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Showcase 4
"Mystery of the Human Thunderbolt!"

COVER IMAGE NOT FOUND October, 1956

Story: Robert Kanigher Art: Carmine Infantino and Joe Kubert Editor: Julius Schwartz

It's October, 1956 and the first super-hero of the Silver Age has arrived! It's The Flash, but although he shares the same power of super-speed as Jay Garrick, the Golden Age Flash, his costume is very different indeed. In this, his first adventure, who would be the villain to put his speed through its first paces and to its utmost? The Rogues Gallery would be further down the road and Earth-2 would be as well. For this premiere adventure, the Scarlet Speedster would test his mettle against... the Turtle Man?? It's the Fastest Man on Earth vs. the World's Slowest Man in a story which lasts longer than you would think.

Bursting from the confines of a comics page, the Flash is speeding out of a panel and onto the splash page! The story begins with the beeping of a radar screen at a military station on the east coast. This attracts a sergeant's attention, as the radar operator is certain that it's not a UFO, but it is traveling on the ground, faster than anything known! The object that they're tracking has just shattered the sound barrier, and its speed is increasing, while the commanding officer is certain that nothing on Earth can move as fast as that.

The scene shifts to a few days before. Lightning is producing jagged lines in the night's sky over Central City, as Barry Allen is on his break and is enjoying his comic magazine of The Flash, with the character's super-ability to use tremendous speed to fight crime. (Who would suspect that reading a certain comic book would bequeath the character's powers onto the reader? Well, let's settle for our imagination, shall we?)

Barry wonders what it would be like to be the Fastest Man Alive, but he's sure he'll never know since the Flash is a fictional character. When his break is over, Barry is going over his collection of chemicals on the nearby cabinet, but then... CRAAAAK! Lightning comes through the open window and shatters some of the bottled chemicals, giving Barry an unexpected bath, but he's more concerned about the state of the cabinet than for his own safety. Leaving the police station, Barry sees a cab and dashes after it.

As he begins to run, he gains speed until his movements are at blurring speed, and in that same moment, he outruns the taxi as if it were parked! (Barry's so shocked, he leaves his hat behind!) Coming to a stop, he thinks that the lightning must have dazed him more than he thought and stops by an all-night diner. As Barry is seated at his booth, a waitress accidentally drops her tray. To Barry's eyes, the plates of food are hanging in mid-air, as if frozen in time. His hands lithely reach for every item and gathers them at super-speed, setting them on the tray, while the waitress can't believe her senses. Barry examines his own cup of coffee and still can't believe that he has been given super-speed. He heads home.

The next morning finds the young police scientist getting ready for another day. He rationalizes that he outran the taxi because it was parked and he stopped the tray of food before it actually fell. In the evening, Barry meets Iris, and tells her that he was late because he was checking some new chemicals, but his eyes soon fix on something that must be impossible... he sees in slow motion... a bullet heading for Iris! But, before anything else can happen, Barry gets her off to the side, as the bullet goes into a nearby wall. Iris is grateful for the save, but attributes it to an accident, as a passing policeman tells them that the bullet came from the Turtle Man, "The Slowest Man on Earth!" At the lab, Barry surveys the chemical cabinet, as he realizes that he's been given super-speed and the comic book give him an idea about how to use it. Later in the day, the remote hookup with the alarm system alerts him to a crime in progress at Central Bank. As he presses a stud on his ring, a chemical solution causes his costume to expand to life-size.

Donning it, he races down the side of a building, immune to the effects of gravity. He creates a sonic boom as he races through the streets, which is picked up at the radar station. A dramatic intro for the Fastest Man Alive, as the crimson blur becomes the Flash in full view before the Central Bank! He heads to the bank vault, but there's no sign of the Turtle Man or of anything having been stolen!

After asking the bank employees about the robbery, the Flash realizes that the Turtle Man intended to return and continue to rob the bank once more. As he streaks towards the bank, he sees the shadow of the criminal, and runs at it at super-speed, but as he reaches out for the dark figure, Flash sees that it's a painted silhouette, a trick by the Turtle,w hich causes him to bore through the brick wall like a drill. The Turtle emerges from a manhole, entertained by his handiwork.

The Flash realizes that the Turtle Man is using his super-speed against him, as he dashes through the sewers, and emerges from the maze of tunnels to see his foe using a rowboat. He jumps into a nearby speedboat, but the Turtle Man has booby-trapped it, as it begins to sink beneath the water.

The Flash rises and runs on the water, in pursuit of the Turtle Man, but his speed vibrations cause the rowboat to remain out of his reach as he chases after it. As the Turtle Man is certain that "slow and steady" will win this race, Flash changes direction.

The speedster races around the rowboat at super-speed, causing a whirlpool which snags the rowboat and throws its passenger adrift. The Turtle Man is a little slow on the uptake to figure out what has just happened, but Flash knew what the end result would be when the World's Slowest Man met the World's Fastests Man! As reporters cover the capture of the Turtle Man, one of them comments that the Scarlet Speedster caught the thief in a flash, and as another reporter asks him what his name is, he tells them... The Flash! Later, Barry joins Iris for a walk, but her attention is focused on Central City's newest super-hero.

I enjoyed how Robert Kanigher had the two soldiers act astonished at what their radar showed. At times, it's the reaction of the characters in the book to the hero which makes the story work for me. It was also nice of Kanigher, Infantino, Kubert, and Schwartz to acknowledge Jay Garrick in a clever cameo appearance on the cover of the comic which Barry is reading.

Only in the Silver Age can a police scientist be splattered by some chemicals in a lightning storm and be more concerned about the furnishings.

How many times have we tried to catch a bus or a cab and have dreamed of being able to travel great distances in a brief time under the power of our own two feet?

I loved how Barry caught the falling tray for the waitress, and I'm sure that he must have left her a generous tip. The diner itself appeared in Fred Hembeck's column during the Crisis issue of Comic Buyer's Guide, as well as in the second issue of Flash and Green Lantern: The Brave & The Bold #2, by Mark Waid, Tom Peyer, and Barry Kitson.

It is only when Barry sees Iris in danger that he puts two and two together regarding his acquired speed, plus he saves her in his regular identity. Infantino and Kubert's version of Barry resembles Dick Van Dyke.

Since the accident, I presume that Barry's thought processes were sped up as well, enabling him to come up with the Flash ring, as this idea has been portrayed in Flashpoint, by Pat McGreal and Norm Breyfogle. Not bad for an Elseworlds story.

It's funny how Barry dons the costume and doesn't call himself the Flash until the reporters ask him who he is. Until that point, he's a police scientist with super-speed, on an unusual case, to say the least.

I was impressed that the Turtle Man was able to last this long against the Flash, but then he's a breath of fresh air when compared to the latest monster/wrestler/mutant of the month.

Steve Chung
"Review of the Human Thunderbolt!"