The Last Race

Showcase Presents: The Trial of the Flash, written by Cary Bates and Joey Cavalieri, illustrated by Carmine Infantino, Dennis Jensen, Frank McLaughlin, Klaus Janson and others (1983-85; collected 2011): I can’t think of a major superhero who became tragedy’s punching bag more than DC’s Flash did in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s. And I’m not sure why this was allowed to happen. But happen it did. His greatest villain killed his wife, and that was just the beginning. A couple of years later that same villain — 25th-century speedster Professor Zoom, aka The Reverse-Flash — tried to kill the Flash’s fiancee on their wedding day. In the ensuing super-speed struggle, the Flash breaks Zoom’s neck, killing him.

And so begins one of the longest storylines ever contained in a single DC title, The Trial of the Flash, which would ultimately span nearly three years and end with the cancellation of that title. It was a story so long that several peripheral issues of the title are omitted here to allow the collection (still the longest in the Showcase reprint series) to avoid requiring two volumes. It’s still enough, and maybe too much.

By 1985, DC had decided to reboot its entire line of superheroes, beginning with a massive crossover event/line-wide reboot and purge called Crisis on Infinite Earths. The Flash would play a pivotal but heroically self-sacrificing role in that event. After the Crisis, his nephew Wally West would take over as the Flash in the brave new post-Crisis world. Ultimately, this is The Last Flash Story But One. Sort of. To paraphrase Algis Budrys, in comic books death is always conditional.

The Barry Allen version of the Flash helped usher in DC’s Silver Age in the 1950’s, as new characters were given the names of cancelled heroes of the 1940’s, most prominently the Flash, Green Lantern, the Atom and Hawkman. They apparently lived on a different Earth than their 1940’s forebears (in the first appearance of the Barry Allen Flash, Barry is seen reading a comic-book issue of the 1940’s Flash from whom, after gaining his super-speed powers, Barry ultimately takes his superhero name).

Writer John Broome and penciller Carmine Infantino made the Flash a zippy, fun, quasi-super-scientific thrill ride over the character’s first decade. (In-story ‘Flash Facts’ gave explanations of certain speed and scientific effects seen in the story, such as how a boomerang works). In The Trial of the Flash, Infantino has returned to the character after nearly 20 years away, staying with him to the end with pencils that are much more stylized and ‘loose’ than his Silver Age work, but still often possessed of a quality of speed and quickness and time-bending simultaneity that most other Flash artists have lacked.

Longtime Flash writer Cary Bates puts the Scarlet Speedster through quite a wringer here, as various parties try to wipe out the Flash’s defense lawyers, kill him before the trial, or just do the usual super-villain thing of mayhem and thievery. It’s a surprisingly harrowing and often downbeat ride, though it does have a conditional happy ending — conditional because the Flash’s fate in Crisis will supercede any ending in his own title and, indeed, that fate had already been published before the storyline herein ended.

It would take more than 20 years for the Barry Allen Flash to return from the dead — several eternities in superhero comics — and his history has recently been purged and restarted once again. There are some absurdities here, and one major annoyance (that would be the frankly ridiculous mental health issues of Flash’s fiancee Fiona), but overall this is a lot of melodramatic fun. It would have been interesting to see what occasional cover inker Klaus Janson (so integral to Frank Miller’s art on Daredevil and The Dark Knight Returns) could have done with Infantino’s interior pencils — the Infantino covers Janson inks are terrific — but the interior art remains solid and sometimes startling. Recommended.

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