He’s the Best There Is at What He Does… and That’s Being a Jerk

12 Silver Age Flash Stories That Suggest This Barry Allen Fellow Was Probably Not the Best Role Model for Impressionable Young Minds

1. “Something catastrophic is about to happen! I must help!” (Showcase #13, 03-04/58)
Ever since his heroic death saving the universe in the Crisis on Infinite Earths mini-series, Barry “the Flash” Allen has been portrayed as one of the true out-and-out good guys of the DC universe, the kind of morally upright fellow who other heroes can turn to for inspiration and guidance (Batman himself once said Allen was the kind of man he’d like to think he would have become if his parents’ murder hadn’t happened). But as is often the case when people speak kindly of the dead, Allen’s less sterling qualities have often been overlooked. Hell, let’s just come out and say it — the guy could be a real jerk when he wanted to be. Case in point: “Around the World in 80 Minutes,” a fun little tale in which Allen invents a watch that picks up police band messages (just because, that’s why). This sends him on a world tour averting disasters and dastardly acts in Paris and Cairo, on top of Mount Everest and in the middle of the Pacific. Just the sort of thing a helpful American ought to do, right? Perhaps, but it seems a little disconcerting that a man who’s only been a superhero for a short while (his first appearance was Showcase #4, in 1956) and has his hands full with a city full of criminals suddenly, and without any apparent motivation, takes it upon himself to police the entire world. High on his own self-importance? Adrenaline junkie? Super-powered show-off? Proud symbol of American imperialism? You be the judge.

2. “I’ve got to answer that challenge at once!” (The Flash #106, 04-05/59)
It’s a common experience for any superhero; just as you’re starting to enjoy some time with your girlfriend, a rampaging super-villain or natural disaster will invariably lead to awkward excuses and dashed dinner plans. Yeah, it sucks, but it comes with the job. But while Clark Kent might feign illness to get out of an assignment with Lois, or Bruce Wayne might mumble something about a “sudden business meeting” to his lady friend before dashing off, Allen chooses the far more direct route of running at super-speed out of his girlfriend’s apartment in the middle of a dinner date without so much as throwing a “be right back” at her. And it’s not even as if lives are at stake here; he simply hears the Pied Piper on a hijacked radio broadcast daring the Flash to stop his latest crime spree and boom, he’s out the door. Look at it from Iris’s perspective: one minute, she’s talking to Barry from another room; the next, she turns around and realizes she’s talking to thin air. Is a challenge to his manhood that much more important to him than being respectful of his girlfriend’s feelings? Apparently so.

3. “I can’t afford to ignore it!” (The Flash #107, 06-07/59)
One thing most of us can agree on is that it takes a certain kind of insecure person to think they have to be the best at something, or that people will think
less of them if someone else comes along and does what they can do just as well (or better). Such is the case with Allen in this story, “The Amazing Race Against Time!” While out chasing a runaway truck, Flash meets another speedster who is just as fast as he is, but has no memory of who he is or where he came from. One thing leads to another, and soon Iris, a newspaper reporter, is pushing her editor to arrange a charity race pitting the two speedsters against each other. Does our hero politely decline, saying he can’t get involved in corporate promotions as a matter of principle? Or perhaps he feels he has a moral duty to put the man’s distress over his memory loss ahead of some silly contest? No, of course not. “I can’t afford to ignore [the challenge in the newspaper]!” the Flash muses. “If I did, Flash’s reputation might suffer — and so might his crusade against crime!” Okay, let’s think about this for a second. Does he seriously believe that refusing to take part in a publicity stunt would cause his “crusade against crime” to suffer? And why should what people think matter to him if his “crusade against crime” is why he’s doing this superhero thing? Answer: because what people think does matter to him, perhaps even more so than doing the right thing. That’s… kind of the opposite of heroic, when you think about it.

4. “But maybe I can get her to change her mind…” (The Flash #109, 10-11/59)
So far I’ve used some examples that someone speaking in Allen’s defense could argue I’ve taken out of context, or that I’ve read too much into what he’s saying or doing. Fair enough. This one, though, will have even the president of the Flash Facts Fan Club burning Allen in effigy.  In “Return of the Mirror Master,” the reflective rogue returns to cause trouble in Central City, right around the same time Iris dumps Allen (seems our Fastest Man Alive has a real problem being on time for all his dates with Iris — oh Silver Age irony, how I love you! — and she’s had enough of his apparent disregard for their relationship). Of course, Flash finds a way to defeat Mirror Master, and with the help of Mirror Master’s confiscated “image-projector,” Allen has Iris seeing his face everywhere she goes, even on a store mannequin in a window. “I — I tried to drive you from my mind, Barry… but I guess I couldn’t,” she later tells him over the phone, while he’s at the other end of the line grinning and crowing “My plan worked!” to himself. Yes, Allen, your plan to totally mind-rape your ex-girlfriend by making her believe she’s obsessed with you and therefore must take you back without you having to lift a goddamn finger or try to be a better person totally worked! Score! God only knows what he would have done to her if he had gone up against an evil pharmacist and got a few freebies out of it, but you just know he’d have zero qualms about slipping one to her: “What’s that, baby? Your head hurts? Yeah, you’ve been out cold for a few hours. No, nothing happened, I swear.”

5. “You’ll like this better, Iris — believe me!” (The Flash #111, 02-03/60)
So, now that we’ve established Allen is not above “borrowing” a super-villain’s device to manipulate and control his girlfriend, let’s move on to the more mundane ways in which he asserts his dominance over his alleged lady love. In “The Invasion of the Cloud Creatures,” Allen is taking Iris to see a noted geologist’s lecture about “The Earth Below Us.” Trouble is, Iris didn’t know this was on the evening’s agenda until they are literally in front of the theatre. “I thought we were going dancing–!” Iris pouts while sporting a lovely off-the-shoulder outfit that certainly suggests she expected to go somewhere fun. “You’ll like this better, Iris — believe me!” Allen replies. Three things here: (1)  It’s really classy of Allen to pull the old bait-and-switch and let Iris think there’s dancing in their future right up until they arrive at the theatre. Not. (2) Extra douche points for telling her what she will and won’t like; I hear the chicks also dig it when you order for them at a restaurant and order them to finish their plates. (3) A bloody lecture? By a geologist? That’s Allen’s idea of showing a girl a good time? Where does Mr. Good Times plan to take her next? The Central City School District Science Fair? A spelling bee? His-and-her colonoscopies?

6. “And he’s threatening to beat out Flash for the Man of the Year award? Well… we’ll see about that!” (The Flash #112, 04-05/60)
So remember what I said earlier about how Allen just might be a little too focused on what people think of him, and how his ego and need to be fawned
over kind of works against the whole “selfless hero” image? In this story, Allen becomes suspicious of the heretofore unseen Ralph “Elongated Man” Dibny, who arrives in Central City putting his deductive skills and super-stretching powers to use solving unusual crimes. Of course, Allen simply can’t abide the thought of another superhero in his town getting any kind of adulation from the masses, and he’s convinced Dibny is covering up his own crime spree by pretending to be a good guy (spoiler: he really is a good guy). The final straw for Allen is when Iris tells him Flash might not win the “Man of the Year Award” now that there’s a new flavour in town, to which Allen huffs, “Well… we’ll see about that!” It really is startling to see how quickly a city’s self-appointed guardian gets himself in a snit over the mere possibility that a plaque and chicken dinner might go to someone else.

7. “I’ll bet she’s sweet on him — and giving me the brush-off!” (The Flash #113, 06-07/60)
In “The Man Who Claimed the Earth,” our story begins with Allen getting a phone call from Iris, who says she has to call off their date for that evening. “But– gosh–! I promise I’ll be on time…” he says. It turns out our girl Iris — who, it must be noted, has a thriving career as a reporter for Picture News — has gotten a call from Allen’s old classmate, Dr. Wiley Summers, who contacted her about some “important research” that she thinks will make “swell copy” for her newspaper. Allen doesn’t even have the phone back on the receiver before he’s assuming the worst of her: “I’ll bet she’s sweet on him — and giving me the brush-off!” he fumes, despite zero evidence to that effect. Later that afternoon, after doing “more pacing than working,” he resolves to do the only sensible thing: change into his costume and zip over to spy on his girlfriend at super-speed just to make sure they’re not up to any hanky-panky. A few thoughts:  (1) Allen, stop whining and promising to be on time when Iris cancels a date; sometimes, it really isn’t all about you. (2) It’s a little unsettling that Iris can’t even say she’s meeting someone for a work assignment without a certain super-powered boyfriend flying off into a privacy-invading rage. (3) So it took you a full afternoon of stewing and fretting before deciding to do something about it, huh, Allen? So not only are you a creepy invader of peoples’ privacy and a seriously over-possessive boyfriend, you’re also a Grade-A procrastinator and whiner. That’s just swell.

8. “Challenging the authorities? It’s a signal for Barry Allen to become the Flash — and look into it!” (The Flash #116, 11/60)
Now, before anyone starts thinking I’m having a little fun here at Flash writer John Broome’s expense, let me just say his was one of the most inventive minds that ever worked in the comics business. Not only was he able to come up
with an endless array of entertaining super-villains and insert all kinds of fun scientific gobbledygook into his stories, he was also the master of the story set-up.  Take “The Man Who Stole Central City,” which starts off introducing readers to the citizens on “World 86 in Dimension 24 of the cosmos.” These inter-dimensional Peeping Toms spend their days observing Earth culture, and the Flash in particular — but a quirk in the “dimensional-time flux” means they can see one hour into our future. One morally challenged fellow decides to take advantage of this and hustles himself to Earth, enriching himself by using his knowledge of the future to bet on horses and play the stock market. But he accidentally becomes a cause célèbre when he refuses to pay the government and keeps pesky tax forms and court orders at bay with a just-happened-to-have-handy “matter-dematerializer.” Now, yes, tax evasion is a crime, and the guy — as illegal an alien as anyone can be — is stupid to call attention to himself like this. But really now, Allen: you’re suiting up and going after him because he’s “challenging the authorities”…? So that’s all it takes to be on the business end of a supersonic smackdown from the Flash? Boy, he’s going to be one happy little fascist when the hippies and flower children come along in a few years…

9. “I intend to try this key in every apartment door in this city….” (The Flash #119, 03/61)
So remember earlier how Flash used his incredible speed to spy invisibly on his girlfriend when he suspected her of two-timing him, and how I suggested that his ability to do that might not be a good thing for the rest of us? Here’s why. Mirror Master is back in town committing his usual brand of mirror-fueled mayhem, and at one point he eludes Flash by throwing a priceless mirror out an apartment window. Those few seconds are all he needs to make his escape, but in his haste he leaves a single key behind.  Does our hero take the key back to his lab and do some actual police work to figure out where the Mirror Master might be? Don’t be ridiculous. “I intend to try this key in every apartment door in this city — at super-speed — until I find the one it fits!” So for a few split-seconds, every apartment dweller in the city had his or her civil rights violated just because the Flash could do it.  And why was this necessary, you ask? Because the Flash is desperate to catch a guy whose biggest act of villainy to date is stealing mirrors. Mirrors!

10. “All I know is… that Flash better go into action at once to stop him!” (The Flash #127, 03/62)
Some stories are just too crazy/awesome to properly summarize, but I’ll give it a try. Grodd the super-gorilla is back, and he’s using his advanced science to bathe his body in “neo-magnetic radiation,” which makes him appear charismatic
and appealing to anyone who sees him. After conquering Gorilla City with nothing more than a smile and a pair of smokin’ finger-guns, he flies to Central City to bask in the unbridled adulation of Flash’s hometown crowd, even attracting the attention of local politicos looking for a star candidate to back in the next gubernatorial race. When Allen hears a radio broadcast describe how thousands of people “can’t take their eyes from [Grodd],” his immediate reaction is to “go into action at once” to stop the amoral anthropoid. Which begs the question: on what grounds, really? I mean, at this point what crime does the Flash think Grodd has broken? It’s possible Flash could nail him for not having a visa or filing an improper flight plan, but let’s assume Grodd covered his bases there. All Grodd has done is use a little science to make himself appealing — are we to assume the Congress in DC’s universe had the foresight to pass anti-super-charisma legislation for situations like this? And if being massively unqualified to run for public office is a crime — well, Grodd will have a lot of room in prison, let’s put it that way. So why should the sudden appearance of a Gorilla Grodd Fan Club cause Allen to suit up for action? Methinks it’s a simple answer is this: any excuse to go bust some heads is just fine with our “hero,” probable cause be damned.

11. “There’s nothing illegal about what Kadabra’s doing! Therefore, I can’t stop him by force!”  (The Flash #133, 12/62)
“Hold on now!” I can hear someone say. “That’s not fair! Grodd was a bona fide super-villain threat before that story, and everyone knows he has super mental powers, so Flash was totally justified in thinking Grodd might have been brainwashing innocent people!” Maybe. But in this story, another issue in which a super-villain shows up and starts fiendishly not breaking the law, Allen himself admits there’s nothing illegal going on, and he still decides the guy has to go back to jail for the crime of… making people laugh at the Flash. Let’s rewind. Abra Kadabra was a 64th-century time traveler who went back to the 20th century to use the future’s advanced science to kick-start his career as a stage magician. His first tangle with the Flash lands him in prison, but he’s not there for long before he uses his futuristic skills to hypnotize the state governor into granting him an early release. Once out, he decides to go straight by creating Central City’s latest hit show: a one-man performance featuring life-sized marionettes, including one of the Flash that gets pied in the face. So does Flash breathe a sigh of relief knowing one of his former foes is finding happiness in a more socially acceptable endeavor? No. No, he does not. “I must prevent him from turning the Flash into a laughingstock,” the Scarlet Speedster muses, “or the power of Flash against crime will be seriously weakened!” Translation: “I know he’s not doing anything illegal, but if I let him poke fun at me then I might no longer enjoy the mindless adulation and worship of these local yokels. I mean, does Kadabra even know the percentage I clear from sales at the Flash Museum gift shop? I can’t let him jeopardize all that by making me, a grown man in a mask and yellow boots, look silly!” After a series of events too silly to transcribe here, Flash announces Kadabra is heading back to jail… but just like Grodd, it’s not readily apparent exactly which law he broke. The early pardon was legal as far as anyone is aware, and nobody witnessed the Flash getting turned into a wooden puppet (you heard me) behind the scenes at the theatre. So really, it’s just a big he-said/he-said with one of them a masked vigilante who’s unable to testify in court. All Kadabra has to do is lie his oily head off and profess his innocence… which shouldn’t be that hard for a super-villain to do.

12. “I must explain to Professor West that Iris and I are just good friends…” (The Flash #134, 02/63)
I could keep going with examples that show Barry Allen was, at least in his early years, not quite the goody-goody he’s often made out to be, but I trust I’ve made my point. What the heck, just one more: in “The Threat of the Absent-Minded Professor,” Flash fans were introduced to Iris’s father, Professor West. As you might expect from the title, he’s presented as a slightly absent-minded but amiable chap who unfortunately gets kidnapped by criminals who threaten to kill Barry if Professor West doesn’t help them fix their nuclear-ray projector. But forget all that; the real crime in this story happens at the beginning, when Professor West asks Allen about his intentions regarding Iris. “As I understand it, you have been her boyfriend for years,” the professor says. “No doubt — ah — you realize a girl has to think about her future!” This sends Allen into a stuttering state and he resolves to tell the professor that he and Iris are “just good friends”… conveniently glossing over the numerous times Iris has threatened to break off their relationship because of his tardiness, his bouts of jealousy when she talks to other men, and even his own words when he was reunited with a comely childhood friend-turned-movie star just a few issues before (he can’t fall in love with her, he says to himself, because “I have Iris and I’m true to Iris” — which sounds like a pretty exclusive relationship to me). For Pete’s sake, the man once mind-raped Iris info believing she saw his face everywhere, just to convince her she was still in love with him. And now suddenly he’s all, “What, a couple? Us? No, we’re just good friends. You know, like the guys and girls on Friends. But from early in the show, before Monica and Chandler hooked up.” Stringing a poor girl along for years just because you’re afraid to commit, Mr. Allen, and lying to her father about it? You. Utter. Cad.

2 responses to “He’s the Best There Is at What He Does… and That’s Being a Jerk

  1. Well, this was a very weird time.

  2. Wasn’t it, though? Still the best time for these heroes, though, in my humble opinion. 🙂

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