By various (DC Comics)
The Greatest Stories series of collections has thrown up some unexpected treats in its selection of material, so kudos to all the researchers and editors involved. This volume presents some genuinely intriguing choices featuring three of the characters DC has featured as “the Fastest Man Alive”.
From the Golden Age come two classics of Jay Garrick – a scientist exposed to “hard water fumes” which gave him his super-speed and endurance. Both written by Robert Kanigher, the first, ‘Stone Age Menace’ (Flash Comics #86, 1947) is illustrated by Lee Elias and Joe Kubert and has the irresistible enticements of gangsters and dinosaurs, whilst the much reprinted ‘The Rival Flash’ was the last published tale of the first speedster with the bonus of recapping his origins whilst tackling a villain with all his powers. The art was by Carmine Infantino and Frank Giacoia – who would both work wonders with the Silver Age revival – and originally appeared in Flash Comics #104, 1940.
For nearly a decade, licensed properties, Westerns, War, Mystery and other genre fare dominated the newsstands and despite the odd sally, costumed heroes barely held their own until Julius Schwartz ushered in a new age of brightly clad mystery-men by reviving the Flash in 1956.
For the great majority of fans (aging baby-boomers that they are) police scientist Barry Allen will always be the “real” Scarlet Speedster, struck by lightning, bathed in chemicals – if you couldn’t find an atomic blast to survive, that kind of freak accident was the only way to start a career. From his spectacular run comes the absolute landmark which marked the beginning of a way of life for do many addicted kids.
‘Flash of Two Worlds’ by Gardner Fox, Carmine Infantino and Joe Giella (Flash #123, 1961) revived the Golden Age Flash, and by implication, the whole 1940s DC pantheon, by introducing the concept of parallel worlds and multiple Earths which became the bedrock of the entire continuity, and which the company still mines to such great effect. What’s seldom mentioned is that this initial meeting between the two Flashes is a great super-villain romp featuring a perfect pitched battle against three truly eerie foes: The Fiddler, the Thinker and the Shade.
Villain team-ups were increasingly a major part of the comics experience. Stacking the odds always increased the tension for the thrill-hungry reader and ‘The Gauntlet of Super-Villains!’ by John Broome, Infantino and Giella (Flash #155, 1965) which pits the Vizier of Velocity (don’t you just love those cool alliterative appellatives?) against Mirror Master, Captains Boomerang and Cold, Heatwave, Pied Piper and the Top is one of the best ever, stuffed with action, whimsy and sly wit, and with a hidden mystery foe to crank up the element of danger even more.
Flash #165 (1966) by the same creative team featured another kind of landmark as Barry finally married his long-time fiancée Iris West in ‘One Bridegroom Too Many!’, a shocking thriller wherein his evil counterpart Professor Zoom, the Reverse Flash, attempted to replace him at the altar. Fast-paced and totally captivating the tale also posed a Gordian puzzle for Barry. Should he reveal his secret identity to Iris – who had no idea she was marrying a superhero – or say nothing and pray she never, ever found out?
Every married man already knows the answer* but for us kids reading this the first time around that question was real stumper.
When Carmine Infantino left the strip most fans were convinced the Flash was ruined. Replacement art team Ross Andru and Mike Esposito were highly controversial and suffered most unfairly in unjust comparisons – and I count myself among their biggest detractors at the time – but in the intervening years I’ve leaned to appreciate the superb quality of their work.
Their tenure is represented here by ‘The Flash – Fact of Fiction?’ from Flash #179 (1968). Written by newcomer Cary Bates and Gardner Fox it took the multiple Earths concept to its logical conclusion by trapping the Monarch of Motion in “our” Reality, where the Flash was just a comic-book character!
Bates eventually became the regular writer of the series and in 1978, when the industry was at its lowest commercial point, wrote the longest single adventure in the Flash’s history. Desperately trying new formats the company launched DC Special Series, a extra-long format for non-standard material. Issue #11 was a 63 page Flash Spectacular which featured Jay Garrick and fellow 1940s speedster Johnny Quick, Barry Allen and the sidekick speedster Kid Flash in a Sci Fi extravaganza ‘Beyond the Super-Speed Barrier!’
Broken into six chapters it featured art from Irv Novick and Alex Savuik inked by Joe Giella, plus Kurt Schaffenberger and Murphy Anderson illustrating the Golden Age Hero chapter and the dream team of José Luis García-López inked by Wally Wood on the Kid Flash section. What more could any art fan want?
Barry Allen died during the Crisis on Infinite Earths (ISBN13: 978-1-5638-9750-4) – whatever that means in comics – and his nephew Wally West graduated from sidekick to the third Sultan of Speed. From Flash volume 2, #91(1994) comes ‘Out of Time’ to close the book. Writer Mark Waid and the much-missed Mike Wieringo (inked here by Jose Marzan Jr.) utterly revitalised the character in the 1990s and this snappy, stylish tale of impossible circumstances clearly shows why and how.
Not quite an icon like Superman, Batman or Wonder Woman, the Flash is nevertheless the quintessential superhero and the reason we’re all doing this today. This book is a great example of why and readily accessible to nostalgists and neophytes alike. Whatever your age there’s something great here for you to enjoy and treasure.
*In case you’re not married, or not a man, the answer is: Fake your own death and move to Bolivia. And if you find a woman there, always tell her everything before she asks or finds out.
© 1947, 1949, 1961, 1965, 1966, 1968, 1978, 1994, 2007, DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.