By John Broome, Gardner Fox, Carmine Infantino & various (DC Comics)
Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Timeless Fun, Quick as You Like… 10/10
The second Flash triggered the Silver Age of American comicbooks and, for the first ten years or so, in terms of creative quality and sheer originality – it was always the book to watch.
Following his debut in Showcase #4 (October 1956), police scientist Barry Allen – transformed by a lightning strike and accidental chemical bath into a human thunderbolt of unparalleled velocity and ingenuity – was uncharacteristically slow in winning his own title, but finally (after three more trial issues) finally stood on his own wing-tipped feet in The Flash#105 (February-March 1959).
He never looked back, and by the time of this second commemorative compilation was very much the innovation mainstay of DC/National Comics burgeoning superhero universe. This second Trade Paperback (and digital) collection re-presents Flash #117-132 – spanning December 1960 through November 1962 – and tracks the Vizier of Velocity as he becomes the key figure in a stunning renaissance of comicbook super-heroics.
Shepherding the Scarlet Speedster’s meteoric rise to prominence, the majority of stories are written by the brilliant John Broome and all are pencilled by the infinitely impressive Carmine Infantino: slickly polished, coolly sophisticated rapid-fire short stories set in a comfortingly suburbanite milieu constantly threatened by super-thieves, sinister spies and marauding aliens with our affable new superhero always triumphant whilst ever expanding and establishing the broad parameters of an increasingly cohesive narrative universe.
The magic begins here with ‘Here Comes Captain Boomerang’ (inked by Murphy Anderson), introducing a mercenary Australian marauder who turns a legitimate job opportunity into a criminal career in what is still one of the most original origin tales ever concocted.
The ‘The Madcap Inventors of Central City’ then sees Gardner Fox (creator of the Golden Age Flash) join the creative bullpen with a perhaps ill-considered attempt to reintroduce 1940s comedy sidekicks Winky, Blinky and Noddy to the modern fans. The fact that you’ve never heard of them should indicate how well that went although the yarn, illustrated by Infantino & Joe Giella, is a fast, witty and enjoyably silly change of pace.
The Flash #118 highlighted the period’s (and DC’s) fascination with Hollywood in ‘The Doomed Scarecrow!’ (Anderson inks); a sharp, smart thriller featuring a minor villain with a unique reason to get rid of our hero. after which Wally West and a friend have to spend the night in a “haunted house” in Kid Flash chiller ‘The Midnight Peril!’
The pre-teenaged nephew of Barry’s fiancée Iris West, Wally had been caught in a bizarre and suspicious replay of the lightning strike that created the Monarch of Motion. He naturally became a junior version of the Fastest Man Alive and – when not being mentored by the human thunderbolt – enjoyed his own, smaller-scaled junior adventures in and around the rural township of Blue Valley, Nebraska….
In #119, Broome, Infantino & Anderson relate the adventure of ‘The Mirror-Master’s Magic Bullet’, which our hero narrowly evades, before ‘The Elongated Man’s Undersea Trap’ debuts vivacious newlywed Sue Dibny – calling our hero’s attention to a missing spouse and alien sub-sea slavers in a mysterious and stirring tale.
These earliest tales were historically vital to the development of our industry but, quite frankly, so what? The first exploits of The Flash should be judged solely on their merit, and on those terms, they are punchy, awe-inspiring, beautifully illustrated and captivating thrillers that amuse, amaze and enthral both new readers and old devotees. The title had gelled into a comfortable pattern of two tales per issue alternating with semi-regular book-length thrillers such as the glorious example from Flash #120 (May 1961).
‘Land of Golden Giants!’ is a minor masterpiece: a fanciful science fiction drama wherein a small expedition of explorers – including Iris, Barry and his protégé Wally – are catapulted back millennia to the very moment when the primal super-continent (or at least the parts that would become Africa and South America) begin splitting apart.
Flash stories always found a way to make cutting-edge science integral and interesting. A regular filler-feature was the speed-themed “Flash-Facts” which became a component of the stories themselves via quirky little footnotes.
How many fan-boys turned a “C” to a “B” by dint of their recreational reading? I know I certainly impressed the heck out of a few nuns at the convent school I attended! (But let’s not visualise; simply move on…)
Issue #121 saw the return of a novel old foe on another robbery rampage when ‘The Trickster Strikes Back!’ after which costumed criminality is counterbalanced by Cold War skulduggery in the gripping thriller ‘Secret of the Stolen Blueprint!’ (inked by Anderson).
Another contemporary zeitgeist undoubtedly led to ‘Beware the Atomic Grenade!’, a witty yarn which premiered a new member of Flash’s burgeoning Rogues Gallery when career criminal Roscoe Dillon graduates from second-rate thief to global extortionist The Top by means of a rather baroque thermonuclear device…
In counterpoint, Kid Flash deals with smaller scale catastrophe in ‘The Face Behind the Mask!’ A pop-star with a secret identity (based on a young David Soul who began his showbiz career as a folk singer known as “the Covered Man” because he performed wearing a mask) is blackmailed by a villainous gang of old school friends until whizz kid Wally steps in…
Gardner Fox didn’t write many Flash scripts at this time, but those few he did were all dynamite. None more so than the full-length epic that literally changed the scope of American comics forever.
‘Flash of Two Worlds’ introduced the theory of alternate Earths to the continuity and by extension resulted in the pivotal multiversal structure of the DCU; Crisis on Infinite Earths and all the succeeding cosmos-shaking crossover sagas that grew from it. And, of course, where DC led, others followed…
During a charity benefit gig Flash accidentally slips into another dimension where he finds that the comicbook hero he’s based his own superhero identity upon actually exists. Every adventure Barry had absorbed as an eager child was grim reality to Jay Garrick and his mystery-men comrades on (the controversially designated) Earth-2. Locating his idol, Barry convinces the elder to come out of retirement just as three Golden Age villains – The Shade, Thinker and The Fiddler – make their own wicked comeback. And above all else, Flash #123 is a great read that still stands up today.
Still utterly unaware of the stir that was brewing in fandom’s ranks, it was business as usual with #124’s alien invasion romp ‘Space Boomerang Trap!’ featuring an uneasy alliance between the Scarlet Speedster, Elongated Man and opportunistic Captain Boomerang, before back-up ‘Vengeance Via Television!’ tests Flash’s wits after a mad scientist uses TV waves to expose his secret identity.
‘The Conquerors of Time!’ (Flash #125 December, 1961) is another mind-boggling classic exposing time-travelling aliens’ attempt to subjugate Earth in 2287AD by preventing fissionable elements from forming in 100,842,246 BC. Antediluvian lost races, another key role for Kid Flash (easily the most trusted and responsible sidekick of the Silver Age), the introduction of the insanely cool Cosmic Treadmill plus spectacular action make this a benchmark and landmark of quality graphic narrative.
The drama continues unabated in the next issue as Mirror Master resurfaces in ‘The Doom of the Mirror Flash!’ resulting in another shocking metamorphosis for the Monarch of Motion whilst the second story looks into Barry Allen’s past in ‘Snare of the Headline Huntress!’ Here childhood sweetheart Daphne Dean tries to rekindle Barry’s love to boost her flagging Hollywood profile….
In #127 ‘Reign of the Super-Gorilla!’ Grodd returns to Central City, using his telepathy to run for Governor (not as daft as it sounds, honest!) whilst Kid Flash resolved parental problems in ‘The Mystery of the Troubled Boy!’ after which Flash #128 sees the spectacular debut of time-travelling magician and psychotic egotist Abra Kadabra in ‘The Case of the Real-Gone Flash!’ yet still finds room for intriguing revelatory vignette ‘The Origin of Flash’s Masked Identity!’
Fox and Earth-2 returned in #129’s ‘Double Danger on Earth!’ as Jay Garrick ventures to Earth-1 to save his own world from a doom comet, only to fall foul of Captain Cold and the Trickster. As well as double Flash action, this tale pictorially reintroduces veteran Justice Society stalwarts Wonder Woman, Atom, Hawkman, Green Lantern, Doctor Mid-Nite and Black Canary. Clearly Editor Schwartz had something in mind…
For the meantime though it was back to basics in #130 with ‘Who Doomed the Flash?’; an intriguing mystery seemingly pooling the talents and threats of Trickster, Captain Cold, the Top, Captain Boomerang and the Mirror Master in a superb comic-conundrum, brilliantly solved by the Vizier of Velocity even as his junior partner endures his own problems with the Weather Wizard in ‘Kid Flash Meets the Elongated Man!’
RSVPing to a trendsetting guest-shot in Green Lantern #13 (‘Duel of the Super-Heroes!’ and not included here), the Emerald Crusader again joins with The Flash to defeat alien invaders in the engrossing feature-length epic ‘Captives of the Cosmic Ray!’ before this compelling compilation concludes with #132’s ‘The Heaviest Man Alive!’ – with the speedster revisiting the dimension of Gobdor (see ‘The Man Who Stole Central City’ from #116 and the previous volume).
As well as action adventure and mystery, this tense, super-scientific teaser enjoys a sly poke at the new Television generation and leads into second tale ‘The Farewell Appearance of Daphne Dean’ as the repentant starlet returns to make amends in a quirky little tearjerker…
As always in tales of this vintage, the emphasis is on brains and learning, not gimmicks or abilities, which is why these tales still work nearly half-a-century later. Coupled with the astounding Infantino art, these tales are a captivating snap-shot of when science was our friend and the universe(s) was a place of infinite possibility.
These tales were crucial to the development of our art-form, but, more importantly they are brilliant, awe-inspiring, beautifully realised thrillers to amuse, amaze and enthral both new readers and old lags. This splendid selection is another must-read item for anybody in love with the world of words-in-pictures.
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