Flash #340 (1984)

Flash #340 (December, 1984)
“Reach Out and Waste Someone!”
Writer/Editor – Cary Bates
Penciller – Carmine Infantino
Inker – Frank McLaughlin
Colorist – Carl Gafford
Letterer – Ben Oda
Cover Price: $0.75

The Trial of the Flash.  This is one of those legendary stories… usually invoked when folks are discussing their least favorite runs of a given comic book.  Much of the negativity surrounding this one is its extreme length.  This one story arc was long enough to not only fill an entire SHOWCASE Presents volume… but long enough to fill one of the very longest SHOWCASE Presents volumes.  Lemme tell ya… it’s one helluva read.  One helluva… long read.

Gonna discuss the first issue that (very briefly) features the actual trial today.  I suppose a bit of backstory is required.  Some dozen or so issues prior (#323), the Flash (Barry Allen) was set to marry his lady love (Iris had died some time earlier).  The Reverse-Flash attempted to murder Barry’s betrothed before the wedding could take place… only, the Flash managed to snap his neck before he could do it!  Now, the Flash is up on manslaughter charges… for killing the Reverse-Flash.  Crazy, right?  This storyline would continue until the end of this volume of Flash (#350)… where Barry would walk off into the sunset… er, into the Crisis on Infinite Earths… we all know how that worked out for him.

I think that’s enough to bring us up to speed on the overall story.  I’ll fill in any other tidbits as we work through this one.

We open with Big Sir carrying the unconscious body of the Flash as he soars above a mountain range somewhere at “parts unknown”.  Ya see, the Rogues had convinced Big Sir that the Flash… killed his pet mouse.

Speaking of the Rogues… we check in with them back in either Keystone or Central City, can’t remember which.  The police have hit the scene… and are easily taken down by Trickster and Weather Wizard.  We get a recap of the Big Sir attack on Flash, and the Rogues pat themselves on the back as they head off to their next major felonies.

We shift scenes to the rubble that was once the mountainside home of Flash’s lawyer, Cecile Horton.  A few issues earlier, her house was totally destroyed by an avalanche.  As she and her assistant Dwayne are digging through the wreckage, they are approached by a fella named Mr. Dreed… an ESPer who the police hired to find Barry Allen.  Following the attempted murder of his fiance, Barry was presumed missing.

Dreed has followed the psychic vibrations of a ring belonging to Barry to the wreckage belonging to Ms. Horton.  She tells him she’s hasn’t the foggiest idea what he’s talking about, and sends him away.  She is unaware that Barry Allen and her client the Flash are one in the same.

We rejoin Big Sir as he dum-de-dums in front of a fire.  Flash returns to consciousness only to find that he’s chained to a post inside Sir’s cave.  No matter how hard he tried, he is unable to break the chains… they’re made of pure energy, donchaknow.

Here we get a bit of a refresher course on Dufus “Big Sir” Ratchet.  Yup, his name is Dufus.  We learn that Ratchet was sedated and abducted by the Rogues, fitted with his futuristic armor, and told that the Flash murdered his pet mouse… who I’m hoping is named Algernon.

While Barry bellows on, Dufus gets distracted.  There’s a… really odd looking bear cub stranded on a mountain ledge some distance away.  Big Sir, the lover of animals that he is, launches himself in the general direction of the cub.  He almost manages to rescue the li’l bugger, but slips off the ledge… and kayos himself.

Back at the offices of Farley & Horton (Attorneys at Law).  Cecile is chain-smoking, annoyed that her client is nowhere to be found when his trial begins in less than 24 hours.  There’s also a mention of a “bombshell announcement” from the District Attorney… a footnote promises that will be revealed next issue.

Back in the caves… Flash vibrates himself out of the energy chain (why didn’t he do that in the first place?).  He than creates a stone bridge… by throwing a few dozen stones, then running across them… in order to rescue Big Sir.  The pair decide to let bygones be bygones, and become friends.  Fair enough.

We not jump to the Trial of the Flash being called to order.  Special notice is made of Cecile’s wardrobe choice for the event… looking more like a schoolmarm or Mrs. Roper than a high-powered lawyer.  Flash pops his head in right in the nick of time… and our case is (finally) underway.

Yeah, this one’s a bit rough.

You can see that many of the criticisms levied at this story are at least somewhat justified.  This is a slow-moving story… almost painfully slow.  Kind of a bait-and-switch cover too, isn’t it?  I really expected more than one page in the courtroom… and I’m sure many of the folks who snatched this one off the racks did as well.

Instead, we get a… pretty lousy Big Sir story.  That’s kind of a let down… he’s hardly interesting in the best of times… here, he’s quite the unwelcome presence.  He almost feels like a sort of anachronism here… I mean, this is supposed to be the beginning of a (somewhat) serious story… and the dude’s name is Dufus… Dufus?… Dufus!  Yeesh.

Really not sure if Cary Bates was instructed to stretch this bugger out for as long as he could… but, this really feels like filler.  Especially with hindsight telling us that this story is going to continue plodding along for the next ten months.  Carmine Infantino’s art here comes across rather lifeless and flat… which, as much as I hate to say it… kinda fits the story.

I have a hard time recommending this… while at the same time I don’t really wanna give it the “avoid” stamp.  This is a… strange time in Flash, as well as DC Comics overall.  When this issue hit the stands, the Crisis on Infinite Earths was already in the works.  Everything was up in the air at this point… gotta wonder if Flash already had his ticket punched by now.

Wish I could say that SHOWCASE Presents: Trial of the Flash was an easy option for this one… but, at least online… it’s going for a terribly inflated rate.  If you can find it at your local shop, or used bookstore… well, maybe give it a flip through.  It’s not for everyone… and may just be one’a those things that tickle wannabe comics historians such as myself.

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6 thoughts on “Flash #340 (1984)

  • Is there any chance Cary Bates wasn't told about Crisis when he started the storyline, then once he found out he decided that #350 would be a nice round number to end the series on? Crisis on Infinite Earths didn't even start until about 6 months after he began the trial.

    • That's probably a good bet. Even if he knew what Crisis was… he (and many other creators) may not have known what it was going to mean in the long-term. I guess this story hit at just the right time as it would have been difficult to start up any "new" stories after it with Barry's visit with the Anti-Monitor looming on the horizon.

  • great post! one of my favorite stories of all time. even though the Trial itself went on for a while, every issue was entertaining and action-packed. I think it may be finest balance of the more far-out Silver Age and grittier Modern Age storytelling.

    if you're interested, I did a series of annotations on the Trial over at Speed Force, including an interview with Cary Bates! https://speedforce.org/annotations/

    • That's awesome. Thanks so much for the link!

  • This was part of the big stack of comped DC books my dad brought home when I was a kid (he worked for a toy company). That stack made for a great cross-section of the DCU from 1984-1985…and sadly, this particular story was probably one of the worst ways to introduce someone to the Flash. I ditched this one early on, and I'm not sure if I should be happy or sad that the issue looks just as bad now as it did back when I was 10.

    • Oof, I couldn't imagine this being somebody's *first* look at the Flash. That's a toughie. I can't, off the top of my head, think of a more difficult time to be introduced to the character.


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