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Flash 176
"Death Stalks the Flash!"

COVER IMAGE NOT FOUND February 1968; DC Comics; Julius Schwartz, editor; featuring "Death Stalks the Flash!" and "Professor West-- Lost, Strayed, or Stolen?", both by John Broome, writer, and Ross Andru and Mike Esposito, artists.

On the cover, which looks to me like a Carmine Infantino and Murphy Anderson job, a spectral Grim Reaper type figure looms over the Flash, amid heavy green mists, and intones, "Come Flash-- your time is up!" while the stunned speedster bows his head and responds, "I-I can't resist!"

This review is by special request of Bob Buethe, so rather than beginning with the lead story, I'll review the backup first, "Professor West-- Lost, Strayed or Stolen!" On the splash page, the Flash speeds toward his father-in-law, Prof. West, who is being shot at by a grinning crook who says, "So long, Professor Northeast! It's been nice knowing you!" The Professor is unfazed by the fact that he is microseconds from death, but he is miffed that "When will you get my name straight? It's Professor SOUTH *er* I think!"

Meeting for lunch, married couple Barry and Iris Allen share their worries about the behavior of Iris' father, whose absent-mindedness is reaching major proportions. Barry is annoyed that the Professor has mislaid his electric shaver, and also fears that he will wander off and get into trouble. To guard against that possibility, he has given Prof. West a special wristwatch with a vibratory signal that the Flash can detect through his special costume-ring-- "provided he doesn't MISLAY the watch, of course!" In addition, Barry has enrolled Prof. West in the memory course of one Dr. Binzo, which the Allens hope will cure the Professor's absent-mindedness. At the course session, Dr. Binzo exposes his students to "infra-ultra light [that] will penetrate directly into the memory centers of your brains!" The students are supposed to think of some particular thing they want to remember, but Prof. West is distracted by his seat-mate who looks vaguely familiar.

Leaving the class, the hoodish-looking student meets with his fellow gang members, but confesses that the memory treatment was a failure; he still cannot remember where he hid the gang's loot! But Prof. West is inspired as he realizes exactly when and where he met the man before, and he is determined to let him know; seven years ago, he saw that same man digging a hole in the ground. "Er-- do you think you could take me and my friends back to that hole, Professor North? You can't imagine what a favor you'd be doing us, Professor Northwest!" "Northwest? No, it's EAST-- I ought to know!" "Okay, Professor EAST, then!" The Professor, whatever his name is, gets in the crooks' car with them and leads them some distance to the spot in the woods where he saw the hole being dug. The hoods dig again and retrieve the chest of loot they've been searching for. But they keep digging, for they have another use for the hole-- to put the Professor in, after they "knock him off" since he "knows too much". Even as one of the crooks pulls out his gun, the Professor is all but oblivious to what is going on, reflecting only, "Dear me! These men do and say the most EXTRAORDINARY things!"

Meanwhile, however, Iris is worried about her father, and she asks Barry to track him down using the vibratory watch. As the Flash, he follows the vibratory signal "halfway to the state line", wondering how Prof. West has wandered so far. He arrives on the scene after the gangster has actually fired his gun, too late to do his usual trick of catching the bullets at super-speed. Instead, "my breath at super-speed...has the force of a tornado!" and he blows the bullets away from the Professor and into a tree. (This is presumably the "super-breath" scene you were asking about, Bob. On the letters page, Julie Schwartz responds to a complaint that the Flash's super-speed stunts were getting too far-fetched by stating that he didn't want Flash's familiar feats to be "old hat", and so "if the surprise stunt conceivably can be a result of super-speed, it's in!" I'd say this super-breath stunt is one of these cases of pushing the envelope.) The gang attempts to flee into the woods, but Flash fells a tree with super-fast karate chops and traps the criminals in its branches. After taking them into custody, Flash explains to Prof. West that they had committed a robbery seven years earlier and were caught and sent to prison, and by the time they got out they had forgotten where they hid the loot-- until the Professor reminded them. Back at home, Barry has his electric shaver back, but he finds there is a disadvantage to the successful memory treatment, as the Professor wanders around the house rattling off trivia of his past life; "...and when iris was TWELVE we moved to BOSTON! We lived at 317 Avocado Street! I took the 8:17 train every morning....arriving at the University at 8:30! I can name every telephone number I ever had! Bryant 909-- that was the first! After that-- Webster 2010!" Etc, etc.etc.... Iris whispers to Barry, "I'm beginning to think we were better off when Father's memory wasn't so good!" and Barry is obliged to agree.

Today, this story doesn't come across as cute and humorous as it was intended.... when you see an elderly person who can't remember his own name and doesn't realize what's happening when he's about to be shot, the first thought is you're looking at a case of full-blown Alzheimer's disease, and that's not much of a laughing matter.

Also not a laughing matter is the lead story in which "Death Stalks the Flash!" On the splash, Flash speeds away from the Death-figure which is reaching out its bony, bandaged hands for him. Iris Allen lies hospitalized with a "severe case of grippe", but more disturbing than her symptoms is her fear for her husband Barry, who has gone away on a "business emergency". The "emergency" is actually a case for the Flash, who has set out to help police capture a crook named Bolton. "Why am I so full of dread? I know as the wife of the Flash I must be brave! Yet I have a sinking feeling that something TERRIBLE is going to happen...!" As Flash speeds towards the door behind which the criminal Bolton is holed up, the crook fires a hail of bullets through the door, but Flash vibrates his body to cause the bullets to pass through him. Vibrating through the wall, he disarms and subdues Bolton and hurries back to Iris' side, only to learn that she has taken a "sudden turn for the worse" and is now in a coma. She keeps muttering about the Flash, which Barry Allen explains to the nurses must be because she has covered many stories about him for her newspaper. But as Barry sits at Iris' bedside, she continues to speak of how she senses that her husband, the Flash, is being "stalked by Death!" Despite his vast super-speed powers, Barry feels helpless to do anything to relieve her condition, in which her physical illness is exacerbated by nightmares. Then he recalls how in the past, as he accelerated past the speed of light, while passing through "a certain band in the spectrum of velocity" he experienced a feeling of dread that reminded him of the sensation of a nightmare. Perhaps, by reaching that band, he can do something to relieve Iris' deadly dreams. Assuming his Flash guise, he begins racing until he reaches the dream-band. In that shadowy area, he witnesses wisps of other people's fearful dreams, then spots a dream-Iris watching horrified as the Death-figure stalks a dream-Flash. Merging with his dream self, Flash races away from Death, figuring that if he can escape in the dream, Iris will be reassured. But Death's cloak "sets up an overwhelming suction," and Death itself can move at super-speed, just as the Flash. Flash tries running in a circle around Death to crush it with air pressure, but his efforts are useless. But as Flash tries various vibrations against Death, he realizes that it recoils from some of them, and discovers that those particular vibrations create flashes of light-- which is the weakness of Death, a creature of gloom and darkness. Vibrating in such as way as to create colored lights that merge into white light surrounding Death, Flash causes the spectral figure to shrink and disappear. But before vanishing altogether Death prophesies, "One day DEATH will win over YOU, Flash! It is as inevitable as...AHHHH!" Speeding away from the zone of Death back to the normal world, Flash returns as Barry to the hospital, where he finds that Iris' fever has broken and she is recovering. A wan but smiling Iris tells Barry of her "incredible dream" in which the Flash defeated Death, and he reflects that when she is well he will tell her how he "actually took part in her dream! There's nothing I need keep from her, now that she's my CONFIDANT as well as my WIFE!" But, as we all know (though John Broome didn't, at the time), Barry Allen eventually kept his appointment with Death, at the Crisis on Infinite Earths.