Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Comics - DC Showcase: The Trial of the Flash

The Trial of the Flash is nearly 600 pages of 1980s comics goodness, collecting DC Comics’ The Flash #323-350 in a thick Showcase volume. I don't usually think much of early to mid-80s DC (little did I know that compared to today that time was the company’s Golden Age). I've never read this story but I heard it recommended on a podcast. How right they were. Flash (Barry Allen) is getting married again, years after the villain Reverse-Flash killed his wife Iris. Reverse Flash speeds in to repeat history and kill Barry's new bride. The Flash stops him, accidently (or was it?) breaking his neck in the process. Flash is arrested and put on trial for manslaughter, which is then upgraded to 2nd degree murder.
This story originally took two years to unfold, and writer Carey Bates deliciously takes his time while keeping the reader's attention. What a journey! There are some drawbacks; some of the tropes definitely shout 1980s, such as the goofy dialog and the Rogues Gallery that has nothing better do to than fight the Flash. The worst offender is the main plot itself. In real life, Flash would never even be arrested, even in Berkeley or Portland. He was protecting the life of an innocent person from a convicted murderer. No crime was committed. But if you can suspend disbelief there, you can enjoy a large, complex and wonderful bit of storytelling from Bates and artist Carmine Infantino. The most intriguing plot point? Reverse Flash is really dead. No fake outs, no "But I got better!" In this continuity, Flash kills the Reverse Flash. Other interesting points: The Flash's lawyer hates him, but considers it her duty to defend him. Flash never takes off his costume, even in jail, and is actually tried as "The Flash." The Flash's intended new bride has a nervous breakdown after the attack and is pretty much damaged forever. The ending is satisfying but a bit controversial, and led to the end of the series and Flash's eventual fate in Crisis on Infinite Earths. Despite its flaws, the book is a brilliant piece of almost-forgotten comics history.
Rating: ****½ out of 5 stars


  1. I read this series as it came out, attracted to Infantino's return to the drawing that character. I've long wondered at how this storyline came to be so extended (two years!). I'd like to know just what happened behind the scenes with decisions to end publication of The Flash, decisions to kill off the character in Crisis, and the timing of that.

    Did Carey Bates have a master plan for how this storyline unfolded at the start of this two years? Or did he start a story about the murder trial thinking of it as a shorter arc in an ongoing series, then getting asked to deal with winding down the book, then having Crisis take longer to appear than expected? Was the situation at the end of the last issue (collected here) originally intended as a premise for continuing the series in a different manner, or only thought of as a wrap-up for the story?

    There's nothing quite like this long sequence of issues elsewhere in comics, and I'm glad (and sort of amazed) it has finally been collected.

  2. James, I read a recent article about the making of this story, and it seems Bates had the length of the story set all along. Actually, it was even longer, as some issues in that run were not reprinted as they had nothing to do with the trial storyline. Bates was going to go on with other storylines originally, but when Crisis came along and the Flash was cancelled, Bates took the time to just end the series with the trial. I think the next phase of Wally West as the Flash worked out pretty well, but DC disagrees as Barry is now back. Great collection, though. Thanks!