On a pleasant Saturday afternoon in Central City’s Community Park, dozens of people were enjoying themselves. Some of the families were playing games with their children, while others were happily munching on hamburgers or hot dogs. The park’s main picnic area had been reserved for the Picture News Company’s annual staff picnic. While most of the workers were relishing the fun and amusement offered by the celebration, one pretty brunette was merely annoyed. Iris West sighed and checked her watch for the fifth time as those around her laughed and joked. She shook her head.
Why I put myself through this waiting game is beyond me, she thought. I told Barry to get here at one o’clock, and when I did that, I knew that the real picnic was not scheduled to start until 1:30. That hasn’t helped in the least! Central City’s finest police scientist has made a science out of being late! I suppose I’m going to have to accept that as one of Barry’s quirks. I’m sure I must have a few of my own that bug him as well!
As her editor grabbed a small microphone from the elevated stage, she saw a handsome man approaching. He had unfashionably short-cropped blond hair, wore a light green sports shirt and slacks, and had an apologetic expression on his serious face. He raced around a dog running for a frisbee to reach his date.
“Iris, sorry I’m late!” he said as he gasped for breath. “I forgot the mustard! I can’t stand a hot dog without mustard. I had to go back into town.”
He held up a large jar of mustard and smiled winningly. It was a lame excuse, but it was better than telling her that he had been delayed because of a crime that required his use of the superhuman speed that was the trademark of his secret heroic identity of the Flash.
“Honestly, Barry, I think we could have found some mustard somewhere among the food and fixings!” said Iris. “Still, you’re here now. That’s what counts.”
Keep telling yourself that, Iris, girl, she thought to herself as she and Barry spread a blanket across the grass, and he opened his basket.
She heard the editor finish his speech and announce the start of the first of the games. “Folks, we’ll be having the sack race now,” he said.
“C’mon, Barry!” said Iris. “It’s a relay sack race. You hop across the grass and tag your partner, who hops back to the starting line. I signed us up.”
“Sure!” said Barry pleasantly. “Only, I’m not much for any kind of speed. I had a scare when I was a kid on an amusement park ride once.”
He and Iris lined up, and he watched with pleasure as she and the first group of contestants began to hop across the grass while the crowd cheered, crying out their encouragement. The ever-spunky Iris swiftly pulled ahead of the rest, and Barry prepared to reach out and tag her.
Just as he saw her hand moving in what was slow motion to his super-swift senses, he also spotted a strange beam of energy shoot across the sky to strike the huge banner that proclaimed the Picture News Company Picnic. Great Scott! That’s nothing natural! he thought. I think I’ve seen that particular type of energy before!
He frowned as he noticed Iris hit his hand just as the energy struck that paper banner. It did nothing that could be noticed by the ordinary eye, but to Barry’s super-fast senses, the energy altered the paper on a molecular level and seemed to instantaneously turn it from mere colorful paper to blinding magnesium.
Barry heard Iris urging him onward, even as the rest of the group began to notice the change in the banner. He pretended to fall heavily to the ground, and in the blink of an eye, he vibrated through the ground and into his red costume.
As the Flash, he created a whirlwind that smothered the magnesium and swept it on an updraft, tossing it safety away from the group.
He saw the darting form of a costumed man who raced across the park in sudden fear. Even had the Flash not been moving at super-speed, no one would have noticed his actions, since the white glare from the magnesium had dazed any onlooker.
Mister Element! Or should I say Doctor Alchemy! he realized. After all, Al Desmond changed costumes and his nom du crime after his first outing. I thought that energy was a variation of his old matter-transforming energy. Funny, the JLA and the JSA and I just put him away days ago! (*) I may be called the Fastest Man Alive, but the way the rogues I put in jail manage to break free again has to speak well for their own speed.
[(*) Editor’s note: See “Crisis on Earth-One,” Justice League of America #21 (August, 1963) and “Crisis on Earth-Two,” Justice League of America #22 (September, 1963).]
He noticed that the blue-and-green-clad Doctor Alchemy was not continuing his attack. He was fleeing.
The Flash returned to the ground, and as Barry Allen he stood up and said, “Sorry, Iris! I guess my clumsy feet have cost us the race.”
He had managed to move so rapidly that no one had noticed his actions as the Flash. All the crowd had witnessed was the strange transformation of the banner and its apparently fortuitous fall away from the people. In Central City, many such mysterious events were beginning to be attributed to the heroic Flash’s unseen actions, and this was not a problem. Barry had no qualms about people associating the Flash with Central City. He just didn’t want people to always verify the fact that where the Scarlet Speedster ran, so also could be found Barry Allen.
“Iris, I think I’d better go clean up. I don’t want to get grass stains on these new slacks. Anton Previn would never forgive me!” he said ruefully, referring to his old friend, a fashion designer. (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: Anton Previn’s first and only appearance was in “Beware the Atomic Grenade,” The Flash #122 (August, 1961).]
Iris nodded and said, “Sure! I need to look around, anyway. The way that sign changed makes me suspect that the artificial illuminations may be faulty. I’d better make sure no one was hurt. Everybody here is a friend or working acquaintance of mine.”
Barry raced out of view and then, as the Flash, he caught up with the still-running Doctor Alchemy. “What’s wrong, Al? Was prison food that bad? You’ve only been there about a week! Give the cook a chance. I hear Saturday is bean surprise!” he joked as he raced in front of the criminal.
Doctor Alchemy was usually a smug and confident man. He had no fear of the Flash, because he had adopted his criminal guise specifically to deal with the hero. When he had planned his own criminal career, he had accepted the fact that he would never succeed unless he could first eliminate the defender of Central City. He had always counted on fighting the speedster and thus had never really allowed Flash to frighten him. That was why Al Desmond’s conduct startled the Flash more than any brazen attack would have done.
The villain didn’t try to change the Flash into some odd substance via his alchemy-based weaponry, nor did he mock the hero by boasting about his own intellect. Instead, Al removed his hood, revealing an expression of total fear. “Thank goodness! I hoped that I could lure you out if I disrupted a few public events around the city! If only I’m not too late!” he gasped as he reached out for the Flash.
The Flash frowned as he noticed Desmond was pleading and not threatening him. “Pull yourself together, man! If I can help you, I will. What’s got you so frightened?” he asked.
Desmond cried out and pointed beyond the Flash to where a huge creature had appeared in the sky. It was far larger than any normal dog or wolf, but otherwise it resembled nothing so much as a feral beast with snarling jaws and sharp teeth. It sniffed in the air and, as if it had caught a scent, it turned to glare at the odd pair. “It’s coming for me! I should have known I could not get away! It’s chased me across the country! Flash, you have to save me!” he shrieked.
The Flash turned to face the huge creature as it crouched and began to pounce forward. The savage-looking beast was headed directly at them.
Meanwhile, in Keystone City of a parallel universe designated Earth-Two, another Flash was entertaining a group of children at a charity benefit. This elder Flash was named Jay Garrick, and he had started his own heroic career as a solo hero and as a member of the Justice Society of America two decades earlier. He knew that his exploits had even inspired Barry Allen’s own selection of a name and use for his speed, because Barry had told him as much during their first meeting. (*) It had pleased Jay to learn that while there were countless parallel Earths all vibrating in place at a slightly different frequency, there were also good men to defend the people of those Earths. Jay’s career had been turned into the stuff of comic-book fiction through an odd fluke in the way certain natives of Barry’s Earth had been in tune with the events of Jay’s Earth. Now, the Flash of Earth-Two savored both his occasional role as mentor to Barry and his newly resumed role as an active member of the now re-formed JSA.
[(*) Editor’s note: See “Flash of Two Worlds,” The Flash #123 (September, 1961).]
The Flash smiled broadly and faced the children before him. He tilted the gleaming winged helmet that he wore to the back of his head and scratched his slightly graying hair in mock bewilderment. “Now, where did I put the band instruments I was going to set up for you kids?” he asked in a loud and exaggerated voice.
The kids laughed and cheered, and some cried out eagerly, “Above you! In the air!”
Jay Garrick glanced up to where guitars, drums, and other musical instruments were being suspended by the draft from his vibrating and raising arm. He had tossed them in the air seconds before at super-speed, and it was entirely due to his precise manipulation of the force from his super-rapid movements that they were now suspended in midair. “Oh, yeah! A fella gets kind of stage-struck even in front of a swell audience like you kids! I guess if I don’t want to be struck for real, I’d better get moving!” he said with a grin.
Catching every instrument, he began to play each one with a super-fast agility and a lot of enthusiasm. “Well, I’m no Artie Shaw, but I do okay, huh? Or should I say I’m no Paul Anka? I guess he’s more your speed, excuse the expression,” he said. The crowd cheered wildly as Flash placed the donated instruments in their proper places and bowed low.
“Thanks! I’ve enjoyed seeing you all. I’m glad I could take time out of the JSA Reunion Tour to visit with some of my hometown fans!” he said. (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: For more about the JSA’s round-the-world tour, see Green Lantern: Times Past, 1963: Through a Glass, Darkly, Book 1: Dark November.]
A bald man rushed out on the stage and said, “Flash, you’ve raised enough money to equip the whole band! We can’t thank you enough!” said the band director.
The Flash shook his hand and said, “It was the least I could do!”
Before he could continue his conversation, another man waved him aside and said, “Flash, the TV news just reported some type of crime going on at the Gibson Jewelry in Powers City! The staff itself is robbing it! Even the police are helping them!”
Jay Garrick shook his head and said, “Well, while I can’t say that’s music to my ears, that sure sounds like something I need to check out.”
The Flash raced away from the Keystone City Orphanage and made his way to Powers City. He had never been to that city before, but he was certain that things were not normal at the Gibson Jewelry store. He saw the staff and police loading jewels from an armored vehicle to a floating platform. All of them seemed to be in a trance as they worked methodically. A screeching music filled the air, and the Flash started to succumb to the compelling sound before he veered away and raced out of range.
That little symphony has all the traits of a Fiddler crime spree, he thought. I guess Isaac Bowin has broken out of jail already. We just put him there mere days ago! I suppose that old line about a revolving door near the front gate makes a lot of sense.
Vibrating his hands and then striking his helmet, the Flash created a counter-vibration that muffled the sounds of the oddly hypnotic music. He raced directly up the side of the elevated platform and confronted the criminal.
“Okay, Fiddler, this dance is getting old! If you come quietly, I’ll see if the warden will let you watch Mitch Miller,” he said, then frowned as he realized that the musician on the platform was like no one he had ever seen before.
The being was humanoid, but he was taller than any normal man was. He had no hair anywhere on the pinkish red skin that was exposed beneath his odd barbaric costume. He looked like an alien warrior from a science fiction film, and in many ways that image was a correct one.
He plucked at a violin, and the music was clearly coming from the instrument. It was forcing those who heard the music to rob the jewelry store. In this aspect, the crime was not different from any of a dozen of the crimes perpetrated in the past by the Fiddler. What made this particular crime so unique was that the so-called Malevolent Maestro was not human.
I don’t know why an alien would want to rob a jewel shop unless he needs Earth gems for nourishment or as a power source or something out of Heinlein, thought the Flash. Still, mine is not to reason why. Mine is just to stop the music, like so.
The Flash charged at the alien, continuing to enjoy the protection of the counter-vibration he had created moments before. He ripped the instrument out of the alien’s hands and shattered it with a powerful slice of his vibrating hands.
“Bowin made that! He even inscribed his name on the back!” said the Flash, noticing the fine details as he saw the enslaved staff and police fall to their knees in sudden and complete freedom.
The alien spoke in a rasping voice that nonetheless used perfect English with an alternating British and European accent. “You are the Flash! I have learned of you from my time with the others. This should suffice to halt your blinding speed!” he said, firing a white gun that coated the platform with gleaming ice and left the Flash hard pressed to stop his super-fast charge in time, as the slippery ice robbed him of his balance. He almost fell before a quick jump allowed him to right himself and connect with the alien’s chin.
The alien staggered backward and said, “Your movement creates enough friction to counter the ice generated by my weapon. Thus I must draw upon more intimate resources!” He slapped the Flash across the face with a blow that came out of nowhere. He followed up with a kick that sent Jay Garrick crashing off the platform to the ground below. The alien then vanished, and Jay frowned in amazement as he glanced up at empty air.
He moved faster than before! It was like he matched me move for move and then went one better! thought the Flash. He also had weapons exactly like those of my old sparring partners, the Fiddler and the Icicle. Since my buddy Green Lantern fought the Icicle more than I ever did, perhaps I should have a talk with my ring-slinging pal.