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I Love Ya But You’re Strange – Now Barry Allen’s Actions in Identity Crisis Make Sense

Every day this August I’ll be spotlighting strange but ultimately endearing comic stories, one a day (basically, we’re talking lots and lots of Silver Age comic books).

Today we look at 1959′s Flash #109, “Return of the Mirror Master.” Written by John Broome and drawn by Carmine Infantino and Joe Giella.

In this tale, we see a hint of why Barry Allen was willing to go along with the rest of the Justice League in brainwashing Dr. Light during Identity Crisis.

I actually believe this issue marked the first time that a Flash villain returned to the book (which obviously would become a major part of the book over the years, as Flash’s Rogues practically became as important to the title as the Flash himself).

In any event, Mirror Master escapes from prison and goes to rob a bank. The Flash shows up to stop him…

When he goes to meet up with his girlfriend, Iris Allen, though, she has finally had enough of his lateness…

Commenter J.C. Calhoun had a great point – at noon he was 10 minutes late. So their date was for 11:50? That’s kinda weird.

Later, Mirror Master shrinks Barry down to size and throws him off of a roof. Luckily, “science” tells us that small animals can land safely when thrown off of roofs and that Barry (of course) has a source of radiation that will make him grow back to normal size.

That’s what Barry does and he pretty easily defeats the Mirror Master in Round Three of their match. However, this is where the story takes an interesting turn, as Barry figures, eh, why not use this guy’s stuff to my own personal benefit?

And it pays off!

You don’t normally see smug looks like that in a Silver Age Comic coming from anyone but Superman after he made Lois Lane feel stupid. Well done, Barry!

Of course, Broome couldn’t help but throw in one last little “wah waaah” moment…

Awesome.

If you have any stories that you’d like to see featured this month, e-mail me at bcronin@comicbookresources.com!

40 Comments

Ricardo Amaral

August 4, 2011 at 6:14 am

And this is how you write Barry Allen.

Geez, who does Barry think he is getting knocked out that easily? Hal Jordan?

Barry was ALWAYS slipping and falling and getting knocked out. I remember an issue of JLA where they are fighting the Key and Barry’s JLA communicator goes off while he’s taking a shower and he slips on the soap in the shower and knocks himself out and can’t be in the rest of the issue.

I usually don’t like John Broome writing, but that bit with the mirrors mind game and getting knocked out by slipping on the mirror is very funny I must admit.

I love how the fastest man alive, the guy who in his origin thinks so quickly that the moment a tray of food starts slipping time freezes for him and he can set it right, has time to make all those observations “Hey look, I’m slipping on the mirror…” yet still doesn’t have enough time or presence of mind to break his own fall. Hilarious.

@T…how can you not love John Broome’s writing…I was recently re-reading the Silver Age Green Lantern Archives and laughed with each issue when I saw the explanation as to why Carol Ferris was in charge of Ferris. Broome always reminds us she is in charge because her father is on a two year round the world vacation. Wink wink–he will be back to take over from the silly girl.

Nitzan Rotschild

August 4, 2011 at 7:13 am

I love that bit of narration: “Tenderly, the pair make a date.”
I wonder how many mice got flung off of rooftops by kids wanting to test out that soft landing theory.

I find the panel where Barry looks at the clock to be pretty funny. “12 o’clock? I’m ten minutes late for our date!” So their date was for 11:50? Such things aren’t unheard of but it just seems odd to make that the time instead of having it be at noon.

Besides the Hawks and maybe Ralph & Sue, is there any Silver Age DC couple whose interactions aren’t awful and cringe-inducing in retrospect? Iris was only cold; Jean Loring was worse. So was Lucy Lane. Kathy Kane was a twit. Superman and Lois engaged in the most twisted long-term mind games imaginable. Carol Ferris was as described by Marc above. Wonder Woman-Steve Trevor was just bizarre.

I guess Metamorpho and Sapphire were OK. But even Green Arrow-Black Canary was pretty bad.

I know the comics were being written for young boys who thought girls had cooties. But they were being written *by* adult men, most of whom were presumably married. I wonder about that sometimes…

I have it on good authority that John Broome hypnotized his wife into marrying him.

That image of Barry sprawled out on the floor is f*cking hilarious.

Matthew Johnson

August 4, 2011 at 8:21 am

Comedian: That was GL. Flash was in the 30th Century with Iris in that story.

“I actually believe this issue marked the first time that a Flash villain returned to the book”

Mr. Element aka Dr. Alchemy debuted in Showcase #13′s “The Master of the Elements!” and returned in Showcase #14′s “The Man Who Changed the Earth!”

Gorilla Grodd debuted in “Menace of the Super-Gorilla!” from Flash #106 and returned in “Return of the Super Gorilla!” from Flash #107.

omg that issue has barry come off not only as clumsy by making it so easy that slipping on even a mirror can knock him out but also a little tool by using the mirror masters own mirror to mess with iris to get her to take him back. dc universe seems bad for marriage .

I know the comics were being written for young boys who thought girls had cooties. But they were being written *by* adult men, most of whom were presumably married. I wonder about that sometimes…

I wonder about that too sometimes. There seems to be a lot of cynicism toward women subconsciously leaking out onto the written page in those books.

I know the comics were being written for young boys who thought girls had cooties. But they were being written *by* adult men, most of whom were presumably married. I wonder about that sometimes…

At the risk of getting hammered for racism, I often wonder if it has to do with how Jewish silver age comics were. In Jewish-American entertainment, there stereotype of the henpecked Jewish husband and the emasculating Jewish wife is deeply engrained. The theme comes up a lot. My Jewish-American friends also make jokes about the dynamic. I know Broome wasn’t Jewish but many of the editors and writers in the Silver Age were.

Actually, although John Broome wrote the Flash, the first writer was Robert Kanigher who WAS Jewish, and Broome picked up the dynamic from him, so one can still say there was a Jewish-American angle to it regardless of Broome’s ethnicity. Also, he probably picked up the tropes from his peers as well.

I’m noticing a sub-theme — al of the “I Love Ya…” entries so far have been about *love interests* in the stories, not just bout comics we love despite their strangeness.

“Barry was ALWAYS slipping and falling and getting knocked out. I remember an issue of JLA where they are fighting the Key and Barry’s JLA communicator goes off while he’s taking a shower and he slips on the soap in the shower and knocks himself out and can’t be in the rest of the issue.”

I’m afraid that was actually Hal, in JLA #110. It’s how the justified John Stewart replacing him in the story.

REally, the goofiest thing about the Flash is that he apparently chooses to slow down while engaged in combat with his foes, thereby affording them the chance to actually fight back. A guy who can move faster than the eye can follow not using his full speed while fighting crime? Now that’s goofy!*

*I remember thinking that when I read my first Flash story at the age of 7.The only Flash foe who made sense to me as a kid was Prof. Zoom, the Reverse Flash.

Bernard the Poet

August 4, 2011 at 12:52 pm

Agreed Syon.

I have always thought that writing scripts for the Flash must be a nightmare – with his super-reflexes and ability to move quicker than the eye means that he should comfortably be able to defeat virtually every villain in the DC universe. What is a writer meant to do? You can’t have him battle super-speedsters every month? I surprised that no-one ever invented a Flash-style equivalent to Krytonite.

“Wet tar! My only weakness!”

Scipio, over at the Absorascon has been trying to convince me that Iris West really is evil…and based on this story…I have to agree with him. She really does seem to have this weird obsession with punctuality.

Hmm, have we ever seen Iris and the Clock King in the same place at the same (heh) time?

Agreed Syon.

I have always thought that writing scripts for the Flash must be a nightmare – with his super-reflexes and ability to move quicker than the eye means that he should comfortably be able to defeat virtually every villain in the DC universe. What is a writer meant to do? You can’t have him battle super-speedsters every month? I surprised that no-one ever invented a Flash-style equivalent to Krytonite.

Well, I’m sure it doesn’t help that the writers create remarkably puny villains to fight.

The problem with DC heroes isn’t so much that they’re overpowered but that their rogue’s galleries are so damn UNDERpowered. Flash’s rogues are awesome in a vacuum, but as the top villains of a man who can run at light speed and through solid objects, they’re horrible. They’d be great Batman villains though.

sequential fart

August 4, 2011 at 4:14 pm

Now that is scientific fact – there’s no real evidence for it – but it is scientific fact.

The same problem with Superman. Kryptonite wouldn’t be such a historical crutch in Superman stories if 80% of his rogues weren’t middle aged regular or fat guys with no powers.

I remember someone once saying that “oddly specific radiation” was basically the Flash’s kryptonite. In the Silver Age, he was always getting effected by some or other radiation that shrink him or send him back in time or turn him into a puppet or what have you.

The thing about villians for both Superman and the Flash is that their older, less powerful villians are all more memorable than any of the ones that are supposed to be in their league. People have been trying to develop new “world beaters” and criminal mastermind types to bedevil Superman for years and none of them ever seem to amount to anything.

The thing about villians for both Superman and the Flash is that their older, less powerful villians are all more memorable than any of the ones that are supposed to be in their league. People have been trying to develop new “world beaters” and criminal mastermind types to bedevil Superman for years and none of them ever seem to amount to anything.

Several reasons for this. First off, everyone agrees on using old villains out of nostalgia. It’s often habit-related, although there are indeed many good aspects to old villains too. But tradition does play a big role. So every new Superman or Flash writer is going to want a crack at using the old villains.

New villains created by their peers though? Much less universal respect, because it’s new and created by your coworker. So why spend time building up your competition’s creation when you can try to create your own badass villain? So what happens is creator A makes a new supervillain, Villain A. Then creator B comes along and creates his own supervillain, Villain B. To make Villain B look good, the first thing creator B does is have him beat down Villain A. This is known as “jobbing.” After enough jobbing, Villain A ends up suffering from a combination of Villain Decay and the Worf effect. Sometimes a later creator likes to have a new villain “job” to a classic villain to help reestablish the old villain’s badassery.

For example look at how badass Mongul and Doomsday were when they first appeared and how much easier they became to beat each succeeding appearance.

Also, in general new characters don’t have much staying power, in regards to heroes AND villains. I think a big part of this is that some creators are afraid of inadvertently creating the next Superman or Spider-Man in a work-for-hire setting and save their best creations for themselves. They want the new characters to be cool and popular, but not all-out iconic either. Also playing a role is that readers are very nostalgia-motivated, regardless of the objective merits of the things they’re nostalgic about.

“–But I won’t give him a tumble!”

So if he’d shown up at 11:50 on the dot, you WOULD have “given him a tumble?”

Maybe they were supposed to meet at 11:50 to get somewhere for a midday lunch, as he is meeting here at her desk

“New villains created by their peers though? Much less universal respect, because it’s new and created by your coworker.”

Excellent analysis, which I’d extend to “new villains created by the previous generation of their peers”.

Example data point: when the Spook first appeared in the Batman comics at the beginning of the 1970s, he was compelling and seemingly unstoppable. Batman’s opinion at the time was along the lines that he had never been so challenged by a foe before.

Alas, the version of the Spook presented in his final story (in Gotham Knights?) was an almost unrecognisable parody.

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@ T.

The problem with DC heroes isn’t so much that they’re overpowered but that their rogue’s galleries are so damn UNDERpowered. Flash’s rogues are awesome in a vacuum, but as the top villains of a man who can run at light speed and through solid objects, they’re horrible. They’d be great Batman villains though.

Personally, I think the problem was that the supporting casts of those DC Silver Age books were too shallow. Barry Allen really only had Iris and later Wally. Hal Jordan had Carol Ferris and Tom Kalmaku. Ray Palmer had only Jean Loring. Wonder Woman mostly had Steve Trevor and Hippolyta. Batman had Robin, Alfred and Jim Gordon. Superman had the deepest cast, but Lois and Jimmy were holding down their own titles.

There were not really that many places to except to the villain of the month, since the love interest stories were mostly at the front or the back.

Silver Age Marvel had much, much deeper casts. That enabled Stan Lee to go other places with the story, which slowed the process of villain decay.

“When he goes to meet up with his girlfriend, Iris Allen…” ????

SPOILER ALERT – so they did get married then?

See, the odd thing to me is how few of the DC Silver Age stories really used recurring villains compared to Marvel. Marvel had a new or returning supervillain in virtually every story. DC, in keeping with Schwartz, Fox, and Broome all being big on 1940s sci-fi, usually had “problem plots” where ordinary criminals or weird aliens popped up to cause one-off troubles for the Flash, GL, and so on.

A few of these weird aliens and other sci-fi throwbacks became recurring villains too: thus Sinestro, Gorilla Grodd, and Abra Kadabra. Brainiac is probably the king of th eype, having started as a generic “little green man” made more memorable by the Kandor gimmick, and later getting a very distinct origin story and M.O. out of it when he was revealed to be a robotic menace.

Even when the more human supervillains did turn up, they, too, were usually used to cause or worsen special, one-time problems — Captain Cold freezing the city solid, for example, or the Top striking when Barry was succumbing to a mysterious rapid aging problem. The first two actual Rogues Gallery team-up stories have the Flash being mysteriously weakened by “special radiation” (courtesy of Grodd) and, in the second, dealing with a mirror world and its evil Flash counterpart thanks to the Mirror Master.

The villains could be underpowered because almost no DC Silver Age stories were about straight up fights with baddies as at Marvel. The teamed-up heroes were always encountering teams of their solo foes at the same time they were constrained from using their powers (JLofA #28), or having their memories erased (#14), or being zapped into limbo by a prearranged magic curse whether they won or lost the actual fight (#21-2 and #29).

@Bernard: “I have always thought that writing scripts for the Flash must be a nightmare – with his super-reflexes and ability to move quicker than the eye means that he should comfortably be able to defeat virtually every villain in the DC universe. What is a writer meant to do? You can’t have him battle super-speedsters every month? I surprised that no-one ever invented a Flash-style equivalent to Krytonite.”

See, and that’s why I think the Rogues Gallery deserves more credit for being the perfect foils for the Flash. The first page Brian posted illustrates why: their abilities are all designed to make it really, really hard or dangerous for someone to run. You’ve got a guy who plays tricks on your eyes, an ape who plays tricks with your mind, a guy who makes things slippery, a guy who throws all sorts of crappy weather at you and a guy who (as buttler suggested) can melt the ground beneath you into wet tar.

Oh, and a guy, who … er, throws boomerangs.

But even with Boomerbutt, it’s a brilliantly conceived group of antagonists for a speedster.

Barry Allen was still better when he was dead.

Bitter Wally Fans Really Are Pathetic

August 18, 2011 at 11:57 am

@graffiX: And Wally is better when he’s in limbo.

@Bernard: “I have always thought that writing scripts for the Flash must be a nightmare – with his super-reflexes and ability to move quicker than the eye means that he should comfortably be able to defeat virtually every villain in the DC universe.”

I remember when Wally became the Flash. There was a story where he went to a Rogues’ party and he talked with one of the Rogues who wondered the same thing. Wally told him Barry did that so that the Rogues would concentrate on him rather than anything else. It made sense: if the Flash zipped in at the speed of light and took the Rogues out, he’d be an impossible foe to beat and thus they’d probably go to Gotham City out of helpless frustration; by running in slow enough to be seen, the Flash convinced the Rogues to be hopeful in their frustration in trying to beat him, which meant they’d keep focusing on him until they succeeded.

Jean Loring and Ray had an affectionate relationship. The fact she wanted them both to have established careers first doesn’t make them any less loving.
Regarding Carol Ferris, Broome didn’t mention her father that much, actually: When I first saw him a 1970s reprint, I was quite surprised that Carol hadn’t been the full boss of Ferris because that’s how she appeared.
Omar, there’s a couple of Schwartz super-hero stories that are close enough to a Strange Adventures I wondered if they started that way. There’s Flash’s battle against the cloud creatures and GL’s run in with time-traveling pterodactyls (in which I don’t think he appears until halfway in).

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