality Comics some many years before. Len Wein had wanted the name to be Earth-Swastika, but editor Julie Schwartz kiboshed that idea for obvious reasons.

The story really began with the previous two issues of Justice League in which both Elongated Man and Red Tornado were inducted into the League. The Tornado had survived the end of the last JLofA-JSofA adventure and been stranded on Earth-1 where he was found by his creator T.O.Morrow who promptly gave the android hero a new face and tried to use him to destroy the League which had welcomed the android hero into their ranks. Morrow's plan failed, but the Red Tornado now had the distinction along with Black Canary of being a member of both the League and the Society.

"Crisis On Earth-X" was written by Len Wein and drawn by Dick Dillin and Dick Giordano. The comic featured another outstanding Nick Cardy cover. The action begins with both the Justice League and the Justice Society trying to synchonize two transporter devices with which they hope to be able travel between the Earths at any time of the year. Despite Red Tornado's pleading to be allowed to return to his Earth, the League sends Green Arrow, Elongated Man, and Batman into the machine. Likewise the Society sends Sandman, Dr.Fate, and Superman into their device. But Red Tornado stows away in the device causing the transporters to malfunction and the seven heroes to vanish. They end up on another Earth entirely, one that seems to have Nazis in control. They battle the Nazis who have super-scientific devices and are saved from defeat by the intervention of Uncle Sam, the Human Bomb, Phantom Lady, the Ray, the Black Condor, and Doll Man. Uncle Sam reveals that on this Earth World War II lasted far longer due to the untimely death of the President, and that eventually the Nazis won taking control of the globe. They maintain power with mind control devices to which Uncle Sam and his freedom fighters are immune. Dr.Fate uses his magic to detect the locations of the hidden mind control devices and the heroes divide into teams and Uncle Sam sends the teams away to destroy the devices. Red Tornado is left behind. Batman, Dr.Fate, Ray, and Human Bomb are sent to Paris where the mind control device seems to be in the Eiffel Tower. The quartet battle their way to the top and find the machine which is sentient and defends itself with specially constructed foes for each of the heroes. The heroes prevail but then are taken over directly by the machine. They are able to destroy the machine though by combining their powers and relying on their reflexes. Meanwhile the heroes of Earths One and Two search for their disappeared comrades.

"Thirteen Against the Earth!" under another great Cardy cover is again by the Wein, Dillin and Giordano team. Uncle Sam breaks the fourth wall and brings the reader up to date on the events of the last issue. Superman, Doll Man, Green Arrow, and Phantom Lady arrive in Japan, the former Axis power which was also defeated by the Nazis, to find the second mind-control machine. It is hidden in plain sight and Superman detects it and reveals it. The machine threatens to destroy Japan if the heroes attack it, but Superman is undeterred landing a ferocious punch. Immediately Japan suffers a massive earthquake and Superman flies off to alleviate the problem. Meanwhile the other heroes work together to get Doll Man inside the machine where he disables it. Elongated Man, Sandman, Black Condor, and Uncle Sam arrive at Mount Rushmore where Hitler's face has been added to the monument. The heroes fight their way to another machine only to discover that it's an illusion. They deduce the machine must be inside the Hitler head and Uncle Sam aided by Elongated Man delivers a massive punch to Hitler's stony ediface destroying the machine. The heroes are them reassembled but discover that the mind control has not diminished despite the destruction of the three machines. In fact the heroes of Earths One and Two are taken over by the mind control and attack the heroes of Earth-X. Red Tornado detects the source of the mind control and follows the trail into orbit where he finds a huge Nazi satellite "manned" by an android Hitler. It turns out the Nazis had actually been defeated by their own mind control machines some years before and that the machines have ruled Earth-X since. Red Tornado attacks and succeeds in causing the satellite to fall out of orbit and crash into the ocean. He rescues a bit of equipment the machines used to communicate and the heroes are able to contact Earths One and Two to arrange rescue. The leave Earth-X free of its oppressors and they leave behind some truly quality freedom fighters.

The Freedom Fighters proved to be pretty popular and even got their own series several years later. It was a quirky series and brought the heroes to Earth-1 and made them fugitives, an attempt I guess to recreate their underground guerrilla warrior role from the crossover. I enjoyed it, but after a few years the series was cancelled. This crossover itself is one of my absolute faves. The artwork by Dillin and Giordano is outstanding, with Giordano giving Dillin's storytelling some real drama. In the years before internet and archives and whatnot, getting to see these vintage heroes was an awesome treat. While I adore the modern era with access to old comics easy to get hold of, part of me yearns for those sweet days when such glimpses were exceedingly precious because they were so rare. 

As I said the template for the crossovers had been reinvented a bit by Len Wein, but the next installment is something very different indeed. 

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Sunday, June 13, 2021

The Golden Age Of DC Comics!

DC Comics in the Golden Age was the behemoth of the comic book landscape. They had three of the biggest icons in the industry in their mitts with plenty more hits to tally alongside the likes of Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman. 

Only Their early history is a fascinating tale of a World War I military man named Major Malcom Wheeler-Nicholson  who started up a little comic book firm to drop into the marketplace the first "comic book" with new material designed just for that purpose. To that point comic strip reprints had served the purpose but the while the books were larger they were as the titled suggest "New Fun Comics". 

This oversized coffee-table extravaganza begins with an interview with Joe Kubert, the final interview the great artist gave before his passing. He reflects on his long tenure at DC which began in the Golden Age when he was just a teenager. His reflections are interesting and lack the rosy nostalgia which often comes with these kinds of things. 

Paul Levitz offers up a dandy essay which details how National Comics formed an alliance with American Publications helmed by Max Gaines and how under the auspices of Harry Donenfeld who had first become Wheeler-Nicholson's partner and then forced him out of the company. This was the basis for what became DC Comics eventually named presumably for the first comic dedicated to a single theme Detective Comics. The company of course went on to have a tremendous impact when Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster sold them a hero named Superman. This was followed by Bob Kane's Batman and eventually William Marston's Wonder Woman. There were many other heroes and even more heroines in this Golden Age which eventually saw the decline of superheroes and the rise of other genres in comic focused on things such as war, romance and funny animals. Levitz's essay cover the ground but does so with verve and with some opinion about matters. 

The rest of this very large book is made up of images -- covers, interior pages, original art, etc. There are sections covering Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman as well as the Justice Society of America and the many heroes associated with it. Artists such as Sheldon Mayer and Will Eisner are selected for focus. And since in years beyond the Golden Age, DC would acquire the properties of Fawcett, Quality and EC Comics, there are sections on those as well in this sprawling overview. Think of it like a laptop museum visit with each image given its place and some context. And like a museum it's a fun book just to wander around in. 

Here are some more of the Golden Age covers showcased in this tome. 

Next time it's the Silver Age. 

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