By John Broome, Gardner Fox, Carmine Infantino & various (DC Comics)
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 meteoric launch 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 #133-147 – spanning December 1962 through September 1964 – 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 superhero always triumphant whilst ever-expanding and establishing the broad parameters of an increasingly cohesive narrative universe.
The comicbook had gelled into a comfortable pattern of two short tales per issue leavened with semi-regular book-length thrillers. The magic begins here with an example of the double-header format as applause-addicted future conjuror Abra Kadabra takes a rather silly encore in #133 by causing ‘The Plight of the Puppet Flash!’ (Broome, Infantino & Joe Giella).
That brief and bizarre Pinocchio peril is more than compensated for by the witty and sensitive Kid Flash back-up tale ‘The Secret of the Handicapped Boys!’ as deaf, blind and mute classmates (one disability per boy, ok?) each discover the young hero’s secret identity and resolve to help the junior hero in their own manner.
In #134, Captain Cold was ‘The Man who Mastered Absolute Zero!’: in a flamboyant thriller co-starring Elongated Man, after which Iris West’s father (and Flash’s prospective father-in-law) pays an unwelcome call in the cleverly comedic ‘The Threat of the Absent-Minded Professor!’, Kid Flash then receives a beautiful new costume in the most astounding manner imaginable during the invasion thriller ‘Secret of the Three Super-Weapons!’ in #135.
‘The Mirror Master’s Invincible Bodyguards!’ – being just slow-moving light images packing ray-guns – actually weren’t, but the Scarlet Speedster had a lot more trouble when a seedy blackmailer claimed ‘Barry Allen – You’re the Flash – and I Can Prove It!’
This type of clever human-scaled story was slowly disappearing in favour of the more colourful costume epics – none more so than the wonderful Gardner Fox scripted ‘Vengeance of the Immortal Villain!’
Another incredible Earth-2 crossover, this saw the two Flashes unite to defeat 50,000-year-old Vandal Savage and save the Justice Society of America: a tale which directly led into the veteran team’s first meeting with the Justice League of America and the start of decades of trans-dimensional “Crisis” epics.
Fox also wrote ‘The Pied Piper’s Double Doom!’, a mesmeric team-up with Elongated Man, but once more the Kid Flash back-up stole the show, introducing the singular thespian Dexter Myles to the steadily growing cast in charming crime-caper comedy of errors ‘Mystery of the Matinee Idol!’
Broome was back for Flash #139, introducing the hero’s ultimate nemesis in Professor Zoom, a 25th century criminal who duplicated his super-speed to become the ‘Menace of the Reverse-Flash!’ Add in the sidebar menace of a lost-and-counting-down atomic bomb and the tension was almost suffocating…
Flash #140 (November 1963) debuts super arsonist Heat Wave in Broome’s stylish and sardonic thriller ‘The Heat is on for Captain Cold!’ before Fox pits the Monarch of Motion against ‘The Metal-Eater from Beyond the Stars!’: a bizarre energy-being able to nullify the speedster’s powers.
The majority of adventures were still produced by globetrotting scripter John Broome and the increasingly stylised and innovative art-team of Carmine Infantino & Joe Giella, and ‘The Mystery of the Flash’s Third Identity’ has them at their creative acme in a wittily absorbing super-villain yarn featuring the Top.
In another devious piece of internal comicbook logic, Broome posited that Flash’s foes looked so good because they had their own underworld bespoke tailor and armourer. This tale introduced Paul Gambi (an editorial in-joke acknowledging the dedicated contributions of über-fan and letter-writer Paul Gambaccini), setting the Vizier of Velocity on the tailor’s tail in an enticing piece of fluff that was neatly balanced by ‘Slowdown in Time’: a canny, enthralling science fiction lesson in relativity.
The real star was that most literal absent-minded professor Ira West, Barry’s prospective father-in- law and a genius who had casually deduced the civilian identity of the Flash due to discrepancies in the forensic scientist’s time-keeping…
Gardner Fox scripted the mile-a-minute romp ‘Perilous Pursuit of the Trickster!’ wherein the villain used toys stolen from children to bedevil his fast foe, whilst Broome blended legal loopholes and alien invasions to perplex the Scarlet Speedster with the ‘Puzzle of the Phantom Plunderers!’
Issue #143 featured another full-length team-up with Emerald Gladiator Hal Jordan in ‘Trail of the False Green Lanterns!’ – scripted by the ever-entrancing Fox who herein introduced future-gazing arch-foe Thomas Oscar Morrow.
The next two issues were all-Fox affairs: the eerie ‘Menace of the Man-Missile!’ pitting the Sultan of Speed against a shape-shifting atomically-mutated escaped convict whilst plucky protégé Kid Flash solo-starred in the human-interest parable ‘Lesson for a Star Athlete!’ Super-villainy resumed in Flash #145 as ‘The Weather Wizard Blows Up a Storm!’ and the normally stoic, stolid hero briefly has his head turned by captivating and inadvertently deadly visitor ‘The Girl from the Super-Fast Dimension!’
Broome scripted the wacky romp ‘The Mirror Master’s Master Stroke!’ and Frank Giacoia briefly bolstered the regular art team for Fox’s terrific terror tale ‘Fatal Fingers of the Flash!’ the kind of “high concept, big science” yarn that especially captivated kids in the age of space races and burgeoning technology – and it still enthrals today.
Issue #147 brings this third archival collection to a close with a feature length clash against two (or is it three?) of the Scarlet Speedster’s greatest foes. John Broome’s fascinating ‘Our Enemy, the Flash!’ sees schizophrenic Al Desmond attempting to reform and relinquish both his Dr. Alchemy and Mr. Element personas; only to be forcibly compelled to commit further crimes by ruthless 25th century sociopath Professor Zoom, the Reverse Flash!
These tales were crucial to the development of our art-form, but, more importantly they are brilliant, awe-inspiring, beautifully realised stories that amuse, amaze and enthral both new readers and old lags. As always, 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 art of Infantino these tales are a captivating snap-shot of when science was our friend and the universe(s) a place of infinite possibility. This wonderful compilation is another must-read item for anybody in love with the world of words-in-pictures.
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