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Flash 197
"Four Star Super-Hero"

Mike Friedrich... writer Gil Kane and Vince Colletta... artists

"Human communication is a many-faceted phenomenon -- old friends often develop private non-verbal 'talk'..." Or weird tics. For instance, detective Charlie Conwell has a habit of tugging his left ear whenever he finds the solution to a mystery. And his close friend, scientist Barry Allen, congratulates him by grinning and tapping his nose. (His own nose, that is, not Charlie's.)

But this silent conversation is interrupted when Charlie receives a telephone tip that jewelry thief "Ice" King is in the process of committing a robbery. As Charlie dashes out of the office, Barry presses a switch on his ring, and the crimson-and-gold costume of the Flash springs forth.

A snowstorm hit Central City the night before, leaving slippery streets as a hazard for the Flash's fleet feet. But the tricky "Ice" King has planned a getaway on skis! (I never realized that Central City was so hilly before.) Flash makes a snowball and rolls it ahead of him, hoping to pin King under a frosty boulder. King dodges, and leaps into the air using a parked car as a ramp, but Flash karate-chops his skis to pieces in mid-air. King falls to the ground, grabs his chest, and passes out. Flash examines King's motionless form, hears no heartbeat, and panics. An ambulance appears to carry King off to the emergency room. But when they leave the scene, we learn that the paramedics were actually King's men, and King had turned off his pacemaker to cover his getaway. He's cool as ice and sharp as an icicle, he tells us.

Meanwhile, Charlie Conwell arrives at the scene and Flash tells him what happened. Though Flash is still too stunned to think clearly, Charlie wonders how the ambulance arrived so fast, and realizes that it must have been a phony. He tugs his ear... and reflexively, the Flash taps his nose. Catching himself, he tries to cover by faking a sneeze, but it's too late. Charlie's suspicions have been aroused.

The next morning, Barry learns that his wife Iris has a new temporary job as theater critic for Picture News. She says that Central City has a lively theater scene, and Barry should get involved in something like that to speed him up a bit. That gives him an idea. He took some acting classes in college... training that helped him develop his double identity... and he could use a refresher. The police department is putting on a production of Hamlet (Why they're doing this is never stated... probably to raise money for PAL, or something.) and Barry decides to audition.

He gets home late that night, but for a good reason... he did audition, and landed the role of Horatio. He memorizes the play at super-speed before dinner, and over the next several days, endures rehearsals under the grueling direction of Dexter Myles, ex-Shakespearean actor and curator of the Flash Museum.

But the morning before the performance, Barry gets a call from Dexter telling him that the entire cast has come down with a virus, and the performance will have to be cancelled. Barry tells Dexter that he's got it, too, and Dexter tells him to stay home, drink plenty of liquids, lots of rest, and take aspirin. But there's no rest for Barry as he changes to the Flash, and races to the theater. He offers to help Dexter out by performing the entire play... by himself. Dexter is astounded, and points out that the female performers have been stricken as well as the males... but Flash notes that, in the days of the Bard, even female roles were performed by men. Dexter quotes, "Though this be madness, yet there is method in it!" and Flash replies, "Or a bit more modernly -- 'What have you got to lose? The show must go on!'"

And, in a full-page panel, we see Barry racing through costume changes and lines, performing fifteen different roles in a one-man show.

The audience cheers. The "cast" comes out for a curtain call, and as they bow, their empty costumes fall to the floor, leaving only the Flash to take the final bow before a stunned audience.

Backstage, Flash collapses. Not only is he exhausted from the show, but he realizes that the virus has now hit him. He staggers to his dressing room... but he's spotted by "Ice" and his men, who had come to the theater disguised in police uniforms, planning to relieve the guests of their jewelry. Recognizing their chance, they charge at Flash. Having only seconds to act, Flash accelerates his metabolism, drinking lots of water and swallowing aspirin, hoping to flush the virus from his system before the thugs can get to him. But he's seized by stomach cramps, because he's been skipping the vital resting stage.

Resisting his instincts to fight back, Flash concentrates on doing absolutely nothing... letting his body go limp, while the crooks pound away at him. Thinking he's done for, but wanting to make sure, King and his men draw their guns... but then Flash springs back to life, grabbing King's ankles and swinging him into the other two.

Having taken the gang into custody, Barry returns home where Iris nurses his wounds. Then the doorbell rings. It's Charlie Conwell, dropping in to see how Barry is feeling. Barry calls from the bedroom for Charlie to come in... but he uses Flash's voice. Why? Because, when Charlie and Iris enter the room, they find Flash at Barry's bedside, also there to wish him well. Iris is amazed that even in these close quarters, they can't see that Barry is "leaping out of bed... switching to the patch-faced Flash... changing back to Barry again, as he removes the patch and dabs his bruise with make-up... so fast that his continuous action gives the illusion of being in two places at the same time."

Even after the amazing stage show, Charlie can't believe that the Flash is fast enough to pull off a stunt like this, and gives up on his suspicion that Barry and the Flash could be one and the same. After he leaves, Iris and Barry share a laugh, as she tell him that his performance in Hamlet was only worthy of three stars, but this last trick rated him "an extra special four stars!"

This Flash story has long been a personal favorite of mine. Not only does the Flash perform one of the most incredible (and taxing) speed stunts of his career, but he does it, not in a life-or-death crisis situation, but for a charity performance! Now that's a super-hero!

As impressed as I was with the super-fast theatrics, though, I have to say that the concept of resting at super-speed makes my head spin.

Charlie Conwell would next appear in Flash #224, only to be killed off in a story entitled "The Fastest Man Dead." Shortly after that, in Flash #232, his daughter Stacy would move in with the Allens while attending college nearby, creating a few years worth of secret identity complications for Barry.