It's high time we revisit our old friend The Flash.
In the back of The Flash #154 (from August of 1965) is a story called “Gangster Masquerade!” A story about gangsters and a party? Sounds good to me! Yup, sometimes I choose the story to write up by the title alone. If it had had a gorilla in it, I would’ve written it up without even turning to the splash page. I adore a good primate story. And since gangsters are often primates — the lower vertebrates rarely become members of the mob — I’m in.
The splash page shows a small prop airplane trying to run down the Flash and, instead of merely outrunning it, he twirls his arm around like a propeller to “ ... give them a dose of their own medicine!” I have to admit that, if I were the fastest person on Earth, I would probably run away. Then again that just makes me the fastest coward on earth. I think it's time to go beyond the splash page and find out what the heck is going on in this story.
“Dining out with her fiancé, police scientist Barry Allen, newshen Iris West reveals something on her mind ... ” Before we go any further, I have to react to that bizarre word “newshen.” I had to do some research on this one. It is apparently an outdated name for a female reporter. It is also quite popular in the Philippines, if my Google search is to be believed. I suppose, since the term “newshound” refers to a male reporter, they needed something to do equal service for women. Instead of using an animal that gives the image of being hot on the trail, sniffing out crime, or really anything useful at all, they went with a chicken. It's no mystery why women have such a hard time gaining any foothold toward equality. Our language — in so very many ways — is designed to keep us in our place. We are not allowed to be the equal of men linguistically speaking. But before I go off on some long soapbox diatribe I need to get back to our favorite “newshen” and her ultrafast boyfriend. (I still hate that term and will use it no more. It also looks like “new shen” and that’s just meaningless. Okay, I’ll stop.)
Over dinner, Iris asks Barry to help her. She asks if he remembers a news story about three actors who were arrested at the Central City Airport. Barry immediately remembers the story and that the actors looked like three well-known gangsters who were all in the state prison. “Yes! Slick Condon, Pee-wee Hucko, and Mole Miff!” [DC writers seemed to take sheer delight in making up ridiculous gangster names. Mole Miff? Were I a gangster, I would never have some idiotic nickname that would make me the laughingstock of ... future comic book readers who write about the Silver Age. I realized toward the end of that last sentence that it could just be me who's laughing at those really stupid names and therefore had to narrow the scope of what I’d planned to be a much larger population sample. After all, some guy whose name just happens to be Mole Miff might be a huge fan of this column, but upon reading of my derision he might become (wait for it) miffed. I despise myself right now.]
Despite Barry having proven that he remembered the news item, Iris goes into some deep expository word ballooning to make sure the readers are as up on current events as her dinner partner. The three gangsters turned out to be legitimate actors who were hired to appear in a play that was soon opening in town. (Oh, rats — that’s the masquerade. There never was a gangster party. I really need to read past the title in the future.) The appearance of the gangsters was just a publicity stunt, nothing more. At this juncture, Barry has a thought balloon about helping to check out the stories but he can't tell Iris because he's still living a double life.
“Listen, Barry, I have one of those hunches I get sometimes … ” says Iris. This is a big deal. She's a reporter and knows her way around crime. She thinks there is more to the story than meets the eye and is hoping to talk it over with her cop boyfriend. Instead of taking this professional reporter seriously, Barry clowns around. Iris is not happy with his flippant response. “I can tell by your attitude you think I should leave detective work to the police — that my hunches are silly! You do, don't you?” Without waiting for a response, Iris walks out of the restaurant in a huff. Although Barry is perplexed by what set her off, he figures he can call her in the morning and smooth everything over. Now that he has a little time on his hands, he decides to go to the Flash Museum.
Apparently, this was the first time the Flash Museum was mentioned, or at least it appears so in the little yellow rectangle that tells us all about it. It also tells us that Barry loves to hang out there. I guess if there were a museum dedicated to me, and I had a secret identity, I'd hang out there, too. If anyone is interested in creating a museum about me, let me know so that I can start working on a reason for there to be a museum about me and a secret identity. Is Mole Miff taken?
Inside the Flash Museum, some apparently homeless dude is sleeping on a bench under a portrait of the Flash. Good thing for the patrons, a guard is there to wake him up and kick him out. But kicking the older gentleman out is not as easy as it might seem. “Zounds!” he says. “The fellow thinks to treat me like some scurvy knave! Know, varlet, that I have slept in palaces — as a guest of royalty!” Although he is nattily dressed, from his speech I would guess him to be a pirate. There's no parrot or bottle of rum, but he sounds rather like a pirate. It would also be really fun if this story had gangsters and pirates. You just don't get to see that very often. Gangsters, pirates and maybe a cat burglar! It would be the perfect storm of crime. In the very next word balloon the pirate talks about taking a "cat nap." Oh, perhaps he's a pirate AND a cat burglar!
No such luck. He's an actor. Not that I'm saying anything against actors, mind you. After all, I am a card-carrying member of the Screen Actors Guild. It's just that a pirate or a cat burglar — or both — sounded more fun than an old I-sleep-on-benches actor. But wait! He, a gentleman named Dexter Myles, actually appeared in The Flash #138. So he's a recurring character. I did not know this. Um, zounds! I must treat this thespian with more respect! And stuff.
Barry offers to get Dexter a room at a hotel. With a happy acceptance, the actor heads across the street with his benefactor. After Dexter eats a large dinner consisting of round pinkish-orange things and square white things (I have no idea of what he is eating. Sushi and bread?) he tells Barry about the job that got away.
He was sleeping on a park bench when he overheard what he thought were two actors discussing a gig in a summer theater. The actors behind the hedge were pretending to be three notorious gangsters: Slick, Pee-wee and Miff. (Those names again. I guess ridiculous names are an important part of gangster culture. Then again, if your name is Slick, what other jobs are open to you?) Frustrated that he couldn’t get through the hedge to talk to his fellow actors, Dexter walked around it and discovered that they are gone. Although he knew where the play was going to take place, the Summer Playhouse, he didn't even have bus fare to get there.
Barry immediately decides that his buddy, the Flash, will be glad to help out. Barry slips out, changes into the Flash and zips over to the actor. Flash says he is, “ ... especially glad to help you out — because you're an old friend of my protégé, Kid Flash!” And off they zoom.
Will Dexter get a job in whatever gangsteriffic show is planned at the Summer Playhouse? Or will Iris’ hunch that all is not quite as it seems prove her to be more on-the-trail-hound than sit-around-laying-eggs-hen? Come back next month for more “Gangster Masquerade!”
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