The Skill of Skating! The Kill of the Derby!

Even when you compare him to a guy like Batman, the Flash has always had some of the most popular villains in comics, to the point where they’ve actually become synonymous with the term “Rogues Gallery.” When you get right down to it, though, a lot of them are… Well, they’re not very good.

Okay, admittedly: Captain Cold and Weather Wizard aren’t bad, and thanks to his time with the Suicide Squad, Captain Boomerang’s a lot better than anybody with that name ought to be, but after that, it’s a pretty sharp dropoff. I mean seriously, you guys: The Turtle? I like guys with opposite powers as much as anybody, but when your story’s about the Fastest Man Alive fighting the Slowest Man Alive, there’s not a whole lot of tension in figuring out who’s gonna win that round.

I guess it’s true what they say: They can’t all be Kolossal Kate.

 

 

Yes, long before the Roller Derby became the sole province of cute-but-tough hipster chicks with names like Helen Felon and Rainbow Fight, it provided the Flash with a challenge that could only have been defeated by virtually anyone in the pages of 1971′s “Flashing Steel,” with art by Irv Novick and Dick Giordano, and a story by–who else?–merry Cary Bates.

For those of you who don’t know, Bates, like Jim Shooter, started working for DC as a teenager and as you might expect from the fact that I’m discussing a story where the Flash has to save the world from the evil machinations of a world-shattering rollergirl, he’s second only to Bobs Kanigher and Haney as the writer of DC’s most mind-bendingly insane stories.

Which brings us back around to this one. The whole thing gets started on the same kind of slow news day that filled the Silver Age to the point where the Daily Planet was printing stories about its cub reporter busting up a crooked lumberjacking ring every morning. This time, though, it’s fallen to Barry Allen’s wife, Iris, to put her investigative reporting skills to good use by exposing the brutal world of the jam:

 

 

Let’s pause here for a moment. If you’re like me, you might’ve noticed that there’s a bit of a discrepancy between the Kate Krasher that we were promised on the cover–a shapely, taunting siren on rollerskates courtesy of Dick Giordano–and the one that we’re actually getting, which appears to be Irv Novick’s rendition of famed Chicago Bears linebacker Dick Butkus. Needless to say, that’s something of a disappointment.

Anyway, Barry eventually makes it to his seat, only to find that Iris isn’t in the stands, having opted instead to take a hands-on approach to the story by jumping skate-first into the angriest group of women I’ve seen since the last time one of my Tarot reviews got linked by When Fangirls Attack:

 

 

Unfortunately for Iris, Kate Krasher’s not messing around, and when she starts throwin’ elbows like Ludacris, Iris takes a nasty spill over the guardrail, bumping her head and ending her brief career as a rollergirl. The immediate thought, of course, goes to what she’s going to do with all those neon fishnets she’d stocked up on in hopes of landing a permanent position on the squad, but as it turns out, there’s another, slightly more pressing problem that came with her head injury:

 

 

Before we get to Barry’s response, I’d just like to take this opportunity to remind everyone that in the previous issue, the Flash traveled to the year 2971 to stop a cyborg John Wilkes Booth with a jetpack from killing a cyborg Abraham Lincoln, so really, he should be pretty open to ideas that some might consider to be a little bit crazy.

How, then, does he respond when the love of his life breaks down and confesses that the eight-foot tall monstrosity of the roller derby might actually be an alien?

 

 

Oh come now, honey! Those are just your silly female emotions playing tricks on that beautiful brain of yours!

 

All heart, that Barry Allen.

Cut to the next day, and Central City’s wracked by an earthquake, presumably because Bates realized that there was no way an evil alien roller derby queen was going to be able to fill up sixteen pages and that seeing the Flash chuck steel girders into a hole in the ground is a good way to pad things out. As it turns out, however, that’s only part of the reason for the quake, which the Flash learns when he finds out that the tremors originated underneath–prepare for a shock–the Roller Derby Stadium!

I’m going to go ahead and skip past the part where Central City can support a massive stadium dedicated exclusively to the roller derby, because really: If we’ve come this far, getting hung up on the details would be counterproductive at best. Suffice to say that the Flash runs over there, makes a critical discovery…

 

 

…and is then conked on the head so that we can finally get the exposition of Kate’s sinister master plan:

 

 

Clearly, a drill to the center of the Earth is Serious Business, and–okay, look, I’m sorry, but that’s a dude. I mean, I’ll buy Kate here being an alien from space, and I’ll even go so far as to accept that the most efficient way to power her evil space drill is by using magnetic roller skates and a small army of lady jammers, but seriously, you guys. Asking me to believe that nobody thought to point out that the champion of the womens’ roller derby has a five o’clock shadow and hands the size of tennis rackets is pushing it a little too far.

Unless… you know, maybe that’s why Iris was investigating the whole thing to begin with! I take it back, and I apologize. I should’ve known better than to doubt Cary Bates.

Right: So Kate tricks the Flash into jumpstarting the last phase of Operation Drill The Crap Out Of Earth, but thanks to a suitably bizarre feat of heroism–in this case, using his super-speed powers to skate with ten pairs of skates at once, which is certainly as impressive as that time he ran to the sun–he’s able to reverse the process and defeat evil once and for all:

 

 

Yeah, I wouldn’t bet on that one, Barry.

 

Note: Normally I wouldn’t have done this bit, since PostModernBarney’s Dorian Wright covered it last May, coming at it from something of a different angle. Fortunately, he was nice enough to encourage me to go ahead and have at it, thus proving that this world of ours is big enough for multiple takes on such a weird little story. In an effort to keep things fair, though, I sat down before writing it and just did shots until I couldn’t remember a thing about his post. And really, after reading this far, that’ll probably explain a lot.