THE FLASH #122, August 1961
Carmine Infantino and Joe Giella, original artists
During my initial glorious flurry of investigation, delving into a sparkling new world of costumed do-gooders during that halcyon spring of 1961, THE FLASH #122 was this then-eight year old's memorable introduction to DC's Scarlet Speedster. As evidenced by an enclosed house ad, it'd only be a matter of weeks before the monumentally classic SECRET ORIGINS Giant would go on sale, and for a mere two bits, I'd soon learn the secrets—preposterous as they ultimately were—of police scientist Barry Allen's dramatic (AND far-fetched) transformation into the Fastest Man Alive.

Didn't matter. Even without the nuts and bolts background, I loved the Flash right from the start, and, with the probable exception of good ol' Superman, he remains my favorite DC character--WHOSOEVER happens to be wearing the costume currently!

And why not? With that bright, sleek outfit, nifty name, and the sort of super abilities that a goofy little kid like myself could actually aspire to, he represented the perfect fantasy alter ego . Let's face it, conjuring large green objects with a ring didn't really appeal to me—and let's not even discuss the notion of bullets and bracelets, okay?--but running really, really fast, well, THAT I could easily imagine! Not that I possessed any real speed, mind you, but thanks to the Flash—and most especially, artist Carmine Infantino—I could always dream...

Just look at that cover. It would be the first time—but happily, not the last—I'd witness Infantino's masterful linear representation of speed via the judicious use of multiple images. I soon came to value Infantino's work above that of all other DC artists—even my already beloved Curt Swan—and in fact, rued the day Carmine finally left the pages of THE FLASH more than any other artistic change save for Steve Ditko's traumatic abandonment of his co-creation, Spider-Man. But in 1961, that was all years off in the future—now I had me a whole new world to explore!

The two stories in this issue—both written by John Broome and drawn by Infantino and inker Joe Giella—were “Beware The Atomic Grenade!” and Kid Flash in “The Face Behind The Mask!”. The latter featured a curiously pint-sized version of the title character in a quaint slice of human interest pablum concerning a masked rock and roller, one who's trying to hide his identity from members of the street gang he'd managed to escape, forging a successful singing career in the interim. Wouldn't you know it, though—an old associate discovers his ruse, and, in a classic blackmailing move, swoops in to manage his career—AND use him as cover for some hefty society heists. Naturally, Kid Flash—a fan of “Silver Mask”--comes to the rocker's aid, and wrests him out from underneath the weight of his past. Oh, but even with a clean record, the young warbler decides to keep the mask on—it's become his trademark, after all!

A slight if cute episode, distinguished to these old eyes years after the fact for its several outdated references to the persecuted performer as a “bobby sox idol”!! This was, after all, 1961—I don't think the term “bobby sox” was used very much longer after the emergence of of Elvis during the mid-fifties, if at all, but then, hey, DC always was renowned for being at least a decade—if not more—behind the times! (Okay, okay—I suppose if I were given the task of writing a story about a hip hop artist, I probably wouldn't fare much better than Julie and John's foray into rock. My title? “You Can't Touch This”, of course...)

The cover story was a whole 'nother kettle of fish. Though it introduced to the world a rather minor member of the Flash's vaunted Rogue's Gallery, the Top, it was hardly a pedestrian effort. (A secondary plot involving what I've just recently identified as probably the first gay character I'd ever seen in a comic book, fashion designer Anton Previn, is covered extensively—with pictures!—in the July 27th, 2004 “Fred Sez” entry elsewhere on this site. I invite the curious amongst you to take a peek ...) This adventure is exciting, entertaining, and, ultimately, silly—REAL silly!

In retrospect, editor Schwartz's material is pretty much nearly as goofy as that presided over by his more blatant contemporaries, Mort Weisinger and Jack Schiff. Julie's stuff just seemed more serious because, A) he went light on the more outre emotional aspects typically found in the dysfunctional family of Superman titles, and B) because he loaded the scripts down with asterisks providing bona fide scientific nuggets located at the bottom of panel after panel. But all the facts in the world concerning gyroscopes—several of which turn up herein—can't disguise several inescapable inanities found in this story...

Such as the origin of our friend, the Top. As a child, Roscoe Dillon discovered a box up in the attic containing several wooden tops, and, like just about any other kid, is instantly fascinated. Well, this WAS the pre-Gameboy era, remember, so, okay I can just about swallow that. Then, later, after Roscoe finds himself locked up in jail one too many times, he decides a change of approach is needed, (going straight is never considered) and so he chooses to harken back to his youthful obsession with tops in an effort to change his ever worsening luck. Um, okay. Whatever works, I suppose. He then proceeds to immerse himself in an all encompassing study of tops, after which he goes out and gets himself a—you should pardon the expression—flashy outfit. And then—and THIS is the true deal-breaker--well, let me quote our villain directly, just so you can get the full effect of the following pronouncement:

“I've learned how to spin myself like a top at incredible speed. And simultaneously, I've made a startling discovery—the spinning action increases my brain power! There's nothing I can't attempt now!”

Let's see if I understand this correctly—spinning round and round really, really fast DOESN'T make you dizzy, but instead makes you a genius? Huh? Guess I haven't been twirling much lately because I just don't get it...

However, while it may work wonders for your intellect, it sure doesn't improve your temperment—OR your judgement, for that matter! Because, using his newfound smarts, our baddie creates the cover-featured Atomic Grenade. Fine. But his plan? Simple: give it a spin, and if the governments of Earth don't surrender unilaterally to the Top—heretofore, merely a clever crook in a colorful outfit who'd used some gimmicky tops to rob a few banks in Central City—he'll let his device explode and destroy half the Earth.

That's right.

Half the Earth.

Not just half the city, or even half the country, but half the #@$*ing Earth!?! Nice guy, huh? The world's leaders are given a full ten hours to consider their course of action, while he awaits their decision—you guessed it—somewhere safe on the OTHER half of the Earth! All this is presented in a blithely matter of fact manner, evincing little more emotion than back when he knocked over the aforementioned banking institutions.

And of course, we readers never even see the presumed emergency meeting down at the U.N., as our pal the Flash quickly gets involved, and—hurray--saves the day. AND half the Earth! Nice job, fella.

After tracking down our potential mass murderer in North Africa, Flash drags him back home at super-speed to justice, saying--

"...And for trying to destroy half the globe, Top, I predict the courts will sentence you to one thousand years in jail!"

--which, you might think, would bum most anybody out. Not the Top. He could apparently put a positive spin on just about anything, as he calmly replied--

"Well, that's one consolation—no convict can TOP that prison term!"

And folks, after a line like THAT, neither can I. Nope, neither can I...