Carmine Infantino is generally (and rightfully) acknowledged as one of the two or three primary architects of the “look” of DC Comics during the Silver Age; I think it’s interesting to note, then, that almost all of his interior artwork from 1962 through 1967 (when the artist transitioned from full-time pencilling into management responsibilities at DC) was done for just one of the company’s numerous editors, namely Julius Schwartz. The fact is, however, that even though Schwartz did keep Infantino very busy throughout those years, the artist still managed to complete the odd job for another DC editor here and there — including a couple of issues of The Brave and the Bold for George Kashdan, both of which (probably not coincidentally) co-starred one of the two or three characters most closely associated with Infantino — the Flash.
Prior to the issue currently under discussion, #72, the Flash had shared cover-billing with another hero (or group of heroes, as in issue #65‘s team-up with the Doom Patrol) on four previous occasions, only the last of which, #67, had co-starred Batman (who, though he was appearing in almost every issue of BatB by the time #72 appeared, still hadn’t completely clinched the deal that would make the series a permanent home for the Caped Crusader through the remainder of its 200-issue run). That same issue was also the only one of Flash’s four earliest BatB appearances to be pencilled by Infantino — which seems appropriate, considering that illustrating approximately every other Batman story in Detective Comics was the artist’s other primary gig at the time.
But Infantino returned to Brave and the Bold todo the honors for “Phantom Flash, Cosmic Traitor”, which would turn out to be the next-to-last issue of the series to not co-star Batman. The Flash’s co-star for the issue was, rather, the Spectre — and, interestingly enough, the Ghostly Guardian was given top billing over the better-established Scarlet Speedster, even though he didn’t have an ongoing series at the time. As described at length in an earlier post, the Spectre was a long-dormant Golden Age hero who’d recently been revived in three tryout issues of Showcase, which came out in 1965 and 1966. By the time BatB #72 came out, the Spectre had also appeared in the annual Justice League – Justice Society team-up tale for 1966 (see our JLA #46 and #47 posts for details), but the premiere issue of his own titular series was still a few months out from publication. It’s possible that this issue was intended as one last tryout run for the Discarnate Detective, though it seems more likely that DC had already scheduled his series launch, and was just interested in giving the character a little additional exposure prior to that event. (At this point, it had been nine months since the character’s last published appearance, in the aforementioned JLA #47, and DC wouldn’t ship The Spectre #1 until September, 1967 — so it’s quite possible the powers-that-be were afraid their readers would forget who he was.)
The cover of Brave and the Bold #72 is an indisputable corker, another outstanding effort from the immortal pairing of Infantino (pencils) and Murphy Anderson (inks). Anderson, of course, was a frequent collaborator with Infantino, having worked with him throughout much of a classic early ’60s run on Adam Strange in Mystery in Space, as well as on a great deal of Batman merchandising art churned out in response to the character’s success on TV. But it was especially appropriate to have Anderson inking this cover, as he’d fully illustrated all three of the Spectre’s Showcase tryout appearances, and was clearly comfortable with the character.
Inside the comic, however, Infantino was inked not by Anderson, but by Chuck Cuidera — a veteran artist most closely associated with the aviation adventure series Blackhawk, but one who’d also recently inked Johnny Craig’s pencils for Brave and the Bold #70. Cuidera was a less polished embellisher than not only Anderson, but also Infantino’s usual collaborators on Flash, Joe Giella and Sid Greene; the effect was that the story’s art, while good, didn’t closely resemble the “look” of either Anderson’s Spectre or Infantino’s other Flash work.
“Phantom Flash, Cosmic Traitor” was written by regular Brave and the Bold scripter Bob Haney — and one of the most interesting things in his script occurs in the very first panels following the opening splash page:
In later years, Haney’s stories in both Brave and the Bold and World’s Finest Comics would become notorious for their inattention to the continuity established in other DC books (in particular, those edited by Julius Schwartz), eventually leading editor-writer Bob Rozakis to hypothesize in a letters column that Haney’s stories took place, not on Earth-One (the home to most of DC’s heroes being published in the Sixties and Seventies, including the Flash), or even Earth-Two (the home to most of DC’s heroes who had been first introduced in the Thirties and Forties, such as the Spectre), but rather on a previously undisclosed world called “Earth-B”. Among the greatest inconsistencies between Haney’s approach and that of other DC writers was his propensity for teaming an Earth-One character (such as Batman) with an Earth-Two character (such as, say, Wildcat), without bothering to explain either on whose Earth the two heroes were sharing their adventure, or how (not to mention why) one of the heroes had traveled to the other one’s Earth in the first place. Hence, “Earth-B”.
Yet, here, in the very first story panel in the very first such team-up between Earth-One and Earth-Two characters to appear in BatB, we’re clearly told that the action is taking place on Earth-Two (or, as it’s styled here, “Earth II”), which the Flash is visiting. Even if we don’t have any idea why the Flash is visiting (besides his stated intention to drop in on his “old buddy, the Spectre”), there’s no discontinuity between how the characters and their milieu are being handled here, versus how they’d have been handled in Julius Schwartz’s books published around the same time.
Or is there? Central City is the Flash’s home city on Earth-One, but the Spectre does his thing in Gateway City — so why is the Flash here? One might think he’s just checking out how the Earth-Two version of Central City differs from the one he’s used to, before scooting off to Gateway City to catch up with the Spectre — except for what occurs in the next few panels. The Flash comes across a robbery in progress, in which a truck is getting away with cash stolen from a store — but when he vibrates his molecules to pass into the truck, this happens:
So it appears that the robbery was set up to capture the Flash — except that that makes no sense if this is Earth-Two, since the Flash of that world operates out of Keystone City, not Central City. Why would these crooks, or their mysterious accomplice, expect the Flash — any Flash — to show up in Central City?
All in all, it’s hard to escape the impression that this sequence of events was originally intended to go down in the Silver Age Flash’s usual Central City stomping grounds, and that the whole business about “visiting Earth II” was added at the last minute (probably by, or at least at the behest of editor George Kashdan — who, one may plausibly conjecture, was probably just trying to keep that damn Julie Schwartz off his back).
We can only speculate, of course. And since my nine-year old self didn’t let these little things bother him when he first read this comic fifty years ago (at least, not much), I’m going to suggest we follow his lead and get on with the story.
Whichever Earth it is on which the Flash has been unceremoniously dumped by the side of the road, he only lies there unconscious for a few moments before the “weird old bozo” the crooks were referring to, a guy flying a World War I-era biplane and calling himself the Ghost Pilot, shows up:
So the whole point of setting the trap for the Flash was apparently so that this mysterious Ghost Pilot fellow could magically transform our hero into his uncanny wingman. Hmm, OK, I guess. Anyway, our story now shifts scenes to a “towering hotel in a great city”:
These twelve old men, as we soon learn, were all members of the same World War I flying squadron, which survived the war intact save for its thirteenth member, Luther Jarvis, who was shot down by the German ace Baron Von Krieg on the very last day of the war. As is eventually revealed, Von Krieg had challenged the whole squadron to battle him and his fellow pilots in the skies above his castle in Germany, but, sensibly deciding that it would be folly to fight on the war’s last day and risk getting killed for nothing, the other twelve decided to forego the scheduled rendezvous. Unfortunately, Jarvis didn’t get the memo, and so showed up to battle Von Krieg’s squad all by himself. He was quickly shot down, of course, but as fate (and comic-book plot contrivances) would have it, he crashed into a swampy bog by the castle — a bog which, being possessed of those mysterious, supernatural properties that swampy bogs in comic books so often have (hi, Heap! looking at you, Solomon Grundy!), somehow preserved and empowered his spirit to survive.
Years later, the shade of Luther Jarvis — now the Ghost Pilot — crawled out of the bog and took up residence in Castle Krieg, which had been helpfully left vacant when Baron Von Krieg passed away some time after the war. Also helpfully, the Baron had been an avid occultist, with a large library well-stocked with mystical tomes — which the Ghost Pilot has used to enhance his own supernatural powers, as well as to devise the means of capturing the Flash and turning him into his unwilling, spectral, but still super-speedy slave. Now, the Ghost Pilot and “Phantom Flash” turn up unannounced at Jarvis’ old squadron’s annual reunion dinner, seeking revenge for what Jarvis sees as his comrades’ betrayal of him back in 1918. When the terrified men try to flee, the Phantom Flash prevents them, and the scene closes with Jarvis declaring his intention to claim not only their lives, but their enternal spirits…
Jim Corrigan is, of course, the alias, or more precisely the “host body” (long story) of our story’s co-star, i.e., the Spectre — so, presumably, the “great city” where the squadron members were holding their dinner is Gateway City (though the script never actually says this). Of course, just as soon as he has the room to himself, Capt. Corrigan calls on his alter ego for help:
The Spectre is quickly able to discern the supernatural shenanigans that have recently transpired in the room; leaving his mortal body behind, he proceeds to follow the mystical trail all the way to Castle Krieg in Germany, where the Ghost Pilot and Phantom Flash have magically transported their hapless captives, The Ghost Pilot intends to duel (and destroy) each of his erstwhile comrades in turn, beginning with their commander, using the late Von Krieg’s conveniently intact collection of biplanes; but the first aerial encounter is interrupted by the Spectre before things get too out of hand:
After calling for a truce, the Spectre tells the Ghost Pilot that it’s dishonorable for him to use his and the Phantom Flash’s spectral powers to shoot down helpless old men, and challenges Jarvis to let the Flash duel him, the Spectre, in their place, instead. The Ghost Pilot agrees, and soon our two co-stars are taking to the skies for their (un)mortal combat:
Realizing that the Phantom Flash has an advantage over him due to the Ghost Pilot’s guidance, and that their duel is likely to lay waste to a good portion of the German landscape, the Spectre decides to take the battle higher — way higher, into outer space itself. Even here, though, Luther Jarvis’ expertise makes a crucial difference, and Phantom Flash soon shoots down Spectre’s plane, forcing a crash landing on the Moon. Still, that’s hardly the end of the battle:
It’s been said that the Spectre’s near-omnipotence actually weakens him as a character, since it’s so hard for writers to come up with adversaries powerful enough to put the outcome of a conflict with the hero in any doubt. While there’s something to that, I think it’s primarily problematic when a writer includes him in stories involving other superheroes (or super-villains) who don’t have the same sort of powers, i.e., supernatural ones. Even when the rationale for how a foe comes by powers great enough to give a hero chosen and empowered by God Himself a run for his money is a little sketchy (as it admittedly is here), I’ve generally been able to buy into most situations where a writer has depicted an adversary managing to get the Spectre on the ropes:
The Spectre is in fact so outmatched here that he only avoids utter defeat on the next page by vanishing from sight, and then fleeing. But he can’t hide from Phantom Flash for long:
By the sheerest luck, the Flash has stumbled into the tail of a comet whose particles somehow immediately “changed you from a phantom back to your regular self”, as the Spectre helpfully explains to the no longer mind-controlled, but very befuddled speedster on the next page.
Of course, now that he’s no longer supernaturally powerful, the Flash isn’t of much use to anyone for the remainder of the story. All he can do is strap in next to the Spectre as, once more flying in a biplane rather than under his own power, the Grim Guardian heads back to Earth to settle up with the Ghost Pilot once and for all:
And that’s all, folks. Dig it! (As Bob Haney might say.)
We began this post with a note about Carmine Infantino’s massive contribution to the aesthetics of what we call the Silver Age of Comics, so I think it’s appropriate to begin these wrapping-up ruminations by noting that this pencilling job on Brave and the Bold #72 would turn out to be one of the very last times the artist would draw an adventure of the Flash, the hero whose debut many think marls the beginning of that Age (at least, until his return to the character over a decade later). As mentioned earlier, Infantino was making a transition away from full-time illustrating over the course of 1967, and after BatB #72 came out, only three more issues of The Flash would be published in the Silver Age featuring interior art by Infantino of the character he’d co-created in 1956 (and illustrated regularly ever since). We were nearing the end of an era, though of course neither my nine-year old self nor most other fans of the time had any awareness of it.
The Brave and the Bold was approaching the end of an era of sorts, as well; indeed, the following issue, #73, would be the very last one that wouldn’t include Batman as one of its co-stars. After that, we’d have the Caped Crusader appearing in every lead story all the way up to the final issue, #200, in 1983. And would you believe, in only the second issue in that never-to-be-broken run, #75, our old friend the Spectre would make his return — just three issues after his last appearance alongside the Flash. By this time, of course, the first issue of the Spectre’s own comic had been published (though he still yielded top billing to Batman, as would indeed every other BatB co-star). And there was something else different this time, as well:
In this issue, the Spectre gets involved with one of Batman’s cases by the simple expedient of having Jim Corrigan visit Gotham City on police business. None of that “Earth II” folderol this time!
Maybe we weren’t yet on “Earth-B” when Brave and the Bold #72 was published — but by #75, we most definitely were. And for most of the rest of Bob Haney’s tenure on the series — certainly at least until fan-turned-pro Paul Levitz took over the book’s editorship in 1978, and started trying to rein the book in more closely to DC’s official continuity — there we would remain. For better — and for worse.