Thursday, June 26, 2008

To the Nth Degree

It's funny how one remembers trivial things for literally decades sometimes. Still reading me some Silver Age, I came across a story in FLASH # 197 entitled "To the Nth Degree" and I remembered very clearly that my original reading of that story back in 1970 was the very first time I had heard that term--"Nth degree." Confused the hell out of my eleven year old self! Did they mean "Ninth" degree? Was it a temperature reference? WTF?
Reading it today, it is a truly bad short story in which Barry Allen is accidentally sent an experimental telescope and uses it to "flash" across the universe to an exploding planet he sees 1800 trillion miles away. They say he's an amateur astronomer but he apparently doesn't realize that anything he's seeing now from that far away happened centuries ago! Also never occurs to him to maybe signal his JLA pals--can you say Superman?--he just somehow knows he can zap himself to this planet and does so. And what do you know--IT'S STILL THERE!! Upon arrival, he automatically figures out that his blood will boil in exactly one minute so he has to hurry in his goal to super-cool the planet (which is inhabited by Human Torch lookalikes). Of course he succeeds by simply using his speed to make really cold air and chilling out the exploding core. After that he has only milliseconds to find the beam he rode in on (which wife Iris was supposed to be maintaining through the telescope but apparently let slip) so he tosses grains of sand in the air and uses them as stepping stones to the beam which now mysteriously stops in mid-air. After an Adam Strange-like trip home, the telescope accidentally gets destroyed.

The really sad part here is that FLASH (and Julie Schwartz-edited comics in general) had always had a reputation for offering little scientific nuggets along the way. I was a science wiz in school myself all because of Gardner Fox's little asides in the early to mid-sixties FLASH stories. THIS story, though, was written by Robert Kanigher. No stranger to the series (he wrote the character's debut!) but also no Gardner Fox, Kanigher never let facts, logic or continuity get in the way of a good story...or any story for that matter. This little back pages wonder was just filler after the issue's main story (in which the whole of the plot consisted of Flash performing all of the roles in a stage presentation of HAMLET) didn't take up the required number of pages. The classic years of FLASH were over by this point and, in fact, I only stuck with the book for another issue or two myself and was gone by issue 200. The art here is a pleasant but rushed-looking collaboration between Gil Kane and the much-maligned Vince Colletta. Here, Kane's always sharp, wonderful layouts are given a soft coating by Colletta's inks and the whole visual look of the book is very comfortable.

Oh and by the way, the "to the Nth degree" term means "to the ultimate point, as far as one can go." Thought I'd tell you as it never is explained in the story. Damn you, Kanigher!


liquidwater said... had an interesting Vince Colletta inking example yesterday.

Fat Boy said...

I agree with your assessment of the Gil Kane-Vince Colletta art, it does look pretty good.