Flash #268 (December, 1978)
“Riddle of the Runaway Comic”
Story – Cary Bates
Penciller – Irv Novick
Inker – Frank McLaughlin
Letterer – Mike Stevens
Colorist – Gene D’Angelo
Editor – Julius Schwartz
Cover Price: $0.40
There’s a cover that just jumps out atcha, right? The Flash carrying a copy of Flash Comics #26… while being attacked by Golden Agers Alan Scott and Wildcat! Can’t go wrong with that… or can we? Let’s find out together.
We open in the bedroom of Barry Allen’s 12-year old neighbor Barney Sands, who at this time is rifling through his bedroom looking for… something. Okay, okay… the title of the issue kinda gives it away… he’s looking for a comic book. At that same time, across town, the Flash is also looking for… something. A bit less obvious, he’s trying to find a runaway bear named Griselda.
When he finds Griselda, it’s not much of a fight… just the bear catching Barry unawares, and the Flash retaliating by zipping around it several times, forming a sort of sinkhole in the ground to hold her until the zoo can come pick her up. Job well done, Barry heads home, zooming right past young Barney in the process.
As it would happen, young Master Sands was just headed over to chat up his friend (and fellow comics enthusiast) Barry Allen. He laments the fact that he lost a rare collector’s issue… yup, that was comics parlance even in the 1970’s! This comic is from the Golden Age and in Good Condition, to boot! Barry’s sympathetic, and asks if Barney wants to help him sort his new issues… that sorta feels like rubbing it in, doesn’t it? Anyhoo, Barney agrees… and just so happens to find his missing issue! It’s Flash Comics #26 (1942)… and, not only that… he can tell that it’s his copy!
Barry confirms that the mag isn’t his… even being the “Flash fanatic” that he is… Flash Comics #26 has always eluded him. He makes sure to say he has “rarer” issues though… dude, you’re competing with a twelve-year old. Anyhoo… Barney heads home, and at Barry’s request, leaves the comic with him. Later on, right before Barry’s eyes the comic… vanishes!
Noticing an “ultra-faint radiation trail” drifting in the wake of the vanished comic, Barry “Flashes” up, and follows it… right to the First Annual Central City Comicon! Inside, we overhear some movers and shakers discussing a potential comic-trade (if ya can imagine it… some All-Star Comics for More Fun). This kinda thing makes my stomach hurt… I get trading doubles and whatnot… but oi, this gives me agita.
The potential trade hits sort of a roadblock… ya see, More Fun Comics #52 is the issue in question… and that just happens to be the first appearance of the Spectre! The would-be barterer then notices a copy of Flash Comics #26 on the table… and offers that same threesome of All-Star Comics for it. Oddly enough, the other fella knows he’s never owned that issue… but, has always wanted it! Must’ve really wanted to know how the Johnny’s Messenger Service serial played out! Their chat is interrupted by Barry Allen… who offers, not a trade, but cold hard cash for the mag.
The wheeling and dealing is short-lived, however, as a pair of cosplayers (dressed like the Golden Age Green Lantern and Wildcat… the theme of the convention is “Heroes of the Golden Age” by the way) arrive and make nuisances of themselves. They demand the kid hand over Flash Comics #26… then force “Flash fanatic” Barry Allen to come along with them.
In the hallway outside the ballroom, Barry manages to slip away… and into an elevator, where a couple of kids are comparing their comic hauls from the show. Thinking fast, Barry shifts into his Flash costume… which only gets him mocked for “missing the memo” on the Golden Age theme.
Flash zips out and chases down the cab carrying the Golden Age Geeks. He vibrates inside and slams the bothuvem out the side windows… and snags them both before they hit the pavement. Inside the ride, the cabbie notices they left behind Flash Comics #26… and decides to leaf through it. His read is unfortunately interrupted when he notices there’s a gun jammed in his face. Man, I hope he was at least able to read the The Whip Plays Santa six-pager!
We shift elsewhere where we finally get the skinny on what’s so special about Flash Comics #26 (it’s probably not Les Sparks: Radio Amateur in The Dynamited Dam)… in fact, this particular copy has been treated with Formula XCV-4… which has something to do with telepathic transportation… so basically, you think of something that’s been treated by the stuff… and it’ll appear before you. The reason it’s on a random Golden Age issue of the Flash is because the fella who concocted it used his son as a test subject… and needed something he could focus on to test the transportability.
The baddies have been hunting this issue down for some time now, hopeful that they could recreate the XCV-4 via the residue on the mag. This would obviously be advantageous to a gaggle of thieves, right? So this fella’s going to put it up in auction to the underworld! To find the thing, he even went so far as to take out ads in the fanzines… willing to pay inflated prices for any and all copies of Flash Comics #26 out there in the world.
Just as the bids are about to begin… the comic book vanishes… again! Moments later, the Flash zooms in… holding the comic! Guess he cracked the code… anyhoo, the baddies unload their guns at him… which never really works when you’re dealing with the Flash.
He makes quick work of the baddies… like seriously, he takes them out in a single panel. Our story concludes with Barry Allen returning home with not one, but two copies of Flash Comics #26! One for his buddy Barney, and one for his own library… courtesy of the scores of non-XCV-4 treated copies the bad guys had collected over the past little while. All’s well that ends well!
What a weird issue! It’s sometimes hard to believe that our fandom vernacular has been around for such a long time. Hearing Barry and Barney discuss collector’s items and issue grades was pretty wild! I think that’s a phenomenon we (at least folks of my generation) attribute to 1990’s speculation… so, seeing that it was already a thing in the mid-late 70’s is pretty surreal!
If you’re anything like me, you take pause anytime you see a comic book show up in a television show… like on a coffee table, or like the characters walk past a newsstand or something… and you pick out ones you have/want. Also, if you’re like me… you’ve never watched that Big Bang show, so comics popping up on shows is still something of a novelty. That’s how I felt seeing the comics enthusiasts in this issue sifting through their favorites. Of course, these were Golden Age books of which I have few… er, none… but still, so much fun to see!
Now, before we get into the “story”… because, there really isn’t much there… let’s take a look at Flash Comics #26 from 1942.
Pretty standard Golden Age fare… big fat issue, lotsa content! Really unsure why this issue in particular was chosen to be so important… perhaps it was of particular significance to Cary Bates… or maybe its cover made it easier to identify at a glance. Whatever the reason, it sure is a fun idea.
For the story itself… it’s Bronze-Age Flash… which, can be kinda corny. I mean, I had a lot of fun reading this, and would recommend seeking it out… but there really isn’t a whole lot of “meat” here. The cover is a bit bait-and-switchy, but that’s hardly unique to this book.
I always like Barry Allen being something of a gatekeeper to the Golden Age of DC Comics… his whole shtick was taking the name of his favorite comic book character, and making it his own… plus, it was in his book that the multiverse started to take shape. It stands to reason that the kind of story we just read would only work with Barry.
Overall… like I said, a ton of fun… however, if you’re looking for a standard superhero tale, it might not rock your socks. I snagged this from a 75-cent bin, and certainly feel like I got my money’s worth… I probably wouldn’t have paid a premium though. It doesn’t look like it’s been collected, nor has it been made available digitally… so, single-issue (not floppy) is the way to go. If you see it for a few bucks and are (like Barry and Barney) a Flash fanatic, I’d say give it a go!