Wednesday, June 28, 2017
MYTHCOMICS: "THE PLIGHT OF THE PUPPET-FLASH" (THE FLASH #133, 1962)
In this post I agreed with Grant Morrison that the majority of villains in the Silver Age FLASH were personifications of natural forces. However, one character, the futuristic magician Abra Kadabra, embodied not cosmological factors but those related to psychology and sociology.
The villain was one of the more unusual figures to spring from the Broome-Infantino collaboration, in that he was not oriented on crime for the sake of profit or even to thumb his nose at the law. Abra, a citizen born in the 64th century, conceived a passion for the long-dead art of stage magic. Since none of his people shared his passion, Abra travelled back to the 20th century, and began performing for the public in Central City, home town of the Flash. However, the magician proved such an attention-hog that he used his future-science to manipulate his audiences. The Flash overtook Abra and sent him to prison.
Abra didn't get a cover when he debuted in issue #128, but he does for his second appearance, and it's become an iconic example of DC's penchant for "weird transformation" illustrations. As the story commences, Abra is able to use his super-science to manipulate the governor of the state, who promptly pardons the magician even though he's only been in prison a few months.
Once he's been pardoned, Abra thinks to himself that he plans to go straight, since as before his main desire is to receive adulation from an audience.
However, since a completely reformed villain would make for a dull story, Abra can't quite resist coming up with an act designed to humiliate the superhero who imprisoned him. He puts on a puppet show for the denizens of Central City, and his main act consists of seeing a puppet of the Flash subjected to slapstick indignities by another puppet, "Captain Creampuff."
Even before seeing the puppet show, policeman Barry Allen (aka the Flash) already suspects that the magician secured his early release through chicanery. Most of the audience laughs at the puppet-antics, but not Barry, who rationalizes that the square citizens are merely chortling at the puppet-scenario because it's so rare for them to see the Flash lose a fight. Barry is also frustrated because he knows that Abra's mockery is entirely legal. "Yet I must prevent [Abra] from turning the Flash into a laughing-stock," Barry soliloquizes, "or the power of Flash against crime will be seriously weakened."
Therefore, rather than simply waiting for the audience to lose interest in Abra's act, the Flash turns proactive and steps up his war against crime. He's so successful at displaying his heroic prowess-- showing that he's no creampuff, in other words-- that people stop coming to the shows.
Abra can't stand being ignored and resorts to a direct attack on the superhero, using his future-magic to turn Flash into a real puppet, but leaving him his consciousness so that Flash must endure the abuse of his pie-tossing puppet adversary.
Flash gets out of it by resorting to the usual pseudo-science. At story's end, Broome seems to realize that it might be a little difficult to try a villain for turning a hero into a puppet. Thus there's a quick rationalization that somehow the police will manage to make Abra confess to having brainwashed the governor, which is a pretty weak resolution even for a 1960s comic book.
What isn't weak, though, is that the story examines the "war of wills" between hero and villain, showing how much of it depends upon the acclaim of the public. I'm not claiming that this realization is some sort of "deconstruction" of the superhero genre, as lazy elitists might assert. Rather, it's merely an attempt to ground the Flash's wild antics with a little psychological analysis. It's also interesting that even though Broome appears to be something of a conservative according to certain stories in his oeuvre, he's set up his story so that the villain is the more appealing figure. Abra's modus operandi is also much like the occupation of a real writer or artist; i.e., someone who depends on audience reception to earn his daily bread. And in contrast to his first story, Abra does manage to impress his audience by a legitimate appeal to their tastes. This puts the Flash in a position akin to the guardians of Plato's Republic: stomping out an artistic performance that threatens the commonweal. Which, now that I think of it, does carry a rather conservative vibe.