November 5, 2013
The fastest man alive! ...was Jay Garrick. I guess Barry Allen is fastester.
(Linkara's futon is empty. He throws his coat on it, then sits down, not wearing it; he sighs as he sits down)
Linkara: Right. (adjusts his vest) Shall we begin again? Hello, and welcome to Atop the Fourth Wall, where bad comics burn.
(Title sequence plays; title card has "Flash Gordon Theme" by Queen playing in the background)
Linkara: So, yeah, entering year six now. Lots to do, lots to rush out before our convention, lots of villains to hunt down, lots of... (adjusts his tie) ties to adjust. And with the theme of new beginnings present, welcome back, my friends, to "Secret Origins Month".
("Secret Origins Month" title is shown)
Linkara: And what better place to begin anew than the very start of the Silver Age and the rebirth of The Flash!
(A clip of Queen's "Flash Gordon Theme" video plays)
Queen: Flash! Ah! Savior of the universe!
Linkara: I meant Barry Allen, but thank you, that was quite lovely.
(A shot of an Action Comic cover, showing Superman, is displayed)
Linkara (v/o): The Golden Age of Comics was a boom in superheroes and was the start of many of the classics... sort of.
(Two shots of wartime Captain America comics are shown)
Linkara (v/o): See, after World War II, superheroes fell out of fashion. Sure, you could have your heroes punching Hitler and the Nazis, but after they were defeated, what was the point? It's like kicking the genocidal assholes in the crotch after you've already shot them in the gut. And poor Captain America probably suffered the worst. His entire origin and reason for being was based around fighting the Nazis, but they were no longer a threat.
(One more Captain America comic is shown, this one of him as a Communist fighter)
Linkara (v/o): The Cold War was starting up, and they did try to have Cap fight Communists and Russian spies, but it just didn't have the same flavor to it that fighting Nazis did.
(A montage of postwar comics are shown, many of them non-superhero-themed)
Linkara (v/o): With superheroes on the downturn in popularity, other genres took over. It's where you suddenly got westerns, crime dramas and romance stories being the dominant force in comics. Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman managed to stick around since they were still popular, but it's here where we started to get the weirder stuff that I keep making jokes about: "Bat-Baby", "Superman's Rainbow Fingers", "Wonder Tot", etc. However, in 1956, superheroes came back big, thanks to DC editor Julius Schwartz.
(A shot of a comic called "Showcase" is shown)
Linkara (v/o): He was looking for a new feature for the anthology book "Showcase", and the idea of reviving The Flash was thought up.
(A shot of a Flash comic is shown)
Linkara (v/o): The prevailing theory at the time was that kids read comic books for five years, then grew up, and a new audience took over.
Linkara: Which is also pretty much the prevailing theory behind toy lines, but not comic books, because these days, you read comics for life. Or you become so embittered by the stupid decisions creators make that you dedicate your life to getting revenge through a web series, but (holds up hand dismissively) I don't know anybody personally who does that.
Linkara (v/o): So, with the possibility of a fresh audience who had never seen The Flash before, Schwartz instructed writer Robert Kanigher and artist Carmine Infantino to create an entire new origin, identity and look for the revived Flash. The name Barry Allen was apparently a combination of talk show hosts Barry Gray and Steve Allen.
Linkara: Why do I get the feeling that out there, someday, we're gonna have a superhero whose real name is Arsenio Fallen? Anyway, let's dig into "Showcase #4" and check out the start of the Silver Age.
(The cover is shown again)
Linkara (v/o): The cover is really just kind of bizarre. It's considered a classic, of course, but I'm just confused by the overall picture. Is the idea that the Flash is so fast that he can even burst out of film? Or is he fighting against a supervillain who uses giant rolls of film against his enemies?
Linkara: You think I'm kidding, but this is the Silver Age. Hell, it wouldn't have to be a camera-themed supervillain or anything. It could be a gorilla with a lamp on its head and Doctor Octopus-style arms, and its attack would still be giant rolls of film.
Linkara (v/o): We open with a splash page, featuring the Flash bursting through the pages of his own comic book.
Linkara: What is it with the Flash's desire to burst through paper or film? Did his parents die from paper cuts?
Linkara (v/o): (reading text dramatically) "This is the startling of the Flash--a man who was so fast that he not only outraced his shadow--but also broke through the sound barrier--on foot!"
Linkara: (dramatically) Since he's so fast, we call him the Flash! (beat) Which is a reference to light and not speed... Well, you see, he moves like a flash... SHUT UP, IT'S A GOOD NAME!
Linkara (v/o): (reading text) "But what happens to the fastest man alive when he battles the slowest man on Earth?"
Linkara: (confused) He wins? Except, even quicker than normal?
Linkara (v/o): (reading) "Is his incredible speed a help--or a hindrance?"
Linkara: Is this gonna be like a "Tortoise and the Hare" kind of a thing? Because my money is still on the fast guy.
Linkara (v/o): We truly open at a radar station on the East Coast.
Man: Now what's so urgent, Sergeant?
Sergeant: Just look at that screen, sir!
Linkara: (as Sergeant, pointing offscreen) They're having another Twilight Zone marathon on the Sci-Fi Channel, sir!
Sergeant: We've picked up a strange object, sir! Not a UFO!--Not an unidentified flying object!
Linkara: (as the first man, massaging his forehead) Sergeant, that is a crumb from the sandwich you were eating earlier.
Sergeant: It's on the ground-- traveling faster than anything known!
Linkara (v/o): Judging by all these beeps on the screen, whatever it is likes to swear like a sailor.
Narrator: Now, let's turn time back a short while when...over Central City...
Linkara: Central to what, exactly?
Narrator: ...an unexpected storm rages--electrical bolts striking jaggedly in all directions...
Linkara: As opposed to those lightning bolts that are completely in a straight line or go at right angles to form a square.
Narrator: While in the police laboratory, scientist Barry Allen chuckles over an old magazine.
Linkara: (as Allen) Ha! Cosmo Sex Tips! Men don't like that at all!
Linkara (v/o): No, it's Barry Allen reading a comic of the Golden Age Flash. Trippy, innit? And by the way, Barry Allen has kind of a reputation as being one of the most white-bread, boring superheroes ever, and that the most interesting and important thing he ever did was die in 1985. I admit, I haven't read enough of Barry Allen's stories to have my own take on that, but it probably doesn't help that his inaugural appearance features him drinking milk in a little cartoon with a bendy straw.
Barry: What a character Flash was--battling crime and injustice everywhere! And what a unique weapon he had against the arsenal of crime! Speed! Supersonic speed! Undreamed of speed!
Linkara: Yeah, it's pretty impressive until you realize that what was so unique about it was that he was powered by the drug Speed.
Barry: I wonder what it would really be like--to be the fastest man on Earth? Well...I'll never know--The Flash was just a character some writer dreamed up!
Linkara: Aaaaand five... four... three... two...
Linkara (v/o): Barry gets back to work, standing next to a shelf with tons of chemicals sitting on it. Lightning strikes through the window, hitting him and the chemicals, which spill on top of him. That is seriously Barry Allen's origin: the dude is reading about Jay Garrick, stands next to some chemicals, and gets struck by lightning for no adequately explained reason.
(Cut to an older comic of Jay Garrick's origin as The Flash)
Linkara (v/o): Consider that Jay Garrick's powers happened because he was kind of clumsy. Sure, neither is imaginative, but at least with Jay, it was a freak accident.
(Cut back to Barry Allen's origin)
Linkara (v/o): This origin is a million times more unlikely because of how many random circumstances this involves.
(Cut to a shot of a panel showing Kid Flash with The Flash)
Linkara (v/o): The best part, though: Wally West, AKA Kid Flash, AKA The Flash after Barry died, AKA the guy DC Comics seems to hate right now, got his speed powers EXACTLY THE SAME WAY AS BARRY.
(Back again to Allen's origin)
Linkara (v/o): It's even the same shelf of chemicals in the same laboratory! Obviously, not the same bolt of lightning, but it is another bolt of lightning!
Linkara: You know, at least Captain Flash, (holds up a copy of Atop the Fourth Wall, Vol. 1: Secret Origins) whose story you can find on the Atop the Fourth Wall DVD, was trying to save other people when he stumbled on his superpowers. What is it with The Flashes getting powers in ridiculous ways?!
Barry: Lightning...certainly is...unpredictable!
Linkara: You know, I think if I was struck by lightning and had a dozen different chemicals spilled on me, I'd have a bit more of a reaction than "Huh."
Linkara (v/o): The cabinet was apparently undamaged by the strike, and as I said, Barry isn't concerned at all by the chemicals that have been spilled.
Narrator: Still slightly dazed, Barry Allen leaves for home...
Linkara (v/o): I guess Barry Allen just decided to leave the chemical spill for the janitor, even though I'm sure some of those were probably dangerous acids or poisonous or something. He fails to catch a cab and starts sprinting towards it, but then, as he moves, he starts accelerating faster and faster. He's pretty disbelieving of what happened and thinks he just hallucinated running past a cab.
Linkara: Or perhaps those chemicals that spilled on you are causing you to hallucinate, Barry. For a police scientist, you really are not thinking of the scientific possibilities here.
Linkara (v/o): He stops at a diner to sit down for a bit, and a waitress trips, spilling over her tray... except, Barry suddenly is moving so fast that he's able to put all the food back onto the tray without any problem. The waitress thinks she just hallucinated that as well and walks off.
Barry: (thinking) That lightning bolt tossed me around like a salad in a dressing of chemicals!
Linkara: (confused) Do you usually eat your salads after they've been doused in random chemicals?
Linkara (v/o): Or perhaps this is all because of the coffee in the diner. Barry does seem to be staring very intently into that cup. The next morning, he writes off the taxicab just being stopped, and that he only thought the food was falling, and he just put his hand up to stop it from doing so. After work, he goes to meet his girlfriend Iris for a date, but the acceleration happens again as he spots a bullet flying through the air right at Iris' head. He pushes her out of the way of the bullet, and a policeman runs up to see if they're okay.
Policeman: Glad you folks weren't hurt! That stray was fired by the Turtle Man--making a getaway!
Linkara: Damn those Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles! Ever since they discovered they could use guns, they've become villains, firing bullets wildly into the air!
Barry: (thinking) The Turtle Man? That's the criminal called "The Slowest Man on Earth"!
Linkara: Then why are you having such problems catching him? Are you guys just humoring him because you feel sorry for him?
Linkara (v/o): I mean, seriously, we're supposed to feel intimidated by "The Slowest Man on Earth"?
(Cut to a clip of the movie Missile to the Moon)
Mike Nelson: (watching the movie) This is worse than that time we were jumped by that garden slug.
(Back to the comic)
Linkara (v/o): With this latest incident, Barry realizes that the lightning and chemicals must have "changed [his] molecular structure" so that he is "now... the fastest man on Earth!"
(Cut to a shot of "Superman At Earth's End", showing the obligatory panel of...)
Hitler Clone: Of course. Don't you know anything about science?
(Back to the comic again)
Linkara (v/o): He holds up the Flash comic and talks to himself some more.
Barry: There must be some way I can use this unique speed to help humanity!... Hmmm--this gives me an idea!
Linkara: (as Barry) I will become the greatest newsstand delivery man EVER! (looks up, holding his fist) Eat it, UPS!
(Cut to 90s Kid)
90s Kid: Duuuude! We'll be right back after these messages!
(The AT4W logo appears in the corner. Go to commercial. Upon return, we see 90s Kid again, shucking his button shirt to reveal his black T-shirt reading "WYSIWYG")
90s Kid: What you see is what you get, and what you see is (AT4W logo appears in the corner) MORE OF THE SHOW BECAUSE WE ARE BAAAAAACK!
(Cut back to the comic)
Linkara (v/o): Some time later, he's hooked up a system to the lab that alerts him to crimes in progress. Because I guess it's fine for Barry to stop in the middle of experiments and lab work if a crime is being reported to the actual police. I mean, I know he's a superhero and all, but I'm guessing he's holding this beaker here full of science for a reason, unless it's actually Mountain Dew and he just ran out of cups. He's also already put together his uniform, which is inside of this little ring. He presses on the ring, and it shoots out.
Barry: It works! The chemical solution-- is swelling the costume to life-size-- just like the rubber rafts tossed out by Navy planes when crashlanding!
(Cut to a clip of the Justice League cartoon series, where The Flash shows Batman his ring)
Flash: The hard part is getting the costume back into it.
(Back to the comic again)
Narrator: His fantastic speed enables the world's fastest human to race straight down the outside of the building...
Barry: I'm going so fast gravity has no effect on me!
Linkara: (laughs) That's not how that works.
Narrator: And thus as the costumed scientist hurtles along the street--he cracks through the sound barrier and is picked up by the radar station...
Linkara (v/o): Uh, if he's breaking the sound barrier on the street like that, why isn't there a lot more damage to that street? The Flash arrives at the bank to find everybody with their hands up, but no criminals seem to be around. He thinks they're in the bank vault, but no one is in there, and all the money seems to be there, too.
Linkara: Man, the Flash is so fast that he arrived before the bank robbery actually happened!
Narrator: Questioning of the holdup victims reveals the identity of the criminal--the Turtle Man!
Linkara: So... this is the first time the Flash has gone out into the public before? Nobody was confused about the man in the skintight bodysuit asking them questions?
Narrator: For hours, the scientist paces the streets...
Linkara: Wasn't Barry at work when he heard the signal? Isn't anybody wondering why he left early?
Flash: (thinking) Now why should the Turtle--the slowest man on Earth go to all the trouble of attempting a holdup-- and then stop before completing it?...Of course!--That's it! Why didn't I think of it before?
Linkara: (as the Flash, thinking) The Turtle is terrible at being a criminal! It's so simple!
Flash: The reason why the slowest man on Earth...
Linkara: Hey, is the Turtle the slowest man on Earth? I can't tell yet. Perhaps we should say he is about fifty more times. Maybe then the reader will understand it.
Flash: The reason why the slowest man on Earth didn't complete the crime--was he was doing it in two stages! The second--after everyone was off guard!
Linkara: Weren't they already off guard by the holdup? Wouldn't completing the crime later mean that they were on guard?
Linkara (v/o): He spots a shadow that he thinks is the Turtle, but when he runs towards it, he discovers it's just a painted silhouette! ...And runs right into the wall.
Linkara: Okay, one, he was running at the shadow, to begin with, instead of where the shadow was being projected from. Two, he was running so fast that he couldn't stop himself from colliding into a brick wall. What the hell was his plan if that had been the Turtle? To tackle him into the bricks?
Narrator: So great is the Human Whirlwind's speed--he bores through the solid brick wall like a gigantic drill...
Linkara: (as narrator, raising his fist in the air) This is the drill that shall pierce the heavens– I mean, (sticks fist out) the brick wall.
Turtle Man: He...doesn't...know...I...anticipated...his...return...after...I...saw...him...enter...the...vault...where...I...was...hiding...
Linkara: So, plan A was to paint a silhouette of yourself on a wall in the vain hope that your opponent was so stupid that he just collide into said wall? (sighs) I'd call you an idiot, but... this plan actually works, so... I guess there's egg on my face.
Linkara (v/o): Also, the Turtle wears a turtleneck sweater. Don't know what else I was expecting for his outfit, but there you go. Anyway, Barry recovers his senses and realizes that the Turtle is trying to use speed against him.
Linkara: For being the slowest man on Earth, he sure adapts quickly. He only spotted the Flash, like, hours ago, and he's already figured out a plan to deal with him.
Linkara (v/o): Seeing the open manhole, Flash goes into the sewer and realizes it empties out into the nearby river.
Narrator: At mind-staggering speed the Human Whirlwind...
Linkara: Okay, this comic has called him "the Human Rocket", "the Human Thunderbolt" and "the Human Whirlwind". Could we just pick a single thing that he's the human version of and stick with it?
Linkara (v/o): The Turtle Man – or sometimes just "the Turtle"; they seem to flip-flop on his name – is escaping in a rowboat, and Flash sees a nearby speedboat. I guess the key was left in the ignition since Flash goes over to start it, but it's been sabotaged by the Turtle, so it starts to sink instead. Fortunately, the Flash is, well, the Flash, and just runs at super speed on the water towards him. Now, that is scientifically accurate, though I don't even need my Physics of Superhero book for that; I've just seen Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins.
(Cut to a clip of that movie)
Chun: You must run very fast.
(Back to the comic again)
Linkara (v/o): However, as he gets closer, it seems the vibrations caused by his own speed keep pushing the boat past his reach.
Turtle Man: That's...what...happens...when...the...fastest...man...on...Earth...meets...the...world's...slowest...man...
Linkara: He just happens to be in a position to push the slowest man out of reach?
Linkara (v/o): Also, he really must be the world's slowest man because even the Flash realizes that all he has to do is run around the boat, creating a small vortex around it that knocks the Turtle out of it, and Flash carries him to shore.
Narrator: As the newsmen who cover the waterfront excitedly interview Barry...
Newsman 1: You certainly captured that character in a flash, mister!
Newsman 2: What did you say your name was?
Flash: You just said it--The Flash!
Linkara: (as newsman) Isn't that an already-established comic book character? Aren't you gonna get sued? (as the Flash) Oh, yeah, uh... How about, uh, th-the Human Race Car? (gives two thumbs-up) Huh? Huh?
Linkara (v/o): And so, our story ends with Barry and Iris passing by a newsboy talking about the Flash taking care of the Turtle.
Iris: How exciting it would be to meet a man like that! But I guess it's just an idle dream!
Barry: Sometimes dreams come true, Iris!
Linkara: And sometimes, you die while fighting a giant antimatter creature that plans to annihilate all parallel universes, and you're responsible creating an alternate timeline that ends up retconning your universe in 2011. (beat) Huh. I'm not sure why I brought all that up.
Linkara (v/o): In addition to the main story, there are also little factoids like "The Fastest Creatures on Earth"; "Scientific Explanations of Speed", including the idea that time passes more slowly the closer you get to the speed of light; and another Flash story, much like how "Captain America Comics #1" had multiple Captain America stories. Since it's not the origin, I don't want to go into too much depth with it, but it's a weird one. Get this: a criminal who looks like Lex Luthor, even has the purple and green jumpsuit look to him, is actually a dude named Mazdan, and he's from the future. He has been sentenced to living out the rest of his days in the farther future of the 50th century, but by accident, he was sent back in time to the 20th century. First of all, it's bizarre enough that punishment in the future is getting exiled further into the future, but what's weirder is that they say that the Earth of the 50th century is a desolate planet. Um, shouldn't you guys be working on making sure the planet doesn't become desolate in the 50th century, instead of leaving your criminals there? The future is dumb. In the 20th century, he uses his "magnetic rod" to steal random objects so he can build a new time capsule to send himself back to his own time and get revenge.
Linkara: And already, this guy has a more logical time travel-related plan than "Harvest".
Linkara (v/o): I mean, yeah, he could probably screw over the space-time continuum more by just living his days in the past and developing future technology to live like a king, but that's just asking for trouble. You'll just get the attention of a doctor or Time Force or something. Mind you, we still have to question his intelligence, since one of the items his "magnetic rod" manages to steal is... a glass beaker from Barry Allen's lab. Well, of course. Anyway, when the Flash gets to him and he explains what he plans to do, he also reveals the time machine will create a ten-mile-wide crater that will kill anyone in the area.
Linkara: Seems like kind of a big design flaw for your time machine, but (shrugs) I'm not a future scientist.
Linkara (v/o): So instead, the Flash decides get right into the goofy Silver Age science, because the Flash can move fast enough on his own that by accelerating to the speed of light, he can travel into the future, passing through the literal Mists of Time, and then the Time Barrier that slows down his progress. Mind you, he's shoving Mazdan into the barrier first, so he's probably dead by the time they reach the future. Mazdan is given back to the authorities, and somehow, Flash moves back in time, and no, he didn't take a time capsule. The caption says it was "another super-spurt of speed".
Linkara: What, did Flash just turn around and go in the opposite direction?
Linkara (v/o): And that's the end of that. He just goes back, and another police scientist comments that there haven't been any more weird cases of theft. Time travel is just something the Flash can do on a whim.
Linkara: This comic is... (shrugs) kind of middle-of-the-road.
Linkara (v/o): Barry's origin is kind of silly in how many coincidences it relies upon, but it does the job, and yeah, his reactions are bizarre, but there's nothing egregiously idiotic about it all. Pitting the fastest against the slowest is kind of an odd choice, but it could have worked, except the Turtle isn't really a fully-realized villain here. He seems to be pretty far ahead of everybody, there's no real reason for his slow speech pattern, and it's difficult to feel threatened by someone described as the slowest person ever.
Linkara: Still, we had a nice, goofy bit of Silver Age going for it, and at least the Flash got better villains as time went on. Next time, the Incredible Shrinking Man!
(End credits roll)
Special thanks to everyone who waited patiently for this episode due to my inability to get it done before Youmacon. I know you guys say it wasn't important, but I am committed to my schedule and I hate to break it.
Subsequently thanks to all Youmacon attendees! Live show will be put out soon.
The next Flash will get his powers by tripping over a power cord while taking experimental allergy medication.
(Stinger: A panel of Barry Allen is shown again)
Barry: Well...I'll never know--The Flash was just a character some writer dreamed up!
Linkara: Didn't you say that about every fictional character ever?