The Mountaintop


www.youtube.com/watch?v=AMiWFlMQNFs

Who put the ball in the German’s net?

Of course, this is the ultimate I Was There.
I can’t possibly tell the whole story, because the whole story lasted ten months and incorporated two football seasons, both of which, at their separate levels, involved glory and delight and a reward that still shines in the memory. It was the single most involving, stirring, exciting football season I ever experienced, and every single incident was part of the tide of events that ended up in glory glory glory, culminating in that instinctive swing of Ole Gunnar Solksjaer’s right boot that took all of us to the mountain top.
When the 1998/99 season began, I was starting my third and, unexpectedly, my last season as a Manchester United season ticket holder, and my fourth return season as a regular at Droylsden FC. It was also my second season as Programme Editor and the Bloods’ third season in the Unibond (Northern Premier) League First Division after relegation in 1996 (for more details of that season try my book Red Exile.)
Droylsden had finished fourth in 1998, and United had finished second to Arsenal in the Premier League. Promotion to the Premier Division was the Bloods’ aim, the recovery of the Premier League title was United’s. Not to mention another tilt at the European Champions League, which we entered, somewhat shamefacedly, as Runners-Up.
The previous season, when Newcastle United had become the first English non-Champions to compete in the European Cup, I’d called it the ‘European Champions and Also-Rans League’, and honesty compelled me to keep doing so.
The first half of the season was more memorable for Droylsden than United: at Old Trafford, the signing of Dwight Yorke brought fun and flourish up front, and turned Andy Cole into a reliable goal machine for the first time since his arrival in January 1996, but it was otherwise first-half business as usual for the Reds. Field promising youngsters in the League Cup and go out, win games, lose a few frustratingly. Schmeical, who would eventually announce his intention to leave at the end of the season, making some uncharacteristically and seriously sloppy mistakes.
In Europe, the group stage proved no real barrier, even though United drew four of their games, and double-buried Brondby in the other two. 3-3 home and away against Barcelona (those were the days…): twice two-up at home but pegged back by two penalties, that telepathic Cole/York goal of angles in the Nou Camp (who knew…?). Conceding a stupid goal at Bayern in the last seconds to draw, the semi-leisurely return game when 1-1 was enough to see both teams through.
At the Butchers Arms, there was more going on. There was the astonishing FA Cup run: beating Conference Northwich Vics on a mud-patch, with me phoning from Old Trafford at full-time to get the score. The fortnight of rain that prevented any game between them and the Fourth Qualifying Round – the first time we’d got so far in nearly twenty years and only the fifth time ever – that robbed the team of match practice and of its captain and top box-to-box midfielder Carl ‘Sergeant’ Holmes, who had no chance to work off his one match suspension.
It was a magnificent effort but we went down 2-1 to Leigh RMI, with a missed penalty and another, absolutely blatant one, refused only sixty seconds after we pulled a goal back. Leigh went on to score a giant tie – and a draw! – against Second Division (i.e., League One) Fulham (who would be knocked out by United in the Fifth Round). Later in the season we would joke that, but for Holmesie being out, Kevin Keegan would never have got the England managership – because we’d have knocked Fulham out.
But the Bloods were on a roll. They were the last team to still be in all three Unibond League Cups, and they would end up being losing finalists in the First Division Cup but winning the Presidents Cup away to a Premier Division side – ironically, Leigh RMI.
It was making for a very early fixture pile-up, what with postponements as well, so Droylsden Chairman/Manager Dave Pace applied to the Manchester FA to withdraw from the Manchester Premier Cup, only to be refused because the FA insisted that all its senior clubs had to play, ‘to preserve the credibility of the competition’. So Pacey registered himself and coach Pedro Orr to play, in order to relieve pressure on the squad: he even put himself on as substitute in the First Round tie away to Maine Road, where we’d been one down after seven seconds and two down after seven minutes. He even claimed two assists as we ended up winning 4-2 after extra time, and then we were expelled from the Cup for fielding an ineligible player – Pacey. Who had been registered over 15 days before the game, but not over 15 days before the original date for the game, which had been called off because of fog. What a farce.
Throughout the season, I was doing what I had been doing for the past three and a half years, which was watching every United home game (plus the occasional away trip, when I won a ticket) and going to watch every Droylsden game I could. I prepared the programmes, which didn’t mean much effort: they were professionally printed in Congleton, which meant the editorial space was very limited and I just submitted it ‘raw’ for them to format.
United came first, but at Droylsden I was involved. It was a great year. I already had a mate, Dave, who had recognised me from Droylsden when I forgot my ticket and had to pay for a duplicate at the Old Trafford ticket office where he worked. We started sitting in the new main stand, the William Pace Stand, and before long our little band grew to include Mark Rustigini, and Colin Donald, whose younger brother had been in a band. For away games, I used to drive the Pace Stand nob all round northern England.
Opposite the Pace Stand Mob were the High Street Choir, a similar group of fans, who stood together and sang terrace songs, mostly reworded chants compiled by their ‘leader’, Mike Holmes (no relation).
It was fun, and, between my slowly worsening financial position, putting the cost of another year’s season ticket out of reach, and the ever-increasing sense of involvement at Droylsden, where we were all on first name terms with the players, I would end up relinquishing my season ticket to my mate Steve’s niece.
That half-year though… United had lost just before Christmas at Middlesbrough, but there would be no further defeats that season. The Premier League was down to a two-horse race with Arsenal, the holders. It was still early in Wenger’s reign, when the poison still flowed between him and Fergie, when they still won trophies, were a threat.
And the FA Cup offered that Fourth Round tie at home to Liverpool, still the great enemy for all that they hadn’t won the League in nearly a decade: their total was still six better than ours. That little weasel, wunderkind Michael Owen, put them ahead with a header after only two minutes, and we chased our tales over and over until, with maybe a minute to go, a free-kick lifted into the box was deftly nodded down by Coley for Yorkie to run over the line. An equaliser! A replay. Until, in a moment of foreshadowing that so many of us looked back to on that night in May, our perennial dangerman sub, Ollie, twisted in the box and smashed the ball through Grobbelar to steal us the game!
Who put the ball in the Scouser’s net?
Who put the ball in the Scouser’s net?
Who put the ball in the Scouser’s net?
Ole Gunnar Solksjaer!
In Europe, it was the knock-out stage. Two first half goals – two crosses from Becksie on the right, two nod-ins from Yorkie – gave us a substantial lead against Inter Milan for the second leg. They battered us in the San Siro, pulled one back midway through the second half, when a freak bounce fooled Keano, but we were holding on to our lead when, in the last minute, a high ball to Coley was nodded down with delicacy into the path of the mist cold-blooded player on the pitch, the Ginger Genius, the man who, in any one-to-one situation, you’d bet your mortgage payment on scoring, and Scholesy sent the keeper one way and slotted the ball in like he was in training at the Cliff. Semi-finals again, like two years ago.
I don’t remember when it was suggested first but it was suggested. The Treble. The League, the Cup, the European Cup. No-one had ever done it (at least, hastily correcting everybody, nobody had ever done it who came from one of the five biggest European Leagues, England, France, Germany, Italy, Spain. Don’t let’s spoil the big story by admitting that it had already been done in 1967, by Glasgow Celtic, who’d gone one better by adding League Cup to the mix, a clean sweep of everything they entered, and all with a team of 11 players born within 30 miles of the ground. United couldn’t match that.)
For Droylsden, the stakes were lower but no less important. Until that defeat, at home to Ashton United in the First Division Cup Final, a second Treble was on. But the cost was unimaginable. Because of that fixture backlog, from the first week of January until the Easter weekend at the beginning of April, the Bloods played three times a week. Every week. Saturday-Tuesday-Thursday-Saturday, over and again. Relentlessly. And they were winning.
I still vividly remember the February Saturday morning when it snowed. Leechy rang up at 10.30am, and half an hour later I was at the ground with him and another handful of volunteers, shovelling snow off the pitch all morning, nattering with the players as they started turning up, Pacey standing us sausage and bacon barms from the local café We were the only game in the Division to be on that day, though when Burscough scored first, we were all for shovelling the snow back out there. But Droylsden recovered to win, and go top of the table for the first time that season.
The President’s Cup was the first tangible reward, but the real goal, the success-or-failure measurement, was promotion. There were four teams in it: us, local rivals Ashton, Lincoln United and Hucknall Town, who were newly promoted from the Northern Counties East League. A ritual began: after each final whistle there was a hasty phone round to the grounds where each of our rivals were playing, to get scores and immediately plot the new top four.
Dave had a mate who played for Ashton, so he always phoned him. I became the Hucknall specialist, whilst Col would chase up on Lincoln. The most memorable occasion was up at Netherfield (now Kendal Town). We’d won 2-0, Lincoln weren’t playing, so Col phoned Rusty who hadn’t been able to make it that day, and was watching Final Score. How have United done? Oh great, they’re winning 6-2, no hang on, it’s 7-2, no, wait a minute, it’s 8-2.
This was the famous game away to Nottingham Forest when Ollie came on as an 80th minute sub and scored four goals!
Back to Europe. United have got Juventus in the semi-finals, first leg at home and they score first. We’re not used to losing at home in Europe, though it’s happened a couple of times by now. We batter away and batter away, and it’s in injury-time when Juve finally concede, Giggsy smashing the ball in from close range, another foreshadowing.
Before that, we’ve another semi-final to negotiate, in the FA Cup. The Treble is still there, to be dreamed of but not yet taken seriously, not to be dared, fate cannot and must not be tempted. We dreamed of the Clean Sweep in 1994/94 and came perilously close to blowing the lot, instead of just one.
The semi-final is against Arsenal, Double-candidates themselves. It’s goalless, thanks to another piece of anti-United ‘misinterpretation’ of the rules by England’s ‘premier’ referee, David Ellary (whose autobiography will reveal his bias against United). Keano’s goal is ruled out by deciding that Giggsy’s push-and-run into the corner, past Dixon, is actually ‘playing the ball forward’.
But it sets up magic, a midweek match of awe and ebb, the last ever F A Cup semi-final replay. Becksie breaks down the Arsenal defence with one of his best ever long range shots, but with twenty minutes left, a deflection off Jaap Stam from a Bergkamp effort puts Arsenal level.
Then Keano got sent off. Whether it merited the card is arguable, but it’s Elleray and Keano’s walking because he knows the fussy little pratt won’t be able to resist it. Ten men, and the disaster gets worse as we suddenly cut back from the replay to see Anelka put the Arses ahead. But he’s offside, indisputably so, and it’s ruled out.
But in the last minutes, Little Nevvy gives away a penalty. Nailed on. Nothing to do but watch Bergkamp slot it home and kill the dream of the Treble. But Scmeiks beats it away! And I am falling to my knees in disbelief and delight, whilst having to contain my desire to scream because I’m watching this at Uncle Jack’s and he had a heart attack earlier this year and can’t be doing with loud noises, so imagine watching this game with your mouth shut.
So it was extra-time, but it’s still all against United as Schmeical pulls off a stunning stage but signals frantically to the bench. He’s not moving. Please, not this, on top of everything. But they repair him, and it goes on to the changeover still level.
Giggsy’s on as a sub, but he’s playing shite. Anonymous, ineffectual. I’m glaring at him like poison, want to speak harshly of his performance but I don’t use that sort of language in front of my Aunt and Uncle who’ve got Sky and let me come and watch when United are on.
And then it happens, like we’ve seen it so often in replays, the goal to end all semi-final replays, but to watch it unfold, not knowing what magic’s about to shine, as the kid who’s playing like a dollop tonight suddenly connects to every atom of his talent, and he somehow bursts between what feels like the whole of the Arsenal defence. And he’s in space and sudden, incredulous chance of a goal is dragging you out of your seat, but before even you can take in that we might be about to score, he hammers it into the roof of the net and goes running with his shirt off, and your heart is bursting out of your chest as you can’t believe you’ve just seen that, but you have to sit there and marvel and just repeat inside, “ffffffuck me!”.
The Double’s on.
A week later, exactly seven days, Steve comes round to watch the second leg against Juventus at my house, where he (and I) can scream and shout as much as we want. Not much to shout about at first, as Inzaghi scores twice in ten minutes, one superb, one horribly flukey. So much for the Final said Steve, who’s been a Red far longer than me and can often be more pessimistic/less naïve than I. And Keano’s booked, a reputation booking, if it had been, say, Dennis Irwin, there’d have been no yellow for that, but if we make it to the Final, he can’t play.
But he doesn’t let it affect him. He smashes on into the game, dictating play, turning up everywhere and, oh wow! We’re back in it, that sweet glancing header from Becksie’s corner. And then Coley chips one in and Yorkie dives to head it in, and suddenly we’re not just level, we’re ahead! Away goals, two to their one.
The second half is never-ending, but we hold them out. The Final – after 31 long years – the Final is coming closer. Our feet are in the door – and Yorkie’s away, luck of the bounce but it’s one on one with the keeper, and he’s hauled down, Penalty! Penalty! Nailed on and red card too but Coley’s behind him with one thing in mind and he slides the ball into the net and WE’RE GOING TO THE EUROPEAN CUP FINAL!!!!!
It’s without Keano or Scholesy, for whom the heart breaks, but we’re going to Barcelona to play Bayern Munich. And I’m going to be there. I have the season ticket. I have all the tokens. And I have a mate working in the Old Trafford ticket office. I’m going to the Final. I’ve ever been out of the country before, never flown before, only had a passport for two years, having got it in hope of a European Cup Final then, before Bayer Leverkusen.
And Leechy’s sorting out not just me but my friend Shirley, a fellow Lancashire member, and her daughter Lynette with FA Cup Finals, so we all three sit together. And he gets me my Nou Camp ticket – just imagine how long I spent looking at that – but there’s a cock-up, because I was supposed to be travelling with United too, but the guy to whom Leechy passes it on to sort out doesn’t get the message, and they’re sold out.
So I go to the Travel Agents two offices along the row and book a ticket for a Chartered Flight. He tells me that Andy across the road, who owns the hairdressers, is on the same flight so I go over and introduce myself and we make plans to travel together.
Meanwhile, it’s the sharp end of the season for Droylsden. After a week off at Easter, by which I mean Saturday-Easter Monday (when Geno Ashton scores a glorious last minute equaliser at Ashton) – Saturday, it’s back to the old routine. Because all Unibond games have to be played by Saturday 1st May, without fail.
Lincoln have dropped away, but if we win at Harrogate and Ashton lose, we’re up. United are at home, only three more home games before I surrender my season ticket. But after all this season, I can’t miss the moment of promotion, so Steve’s niece Natalie goes to Old Trafford and I go on the coach to Harrogate, where we scrape a win, but Ashton draw so it’s not decided.
The team is looking ragged, as who wouldn’t be after almost 40 games in 14 weeks and it’s worse the next Saturday, when they go down 3-2 at Flixton. Ashton lose, so we are promoted, but by heck it feels flat. And this is the worst week of the season, because we’ve got two games in 24 hours, at Radcliffe Borough on Monday night and home to Bradford Park Avenue on Tuesday night.
Monday is a disaster, a 4-2 defeat, the team have got nothing left, no petrol in the tank. Plus there’s a half-time altercation between Pedro and the ref, during which the infamous Liverpudlian threat, ‘know where you live’ is uttered, and for which Pedro will get a four month ban next season, not just from the touchline but the ground.
Miraculously, the team find something from somewhere to beat Bradford 2-0 on Tuesday night. We’re top of the table, until Hucknall win on Thursday night to go two points clear. Bradford promise to do something for us on Saturday, at Hucknall.
That final match of the season deserves its own space, and so I will say nothing more now than that we won, and that Droylsden went up as Champions.
That left the end of the season to Manchester United. There was still some fencing in the League, the controversial 2-2 draw at Liverpool in which David Elleray awarded an erroneous penalty to the hosts after United led 2-2, the sending off of Dennis Irwin, costing him the Cup Final appearance (a second yellow card, valid in Law, but noticeably NOT produced when a Liverpool player committed an identical offence in a much more dangerous position) and a last-minute equaliser from former United favourite Paul Ince.
After being on Arsenals heels for months, United finally pulled ahead. They missed the chance to secure the title at Blackburn, and so this amazing season came down to three games in eleven days.
At home to Spurs, on Sunday, we just had to win and it wouldn’t matter what Arsenal did. So Les Ferdinand put Spurs ahead after only nine minutes. Becksie missed a sitter of a header but, with just over five minutes until half-time and the anticipated ‘hair-dryer’ from Fergie, made up for it by drilling in an equaliser.
Coley came on at half-time, and within three minutes repaid for all those struggling years, all those horrible misses: Big Nevvy chipped the ball from deep, Coley got behind the defence, controlled it in mid-air and then chipped it over Walker into the net to give us the lead that, if maintained, would win the first leg.
It got horribly tense after news got through that Arsenal were one up. We’d won four Premier Leagues by then, one when playing away, the other three sat on the sofa as rivals lost. We wanted this one to be done at home. I wanted it especially, my last home game. As the game went on, everyone was horribly aware that a single mistake, a moment of Spurs ingenuity, could take it all away. On such a slender thread…
But at last the final whistle, our fifth title in seven years. The beginning of what might prove to be history.
Six days later, on a gorgeous sunny May morning, I was off to Wembley. Rusty had also got a ticket through Leechy, so I picked him up first, leaving Manchester at 6.00am, driving and chatting all the way to Wealdstone, where I always parked my car on visits to Wembley, it being uncrowded (unlike Stanmore, the first Tube Station off the M1), at 8.45am.
A couple of hours wandering Central London and my usual target shops, a quiet pint than off to Wembley, Wembley Way and the Twin Towers in their penultimate year, with Rusty wanting his picture of course.
It was a weird team, picked with Wednesday in Barcelona in mind. Keano and Scholesy played, of course, though Keano’s finally was cut short after six minutes by a cynical foul. On came Teddy Sheringham, who opened the scoring three minutes later: a quick one-two with Scholesy, sliding it through the keeper’s legs and in. I was sat at the far end: Shirley, Lynette and I were right behind Teddy’s shot: we saw it slide over the immaculate turf with its ridiculously fussy diamond patter of cutting.
Truth be told, Newcastle were never in it. Scholesy, bless him, scored a second after half-time, and of my three Cup Finals with United – wins all, Doubles all, no goals conceded – this was by far the easiest.
I picked up Rusty for the long drive home, up the A1 as far as Milton Keynes, then transferring to the M6, stopping off for a pint in St Albans, in a pub full of football fans congratulating us on the win (no jokes, please, you haven’t come up with an original one in forty years).
Two down, one to go.
And then the day itself. I drove across to Andy’s place, back of East Didsbury, to leave my car and take his to Ringway. I also met his wife Valerie, who turns out to be the new blonde cashier at RBS that I’d been fancying for the past couple of months. So I made my first acquaintance with the business of getting yourself on a plane: the checking in, the bags through the X-ray machine (what about the film in my camera?), the hanging around. I bought myself a Barcelona map but no books, which is unusual for me.
Then boarding a plane for the first time in my life, at the relatively young age of 43. My ex-girlfriend had told me about how she absolutely panicked the first time she flew, so I was wondering how I’d handle it, but it was a breeze. Roll out onto the runway, start moving, hit that sudden, hell-for-leather surge and then off the ground, so smoothly I didn’t notice it at first. I’m in the air, I’m flying, look down there, that’s the ground.
But the cloud level soon arrived and I spent most of the journey unable to see anything much. It cleared just in time to see us cross the South Coast, see the first bit of France – I’m above a foreign country for the first time ever – but there was no true clear views until we were in the Pyrenees: long, steep valleys, high peaks, a scale beyond any I understood from the Lakes. And blue skies and circling to land. In another country.
All the United planes were going to Gerona, all the Bayern ones to Barcelona. Not to worry, Girona’s only 20k away and there will be coaches. We descended onto the tarmac under my first Spanish sun,the air a haze, distant mountains looking pale. Through customs and into the coach park, a dozen coaches, more, Andy and I hurrying past each of them, looking for our travel company’s sign – and there wasn’t one.
Apparently, their coach wasn’t back from taking the previous plane-load’s passengers into Barcelona.
Every other coach left. Andy and I and the other stranded passengers waited. He’d planned to meet some friends at the Café Geneve in La Place de la Concorde, I wanted to do a bit of sightseeing, abroad the first time, visit Las Ramblas, see La Sagrada Familia. Some people got anxious, ordered taxis, left. We waited.
Eventually, a double decker turned up. Andy and I scrambled upstairs, got good views of the countryside. A strange country, driving on the right, the sun bright and hot. 20K? It was 40 if it was a metre! It was 4.30pm before we reached the outskirts of Barcelona. A glimpse of the Mediterranean – The sea! The sea! I can see the sea! – then turn towards the Nou Camp.
According to our tour packs, the coach would park in the Coach park, and stay there until after the match, but when the driver signalled to turn into the road to it, the Garda refused to let him through, directed him back onto the main road. So he found a space and parked. We were told to make our way back here, get this coach only, not later than 11.00pm, or we’d be left behind, but as Andy and I started to walk away, the Garda turned up, ordering the driver to remove the coach.
No chance of sightseeing, but Andy still wanted to try the Café Geneve, in case his friends were still there, so we headed into the Centre on the Metro. We emerged at the Place de la Concorde station, into the late afternoon air, and the first thing I saw was Marks & Spencer. Seriously.
My mother, rest her soul, would have been over there in a flash, to see what they had that was different from Manchester. Had things been otherwise I’d have gone in in tribute to her, but the whole tourist thing had been seriously fucked by our travel company, so I followed Andy into the Café, but his mates were gone. So we used the loos and headed back north.
The carriage was already standing room only, but as we made our way back, it got more and more crowded, until we were all hemmed in. An anxious bloke, just in front of me, asked his daughter if she was ok: I’m alright, she replied, but I’ve got somebody’s hand on my bum. “It’s not mine, sadly,” I quipped, getting an appreciative roar of laughter from those who could breathe out, her included.
Back at the Nou Camp, with the evening just starting to darken the sky, we made our way towards the ground. The Garda had set up barriers at which you had to show your ticket to get through. Two yards outside the barriers, vendors were selling United flags to wave. Two yards inside the barriers, the Garda were watching this and seizing the flags, snapping the stick off, making them impossible to wave. But ‘harmless’. We located a programme stand, walked straight to it and got there as it sold its last programme.
Then we split for our separate parts of the stadium.
Inside, as I was getting hungry, I paid for two hot sausages on dry baguettes and some coke. Not easy to force down, but I did it. Then I climbed up to my second tier seat.
I was only four rows from the front, almost on a gangway, slightly behind the goal-line at the end where all the goals would be scored. It was a superb view.
The setting alone was magnificent, a huge bowl, climbing high into the sky in three massive tiers, 90,000 people filling it with sound. I’d been in crowds that big at Wembley but they had never been so obvious as here. The light dying out of the sky but the heat remaining as we headed into a soft, Spanish night, the festivities and entertainments spread throughout the pitch, but of no moment.
Thirty-one years before, United’s other European Cup Final had fallen during our week away in the Lake District. Because we were welcomed guests, and from Manchester, the Troughtons invited us into their kitchen to watch the game, but when it ended 1-1, after my bed-time, I was sent upstairs, only to be called down again fifteen minutes later. I saw all the game except the bit where we won it. This time, win or lose, I would at least see everything that mattered.
Both sides had brought their own stadium announcers to do the team read-outs, and Keith Fane read out a hodge-podge of an eleven, hurting from the suspensions of Keano and Scholesy. That line-up had never played together before and, with Schmeics leaving after this game, never would again.
Then Bayern’s announcer read out their team, fascinating me with a brief cultural difference: for each player, he read number and first name, pausing to let their contingent – strong but vastly interior to ours – roar out the player’s surname.
So it began, after all the season, the two seasons, that had gone before it. In heat, in excitement, in amazement at being there, and trepidation of failure.
Which was strengthened after only six minutes when Collini gave a bogus foul against Ronnie Johnsen. The wall lined up, Schmeics hid behind it, Basler hit a scabby shot along the ground, past the near end of the wall and I sat there and watched it run in. A goal down.
A lot’s been said about that game. Ferguson’s maintained that United were the better team in the second half, that Bayern were holding on in fear but not to me. My doubts were underpinned by the misery of having come so far, having left my country for the first time ever, and seeing only disaster, but the makeshift midfield didn’t function, and worst of all, we were not having any shots. Nothing that required Lehmans to make a save.
Then Bayern hit the post, drifted shot over Schmeics head, empty goal, 2-0 and game over, all this way. But it hit the post and bounced back to him. Fresh blood: Teddy Sheringham on for Coley, then Ollie for Jesper Blomqvist. A glancing header from Ollie that was our first, real effort, after 80 minutes. Pounding at Bayern’s defence. Then they hit the bar. The woodwork twice, but we were still only a goal, only an instant from extra-time. Was someone on our side?
The were big digital clocks at either end of the stadium, that started from 00:00 at the kick off of each half, and stopped dead on 45:00. No further counting. No-one in my section saw the fourth official’s board: at 45:00 we went into mystery time, time that could end abruptly at any second. What stoppages had there been?
But we’d won a throw-in on the far side at that moment. Dennis had the ball, but I could see Big Nevvy sprinting across the field, screaming for him to leave it. One final throw, into the box. But it was headed out to Becksie, who tried to shield it, working back towards the touchline, looking for a gap but finally slipping it back to Nevvy, who crossed with his weaker foot. Not good enough, and deflected, but Effenberg put it behind anyway, just for safety’s sake.
And we looked left, expecting and seeing, Schmeics racing forward. It’s last ditch, oh shit this is vital time. Besides, he’d scored in Europe, and I’d been there to see it. Could he do it again, give us the tale to end all tales?
Becksie certainly looked like he was aiming for him, but it was over Schmeics’ head. Yorkie was backing of, taking it on his chest but unable to control it, and it was sliced away to the edge of the area. Giggsy took a swing but it was his right foot, the one he never ever tried to work on and improve, not like Bestie with his left foot, and he didn’t catch it clean, it scuffed through the area and Teddy, side on, helped it on and it ran through, over the line and into the corner of the net.
A tiny moment of hesitation, a look down, like Teddy was looking across, fearing to see the linesman’s flag raised to bar the door against celebration, but he’s already running back to the centre-line and it’s a goal and we’re level and we’ve saved it and give us extra-time and many other thoughts of extreme incoherence as we scream and roar and hug strangers, because we’re not dead, oh we’re not dead and it’s there before us.
So stunned Bayern kick-off, and immediately lump it forward. I’m sure I was far from the only Red who, at the instant, flashed back to 1979, to the Cup Final, to two goals in a minute to drag us undeservedly level, only to concede a winner a minute later. Don’t fuck it up now, just get it up this end, out of danger.
And Dennis does just that, sending Ollie away on the left, tracked by Kuffour, playing it off him for another corner, same side. Over goes Becksie, Schmeics stays back. It couldn’t happen again, could it? It couldn’t happen again, could it? IT’S HAPPENED AGAIN!!!!!!!!!!!! and the roar is instant and visceral, 60,000 hearts and disbelieving minds as one, as the shorter, harder corner is glanced on by Teddy, and Ollie raises a boot and flicks it into the roof of the net, and it becomes clear that this whole night is a gigantic story that Roy of the Rovers’ editors would have rejected, because fiction’s under an obligation to be plausible whilst real life operates under no such constraints and we have won the fucking Champions League in the most incredible fashion anyone ever can or will.
To my amazement, when Bayern kick off again, for the final, ritual seconds, less than half their team are standing. Six players are sitting or lying down on the turf. Of those standing Khuffour is not in it. He’s throwing himself around, crying wildly, taking onto himself all the blame, for giving away the corner. It’s unbelievable. And it only lasts another twelve seconds.
But this is still far from the end of the story. It’s one of those moments that you don’t want to let go of, a potentially endless party that won’t break up  as long as you never leave the room. And the players tour the trophy round the stadium except that, when they get down to the corner in front of me, the United end, the games start.
The Cup is placed on the goal-line and the players retreat ten yards, and one by one they walk, sashay, strut and dance forward, in their own styles, teasing the trophy until they seize and raise it and we roar our heads off again, drawn into their public but very personal celebration of a moment no-one will ever feel again.
And then they break away, grab the two gray-suited figures who are standing back, watching with thoughts none of us could possibly imagine. Against their wills, for they have not done anything in their own eyes to win this game, and at least one is hating the feeling that he’s being dragged into something he doesn’t deserve, Roy Keane and Paul Scholes are given a players’ Guard of Honour, two lines standing applauding, as they reluctantly walk forward to us, to pick up the Cup themselves.
And I understand your misgivings, Keano, but this is good, and it is right and proper, because without Captain Fantastic and the Ginger Genius, we would not be here, and we feel your pain at not playing, but this night would not feel right without the chance for us all to take you into our embrace as fans still drinking the gold of glory. You deserve it.
But it cannot last forever. I’ve a coach and a plane beckoning me, an office to open tomorrow, a country to go to where I can speak the language so, though the celebrations are still going on below, I break away into the aftermath, walk away from the stadium, and reach the main road.
The coach isn’t where it should be, well blow me down, but there’s a coach with the sign for our travel company so I grab a seat on that, and three minutes later Andy turns up and joins me. It’s a coach of Reds all simultaneously charged up and drained. I’m so far from fully understanding what I’ve seen that I’m still saying that Ollie’s winner against Liverpool is the most dramatic moment of the season for me!
Who put the ball in the German’s net?
Who put the ball in the German’s net?
Who put the ball in the German’s net?
Ole Gunnar Solksjaer!
Eventually, we start off for Girona. It’s a long convoy of coaches, with a Garda escort, and it crawls. At no point do we get above 20mph, and Girona isn’t as close as my Travel Agent claimed. It’s frustrating, especially at the tollbooths, where we’re pulled over to one side for ages. People who have relatively early planes are starting to get anxious. We’re not due to take off until 1.30am, so it’s not too bad for us, yet.
At last the Airport lights appear. We turn onto the approach road but, almost immediately, two Garda wave us into a lay-by on the right. People whose lane is due to take off now are frantic. Two guys who speak Spanish argue with the Garda – not furiously, but politely. Apparently, this coach is ‘linked’ to a flight not taking off until 3.00am, so they plan to keep us here, on the coach, in this lay-by, until then.
Logical argument gets us through. We set off along the approach road, get one hundred yards, and two more Garda wave us into a lay-by on the right. This is insane. They must know that we haven’t crashed any barricades or anything stupid like that, that we’ve been let through.
Another, longer argument, and we’re allowed to proceed. This time we get into the airport itself, swinging round to pull up outside the Terminal building, but, oh for God’s sake, the Garda grimly refuse to allow us even to stop, go away. The driver would happily go back to the approach road where they want him to sit, but he’s persuaded to let us off in the car park, so we shoulder bags and set off for the front door, but no.
Somehow Andy slips inside but I’m not so sneaky. We’re ushered away into the car park, to mill around or stand, in the warm early night, staring at the airport from which we’re supposed to leave this country, bit whilst the car park is fine, the pavement around it is not, and anyone who seems to be trying to get near to that is dramatically warned back, and these Garda have sticks and guns and an air of willingness to use them.
It’s a nice night for it, I mean, it’s gone 1.00am and I’m standing round in shirt sleeves, but it’s so bloody unnecessary. This is NOT the Red Army of the Seventies. It’s people like me: happy, tired, middle-aged, middle-class people and their families who only want to go home. I joke about attacking a Garda: you could probably get deported home faster. I wish it WAS the Red Army 1976, there wouldn’t have been a brick left standing of Girona Airport.
Some groups are being let in, and I manage to get amongst them, which is good because my flight takes off at 1.30am. The woman on the desk where I show my ticket and boarding card doesn’t seem to understand it, but I’m stamped in, so to speak, and scurry up to the vast Departure Lounge, where I find Andy. It’s chaos, utter fucking chaos, no-one knows what the fuck is going on, the truth is that Girona is not a big enough airport to handle this amount of traffic and they’ve lost control.
And we’re English, and Manchester United as well, so I suppose we should have expected to be fucked over.
I don’t sleep a wink. I brought a good, thick, easily readable book for the flight and I sit in a chair and read it through the night, Orley Farm by Anthony Trollope, which is now indelibly wed to that night. The hours pass with the alacrity of frozen treacle dripping. It’s insane. We’re not out for trouble, we just want to go home. You want us out of your country, why are you keeping us here?
The experience takes some of the short term gloss off the day, but at least it doesn’t sour me on Spain as an experience. But it’s daylight and then some before we’re called into a waiting room, to wait for ages, then ferried out to a plane that’s been stood there since 12.30am, which we could have caught at any time and gone home.
I’m a Solicitor, with my own practice. I’m tired, I’m miserable, I’m angry at the start-to-finish shambles our travel company have made. Andy’s pilfered the coach sign as a souvenir, so I borrow it, go to the back of the plane and, row by row, introduce myself as a Solicitor who plans an action against the travel company, get something, maybe £50? back off our tickets.
Rows and rows of people sign up, over 100 names and addresses, as I walk back to Manchester. It’s a strong number, and on a purely commercial level, it’s a chance for my young firm to impress over 100 new clients in one go: repeat business from 10% of them would be a substantial boost, plus word of mouth.
But we’re on the approach path to Ringway, and I’m in my seat. We go out east, turn round. I catch sight of my street, my house below, and then the long descent, the landing, the overdue exit from the airport, the taxi to Andy’s, retrieving my car and home for a shave and shower.
I’ve got to open my office, but first I want to get a set of newspapers. After all that messing around coming home, blurring the experience, it’s not until I step into a newsagents and take in that panorama of front pages that what happened really hits me, really and truly becomes real.
Once I reach my office and collect the post, I lock myself in. Normal service will resume on Friday and it’s going to be a busy weekend catching up, but first I spend two and a half hours typing up names and addresses and writing a comprehensive statement of the day before. These go off to my litigation partner at one of our other offices. He, being a lazy sod and a Bolton Wanderers supporter, lets the matter drift into oblivion after a couple of exchanges of letters, letting me down twice over: as a Partner in need of fresh clients that he’s, in effect, blown off, and as a claimant who got shitty service.
So that was it, from end to end. There were ramifications from that season that run on a long way, not least that, as an odd and unlikely twist, I was to meet the woman who would become my wife, but these things are part of the strain of that glorious year that is represented by Droylsden, not Manchester United.
With the exception of a testimonial game, which I attended in the company of my cousins from Canada and Australia, that was the last game I went to see United: I have watched them on television only, since. It was down to money, to begin with, and to the more intimate involvement at Droylsden, in very large part (with rare exceptions, with United you always felt that they’d really rather you sent the money but didn’t actually clog up the stadium by attending – just think how much outlay they could have saved).
But to end with the Treble, and to have those three minutes as the last I spent. I could not have designed a greater conclusion. How could it be topped? How could it even be equalled? If, one year later, United were 1-0 down in the Final in Paris, going into injury time, how could a repeat of what Teddy and Ollie did be so meaningful again? We’d be expecting it next time, and every time after.
No, I’d had the mountaintop. I’d had Everest, not even Scafell Pike, beyond which there was nothing. It could be my last match and no sense of loss, because mountaintops cast long shadows and in some ways I am still in the shadow of that moment, which I can summon up whenever I choose. Becksie, Teddy, Ollie!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Who put the ball in the German’s net?
I know. I was there.

JSA Legacies: No. 1 – The Flash


Can you recognise all these speedsters?
Can you recognise all these speedsters?

The original Flash was created by writer Gardner Fox and artist Harry Lampert for Flash Comics no 1, published by All-American Comics in 1940. He was Jay Garrick, a Research Chemist in Keystone City, and his was the most simple and appealing of powers: super-speed: who had not dreamed of being able to run fast, with the wind whipping through their hair?
Garrick gained his powers through a lab accident whilst a student at Midwestern University: clearing the lab one night, he broke a retort of hard water: overcome by its fumes, he breathed them in all night, until discovered and rushed to hospital in the morning. He made a complete recovery, but concealed from everyone but his girlfriend, feisty Army Colonel’s daughter Joan Williams, that his body chemistry had been changed and that he could now run with superspeed.
That origin has been tweaked half a dozen times since, in an attempt to introduce even a fraction of plausibility into it, but all the reboots do is to further emphasise that, as superhero origins go, this is one of the least credible ever, and there is, trust me, a great deal of competition. It’s typical of comic book irony that such a silly origin should characterise such an excellent and successful character.
As The Flash, Garrick wore a simple costume consisting of a long-sleeved red top decorated by a yellow lightning bolt, blue pants, red boots, and a symbolic winged helmet of Mercury, the Roman God of Speed. Like his fellow heroes, Garrick wore that costume under his street-clothes, ready at any time to throw them off and race into action.

The Flash 1 – first appearance

Garrick was a founder member of the JSA, and its first Chairman, recognising his status as the character most likely to be voted into his own solo title, making him the first after Superman and Batman to achieve this success. All-Flash ran from 1941 – 1948, during which period not only was the Flash invited back into the JSA, but he also became one of the regulars in Comics Cavalcade, one of the last successful anthology titles to be introduced in the 1940s. This meant that The Flash was appearing regularly in four titles, one more than each of Superman and Batman.
But the swing away from superheroes after the end of the war affected everyone, except a handful. One by one, All-Flash, Comics Cavalcade and Flash Comics were cancelled, and at the end of 1950, when All-Star became a Western title, The Flash disappeared, presumed forever.
However, as we already know, in 1956 National Periodical Publications decided to test the waters of whether kids were ready to read superheroes again by reviving The Flash. But editor Julius Schwarz, unwilling to revive a character who had already been “done”, insisting on creating a brand new character, more in tune with the 1950s.
The Flash 2, created by Robert Kanigher and Carmine Infantino, was Barry Allen, blonde crew-cut, bow-tie and sports jacket, the perfect image of Organisation Man. He was a Police (i.e. Forensic) Scientist with the Central City P.D., again out in the flat mid-West. Allen was working late one night in the lab, with a storm approaching. After a coffee-break during which he reads an old issue of Flash Comics, starring his childhood favourite, the lab is struck by lightning. It overturns a cabinet of chemicals on Allen, drenching him with an unpredictable mixture of electrified chemicals (now THAT’S an origin!).

The Flash 2

After leaving the lab, Allen undergoes a series of experiences in which he seems to move at superspeed, but he does not fully realise what has happened until the following morning, when he can not only see a bullet flying towards his fiancée, reporter Iris West, but push her out of its way. In emulation of his comic book hero, Allen becomes the Flash.
The new Flash ran in an all-red body suit, incorporating a pull-over head cowl and eye-mask, with yellow boots, yellow lightning flashes at wrists and waist, and a chest symbol of a yellow lightning bolt across a white circle. The costumer was made of an advanced version of the material used in inflatable life-rafts: in compressed form it was stored in a signet ring on Allen’s finger: when exposed to the air, it instantly grew to full size and Allen would don it over his street clothes (yeuch!).
National’s management were strangely reluctant to accept the positive sales figures and it took four try-outs over three years before Allen was awarded his own series, picking up the original numbering of Flash Comics with issue 105, and John Broome took over scripting.
Given the background of both Broome and Schwarz, there was an unsurprisingly strong SF element to the Flash’s adventures. Broome made use of a wide variety of scientific and pseudo-scientific tricks to underpin Allen’s speed (long though I believed it, I have been forced to come to the conclusion that there is no scientific validity to the notion that objects which vibrate at different rates can occupy the same physical space without damaging each other: I invite any reader of this to come up with even a shred of proof that this actually is true). And Broome also came up with a constant stream of costumed villains, a Rogues Gallery built around scientific gimmicks, who would stretch the scientist in the Flash to defeat them.
Schwarz’s success with the Flash led to a new Green Lantern and then to a revived Justice Society, renamed by Schwarz as the Justice League of America. The Flash was a founder member. Unlike the JSA, the League didn’t require all its members to appear in each issue, nor did it have a permanent Chairman: instead, the office was passed round from issue to issue. As one of National/DC’s most popular characters, the Flash appeared in most issues, and took his turn in charge many times.
Also in 1960, Broome gave the Flash a boy side-kick. Kid Flash – who originally wore a cut down version of Barry’s uniform before gaining a snazzy yellow and red version of his own – was Iris’s nephew Wally West, a 10 year old from the farming community of Blue Valley and a big Flash fan. Iris arranged through Barry for Wally to meet the Flash (Reporter though she was, Iris was certainly no Lois Lane). The Flash explains his origin in Barry Allen’s home laboratory when an identical lightning bolt overturns the cabinet on Wally, giving him exactly the same powers! Ok, it’s a good origin, but this was stretching probability, and a much later story went to great lengths to suggest a reason why this event duplicated itself so exactly.
Kid Flash would appear periodically as a guest star, or in back-up stories, until he gained an independent life as a member of the Teen Titans, a foursome of teenage sidekicks hanging out together.

Kid Flash in his new costume

Meanwhile, the steady stream of letters wanting to know about the Golden Age Flash, and how Jay Garrick fitted in with Barry Allen. It was obviously a story that would sell, so Schwarz brought in Garrick’s creator, Gardner Fox, to write the landmark “Flash of Two Worlds” for issue 123. Whilst carrying out superspeed tricks for the Central City orphans, Allen vibrates into invisibility and finds himself several miles outside town. Thinking he’s passed through a space warp, he runs back only to find prominent local landmarks missing. Fearing he’s also passed through a time warp, he checked the date on the newspaper, which is correct (June 4th 1961). However, the paper is not the Central City Picture News but rather the Keystone City Herald – Keystone City as in Jay Garrick.
Allen finds Garrick’s address in the phone book and, in civilian clothes, calls on him and his wife, Joan. He shocks them by relating Garrick’s origin as the Flash, before revealing his own. Allen’s theory, based on the vibrating-at-different-rates idea, is that there are two Earths occupying the same physical place in the Universe, but forever invisible and intangible to each other because they vibrate at different rates: Allen has discovered Garrick’s Earth because he has accidentally tuned into its rate.
The implications of this single issue would underpin the entire DC Multiverse for twenty five years to come, and its waves continue to have effect even now, in The New 52,

Flash of Two Worlds splash page

For now, though, it was a massive success, concluding with a nostalgia fest as three of Garrick’s old foes obligingly appeared out of retirement to require a fight.
The story was the predicted smash and called for a sequel, in issue 129, when Garrick came to Allen’s Earth and helped him out against a couple of his Rogues. It also included a teaser flashback to All-Star 57,marking the first post-Golden Age appearance for the other six JSA members of the team’s last phase.
Emboldened, Schwarz and Fox took things a stage further in the third team-up, in The Flash 136, which took place on Garrick’s Earth, where six of his old JSA comrades had been kidnapped. Thanks to Barry Allen, they are rescued and agree to come out of retirement, which happened only two months later, in a two part story in Justice League of America 21 and 22, with both Flashes taking part.
This story formally named Allen’s Earth as Earth-1 and Garrick’s as Earth-2, and was the foundation of a series of annual team-ups that ran for 23 years.
With Kid Flash changing his costume so as to no longer be identical to Barry Allen, and joining the Teen Titans, by 1965 there was a status quo that would hold for twenty years. Garrick appeared regularly in JLA/JSA team-ups, and occasionally teamed up with Allen: in 1976, surprisingly belatedly, All-Star was revived for the JSA, with the Flash as a regular attendee.
There was more development in Teen Titans for Kid Flash. In 1970, as a response to the ‘Age of Relevance’, most of the Titans, Wally West included, gave up their powers and costumes after their inexperience led to a campus riot that killed a prominent peace envoy in issue 25. Under the philanthropic gaze of millionaire Mr Jupiter, the grey-jump-suited teens dealt with social and teenage issues. Unfortunately, the experiment sent sales tumbling, and was abandoned (as was scripter Steve Skeates) halfway through a two-part story. The series tried a ghoulies and ghosties approach instead, but was still cancelled with issue 43.
Two years later, Teen Titans returned for another and very pallid ten issues before being cancelled again, but it, and Wally West, took on a new lease of life in 1980 when the team of Marv Wolfman and George Perez started The New Teen Titans, DC’s first genuine fan-favourite series, and its first corrective to the effects of the notorious DC Implosion in 1978.
We’ll return to the New Teen Titans and Wally’s part in it, after looking at Barry Allen’s career since the early-Sixties.
To be frank, entertaining and amusing as Broome’s (and Fox’s) stories could be, and successful as The Flash was, after starting the Golden Age Revival there were very few stories of significance in the rest of the decade. One such, however, featured Allen’s marriage to Iris West in 1965: National’s first superhero wedding, and only the second in comics after Marvel’s same year pairing of Mr Fantastic and The Invisible Girl from Fantastic Four.
The marriage was almost ruined by Allen’s 25th century foe, the Reverse-Flash, who was obsessed with Allen to the point of believing himself in love with Iris. Professor Zoom (his alternate name) tried to substitute for Allen at the ceremony but was beaten off with Iris none the wiser.
The new Mrs Allen was also none the wiser as to her husband’s secret identity, which became a running theme for the next year until, after a visit from the Garricks and some strong words from Joan, Allen agreed to tell Iris on their first Anniversary. At which point he discovered that she’d known since their Wedding Night, because Barry talked in his sleep!
That’s a charming little story that betrays too much of its time, and of the Comics Code Authority’s strictures. In 1965, nice girls didn’t – at all – until they were married, but in the Nineties the notion that Barry and Iris wouldn’t have slept together until then would have been too strange for an audience to believe, and a more complex justification had to be found for his sudden lapse into somniloquy.

How many of these villains can you recognise?

Two other stories of significance achieved this by being so insanely dumb that, if back issues did not exist, we would politely assume them to be merely urban legends. The first of these, published in 1967, purported to be the real origin of the Flash – that he had been given his speed by a trainee angel named Mopee who had broken the rules by using materials that Barry Allen didn’t own himself, hence the need for Mopee to return and take them away again – was so colossally dumb, National were trying to pretend it hadn’t happened before the inks dried.
But the other, a 1969 Robert Kanigher effort entitled “The Flash’s Wife is a Two-Timer!”, despite being almost as buzzard-gaggingly stupid, cannot be so ignored, for it would go on to form a crucial component in the Flash-mythos.
For the benefit of our younger readers, a ‘Two-Timer’ was an already archaic, or ‘square’, term for someone who was cheating on their partner with someone else, and it is as misleading as it is cheesy. Instead of being about adultery, the story was even worse. Iris Allen discovered that Professor and Mrs West were not in fact her parents but that she had been adopted. Which would not have been so bad if it hadn’t have been revealed that she had actually been born in the Thirtieth Century, but that her scientist parents, in fear of an imminent and destructive nuclear war, had sent her back in time a thousand years so that she might live.
Now if you sit back a think for just a second about the likelihood of a woman born after a millennium of human evolution being medically indistinguishable from her incredibly distant ancestors or the likelihood of concerned parents sending their child to such an unutterably primitive age, you will have thought for exactly one second longer than Kanigher himself.
Nevertheless, the fact that Iris Allen was no longer the sweet, uncomplicated,loving wife of one of the saner and well-balanced heroes, but a time-travelling visitor was shuffled into the deep background until, in Barry Allen’s final months, it was resurrected as the big twist in his final issue.
Such things apart, most of Allen’s career avoided great highs and lows. By the late Sixties, John Broome was easing himself out of comics and America, and his role as Flash scripter went to Cary Bates, one of the earliest fans-turned-writers, who would go on to write over 150 issues of Allen’s series, in a quiet, pseudo-Silver Age manner, for so long as Julius Schwarz maintained editorship of The Flash.
Let us move ahead to 1980, and resume Kid Flash’s story, in The New Teen Titans. The new team consisted of three old characters, three new ones, and a rebooted Sixties teenager with no previous connection to the Titans. Under Wolfman, Wally West would receive the first sustained attention to character of his career: Wolfman depicted West as a product of his midwestern, small-town background, naturally conservative – or at least rabidly anti-Communist – undemonstratively but firmly Christian.
But the most significant aspect of West’s presence was that it was coerced: initially, he had turned down the Titans, only to join up after falling in love with new girl Raven, unaware that the half-human, half-demon girl had used her empathic powers to induce his ‘love’, because she desperately needed him for the new team.
When this was revealed, almost three years later, West was badly hurt, but he did not leave the Titans for another six months, and then for two totally different reasons. One was to assist his girlfriend Frankie Raye in coming to terms with unwillingly developing superpowers, the other the (secret) discovery that he had himself developed a mysterious degenerative condition whereby his own speed was killing him.
In this period, Garrick was effectively inactive, under the ground conditions of the new All-Star Squadron series. In ‘real life’, he was now in his sixties, but writer Roy Thomas unveiled a hidden JSA adventure in which the entire team, plus significant others like Joan Williams, had been exposed to chronal radiation, which slowed everybody’s ageing process by about fifty per cent: the sixty-something Garrick was, physically, only forty-something.
Our focus now swings back to Barry Allen. Things had changed in the world of Central City. Schwarz had finally retired as editor of The Flash, after over twenty years, in 1978, to be succeeded by artist Ross Andru, veteran of several series at both National/DC and Marvel.
Bates had been writing his calm, polite, Broome-manque stories for many years. True, at any given stage you could gather together a year’s issues of The Flash, throw them in the air and read them in whatever order they fell, without seeing any difference, but this had been good enough to keep Allen’s audience as stable as any other in the declining market of the decade.
But Andru wanted more. He had come from Marvel, where issue-to-issue progression and development and stories based in emotional dramas were the order of things, and where continuity meant more than the meticulous cross-referencing of Allen’s super-speed tricks to which issue they had previously been used in.
Things changed, suddenly. Allen found himself under pressure from a strict Police Captain, giving him grief over all his absences from the lab. An undercover cop started investigating drug-running through the lab, with the same Captain framing Allen as the culprit. Barry and Iris started to bicker and argue. Allen was ordered to supervise a morally dubious experiment on a prison inmate, Clive Reston, undergoing a Clockwork Orange procedure that would backfire, turning Reston into a monster who escaped. At a fancy dress party, with Iris making a very tasty Batgirl, she and Barry resolve their differences and decide it’s time to try for a baby. Reston kills Iris.
And yes, it was almost as schematic as that, not helped by veteran penciller Irv Novick retiring after the first issue, throwing Andru back on, first fill-ins, then a young and inexperienced penciller with no ability at body language or expressions. Though despite that, a disbelieving Allen’s grief at being shown his wife’s body in the morgue came over with sufficient power and helplessness to momentarily pause the story.
After that, the clichés start to run into each other. The Flash pursues Reston but is injured by him, enough that, when Allen shrinks back from exacting the Ultimate Price for His Crime, Reston still falls to his death from A High Place, the injured Flash unable to save him.
Then Bates promptly unveils evidence that Reston did not, after all, kill Iris. The true villain was actually the Reverse-Flash, giving Iris a final ultimatum to leave Allen for him and, when she gave him a final refusal,killing her by vibrating his hand into her head and literally scrambling her brain (ew, yeuch! and no-one spotted this at the autopsy?).
So Allen gets to go through the revenge issue again, up to a fresh point of exacting the Ultimate Price, only this time a vision of Iris comes to him to turn him away from Sinking to the Villain’s Level, but the Reverse-Flash still pays a terrible price, being trapped in a malfunctioning Time Bubble that will never again materialise in an actual time period into which he can escape.
Note that Zoom gets a comic book ‘death’ from which he can be retrieved whenever he’s wanted whilst Reston actually dies, but that’s the difference between a name player in the stock supporting characters and being an inarticulate new creation who doesn’t even get a codename.
Andru moved on, Len Wein took over as editor and Bates went back to his calm, polite, Broome-manque stories, this time with added new background as Allen moves into an apartment building and tries to cope with being a bachelor again.

Flash 300 wraparound cover

But before we consider that, we must look at the anniversary story Bates wrote for The Flash 300, a triple-size tale, drawn by the returning Carmine Infantino, back at DC after his sacking as Publisher, a story that would be Bates’s masterpiece.
A bandaged man lies in a hospital bed in a private room, unable to move. Years ago, Barry Allen was caught in an horrific lab accident, when he was showered by electrified chemicals. Allen suffered appalling, paralysing burns, and has been bed-ridden ever since whilst Doctors slowly rebuilt him physically. Soon, their work will be complete, and he will be able to move, walk, live again.
But, unable to bear the reality of his condition, Allen’s mind has constructed for himself a powerful fantasy, that the accident gave him superpowers, comic book superspeed. Instead of paralysis, he lives a wild, free life, capable of running round the world in,literally, seconds.
Now, Allen’s doctors must free him of this delusion, break down his comforting fantasy, if he is to truly recover.
For Allen, it’s a lonely, utterly unsupported battle of wits to escape a subtle, paranoid plot by one of his enemies. But the slowly building case is inarguable; seamless, complete, absolutely convincing. The Doctor can even produce a living, still-loving Iris West, and a Reverse-Flash to confirm he never killed her.
For the reader, it’s obviously a cunning plan and, if you escape the beautifully maintained suspension of disbelief, a fundamentally flawed one – what happens when the ‘cured’ Allen is released from hospital into a world where the Flash manifestly does exist, and meet friends who know Barry Allen to be the Scarlet Speedster? But for the duration of the story, that suspension is willingly, eagerly maintained.
And it is the Reverse-Flash who saves Allen, by giving him the one incongruity, the one flaw that his relentless search for logic can seize on to destroy the whole structure of lies: if there never was a Flash, how can there have been a Reverse-Flash?
From there, the series resumed its general course. Allen met and started to date a young red-headed woman called Fiona Webb, who was initially suspicious of him: Webb had been relocated under the Witness Protection Programme and Allen was identical to the man she feared. Once the Flash had removed the threat to her life, she relaxed with Allen.
Meanwhile, Crisis on Infinite Earths was now being discussed and the decision was taken to kill off Barry Allen as a massive symbolic, we’re-serious-about-this gesture. With more than two years to go until the actual event, Bates started laying the ground.
Out of the blue, Allen asks Fiona to marry him. Their rushed wedding day is marred when the Reverse-Flash reappears, set on killing Allen’s second wife. The pursuit of Professor Zoom kept Allen from appearing at Church, causing Fiona great distress and humiliation. The Flash finally stopped Zoom at the final instant, managing to drag him back in a choke-hold that, stopping Zoom at superspeed, broke his neck. The incident drove Fiona into an asylum, whilst the Flash was charged with manslaughter, later upped to Second Degree Murder. Barry Allen had ‘disappeared’ and was presumed murdered by Zoom. Allen left it that way after learning that his re-appearance might cause Fiona permanent mental damage.
The next two years dealt at length with preparations for and the conducting of the Flash’s trial. He was quickly suspended from the Justice League, several of whose members vote for expulsion. The series was set for cancellation with issue 350, which would appear simultaneously with Crisis 7, in which Supergirl was killed. As early as Crisis 2, the Flash had appeared in pain and terror, arousing fears.
The trial ended with the Flash being found guilty, but this verdict was ‘forced’ on the other Jurors by Flash’s foe Abra Kadabra, masquerading as Jury Chairman. Another juror also came from the future, intent on ensuring that History’s true verdict of Not Guilty was not disturbed. This juror persuaded the Flash to fight back and expose Kadabra, and winning his acquittal.
This other juror was Allen’s beloved Iris.
Using Kanigher’s appalling story, Bates revealed that Iris’s thirtieth century parents, knowing the time of her death, had created a machine that reached through time to pluck her ‘soul’ from her body seconds before Zoom struck, bring it to their time and house it in a clone body, ensuring Iris still lived.
Now, with his twentieth century life in ruins, with Barry Allen ‘dead’ and the Flash’s reputation mired, Allen chose to retire to the Thirtieth Century, reunited with Iris. The couple enjoyed a blissful month, during which, unknown to Allen, Iris became pregnant, before the Flash was swept up into the Crisis. In issue 8 he died, alone, unseen, sacrificing himself to save the entire Universe by destroying the Anti-Monitor’s Tachyon Cannon.
Allen literally ran himself to death, his body disintegrating into its component atoms as he poured it on. Cut loose from the time stream, he bounced from time to time before unravelling. A later Origin re-telling added a touching note as Allen’s final conscious moment saw him slip back in time to Central City, to a night of storm, his atoms forming into a lightning bolt that flashed down towards the Central City Police Department lab…
Despite Wally West’s declaration in Crisis 12 that he would take up Allen’s name and costume, DC initially intended to produce a completely new Flash. Little is known of who/what this Flash might have been (a throwaway reference in Alan Moore’s unproduced Twilight of the Superheroes proposal refers to “Barbara Randall’s new female Flash”. Eventually, DC announced they were abandoning that idea because they couldn’t think of a way to do it without it appearing to be a massive insult to the legacy of Barry Allen.
Thus, after a year’s delay, first in the pages of the crossover series, Legends, then immediately in a new Flash series (no definitive article), Wally West became The Flash 3, the first teen sidekick to actually grow up and take over his father-figure’s role.

The Flash 3 meets The Flash 2

At first, the name of the game was to be as unlike Barry Allen as possible. West, who lived in New York and didn’t keep his identity secret, was callow, brash and self-centred. He’d seen his Uncle die a pauper so he wanted payment for his non-emergency work. The Crisis had got rid of the mysterious degenerative speed but now he was stuck with just over the speed of sound and had to refuel constantly by wolfing down junk food. West was also moody and promiscuous (he was 20, so what’s new?) and he even started seeing a woman ten years older than him who was separated but not divorced from her husband. Bad boy, bad boy.
West was also filthy rich, having won the Lottery in issue 1.
All this stemmed from new writer Mike Baron, who lasted only until issue 14, in which he obligingly bankrupted West for incoming writer Bill Messner-Loebs. Loebs, who, like Baron, came for outside mainstream superhero comics, took a more left-wing, even socialist approach, with West experiencing poverty and seeing the DC Universe with a darker eye. His associates were friends outside the superhero field, even after he moved back to Keystone City in search of a lower cost of living.
West also found himself joining the new Justice League International, as part of its spin-off Justice League Europe, as much for the salary as anything, though he was treated as money-conscious and weak-willed in that series.
West did not begin to come into his own as the Flash until Loebs left the series and Mark Waid – one of the better, most inventive superhero writers of the last twenty years – took over. Waid immediately positioned the series as a firmly Silver Age oriented title, yet incorporating the emotional dramas, continuity and, to as little an extent as he could get away with, the enforcement of grim’n’gritty agony.
Waid’s aim was to solidify and elevate West to become the Flash, a process he began by bringing back not just Jay Garrick but Barry Allen.
At this point, let us go back briefly to Garrick. Since 1986, he and the JSA had been trapped in limbo but, as described elsewhere, a Justice Society of America mini-series featuring Garrick in his prime had led to the JSA being returned from limbo and receiving their own, albeit short-lived and controversial series, again with Garrick prominent. As a bonus, Garrick received another rejuvenation, this time mystical, owing to his time in limbo.
Of more significance, Garrick immediately became a central part of West’s supporting cast, a wise, experienced grandfather-figure, who would have a significant role to play in “The Return of Barry Allen” and many more of West’s subsequent adventures.
“The Return” begins with the utterly unexpected return of Allen on Christmas Eve, apparently resolving out of electrical energy into his body in a back alley. West is, at first, sceptical, unwilling to let himself believe his beloved uncle and mentor is back, but gladly accepts him when Allen finally mourns at Iris’s grave. Allen too is weirded out to find West has adopted his name and costume.
This starts to come out more as Allen grows increasingly self-centred about the title of the Flash and resentful towards West. Eventually, he accuses West of trying to replace him, to make people forget him, and he abandons West in a death-trap. West only just escapes, to find Allen publicly announcing his death.
Heartbroken, West is left purposeless as Allen starts to direct a revenge spree against Central-Keystone for forgetting him. Garrick enlists fellow speedsters Johnny Quick and Max Mercury, to (unsuccessfully) go up against Allen. West’s malaise ends when, in the alley where Allen returned, he discovers an old, badly damaged book which is not to be published for several years yet. He is stunned by the names of the book’s author, and its writer.
West sets up a fight that destroys Allen’s costume, forcing him to come to the Flash Museum to retrieve the last one existing. But West has substituted another costume, that of the person who thinks he is genuinely Barry Allen but who is really the owner of the strange book – the Reverse-Flash.
Zoom’s story is rewritten to portray him as someone who hero-worshipped Barry Allen and who forced his way back in time to meet his idol, only to arrive several years too late, and to discover that he was destined to be Allen’s worst enemy, and to be killed by Allen. Hysterical trauma forced the knowledge deep, leaving Zoom thinking he was Allen and trying to take his place.
Eventually, West not only beats Zoom but forces him back to his own time, with no memory of anything but a burning hatred for Barry Allen. To do so, he has to burst through his own psychological limits and finally surpass Allen’s speed.
Incidentally, the book’s writer was Iris West Allen, whom West believed to be dead.
This was the springboard for a series of stories, during which West discovered that his, and all speedsters, speed came from a semi-sentient energy dimension known as the Speed Force, into which all speedsters were gathered when they died. West became the first speedster to enter the Speed Force and return, anchored by his love for girlfriend, TV reporter Linda Park. After that, West ‘mainlined’ speed, becoming the Fastest Man Who Ever Lived.

Impulse

Shortly before this, Waid introduced a new element to the Flash Mythos, in the form of Impulse.
Impulse was Bart Allen, grandson of Barry Allen and heir to all his speed. Iris’s pregnancy had resulted in twins, Don and Dawn, both of whom inherited half their father’s speed. They had gone on to become heroes themselves before being killed at the behest of a descendent of the Reverse-Flash, but Don had married Meloni Thawne, also of the Reverse-Flash’s dynasty, and he had inherited Barry’s full speed.
Unfortunately, he had also inherited a hypermetabolism that saw him grow to the physical age of 12 in only two years. Bart was brought up in Virtual Reality, which could run fast enough to keep up with him. As Bart was in danger of simply dying by living too fast, his grandmother Iris broke him free and brought him back to the 20th Century, to West, the only other speedster to get his powers as a child, who could help cure him.
But Bart, used to living in a video game, found reality confusing. Max Mercury took on the job of training and raising him, as Impulse got his own series.
Waid’s run on The Flash was West’s best period. He succeeded in outlasting the grim’n’gritty period, making West’s adventures underpinned by glory and the sheer love of speed. He established that Barry Allen had originally been born with a twin, who had been still-born, leaving Allen in unconscious search for what was missing, that this need in Allen called down the lightning that transformed Wally West and that finally Allen’s twin turned up alive, as a mysterious villain, Cobalt Blue.
And that Cobalt Blue’s real name was Malcolm Thawne, the ancestor of the Reverse-Flash.
Waid’s final adventure involved getting Wally and Linda married, after a long story introducing the short-lived Hypertime – an intriguing means of reintroducing a much more flexible version of the Multiverse that DC dispensed with all too soon.
Waid’s period saw a large number of other Flash’s added to the legend, though not to the main line of Flash’s that we’re discussing here. He created future Flash John Fox, originally of the 27th century, and, very temporarily placed Jesse Quick, daughter of Johnny, in a Flash uniform when West, afraid he was going to die, was desperately trying to get Bart to take seriously the responsibility of being the Flash, but Waid’s most notable addition was actually a tendentious character, a new Kid Flash in a contingent future timeline, who was Iris West II, West’s own daughter, a warm-hearted, eager-to-please, somewhat anxious teenage girl in a slick Kid Flash costume who would have made a great character if only she’d been ‘real’.

The Kid Flash that got away

Another interesting creation was Dark Flash, aka Walter West (Wally’s full name was Wallace), a older, harder, hypertime alternate who found himself in West’s timeline for a memorable year of stories.
There were also a millennia’s worth of ‘future’ Flash’s as Waid portrayed Barry Allen’s legacy spanning the centuries, his speed running true in his family line. When Barry Allen fans complained that Wally West’s series demeaned their hero, by making Wally out to be the best and fastest of all time, it should be noted that it was not West’s legacy that lasted 1,000 years.
Impulse was quickly given his own series, a high-tempo, light-hearted, wonderfully comic affair of Max Mercury trying to train both Impulse and Bart Allen in a quiet southern town (Manchester, yay!). First Waid, then Bill Loebs, maintained this theme for 49 issues, before a new team took over with a more serious approach in mind: Impulse would join such teams as Young Justice and the Teen Titans, where he would take on a more grown-up aspect and become the new Kid Flash.
Waid moved on from The Flash after almost 100 issues and was replaced by the increasingly central figure of Geoff Johns, though I dropped the series at that point. Linda would get pregnant, miscarry due to the machinations of Johns’s new Reverse-Flash, leave Wally for a time. West’s identity would become secret again for a time, Linda’s babies would be (improbably) restored and she gave birth to twins. Wally talked of slowing down.
And the revival of a new JSA  series gave Garrick a lease of life, as one of the elder trinity, the first generation founding fathers of the team, taking on responsibility for encouraging and training their legacies.
With the twentieth anniversary of Crisis on Infinite Earths coming up, DC decided upon a sequel that would shake things up as the original had. Infinite Crisis, more tightly controlled than its predecessor but still utterly risible in many places, shook up The Flash. In attempting to neutralise a raving villain, West, Garrick and Bart tried to imprison him in the Speed Force: Garrick dropped out but Bart and West disappeared, the latter having chance to bring Linda and his new-born twins along with him.
And Bart returned, in a Flash costume, a decade older, but apparently without powers: the Speed Force had vanished.
Only not so. Bart Allen became The Flash 4, in a new series, The Flash: The Fastest Man Alive. Jay Garrick continued with the JSA in a new Justice Society of America series. Though his various rejuvenations had been reversed, and he was now in his mid-Eighties,it was implied that the exposure to the Speed Force for all those years had kept Jay physically young.
It was not announced at first that Bart’s series was only planned to run for 15 issues, by far the shortest Flash ever. In the event, it was ended after 13. Bart, unsurprisingly, still had his superspeed, the Speed Force having coalesced into him, but through the machinations of Inertia – his Thirtieth Century cloned twin brother, Bart was temporarily cut off from his speed during a pitched battle with the massed Rogue’s Gallery and was killed.
Simultaneously, Wally West and his family were drawn back from the alternate dimension in which they’d lived for 10 years (?) over the last twelve months. West resumed the role of Flash 3, his series picking up its old numbering and, after meeting out appropriate punishment to Inertia, focussed on training ten year old Jai and Iris in their respective abilities with the Speed Force.
Even this arrangement did not last long. The ‘creative’ Powers-That-Be at DC had decided upon a Silver Age-oriented theme of Iconicity. Hal Jordan was back as Green Lantern and, after twenty-three years, Barry Allen would return in 2008’s Final Crisis. Wally West was overshadowed. Geoff Johns wrote a six issue reboot of Allen’s history as The Flash: Rebirth, and a new Flash series starring The Flash 2 began.
Meanwhile, in one of Final Crisis‘s offshoot series, Bart Allen was revived, in the Thirty-First Century, back as a teenager, and brought back to the present day to resume being Kid Flash.
It didn’t last long. Barry Allen was used as the centrepiece of Flashpoint, the 2011 crossover series that rearranged the furniture of the DC Universe yet again, this time sweeping away any history older than five years ago.
The picture is different now. Barry Allen is now The Flash 1, and a new Jay Garrick, younger than Allen, of a completely different character and origin, is The Flash 2, in the series Earth-Two, now a contemporary and, to the new readers, a secondary creation. Neither Wally West nor Bart Allen exist, yet, if ever. There is not yet a Justice Society, though there will be. The world has been changed since then, and you can read it for yourselves.

The Prisoner: episode 3 – A, B and C – discursion


Portmeirion

A, B and C was the third episode of The Prisoner to be broadcast, but the tenth episode to be filmed, at a time when the series was seriously over-budget and demanding economies in filming the last handful of episodes.
It was written by Anthony Skene, who had written the already filmed Dance with the Devil (broadcast episode 8). Aware that money was tight and that Portmeirion was more or less out of bounds, Skene toured the MGM backlot at Borehamwood, plotting his script, taking advantage of already constructed outdoor sets (one of which is taken from The Dirty Dozen!).
In practice, apart from stock footage, and one very short scene where body doubles stand in for Patrick McGoohan and Sheila Allen as the former watches the latter ascend the steps towards the Green Dome, Portmeirion is not involved and the entire production is studio-bound.
In my last instalment, I grouped Prisoner episodes into three main categories: Escape, Resistance and Revolt. A, B and C is clearly a prime example of the second group. The entire episode is focussed on extracting information from Number Six, and upon his resisting this. But there’s an interesting wrinkle on Leo McKern’s iconic question, ‘why did you resign?’. Colin Gordon has already decided his answer to that, and his object is to prove it.
Gordon cuts an interesting figure in this episode. Like McKern, who would not return until the end of the series, Gordon appears as Number Two in two episodes, but his performances are radically different in each. Note that, in the opening catechism, Gordon’s answer to ‘Who are you?’ is subtly different, being ‘I am Number Two’, instead of ‘The New Number Two’. We’ll look at this more closely when we get to Gordon’s other episode, but it’s a strong indication that his two episodes, which are broadcast out of the order in which they are filmed, are chronologically meant to follow each other in sequence. And that opens up an even bigger question that we’ll look at separately.
What this episode provides is a tight, taut thriller with a fantastic (in the literal sense) theme. Five decades later, we’re far more aware that machines that can influence dreams and the subconscious not only can exist, but do and are used, but in 1968 this was a leap for the audience to take.
The use of hallucinatory drugs also caught the mood of the time, with the growing public awareness of the effects of LSD, which at that stage – and to a large extent still – focussed on the visionary, uncontrolled effects that threatened the stability of the mine and the evidence of the senses.
The lack of Portmeirion scenes, coupled with the emphasis on Number Fourteen’s laboratory, make this a claustrophobic episode. The lab is introduced at night, in heavy rain – practically the only instance of bad weather in the entire service, creating the subliminal impression that weather control is a part of the Village’s superficial benevolence towards its inmates – and all of Number Six’s dream sequences take place at night, making this physically one of the darkest episodes in the series.
On the other hand, there’s an interesting sense of release given that so much of the story takes place ‘outside’ the confines of the Village. And outside the confines of actuality, which latter aspect allows Skene to emphasise yet further the air of surreality inherent in the Village itself.
The three options, A, B and C embody the classic three-act structure, by which the episode repeats and progresses. A is a conventional spy episode: Number Six refuses an approach from an ex-colleague who has defected to ‘the other side’ and defeats an attempt to take him by force by simple fisticuffs. In this Act, Number Six is unsuspecting and entirely under the Village’s control.
B is a female representative of ‘the other side’, and the approach, partly due to her female nature placing her outside physical confrontation, and partly because the Act now moves on to a subtle, semi-seductive approach, is indirect and set out on an emotional basis.
The episode progresses slowly because Number Six is now suspicious and is resisting direction, and when the Village attempt more direct influence, it merely increases Number Six’s suspicions and his determination to avoid the issue.
As an aside, one criticism levelled against The Prisoner is of McGoohan’s misogyny. I’ll be looking at this aspect elsewhere, but here it’s relevant to note that McGoohan, throughout his career, was resolutely against the portrayal of ‘immoral’ behaviour with women – he turned down the offer of James Bond ahead of Sean Connery on this very ground – which complicates the execution of such an approach.
With C, the episode enters fantasy at its most compete and compelling. Whilst Number Six has altered things to his advantage by diluting the ‘magic potion’, this only adds a veneer of real-world plausibility to the heroic situation whereby he demonstrates his ability to enter into his own dreams and direct these entirely according to his will, enabling him to construct a completely misleading scenario designed to subvert his audience’s expectations. Number Six uses his enemies’ own devices to overthrow them and ultimately deny them the outcome of their investigations.
The C of their pitifully thin research is and remains a complete cypher, an unknown. He exists because of the Rule of Three: a C must exist but he is defined only in terms of being not A or B. The episode’s transition into a completely out of body experience from this point onwards is a complete overcoming of Number Two’s plans. His belief that Number Six was selling-out is left unfulfilled – if we take the dreams as reliable evidence of what would have happened, as we are supposed to, all we ever learn is that Number Six rejected A.
This unexpected divergence from the expected path, from Number Two’s constructed scenario, is symbolised by Number Six introducing ‘D’, even before the, now inevitable, exposure of D as Number Two himself (a moment that foreshadows an even greater, and this time stunning revelation, that overturns the reality of the entire series, much later on.)
In the end, the only evidence we as audience get that can be relied upon is Number Six’s declaration, and this still in his dream, albeit under his own control, that he did not intend to sell out. That wasn’t why he resigned.
It’s one of Number Six’s most comprehensive and unmixed victories in the series.
The other interesting aspect of A, B and C, is that the fact that Number Two is as much a prisoner as Number Six is subtly reinforced, from the opening scene. McKern agreed the accusation immediately, acknowledged his own status as a ‘lifer’ cheerfully, and with the acceptance of a fanatic who believes it is the right condition under which to live in pursuit of his ‘higher’ motives.
Gordon, in contrast, is a mass of nerves, tense, ulcerous, forever drinking milk to calm his stomach. His subservience to, his fear of the voice on the big red phone, of Number One, is palpable. Unlike McKern, he has no philosophy to sustain him. Perhaps it is that which makes him so fearful, so vulnerable in this episode. Not only is he unreconciled, he is under direct threat. He is ‘not irreplaceable’, and enough is saidf to establish that replacement will not involve demotion to a less important position.
Uneasy lies the head that wears the Crown.

Green Arrow – No such thing as a bad character: Part 6 – Daddy’s Home


And he’s back…

The theme of this series is, as the title states, that there’s no such thing as a bad character. An offshoot of that, which the book reader won’t necessarily appreciate, is that there is also no such thing as a dead character. If all it takes is a writer with an angle, an idea, a story to use any given character, the fact that such character is, at the moment, mortality challenged, is no bar.
The idea that comics characters never really die has been sneered at often and, frankly, quite rightly so. It’s a major flaw, in an era in which the death of beloved characters has become such an easy and frequent way to generate cheap emotional climaxes, every single one of which are undercut by the knowledge that the dead one can, and eventually, will be back.
It never used to be the case. Thanks to the Comics Code Authority, and before that the codes adopted by companies like National/DC to protect themselves against accusations of disturbing children’s minds with excessive violence, people rarely died in the first place, let alone queued up for resurrection.
As a result, villains like the Joker were forever falling to their doom, only to reappear after a retrospectively Saturday morning serial escape.
The first major death that I can recall, at National at least, was that of Alfred, Bruce Wayne’s faithful butler, in 1964. Alfred’s death was ordained by Julius Schwarz, who took over editorship that year and, mindful of the overwhelmingly masculine cast (a factor in Frederic Wertham’s fifties accusations that Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson’s home set-up was an idealised homosexual relationship), had Alfred crushed under a boulder and brought in Aunt Harriet to add a feminine touch.
When the producers of the Batman TV show, who had a clearer grasp of the Batman mythos than Schwarz, included Alfred as well as Aunt Harriet, Schwarz restored Alfred by attaching him to a series of stories he was running about Batman facing a mystery opponent named the Outsider: the Outsider was actually Alfred, dramatically transformed (it was a helluva transformation, given that it involved recovery from that boulder!)
But it wasn’t until the turn of the Eighties that death and, in its wake, resurrection became a regular thing. DC even did it to world-famous effect in 1992, by killing off Superman in an issue that sold 7.5 million copies, and rescuing him from the land of the dead in an issue released at Easter.
So bringing Oliver Queen back to life and the role of Green Arrow was pretty much a given. All it needed was a writer.
And the writer that did this was Kevin Smith. Yes, the Kevin Smith, film screenplay Writer and Director. And long term comics fan.
Once upon a time, and for a very long time, the young fans of comics had grown up (debatably) to write and draw comics. Those among them who had more talent, or had bigger visions, or were more determined to control and realise their visions in the manner they imagined them and not as was commercially directed, had gone into other fields, film, television and novels. But they retained their fascination for a field whose boundaries were not limited by any budget but the artist’s pencil, and they were established and secure in themselves and heedless of any sense that they were ‘slumming it’ if they wanted to write comics series.
Smith’s story, which ran for the first 10 issues of the new Green Arrow series, was entitled ‘Quiver’ and was released as a Graphic novel under that name. With vigorous art from Phil Hester, it’s an impressive and enjoyable effort, in which Smith’s characteristic offbeat humour and the greater perspective available to a creator not limited to what mainstream comics will allow is used to great effect. But it’s still a comic book story to its very roots.
Ollie’s resurrection came at the hands of his once-verdant verdant buddy, Hal Jordan. The arrow in Hal’s chest at the climax of Zero Hour hadn’t killed the former Green Lantern, but two years later, during the crossover series, The Final Night, Jordan, still as Parallax, sacrificed himself to re-kindle the sun. In his final hours, he used his powers to resurrect Oliver Queen’s body from a microscopic fragment that was still lodged on Superman’s costume (yeurch!).
But in order that Ollie should continue to enjoy his eternal rest, his body was reborn without a soul. What’s more, it (and its memories) were booted back to just prior to The Longbow Hunters, before Ollie first killed a man, with all the effects on his character that had implied, and without all the continuity from Mike Grell onwards.
The discovery of Green Arrow, long-haired, ratty-looking but in the flesh, was the climax to issue 1, and from there the series went on to explore the emotional reaction of Ollie’s ‘family’ – Dinah, Connor, Roy – to his return, and to the ‘changes’ in his character.
However, the resurrection of body without soul was clearly unstable. For one thing, it made Green Arrow’s body vulnerable to being occupied by another’s soul, such as that of an evil and rather aged man with knowledge of black magic, looking for a fresh, young, able body to take over. Like a true comics geek, Smith linked his villain, Stanley Dover Sr., to an old DC humour series of the Sixties, Stanley and his Monster in which (in a precursion of Bill Watterson’s wonderful Calvin and Hobbes) six year old Stanley Dover Jr., who is allergic to dogs but desperately longs for a pet, adopts a giant, purple-pink furred, horned and fanged demon as his ‘dog’. Who he names Spot. His parents worry about Stanley inventing an ‘imaginary pet’ and have no idea that the Monster is real.
Stanley and his Monster was a long-running, silly and charming series, and it had had a zany Nineties mini-series revival, written and drawn by Phil Foglio, which had light-heartedly connected the series to the DC Universe, and confirmed that the Monster was a demon from Hell, albeit one that liked people and didn’t want to torture them.
Now Smith brought the story wholly into the mainstream continuum, by establishing Stanley Sr. as Stanley Jr’s grandfather, the one who had summonsed the Monster in the first place, and showing Stanley as a teenage prisoner of his grandfather.
Obviously, in order to frustrate Dover’s plans, Ollie was going to have to relinquish eternal rest and return to his body, completing his full-scale revival. And, since Dover had already transferred his considerable fortune into Oliver Queen’s name in anticipation of enjoying it, Ollie found himself to be quite rich again.
So Green Arrow was back, and once again he was selling a series. Smith would continue for another, shorter story, before leaving, and New York Times best-selling thriller writer Brad Meltzer wrote a compelling six issue story that further opened up Oliver’s legend, not to mention making Ollie one of the central characters of Identity Crisis, DC’s first summer crossover, things-will-never-be-the-same series for four years.
But we’ll talk about those in the next instalment.

Green Arrow – No such thing as a bad character: Part 5 – Dropping the Pilot


Even looking back now, it still seems a strange decision. Yes indeed, Green Arrow had been around for over fifty years, and Ollie Queen had been the DC’s resident hot-head, a bull in perpetual search of a china shop, for the last twenty-five, but he had only become a success, only been elevated to the A list of DC’s characters, those with a proven track record who are expected to be capable of selling their own series, in the last decade.
To put it bluntly, Green Arrow just wasn’t either small enough or big enough for a kill-and-replace. Especially when it meant removing one of the most distinctive personalities in the DC Universe.
But there must have been something in the air at that time in the Nineties. Wally West had, after a decade, demonstrated conclusively that he could succeed to the mantle of the Flash so, when a series of reboots and new directions started to mire Hal Jordan’s story in incomprehensibility, it was decided to make him a villain, and introduce Kyle Rayner as the new Green Lantern, young, hot-headed, unencumbered. And, about six months before Ollie’s death, Diana was ousted as Wonder Woman in favour of the red-headed, aggressive Artemis (although any casual student of comics would know that that particular development was purely temporary).
Improbable or unwise as it was, it had happened. Connor Hawke was now the Green Arrow.
Connor was, of course, inexperienced and learning, a situation that always allows for a different range of stories as he makes mistakes and discoveries, undergoes defeats and narrow squeaks, and generally isn’t as infallible as his predecessor, with the weight of history behind him, has come to be.
And he was a nice enough character, and a complete contrast to his deadbeat Dad, having been brought up a Buddhist, trying to avoid aggression, and utterly foreign to the very idea of trick arrows.
DC tried to establish a niche for their new Green Arrow. Connor applied to join the new, ‘Big 7’ Justice League, appearing in issue 4 in deliberate tribute to the issue in which the original Green Arrow had been invited into membership. In a fast-paced, high-powered and very funny episode, the League’s old foe, The Key, attacks and incapacitates everybody but Connor, whose quiver is destroyed: he still saves the day but only by relying on Ollie’s trick arrows from the Souvenir Room, much to his disgust.
And there was an attempt to establish a friendship, and a kinship, between the three JLA members who had replaced older heroes: a three issue crossover between Green Lantern, The Flash and Green Arrow as a break away for Wally, Kyle and Connor results in them running into an attack on their cruise ship.
But Connor soon resigned from the JLA, feeling more suited to street level crimes (much as his father had done at more than one time), after going undercover as a seeming JLA traitor, at Batman’s behest.
The problem was, though he was no slouch, Connor’s personality and his approach worked within a much narrower compass than the flourishing Ollie. Too much of Connor’s character was formed in opposition to his father’s ‘qualities’ and not enough in things that struck out from Ollie’s penumbra. Sales declined and the Green Arrow series was cancelled after issue 137, three years after Connor took over.
There was an obvious solution, and it was exactly what everybody wanted. All it needed was a writer with the right idea. After all, there’s no such thing as a bad character, remember?

Rick Geary – The Elwell Enigma


Rick Geary

If you delve deeply enough into this blog’s archives, you’ll find the reprint of a short piece done as a class project, in which I set out my admiration for the work of graphic novellist/artist Rick Geary.

Geary’s main work in the last fifteen years or so has been his successive Treasur(ies) of Victorian/Twentieth Century Murder, immaculately researched forays into the acts and psychologies of infamous murders, well-known or forgotten.

He has usually published these books through NBM, but for his latest hopes to self-publish The Elwell Enigma through the increasingly influential medium of Kickstarter. This is a fund-raising website, soliciting pledges to help reach a specified target by a specific date. If the pledges fall short, no money is taken. If the target is reached, the project goes ahead with the backer receiving a specific item, based on the level of their pledge.

For The Elwell Enigma, a $20 pledge (plus $10 for non-USA postage) gets a hardback copy of the book, including a unique bookplate, plus a signed Geary postcard with a personal message of thanks. Smaller donations get smaller rewards, larger donations greater ones, up to and including a page of original art from the book. Geary’s target is $4,000 by Wednesday 17  April, at 5.02pm EDT, and at the time I’m writing this, 37 backers have already pledged a total of $2,057, me among them.

So, for once, this is a Shameless Plug being made on behalf of someone other than myself. The link to go and pledge is http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1744289925/the-elwell-enigma-by-rick-geary where you’ll learn more about the project, so head over there now and make this a reality, and incidentally score yourself what is going to be a superb piece of work, complete with the author’s persona thanks.

It’s by Rick Geary: of course it’s going to be superb.


	

The Prisoner: episode 3 – A, B and C – synopsis


Thunder crashes. The credit sequence runs. There is a minor difference to the previous sequence: in response to the question, “Who are you?”, the new Number Two’s response this time is “I am Number Two.” His responses to the catechism struggle to seem smooth and confident, and his laughter at Number Six’s declaration that he is a free man is forced and unconvincing.
We begin with Number Two in his office, pacing nervously. A jug of milk and a glass are on his desk. In addition to the usual cordless stand-up handsets, there is a larger, even more stylised phone on his desk, a single piece of broad-based red bakelite, shaped like a hook. It gives off a high-pitched bleeping sound.
Number Two (Colin Gordon: tall, bespectacled, stressed) steels himself to pick it up. He is clearly speaking to Number One about Number Six. He acknowledges the importance of this case, that he understands what is wanted, that his future depends on this. Putting the phone down, he hurriedly pours and drinks a glass of milk before picking up a standard handphone and demanding to speak to Number Fourteen.
She, a strong-faced blonde in her early thirties, takes his call in a laboratory. Like any frightened bully, Number Two copies the menace of his boss to her. The experiment must proceed tonight: she will omit testing on animals and go straight to her human subject.
Lightning flashes. Two orderlies dressed in soaked oilskins enter an underground passage pushing an oilskin wrapped body on a trolley. Number Fourteen orders them not to bring wet clothing and boots into a laboratory. They steer the trolley down a ramp, strip of the oilskins to reveal an unconscious Number Six, and load him onto an operating table before leaving.
Whilst Number Fourteen sets things up, attaching electrodes to Number Six’s temples and wrists, switching machines on and checking a container with three hypodermic needles, Number Two runs over with her what her equipment will do. The machine reads electrical images from Number Six’s brain – i.e., his dreams – and projects them onto a screen, the experimental and highly dangerous drug will enable to influence the course of those dreams.
Number Two believes that the Prisoner intended to sell out and intends to invade his dreams to discover to whom, and what. His investigation has boiled things down to three suspects – A, B and C – all of whom are known, like the Prisoner, to attend the parties of the celebrated Madame Engedine in Paris.
Whilst Number Two is talking, Number Fourteen sees herself on the screen. Number Six, semi-conscious, has an eye open and is looking at her. Hastily she closes his eye.
A tape of one of Engedine’s parties is used to induce the Prisoner to dream himself into the scene, urbane and charming in an immaculate tuxedo. He flirts with the vivacious, knowing Engedine. Number Two then produces a tape of A, a suave, moustached, handsome man (Peter Bowles in an early role), who Number Fourteen recognises. He is a former colleague of the Prisoner, who went over to the other side some years ago.
At the party, A approaches the Prisoner. He knows of his resignation, recent though it is, and wants to buy his former friend. The two fence verbally before the Prisoner makes it plain he is not selling. He goes to leave but, when he collects his coat, A is waiting with henchmen, to save himself money by seizing the Prisoner. He is driven to a remote house, an Embassy, where he sets about A and his henchman, beating them and leaving.
Satisfied that it is not A, Number Two wants to go straight on to B, but Number Fourteen refuses. Number Six can only have three injections and these must be twenty four hours apart, or the strain of the drug will kill him. Reluctantly, with a glance to the big red phone, Number Two accedes.
In the morning, Number Six awakes in bed, feeling rumpled. He goes to pick up his milk outside his front door (one of the very few instances that dates the series). A flower-seller has set up outside and a blonde woman in buying flowers from her: it is Number Fourteen. Number Six recognises her  and discovers a hypodermic scar on his wrist.
Dressed, he follows her to the tables outside the Old People’s Home, and tries to start a conversation about meeting people that you have only seen in dreams. Number Fourteen dismisses his ‘nonsense’ and leaves. Number Six goes on to Number Two’s office: the latter plays it casual, too casual when Number Six forces him to see the scar, further arousing the latter’s suspicions. After he leaves, the big red phone bleeps. A very nervous Number Two promises results within 48 hours.
That evening, Number Six pours away the cup of tea made for him by the maid and drinks water instead. That too, however, is drugged.
Back in the laboratory, and back at Engedine’s party, nothing seems to be happening. B’s tape is introduced: she is a foreign spy, a very clever one, but she does not enter the dream. Number Six is restless: he is resisting the drug and is burning it up rapidly.
A maid brings a note calling the Prisoner into the arbour, which is shaped as a small maze. He finds B at the centre, at a table, drinking champagne. They dance, flirt, talk nonsense, which frustrates Number Two intensely. Number Fourteen tries to force the pace along by inputting her own voice, which the Prisoner hears as B’s: “They’re going to kill me.”
But the Prisoner immediately feels something is wrong, that B is not B but a mouthpiece. Even when armed men appear and a gun is held to B’s head, he refuses to give any information. Instead, he stumps Number Fourteen with a question that’s not in Number Two’s dossier, and walks away.
The next morning, Number Six awakes to find a second scar on his wrist.
He dresses and sets out to find and follow Number Fourteen. A bleary, sleepless Number Two, irritated, fails to realise he is tracking Number Fourteen to the lab. After she has finished checking and leaves, Number Six enters by a ventilation shaft. He checks enough of the equipment, including the A, B and C box-files, to work out the principles of what has been going on, injects half the contents of the last hypodermic into his handkerchief and dilutes the dosage with water before leaving.
Back to the party, but things have changed. The innocuous, almost inaudible background music has been replaced by a stirring, driving pop/rock theme, the camera reels and the Prisoner acts as if he is high. He addresses a blonde-haired woman wearing B’s dress with the words, “Haven’t they killed you yet?”, but she is a different woman. He proclaims that this is a dreamy party, causing Numbers Two and Fourteen to look in consternation. He flirts again with Engedine, and the music repeats, rising in pitch. On the far side of the room he sees an ornate wall-mirror is hung crooked. He struggles to bring it true, and as he does, the camera settles, the music diminishes and things return to normal.
Engedine reappears, introducing the Prisoner to a tall, blonde woman in evening dress, describing him as ‘the only sane man left in the world’. Intrigued, the blonde asks a few questions, determining that he has ‘retired’. She may be able to put something his way. She detaches a pearl earring and sends him to the roulette table.
The Prisoner puts the earring on 6: it wins and the croupier passes him a key.
Number Two is fascinated by the goings-on, utterly absorbed with the screen.
The Prisoner carries the key before him until he is approached by someone carrying an identical key: it is Engedine herself. Astonished, Number Two decides he will have her brought to the Village immediately.
The Prisoner agrees that he is carrying papers that represent his future. They walk towards a door in the garden wall. She offers him a chance to turn back: once through the door there is no return. He declines. They go to the door, but the dream is broken by Number Six’s collapse.
Number Fourteen unwillingly applies a heart stimulant to recover the dream: Number two is so insistent on getting his answer that he will risk Number Six’s death.
The dream resumes with Engedine driving the Prisoner through Paris to meet her master. The revelation stuns Number Two: Number Fourteen quips that he’ll have to be called D.
They approach a château: Engedine leaves the Prisoner at the courtyard door. Inside it is a dark, low-lit street. D’s voice, rich, accented, echoes, sounding very assured. The Prisoner refuses to deal with him unless he can see him. D reveals himself at the end of the street, in evening clothes with wide-brimmed hat and cloak, his features covered by a full-face mask. Number Two is getting frantic, running up to stand below the screen.
The Prisoner insists on seeing D’s face. He grabs the man, tears off the mask and stares at him in satisfaction. D’s back is to the camera. The Prisoner swings him round, for the benefit of “those who are watching.” It is Number Two.
In the lab, Number Fourteen is shocked, but Number Two is broken. Both realise that Number Six has been controlling the dream all night.
On screen, the Prisoner walks away, leaving D. He is next seen walking through woods, dressed as Number Six. Numbers two and Fourteen appear in the laboratory. Its door slide open – in the real lab both swing to look at their own doors, which do not move. The Prisoner enters the lab. He apologises to Number Two and hands him an envelope of papers, keeping his promise. Hoping to get something out of the débâcle, the real Number Two urges his counterpart to open the envelope, but all they contain are travel brochures for holiday destinations. Sitting himself on the operating table the Prisoner explicitly states that he was not going to sell out. That wasn’t why he resigned. He lies down and the dream ends.
Numbers Two and Fourteen cannot bring themselves to speak. The big red phone begins to beep.