Celebrating the Unpopular Arts

An absent-minded professor, a doctor and a light-bulb: stories from 1963

Yep, it’s another of my posts looking at random stories from my Silver Age rereading that seemed worth of comment. There’s several more from 1963 I want to talk about, but these will have to do for today.

First up, we have the weirdness of Flash #134’s backup story, “Threat of the Absent-Minded Professor,” by John Broome and Carmine Infantino, introduces Prof. Ira West, Iris’s brilliant but forgetful father. The Flash side of the story concerns the professor’s magnetic fascination for crooks who wish to use his great genius for evil; this would be the shtick for every subsequent Silver Age story he appears in.

It’s the Barry part of the story that’s weird. Professor West demands to know Barry’s intentions towards Iris, so Barry has to break it to him that Barry/Iris (Biris?) isn’t a thing — they’re just good friends.


And again, WTF? They are most definitely not just friends. They’ve been dating since Iris’ first appearance; Barry gets jealous when she briefly dates a friend of his; the first story in #134 refers to Barry as Iris’ boyfriend. So why is this story saying otherwise?

I have absolutely no idea. I’ve considered if it was a trial balloon — were they thinking lots of fans would write in and celebrate the end of Biris? — but I don’t find that very plausible. So your guess is as good as mine.

Next we have Journey Into Mystery #93, in which Thor battles “The Mysterious Radioactive Man,” courtesy of Stan Lee, Robert Bernstein and Jack Kirby. While I could make fun of Marvel’s idea of commie conversation (“Thor is the mightiest force on Earth!” “No, communism is the mightiest force on Earth!”) what stands out for me is how Don Blake saves the day. After Thor throws away his hammer due to R-Man’s radioactive hypnosis, Don Blake simply sits down and invents monitor to scan the city for Mjolnir. Because that is totally a skill doctors have.

Years later, in one of the Elementals letter columns, Bill Willingham made the point that most geniuses aren’t polymaths. They’re experts in one field, not all of them. This doesn’t bother me much with guys like Reed Richards or Tony Stark, who clearly are polymaths. But Don Blake? He’s not been presented as any sort of a scientific genius, so where does this tech wizardry come from? (It gets even more absurd a couple of issues later, when he invents an android)

In previous issues Blake has come across as a competent, but not genius doctor, but that changes here too. We see him finish performing surgery, and the other doctors are in awe — nobody else could have performed that brilliant, delicate operation! Yet the rest of the time Blake’s shown to be a standard GP, treating everyday illnesses and little kids’ boo-boos. He’s a good doctor, I’m sure, but no Stephen Strange.

A lot of people just shrug and go “Well the Silver Age was like that,” but the best stuff kept things a little more consistent. Bernstein was not usually writing the best stuff.

To wrap up on a good note, let’s turn to Atom #8 and the Gardner Fox/Gil Kane story “Lockup in the Lethal Lightbulb” (story by Gardner Fox and Gil Kane). After Marv Wolfman decided to make Dr. Light into DC’s village idiot, this story came up a couple of times — look, he put the Atom inside a lightbulb (the lethal part is that it will break down his body into free-floating photons), ROFL! God, the Silver Age, amiright?

Well, no, you’re not. It’s not like this is any worse than any other deathtrap in comics. And far from being an idiot, Silver Age Dr. Light was exceptionally smart — not just technically but strategically. Rather than fight the JLA when they showed up to stop his crimes, he attacked them first, before they knew he existed; it almost worked. Having lost to the team, he sensibly began targeting them individually: Atom here, then Green Lantern, then Flash, then Superman. That, again, is better strategy than most team villains display.

From a reader’s perspective, the continuity was cool as hell too. In the Silver Age, villains pretty much stuck to one hero. Having Doctor Light show up in multiple different books was exciting, proving everyone existed in the same universe, even outside of Justice League stories. Marvel gets (deservedly) credit for building an interconnected universe, but they weren’t the first.

#SFWApro. Covers top to bottom by Infantino, Kirby and Kane.


  1. Surprised the Flash show did not go with the Ira West character.

    All the Marvel heroes were multi-faceted science genuises back then. Bruce Banner was this way also. It makes the least sense for Don Blake. That android was maybe the most ridiculous thing from Silver Age Marvel, which is saying something.

  2. There’s a great bit in the Wasp’s first story where her father asks Hank to help him find intelligent ET life and Hank points out that’s not even remotely in his skill set.
    Of course, a few issues later he’s providing high-tech security systems for a local bank so … what you said.
    In fairness, it’s not just comics. The Professor on Gilligan’s Island seemed to be an expert in everything — science, meteorology, ancient languages. Probably why Alex Ross in Marvels drew Reed to look like him.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.