The switch in artists on The Flash from Carmine Infantino, Murphy Anderson, and Joe Giella to Ross Andru and Mike Esposito hit us Flashionados pretty hard. Although the cover to #177 was a pretty typical Silver Age Flash cover, the art inside definitely was not typical Flash art by any stretch. The story was a better than average Gardner Fox outing in which he was given the full book to play with. While this was nothing unusual, the multiple story issues were on their way to becoming a permanent thing of the past, no doubt in response to Marvel Comics book length features. I’m ballparking this here, but I’m pretty sure that by this juncture, the stories in Marvel were already into their never ending saga mode which the entire industry would soon adopt as their modus operandi. Fox’s story features the Trickster in a plot to blow-up the Flash’s head by means of a special radiation. There’s some nice character work on the Trickster as he anguishes over his plan not working at first and then goes into full gloating villain mode as he and the Flash engage in a nine page battle royal (nine pages was usually the length of the stories in the multiple story issues). The Trickster’s pet mynah bird is introduced in this story, and, as we all know, a mynah bird in the first act usually goes off in the third. That’s exactly what happens here as proximity to the bird, who Mr. T had first experimented on with the same radiation, reduces the Flash’s symptoms and leads him to concoct an antidote radiation.
It’s the art, however, that hauls everything down and tends to color the story in a dissatisfying way, and lends a foreign feel to the whole shebang. Let me state again that Andru and Esposito were very solid artists (Andru’s work on the Ononos story arc in the Tarzan Sunday page remains a personal favorite), but compared to Carmine’s futuristic, sleek, light and design oriented vision of the Flash, the new art sank like a hammer in a lake. The features of the characters seemed to either look bug-eyed or cross-eyed and just failed in every way to emulate the graceful style that had preceded it. It’s been said that Julie Schwartz wasn’t too happy with the art, and, here, I can proffer a little personal insight. Julie appeared at a 50th anniversary Superman convention in Cleveland (you do the math) and I waited in line for the opportunity to personally thank him for the long ago letter and artwork that he had sent me. He asked me what he had sent to me, and, when I told him that it was an Infantion/Anderson story, his eyes sparkled and he broke into a big smile as he said, “Ahh… that was beautiful stuff!”. There seem to be two conflicting stories extant and to why Carmine personally picked the new artists. One says that he thought they were the closest match to his work, and the other that they were the total opposite (which they were). It’s a pick ’em call.
The lag time between between the books publication and the published comments of the readers meant that they didn’t yet have a chance to weigh-in on the art, but it wouldn’t be long before the fewmits were going to hit the Flash-Grams.