Or – “The First Superman/Flash Race!”
Comics in the 1960’s were a different animal than what we read today, and many people like to claim that as a dig on the old-school books. But if you really take the time to investigate old comics, you’ll occasionally find a concept so perfectly elegant that you wonder why ‘retro’ would ever be used as an insult. This, Faithful Spoilerites, is one of those issues…
Scripter: Jim Shooter
Penciler: Curt Swan
Inker: George Klein
Editor: Mort Weisinger
Publisher: DC Comics
Cover Price: 12 Cents
Current Near-Mint Price: $600.00
Previously, on Superman: Rocketed from the dead planet… Naaah, nevermind. You’ve probably got that part down. Let’s talk about Superman in the 1960’s. Under editor Mort Weisinger, the Silver Age Superman tales did something unheard of for comic book stories: They chained together events over more than one issue, creating a large-canvas continuity for the first time. Superman, Luthor, Supergirl, Lois and the supporting cast gained mostly-consistent personalities for the first time, and Weisinger’s insistence that each story have a strong hook (usually derived from previously-created cover drawings) made each story memorable. By 1967, DC Comics old guard was slowly being infiltrated by new blood, and one of the new hotshot writers was a teenager from Philadelphia named Jim Shooter. Shooter excelled at the Silver Age gimmicks, and in this issue, Shooter has crafted a tale that reflects his fanboy origins: Who’s faster, Superman, or The Flash? We begin in the offices of the United Nations’ Secretary General, a man with a proposition for two founding members of the Justice League…
The path chosen for the heroes to run is specially mapped to make things as interesting as possible, circling the globe over and over and crossing all manner of terrain as they go. The benefit will also generate much needed cash for impoverished nations by allowing the public to buy sweepstakes tickets backing one hero or the other. Unfortunately for those honest folk, the criminal element is also interested in the results of the race, putting huge sums of ill-gotten money on their man. The two largest criminal syndicates in the world each choose a different hero to back, and each has their own evil plans to secure their investments. After a quick recitation of the rules (no flying, no kicking, no spitting, and neither man is allowed to go their top speed, since nobody would be able to see what happened), they’re OFF!
Flash and Superman run through deserts, across the seas, and even take the time to help the occasional bystander (as they do the loggers above.) It’s interesting to see Curt Swan handling the Flash’s speed effects, as his Superman figure-work always seems beefy, but Barry looks quite good under his pen. Of course, in Hollywood fashion, there is a collision with a fruit-cart, and changing terrain helps to even the odds as the probably-faster Flash and the certainly-more-invulnerable Superman jockey for position.
You have to appreciate Superman’s good sportsmanship here, using his double identity to save both The Flash and The Flash’s pride. It’s also funny to see Superman swimming rather than running across the oceans, taking advantage of his full-powerset. Of course, Flash returns Superman’s favor when they encounter Green Kryptonite (which was as common as water in the Silver Age) and both heroes are taken by surprise as the two crime syndicates make their move in the final lap…
In a fit of Shakespearian irony, both heroes are substituted by stand-ins, each of whom tries to let the other “hero” win. (They each have special “jet boots” that give them limited super-speed, a lovely Silver Age touch.) The two fakes get slower, and slower, and finally they realize the truth…
While the crooks have been arguing, Superman and the Flash were able to free one another (a little heat vision for Flash’s ropes, a little super-speed for Supes’ Kryptonite gas) and even take down their doppelgangers without missing a beat. The two heroes set out again, each showing a silent determination, each realizing who HAS to win this match…
…no one! The heroes realize that if either of them won this particular battle, then one band of criminals or the other would benefit, leading them to wordlessly agree to tie the race. It’s a very clever ending, one that doesn’t require the creators to irritate either fanbase while making the battle an even one. Additional Supey/Flash races were eventually held, and a hero did eventually reign supreme, but I have to say this story is probably my favorite of the race saga. It’s a tour de force of classic creators in their prime, with Shooter and Swan interiors, a cover by Carmine Infantino and Murphy Anderson, as well as a classic Weisinger sensibility. Superman #199 is one of the treasures of the Silver Age, an issue that springs to mind whenever that era of comics is mentioned, and it’s probably a given that it’s getting 5 out of 5 stars overall. Rubber masks, jet boots, misunderstandings and clever use of two really overpowered characters make this entire story a joy to read…
Faithful Spoilerite Question Of The Day: So, who’d win a fight between a drunken Batman and Elvis?