The cover to The Flash No. 107 shows the Flash being beaten by a runner who is running backwards. It’s somewhat interesting as an attention grabber, but not as interesting as it could have been. That’s because the first story in the book features the return of Grodd the super gorilla, and that, kids, is who we should have seen on the cover. Carmine Infantino, who also drew the Detective Chimp feature in Rex the Wonder Dog, had his gorillas down and then some, and a cover featuring Grodd would have jumped off the comics spinner rack. What I suspect was going on here was that the editor Julie Schwartz had given John Broome a cover idea to turn into a story and Broome did yeoman’s work in delivering one. But, left to his own devices, Broome returned to the terrific villain he had created from the previous issue for the second story in the book.
As I mentioned in my previous post, (go ahead and read it if you haven’t, I can wait) villains appearing in back to back issues just wasn’t the norm back then. Each Superman or Batman book essentially started over from scratch with each succeeding issue. That fact alone marked Grodd’s back to back appearances as something significantly different. It also marked Grodd’s comeback as something very very cool. The story, The Return of the Super Gorilla, opens with strange metal borers popping up in a farmer’s field, a New England forest. I’ve always been a sucker for stories that start small and end big. Gandalf coming to Bilbo Baggins door in The Hobbit, the stowaway sneaking aboard the ship headed for Skull Island in King Kong, that sort of stuff. Innocuous beginnings that grow into great set pieces of bravura story telling.
The scene then shifts to Gorilla City where the head scientist Solovar is receiving a message from another gorilla. Infantino’s art is just gorgeous here with striking shots of gorillas set against futuristic scientific machinery. It was enough to make a twelve-year-old’s head spin, which, of course, was the entire point. Solovar is told that the villainous Grodd has escaped confinement and he immediately gets on the gamma frequency horn to Barry Allen in his lab in Central City. In typing the words Central City, I’ve suddenly realized that it might have subconsciously been the precursor of Centerville, the town in which Crankshaft lives. I kind of hope it was. As the Flash, Barry immediately heads off to the “isolated part of Africa wherein resides Gorilla City (I guess I’m lucky I didn’t call Crankshaft’s town Gorillaville… dodged one there). As the Flash and Solovar pow wow, we switch to a scene “many miles below the Earth’s crust” where we see Grodd holding a pow wow of his own with a winged creature from an underground civilization. This is the first of a number of underground civilizations that will be discovered in the pages of The Flash. Just as with the villains who shoot the Flash into space, I’ll try to keep a running count of how often this happens. Katmos from issue #105 doesn’t count because he only lived in a cave. And, of course, the humanoidish creature from the underground world is bald. I’ve seen pictures of Carmine Infantino from around this time and he was well on his way to going bald so maybe that has something to do with all of the baldness that’s so rampant among the humanoid-like aliens that that the Flash encounters.
Grodd and the winged guy seem to have bonded somewhat, and, as new friends will do, they plan to conquer the Earth together (the borers are explained away as merely a distraction as in “Hey, let’s go conquer the Earth from the underground here, but first let’s distract them with borers from the underground!” Huh?). Grodd has also developed a devolutionizer ray to reducer to reduce the Flash and his gorilla buddies to primitive primates. Once again, scientific theories like evolution are presented and taken for granted, which made their twelve-year-old reader accept them and take them for granted as well, thus putting us ever so slightly ahead of the real world curve. Meanwhile (I can’t tell you how long I’ve been waiting to type that), Solivar tells the Flash that Grodd appears to be hiding underground and so the Flash shows up at the underground civilization. In his first encounter with Grodd, the underground air, the mola, solidifies around the Flash as he moves at high speed (I never claimed all the science was great) which is a break for Grodd. Unfortunately for Grodd, the Flash’s solidified form crashes into the devolutionizer damaging it. The Flash is put on display on a pedestal in the town and Grodd goes back to the drawing board. The Flash escapes by rocking the pedestal until he falls off and it breaks the solidified mola around him. He then stops Grodd just as he’s about to get down to business with the repaired devoultionizer. Upon returning Grodd to Gorilla City, the Flash is assured by Grodd that they’ll be more careful about watching him this time (yeah, right) and all ends well.
All in all, the story continues to build on cool twin concepts of both Grodd and Gorilla City, and despite a couple of fallacies you could drive a Humvee through, is a nice solid mind-expanding adventure that makes you eager for more of this gorilla saga.
I wish the same could be said for The Amazing Race Against Time!, the second story. Unfortunately, the story stretches credulity a bit too much (I know… I just raved about a story with super scientific gorillas, but a guy’s got to have his standards). In it, an artificial humanoid is sent by the Masters of the Galaxy to repair a dimensional rift using super speed to do it. On his way he crashes on Earth, gets amnesia, races the Flash and beats him, gets some electric shock treatments, loses his artificial amnesia, takes the Flash to repair the rift, and goes home leaving the Flash happy that at least he’s still the fastest human. Somehow it just didn’t work for me. It didn’t add to the mythos and stretched things a bit too much. As a writer, you need to play within the boundaries you’ve defined even as you’re defining them if that makes any sense ( You may want to keep a count of your own on just how often I contradict myself on this as we go along). Whatever it was, the story just didn’t feel right. It went a little too far too fast, but, when your character is called the Flash, I suppose that sort of thing is bound to happen.
Two last thoughts – first, the Masters of the Galaxy were bald, but who didn’t see that coming? Second, the scene with the Masters all looking down from a long curved dais seemed just a bit familiar, and it makes you wonder if they were the precursors for the blue skinned Guardians that Broome would later create in the pages of Green Lantern. As they say at the end of every Science Channel show I’ve ever watched, we may never know the real answer.