Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The Man Who Mastered Absolute Zero!

Title: "The Man Who Mastered Absolute Zero!"
Issue: The Flash No. 134
Date: February 1963
Format: 15-page main feature.
Editor: Julius Schwartz
Writer: John Broome
Penciller:Carmine Infantino
Inker: Joe Giella (Murphy Anderson did the cover).
Main characters: The Flash, the Elongated Man (6th appearance, last seen in The Flash #130).
Supporting Characters: Iris West, Miss Twist.
Villains: Captain Cold (5th appearance, last seen in The Flash #129).
Setting: Central City.
Stolen Item: Captain Cold and other convicts.
Mystery: What is making Lical, the super computer of the Central City University, give the wrong answers? and later, what is making the Elongated Man act against his will?
Method: Coincidence and association of ideas.
This is the first time:
  • The Elongated Man figths Captain Cold.
Let's go over the track first: Flash #134 (cover date February, 1963)is the third issue to feature the Elongated Man on the cover, his sixth appearance, his fifth team up with Flash and his third confrontation with a Flash Rogue, in this case, Captain Cold, one of the most recurring.

I'm a bit indifferent to the cover (remind me later to do an article about the covers). The last one at least had the amusing giant boomerang and Ralph stretching to catch it; this one is a bit confusing. You can't really tell that easily that Ralph is going against the Flash. Maybe if he was wrapping him or something...
Teaser: That's one weird giant "tiger butterfly".
Ralph is absent from the teaser, I'll get back to that later. Meanwhile lets go over the character developments:
1. Ralph's identity is confirmed as public knowledge. We saw him getting married in superhero costume in Flash #119, and despite that the Flash knew it was supposed to be a secret, he called the Elongated Man by his Christian name in public while wearing his uniform a couple of times before that (#112 and 115) and once more in #124; however, the status was never confirmed. I think there was a lot of a lack of planning to this situation, but we can safely assume that it was Flash's Homer Simpsonesque absentmindedness that made Ralph give up the secret. 
2. Ralph is confirmed as a celebrity.We already knew this from the newspaper headlines talking about his wedding in Flash #119 and the non-Central City crooks recognizing him in #124. But I think it is interesting to see the reaction of Central City University's scientist after seeing the Elongated Man (even though they were in the presence of the fastest man alive).

The premise to get Ralph in the story is fun and interesting, basically it's a 'superhero play date'. Unfortunately, I think the plot was a bit odd. First, Ralph's accompanies Flash to unsuccessfully try to help the people from the Lab of Physics of Central City University figure out what's wrong with their super computer (they search in the hardware, which is odd, since I'd expect the error to be in the software, any ideas?), then the duo moves on to capture about 30 prisoners who have just escaped. Their last fugitive turns out to be Captain Cold (who is secretly the mastermind behind the prison break) and they eventually track him stealing the U. S. Mint, only whenever Ralph attacks him, for some reason he end up going after Flash.

Captain Cold show some interesting characteristics. I had no idea that he was originally a lady stalker. So far I had only seen the hilarious thug version of  Justice League Unlimited and Batman: The Brave and the Bold, the Challenge of the SuperFriends minion, and the cold-hearted code obeying villain of modern comics, but I'd have never imagined him as a stalker a-la Crazy Joe Davola, complete with wallpapered pictures of his target in his prison cell. In this issue, we learn that after his 'crubsession' on Iris he moved on to a dancer known as Miss Twist and he seems to think that he'll somehow impress her by grabbing the headlines with his crimes. That goes nowhere in the story, but it's definitively an interesting characterization.
Captain Cold's wall in his prison cell.

In the story, it is also the second time that Flash requires the Elongated Man's help. However, in this story, Ralph serves mostly as part of the mystery with his odd behavior rather than a supporting hero. I'd have liked to see him being a bit more than a clue action. In his first appearance, the Elongated Man solved crimes before the fastest man alive, now with the 'super hero play date' premise as a pretexts, it'd have been interesting to have them exchanging tricks or competing against each other in this story. Specially when they had to capture the prison escapees.

All in all, I think Broome wasted a lot of interesting possibilities that the plot offered: developing Captain Cold (with his scheme going somewhere), seeing the odd behavior grow oddly in Ralph, having a friendly competition to capture the escapees and Ralph revealing his methods.  However, I do think it fits withing the Elongated Man development and I like that it exists.

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