Showcase Presents the Flash volume 4


By John Broome, Gardner Fox, Frank Robbins, Carmine Infantino, Ross Andru & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-3679-3 (TPB)

In the anniversary year of Comics’ Silver Age, it’s a true shame that so much superb material remains out of reach of nostalgia-afflicted fans or any young neophyte looking for a vintage treat.

At least the tales gathered in this old tome – spanning the close of the Silver Age and start of the Bronze Age – are available, but only in ludicrously expensive hardback Omnibus editions, rather than paperback or digital collections. Boo to you publishers, and here’s a cheap and cheerful recommendation to track down an old monochrome masterpiece stuffed with crazy fun and thrills…

Barry Allen was the second speedster to carry the name of The Flash, and his debut was the Big Bang which finally triggered the gleaming era we’re celebrating here. He arrived after a succession of abortive original attempts such as Captain Flash, The Avenger, Strongman (in 1954-1955) and remnant revivals (Stuntman in 1954 and Marvel’s “Big Three”, The Human Torch, Sub-Mariner & Captain America during 1953-1955).

Although none of those restored the failed fortunes of masked mystery-men, they had presumably piqued readers’ consciousness, even at conservative National/DC. Thus, the revived human rocket wasn’t quite the innovation he seemed: alien crusader The Martian Manhunter had already cracked open the company floodgates with his low-key launch in Detective Comics #225 (November 1955).

However, in terms of creative quality, originality and sheer style Flash was an irresistible spark, and after his landmark first appearance in Showcase #4 (October 1956) the series became a benchmark by which every successive launch or reboot across the industry was measured.

Police Scientist (CSI today) Barry Allen was transformed by an accidental lightning strike and chemical bath into a human thunderbolt of unparalleled velocity and ingenuity. Yet with characteristic indolence the new Fastest Man Alive took 3 more try-out issues and almost as many years to win his own title. When he finally stood on his own wing-tipped feet in The Flash #105 (February-March 1959), he never looked back…

The comics business back then was a faddish, slavishly trend-beset world, however, and following a manic boom for superhero tales prompted by the Batman TV show, fickle global consciousness moved on to a fixation with supernatural themes and merely mortal tales, triggering a huge revival of spooky films, shows, books and periodicals. With horror on the rise again, many superhero titles faced cancellation, and even the most revered and popular were threatened. It was time to adapt or die…

At the time this fourth collection of his own hard-won title begins, the Vizier of Velocity was still an undisputed icon of the apparently unstoppable Superhero meme and mighty pillar of the costumed establishment, but dark days and changing fashions were about to threaten his long run at the top…

Reprinting transitional issues #162-184 (June 1966-December 1968), this compilation shows how Flash had set into a cosy pattern of two short tales per issue, leavened with semi-regular book-length thrillers; always written by regular scripters John Broome or Gardner F. Fox and illustrated by Carmine Infantino (with inker Joe Giella). That comfortable format was about to radically change.

Flash #162 featured Fox-penned sci-fi shocker ‘Who Haunts the Corridor of Chills?’, in which an apparently bewitched fairground attraction opens the doors into an invasion-mystery millions of years old whilst stretching the Scarlet Speedster’s powers and imagination to the limit…

The next issue offered a brace of tales by globe-trotting author Broome, opening with ‘The Flash Stakes his Life – On – You!’, taking an old philosophical adage to its illogical but highly entertaining extreme as criminal scientist Ben Haddonuses his gadgets to make the residents of Central City forget their champion ever existed. That has the incredible effect of making the Flash fade away, if not for the utter devotion of one hero-worshipping little girl…

By contrast, ‘The Day Magic Exposed Flash’s Secret Identity!’ features a sharp duel with a dastardly villain as approbation-hungry evil illusionist Abra Kadabra breaks future jail and trades bodies with the 64th century cop sent to bring back to face justice, leaving the Speedster with an impossible choice to make…

Issue #164 offered another pair of fast fables. ‘Flash – Vandal of Central City!’ (Broome), sees the hero losing control of his speed and destroying property every time he runs. Little does he know old enemy Pied Piper was back in town… Kid Flash then solo-stars in Fox’s ‘The Boy Who Lost Touch with the World!’ as Wally West’s nerdy new friend suddenly becomes periodically, uncontrollably intangible…

With Flash #165’s ‘One Bridegroom too Many!’ Broome, Infantino & Giella made a huge advance in character development as Barry finally weds long-time fiancée Iris West. This shocking saga sees the hero’s sinister antithesis Professor Zoom, the Reverse-Flash attempt to replace him at the altar in a fast-paced, utterly beguiling yarn which also posed a seemingly insoluble quandary for the new groom…

Should the nervous newlywed reveal his secret identity to Iris – who has no idea she’s marrying a superhero – or say nothing, maintaining the biggest lie between them and pray she never, ever finds out? Every married man already knows the answer* but for us secretive little kids reading this the first time around, that question was an impossible, imponderable quandary…

Building soap opera tension by fudging the issue like a national government, #166 carried on as usual with Broome’s delicious comedy ‘The Last Stand of the Three-Time Losers!’ wherein a cheesy bunch of no-hoper thieves accidentally discover an unlikely exploitable weakness in Flash’s powers and psyche, before the Monarch of Motion becomes a ‘Tempting Target of the Temperature Twins!’ after spraining his ankle just as Heat Wave and Captain Cold renew their frenemy rivalry…

With #167, Sid Greene became series’ inker, kicking off his run with a light-hearted but accidentally controversial Fox/Infantino tale that utterly incensed the devoted readership. ‘The Real Origin of The Flash! introduced Heavenly Helpmate – and Woody Allen look-alike – Mopee who had long ago been ordered to create the accident which transformed a deserving human into the Fastest Man Alive.

Typically, Mopee had cocked-up and was now back on Earth to rectify his mistake. It takes all Flash’s skill, ingenuity and patience to regain his powers. The story is a delightfully offbeat hoot, but continuity-conscious fans dubbed it apocryphal and heretical ever since…

Less contentious was Fox’s back-up yarn ‘The Hypnotic Super-Speedster!’ allowing Kid Flash an opportunity to bust up a gang of thieves, prank a theatrical mesmerist and give a chubby school chum the athletic thrill of a lifetime.

Broome then produced for #168 a puzzling full-length thriller in which the Guardians of the Universe sought out the Flash and declared ‘One of our Green Lanterns is Missing!’ Even as the Scarlet Speedster hunts for his missing best buddy, he is constantly distracted by a gang of third-rate thugs who have somehow acquired futuristic super weapons…

Flash #169 was an all-reprint 80-Page Giant represented here by its stunning cover and an illuminating ‘How I Draw the Flash’ feature by Infantino, followed by a full-length Fox thriller in #170. ‘The See-Nothing Spells of Abra Kadabra!’sees the Vizier of Velocity hexed by the cunning conjuror and unable to detect the villain’s actions or presence. Sadly for the sinister spellbinder, Flash has help from visiting Earth-2 predecessor Jay Garrick and Justice Society of America pals Doctors Fate and Mid-Nite

‘Here Lies The Flash – Dead and Unburied’ (Fox, Infantino & Greene) pits the restored speedster against Justice League foe Doctor Light, attempting to pick off his assembled enemies one at a time, whilst #172 offers a brace of Broome blockbusters beginning with Grodd Puts the Squeeze on Flash!’, in which the super-simian blackmails his nippy nemesis into (briefly) busting him out of a Gorilla City cell. Following up, ‘The Machine-Made Robbery!’ saw the return of that most absent-minded of Professors Ira West. Luckily, son-in-law Barry is around to foil a perfidious plot by cunning criminals. The genius’ new super-computer is public knowledge, and the crooks – intent on designing a perfect crime – want to hire the device,

Issue #173 featured a titanic team-up as Barry, Wally West and Jay Garrick were separately shanghaied to another galaxy as putative prey of alien hunter Golden Man in ‘Doomward Flight of the Flashes!’ However, Broome’s stunning script slowly reveals layers of intrigue as the Andromedan super-safari masks a far more arcane need for the three speedy pawns…

In 1967, Infantino became Art Director and Publisher of National/DC and, although he still designed the covers, Flash #174 was his final full-pencilling job. He departed in stunning style with Broome’s ‘Stupendous Triumph of the Six Super-Villains!’ wherein Mirror Master Sam Scudder discovers a fantastic looking-glass world where the Scarlet Speedster is a hardened criminal constantly defeated by a disgusting do-gooder reflecting champion.

Stealing the heroic Mirror Master’s secret super-weapon, Scudder calls in fellow Rogues Pied Piper, Heat Wave, Captain Cold, Captain Boomerang and The Top to share their foe’s final downfall, but they aren’t ready for the last-minute interference of the other, evil, Barry Allen…

When Infantino left, most fans were convinced the Flash was ruined. His replacements were highly controversial and suffered most unfairly in unjust comparisons – and I count myself among their biggest detractors at the time – but in intervening years I’ve learned to appreciate the superb quality of their work.

However, back in a comics era with no invasive, pervasive support media, Flash #175 (December 1967) was huge shock. With absolutely no warning, ‘The Race to the End of the Universe!’ proclaimed E. Nelson Bridwell as author and introduced Wonder Woman art-team Ross Andru & Mike Esposito as illustrators.

Moreover, the story was another big departure. DC Editors in the 1960s had generally avoided such questions as which hero was strongest/fastest/best for fear of upsetting some portion of their tenuous and almost-certainly temporary fan-base, but as the superhero boom slowed and upstart Marvel Comics began to make genuine inroads into their market, the notion of a definitive race between the almighty Man of Steel and the “Fastest Man Alive” had become an inevitable, increasingly enticing and sales-worthy proposition.

After a deliberately inconclusive first race around the world – for charity – (‘Superman’s Race with the Flash’ in Superman #199 (August 1967)), the stakes were astronomically raised in the inevitable rematch in Flash #175.

The tale itself sees the friendly rivals compelled to speed across the cosmos because ruthless alien gamblers Rokk and Sorban threaten to eradicate Central City and Metropolis unless the pair categorically settle who is fastest. Bridwell adds an ingenious sting in the tale and logically highlights two classic Flash Rogues, whilst Andru & Esposito deliver a sterling illustration job in this yarn – but once again the actual winning is deliberately fudged.

Broome produced a few more stories before moving on and #176 features two of his best. ‘Death Stalks the Flash!’tapped into the upsurge in spooky shenanigans when Iris contracts a deadly fever and her hyper-fast hubby runs right into her delirious dreams to destroy the nightmarish Grim Reaper, after which ‘Professor West – Lost Strayed or Stolen?’delightfully inverts all the old absent-minded gags. Barry’s Father-in-Law successfully undergoes a memory-enhancing process but still manages to get inadvertently involved with murderous felons…

Fox then scripted one of the daftest yet most memorable of Flash thrillers in #177 as The Trickster invents a brain-enlarging ray that turns his arch-foe into ‘The Swell-Headed Super-Hero!’, after which #178’s cover follows – another all-reprint 80-Page Giant…

Written by newcomer Cary Bates and Gardner Fox, Flash #179 (May 1968) was another landmark. The prologue ‘Test your Flash I.Q.’ and main event ‘The Flash – Fact or Fiction?’ extends the multiple Earths concept to its logical conclusion by trapping the Monarch of Motion in “our” Reality, where the Sultan of Speed is just a comic character! Simultaneously offering an alien monster mystery, this rollercoaster riot was a superb introduction for Bates, who eventually became regular writer and the longest serving creator of the legend of Barry Allen.

First though, jobbing cartoonist Frank Robbins added Flash to his credits, scripting an almost painfully tongue-in-cheek oriental spoof accessing everything from Kurosawa to You Only Live Twice to his own Johnny Hazard newspaper strip.

In #180, Barry and Iris visit friends in Japan and are soon embroiled in a deadly scheme by fugitive war criminal Baron Katana to turn the clock back and restore feudal control over Nippon using ‘The Flying Samurai’. The sinister plot unravels after only the most strenuous efforts of the newlyweds in all-action conclusion ‘The Attack of the Samuroids!’

Broome’s last hurrahs was in #182, with the return of Abra Kadabra whose futuristic legerdemain and envy of genuine stage magicians compel him to turn the speedster intoThe Thief Who Stole all the Money in Central City!’ whilst ‘The Flash’s Super-Speed Phobia!’ sees an unlikely accident inflict a devastating – if temporary – psychological disability on the fleet thief-taker.

The tone of the stories was changing. Aliens and super science took a back-seat to more human-scaled dramas. Robbins scripted the last two tales here, beginning with a devilishly deceptive case of bluff and double-bluff as Barry Allen becomes ‘The Flash’s Dead Ringer!’ in a convoluted attempt to convince crime-boss the Frog that the police scientist isn’t also the Fastest Man Alive, before proving that he too was adept at high-concept fabulism in #184, when a freak time-travel accident traps Flash millennia in the future after accidentally becoming the apparent ‘Executioner of Central City!’

These tales first appeared at a moment when superhero comics almost disappeared for the second time in a generation, and perfectly show the Scarlet Speedster’s ability to adapt to changing fashions in ways many of his four-colour contemporaries simply could not. Crucial as they are to the development of modern comics, however, it is the fact that they are brilliant, awe-inspiring, beautifully realised thrillers which still amuse, amaze and enthral new readers and old lags alike. This compendium is another must-read item for anybody in love with the world of graphic narrative.
© 1966, 1967, 1968, 2012 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

* 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 partner there, always tell them everything before they ask or find out.

Extra credit answer – also try not to be a dick.

Showcase Presents Showcase


By Many and various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-78116-364-1 (TPB)

If you’re a book reviewer, Christmas often comes incredibly early. We received lots and lots of lovely new tomes in the last week and I’ve still not caught up yet, so in the meantime, I’m fobbing you all off with a reworked recommendation I was saving for our actual Christmas promotion season. It’s still a wonderful read criminally in need of re-release and a digital edition, but readily available – for now…

The review is incredibly long. If you want to skip it and just buy the book – because it’s truly brilliant – then please do. I won’t mind and you won’t regret it at all…

In almost every conceivable way, DC’s original “try-out title” Showcase created and dictated the form of the Silver Age of American comic books and is responsible for the multi-billion-dollar industry and art form we all enjoy today.

For many of us old lags, the Silver Age is the ideal era and a still-calling Promised Land of fun and thrills. Varnished by nostalgia (because it’s the era when most of us caught this crazy childhood bug), the clean-cut, unsophisticated optimism of the late 1950s and early 1960s produced captivating heroes and compelling villains who were still far less terrifying than the Cold War baddies then troubling the grown-ups. The sheer talent and unbridled professionalism of the creators working in that too-briefly revitalised comics world resulted in triumph after triumph and even inspired competitors to step up and excel: all of which brightened our young lives and still glow today with quality and achievement.

The principle was a sound one and graphically depicted in the very first issue: the Editors at National/DC were apparently bombarded with readers’ suggestions for new titles and concepts and the only possible way to feasibly prove which would be popular was to offer test runs and assess fan reactions – for which read Sales…

Firmly ensconced in the age of genre thrillers and human adventurers, this magnificent, monolithic monochrome tome covers the first 21 issues from that historic series, spanning March/April 1956 to July/August 1959, and starts the ball rolling with the first and last appearances of Fireman Farrell in a proposed series dubbed Fire Fighters.

Following the aforementioned short ‘The Story Behind Showcase’ by Jack Schiff & Win Mortimer, the human-scaled dramas begin in ‘The School for Smoke-Eaters’ by Schiff and the superb John Prentice (Rip Kirby), introducing trainee fireman Mike Farrell during the last days of his training and desperate to simultaneously live up to and escape his father’s fabulous record as a legendary “smoke-eater”.

The remaining stories, both scripted by Arnold Drake, deal with the job’s daily dilemmas: firstly in ‘Fire under the Big Top’ wherein an unscrupulous showman ignored Farrell’s Fire Inspection findings with tragic consequences, and in‘Fourth Alarm’ mixing an industrial dispute over fireman’s pay, a crooked factory owner and a waterfront blaze captured on live TV in a blisteringly authentic tale of human heroism.

Showcase #2 featured Kings of the Wild: tales of animal valour imaginatively related in three tales scripted by Robert Kanigher – who had thrived after the demise of superheroes with a range of fantastical genre adventures covering western, war, espionage and straight adventure. Stunningly illustrated by Joe Kubert, ‘Rider of the Winds’ tells of a Native American lad’s relationship with his totem spirit Eagle; ‘Outcast Heroes’ (Ross Andru & Mike Esposito) relates how an orphan boy’s loneliness ends after befriending a runaway mutt who eventually saves the town’s kids from a flood before ‘Runaway Bear’ – drawn by Russ Heath – uses broad comedy to describe how an escaped circus bruin battles all the horrors of the wilderness to get return to his comfortable, safe life under the Big Top.

Issue #3 debuted Kanigher & Heath’s The Frogmen in an extended single tale following candidates for a US Underwater Demolitions Team as they move from students to successful undersea warriors. Beginning with ‘The Making of a Frogman’ as the smallest diver – mocked and chided as a ‘Sardine’ by his fellows (especially ‘Shark’ and ‘Whale’) – perseveres and forges bonds until the trio are dumped into blazing Pacific action in ‘Flying Frogmen’, learning the worth of teamwork and sacrifice by destroying a Japanese Sub base in ‘Silent War’

The feature returned as a semi-regular strip in All-American Men of War #44 (April #1957) amongst other Kanigher-edited war comics: making Frogmen the first but certainly not the last graduate of the try-out system. The next debut was to be the most successful but the cautious publishers took a long, long time to make it so…

No matter which way you look at it, the Silver Age officially arrived began with The Flash. It’s an unjust but true fact that being first is not enough; it also helps to be best and people have to notice. The Shield beat Captain America to the news-stands by over a year yet the former is all but forgotten today.

The industry had never really stopped trying to revive superheroes when Showcase #4 was released in late summer of 1956, with such precursors as The Avenger (February-September 1955); Captain Flash (November 1954-July 1955); Marvel’s Human Torch, Sub-Mariner and aforementioned Sentinel of Liberty (December 1953-October 1955) and even DC’s own Captain Comet (December 1953-October 1955) and Manhunter from Mars (November 1955 until the close of the 1960’s and almost the end of superheroes again!) still turning up in second-hand-stores and “Five-and-Dime” bargain bins. What made the new Fastest Man Alive stand out and stick was … well, everything!

Once DC’s powers-that-be decided to try superheroes once more, they moved pretty fast themselves. Editor Julie Schwartz asked office partner and Golden-Age Flash scripter Kanigher to recreate a speedster for the Space Age, aided and abetted by Carmine Infantino & Joe Kubert, who had also worked on the previous incarnation.

The new Flash was Barry Allen, a forensic scientist simultaneously struck by lightning and bathed in the exploding chemicals of his lab. Supercharged by the accident, Barry took his superhero identity from a comic book featuring his predecessor (scientist Jay Garrick, who was exposed to the mutagenic fumes of “Hard Water”). Designing a sleek, streamlined bodysuit (courtesy of Infantino – a major talent rapidly approaching his artistic and creative pinnacle), Barry Allen became the point man for the spectacular revival of a genre and the entire industry.

‘Mystery of the Human Thunderbolt’ (Kanigher) and ‘The Man Who Broke the Time Barrier’ (written by the superb John Broome) are polished, coolly sophisticated stories introducing the comfortingly suburban superhero and establishing the broad parameters of his universe. Whether defeating bizarre criminal masterminds such as The Turtle or returning criminal exile Mazdan to his own century, the new Flash was a protagonist of keen insight and sharp wits as well as overwhelming power. Nonetheless the concept was so controversial that despite phenomenal sales, rather than his own series the Fastest Man Alive was given a Showcase encore almost a year later…

Showcase #5 featured the last comics concept in years that didn’t actually develop into an ongoing series, but that’s certainly due to changing fashions of the times and not the quality of the work. The three crime yarns comprising cops-&-robbers anthology Manhunters, begin with ‘The Greatest Villain of all Time’ by Jack Miller & Mort Meskin, revealing how Hollywood screenwriter-turned-police detective Lt. Fowler is dogged by a madman playing for real all the fantastic bad guys the mystery author had once created, whilst ‘The Two Faces of Mr. X’ (Miller, Curt Swan & Sy Barry) finds a male model drafted by the FBI to replace a prominent mob-boss. Unfortunately, it’s the day before the gangster is scheduled for face-changing plastic surgery…

‘The Human Eel’ (Miller & Bill Ely) then pits a cop unable to endure heights against an international high-tech rogue who thinks he hold all the winning cards…

The next try-out was on far firmer fashion grounds and was the first feature to win two issues in a row.

The Challengers of the Unknown were a bridging concept. As the superhero genre was ever so cautiously alpha-tested in 1956 here was a super-team – the first new group-entry of this still-to-be codified era – but with no uncanny abilities or masks, the most basic and utilitarian of costumes, and the most dubious of motives: Suicide by Mystery…

If you wanted to play editorially safe you could argue that were simply another para-military band of adventurers like the long running Blackhawks… but they weren’t.

A huge early hit – winning their own title before The Flash (March 1959) and just two months after Lois Lane (March 1958, although she had been a star in comics since 1938 and even had TV, radio and movie recognition on her side) – the Challs struck a chord resonating for more than a decade before they finally died… only to rise again and yet again. The idea of them was stirring enough, but their initial execution made their success all but inevitable.

Jack Kirby was – and remains – the most important single influence in the history of American comics. There are quite rightly millions of words written about what the man has done and meant, and you should read those if you are at all interested in our medium. When the comic industry suffered a collapse in the mid 1950’s, Kirby briefly returned to DC, crafting genre mystery tales and revitalising the Green Arrow back-up strip whilst creating newspaper strip Sky Masters of the Space Force. He also re-packaged for Showcase an original super-team concept that had been kicking around in his head since he and long-time collaborator Joe Simon had closed their innovative but unfortunate Mainline Comics.

The Challengers of the Unknown were four extraordinary mortals; heroic adventurers and explorers brought together for a radio show who walked away unscathed from a terrible plane crash. Already obviously what we now call “adrenaline junkies”, they decided that since they were all living on borrowed time, they would dedicate what remained of their lives to testing themselves and fate. They would risk their lives for Knowledge and, of course, Justice.

Showcase #6, dated January/February 1957 – which meant it came out in time for Christmas 1956 – introduced pilot Ace Morgan, wrestler Rocky Davis, acrobat Red Ryan and scholarly marine explorer “Prof” Haley in a no-nonsense romp by Kirby, scripter Dave Wood, inkers Marvin Stein and Jack’s wife Roz, before devoting the rest of the issue to a spectacular epic with the doom-chasers hired by duplicitous magician Morelian to open an ancient casque holding otherworldly secrets and powers in ‘The Secrets of the Sorcerer’s Box!’

This story roars along with all the tension and wonder of the B-movie thrillers it emulates, and Kirby’s awesome drawing resonates with power and dynamism as the heroes tackle ancient horrors such as ‘Dragon Seed!’, ‘The Freezing Sun!’ and ‘The Whirling Weaver!’

The fantasy magic continued in the sequel: a science fiction crisis caused when an alliance of Nazi technologies with American criminality unleashes a robotic monster. Scripted by Kirby, ‘Ultivac is Loose!’ (Showcase #7, March/April 1957) introduces quietly capable boffin Dr. June Robbins, who becomes the fifth Challenger at a time when most comic females had returned to a subsidiary status in that so-conservative era.

As her computers predict ‘A Challenger Must Die!’, the lads nevertheless continue to hunt a telepathic, sentient super-robot who inadvertently terrorises ‘The Fearful Millions’ but soon find their sympathies with the tragic artificial intelligence after ‘The Fateful Prediction!’ is fulfilled…

Showcase #8 (June 1957) again featured the Flash, leading with another Kanigher tale – ‘The Secret of the Empty Box’. This perplexing but pedestrian mystery sees Frank Giacoia debut as inker, but the real landmark is Broome’s thriller ‘The Coldest Man on Earth’. With this yarn the author confirmed and consolidated the new phenomenon by introducing the first of a Rogues Gallery of outlandish super-villains. Unlike Golden Age stalwarts, new super-heroes would face predominantly costumed foes rather than thugs and spies. Henceforth, Bad Guys would be as visually arresting and memorable as the champions of justice. Captain Cold would return time and again as pre-eminent Flash Foe and Broome would go on to create every single member of Flash’s classic pantheon of super-villains.

Also included is filler reprint ‘The Race of Wheel and Keel’ by Gardner Fox, Gil Kane & Harry Lazarus, from All-Star Comics #53 (June/July 1950): a true story of how in 1858 a shipping magnate and stagecoach tycoon competed to prove which method of transportation was fastest…

When Lois Lane – arguably the oldest supporting character/star in the Superman mythology if not DC universe – finally received her own shot at a solo title, it was very much on the terms of the times.

I must shamefacedly admit to a deep, nostalgic affection for her bright, breezy, fantastically fun adventures, but as a free-thinking, (nominally) adult liberal of the 21st century I’m astounded now at the jolly, patronising, patriarchally misogynistic attitudes underpinning so many of the stories.

Yes, I’m fully aware that the series was intended for young readers at a time when “dizzy dames” like Lucille Ball or Doris Day played to a popular American stereotype of Woman as jealous minx, silly goose, diffident wife and brood-hungry nester, but asking kids to seriously accept that intelligent, courageous, ambitious, ethical and highly capable females would drop everything they’d worked hard for to lie, cheat, inveigle, manipulate and entrap a man just so that they could cook pot-roast and change super-diapers is just plain crazy and tantamount to child abuse.

I’m just saying…

Showcase #9 (cover-dated July/August 1957) featured Superman’s Girl Friend Lois Lane in three tales by Jerry Coleman, Ruben Moreira & Al Plastino; opening with seminal yarn ‘The Girl in Superman’s Past’ wherein Lois first meets red-headed hussy Lana Lang. The childhood sweetheart of Superboy seems to be a pushy conniving go-getter out to win Lois’ intended at all costs. Naturally Miss Lane invites Miss Lang to stay at her apartment and the grand rivalry is off and running…

‘The New Lois Lane’ aggravatingly saw Lois turn over a new leaf and stop attempting to uncover his secret identity just when Superman actually needs her to do so, and the premier concludes with concussion-induced day-dream ‘Mrs. Superman’ with Lois imagining a life of domestic super-bliss…

The next issue (September/October 1957) offered three more of the same, all illustrated by Wayne Boring & Stan Kaye, beginning with ‘The Jilting of Superman’ – scripted by Otto Binder – wherein the Man of Tomorrow almost falls for an ancient ploy as Lois pretends to marry another man to make the Kryptonian clod realise what she means to him…

‘The Sightless Lois Lane’ by Coleman reveals how a nuclear accident temporarily blinds the journalist, before her unexpected recovery almost exposes Clark Kent’s secret when he callously changes to Superman in front of the blind girl. Binder delightfully closes the issue with ‘The Forbidden Box from Krypton’: a cache of devices dug up by a Smallville archaeologist originally packed by Jor-El to aid the infant superbaby on Earth. Of course, when Lois opens the chest all she sees is a way to become as powerful as the Man of Steel before becoming addicted to being a super-champion in her own right…

Superman’s Girlfriend Lois Lane launched into her own title scant months later, clearly exactly what the readers wanted…

Showcase #11 (November/December 1957) saw the Challengers return to combat an alien invasion on ‘The Day the Earth Blew Up’, with unique realist Bruno Premiani inking a taut doomsday chiller that keeps readers on the edge of their seats even today. Whilst searching for missing Antarctic explorers the Challs discover an under-ice base where double-brained aliens prepare to explosively alter the mass and gravity of Earth. Although intellectually superior, ‘The Tyrans’are no match for the indomitable human heroes and with their Plan A scotched, resort to brute force and ‘The Thing That Came out of the Sea’, even as Prof scuttles their aquatic ace in the hole with ‘One Minute to Doom’

By the time of their final Showcase cases (#12, January/February 1958) they had already secured their own title. Here, though, ‘The Menace of the Ancient Vials’ is defused by the usual blend of daredevil heroics and ingenuity (with the wonderful inking of George Klein, not Wally Wood as credited here) as international spy and criminal Karnak steals a clutch of ancient chemical weapons which create giants and ‘The Fire Being!’, summon ‘The Demon from the Depths’and materialise ‘The Deadly Duplicates!’ before the pre-fantastic four put their enemy down.

Flash zipped back in Showcase #13 (March/April 1958) in a brace of tales pencilled by Infantino and inked by Joe Giella. Written by Kanigher, ‘Around the World in 80 Minutes’ follows the Scarlet Speedster as he tackles atomic blackmail in Paris, foils kidnappers and rebuilds a pyramid in Egypt; dismantles an avalanche in Tibet and scuttles a pirate submarine in the Pacific, before Broome’s ‘Master of the Elements’ introduces outlandish chemical criminal Al Desmond who ravages Central City as Mr. Element until the Flash outwits him.

One last try-out issue – inked by Giacoia – cemented the Flash’s future: Showcase #14 (May/June 1958) opens with Kanigher’s eerie ‘Giants of the Time-World!’ as the Fastest Man Alive smashes dimensional barriers to rescue his girlfriend Iris West from uncanny cosmic colossi and stamp out an alien invasion plan, after which Al Desmond returns with an altered M.O. and new identity. Doctor Alchemy’s discovery of the mystic Philosopher’s Stone makes him ‘The Man who Changed the Earth!’: a stunning yarn and worthy effort to bow out on, but it was still nearly a year until the first issue of The Flash finally hit the stands.

To reiterate: Showcase was a try-out comic designed to launch new series and concepts with minimal commitment of publishing resources. If a new character sold well initially, a regular series would follow. The process had been proved with Frogmen, Lois Lane, Challengers of the Unknown and Flash, so Editorial Director Irwin Donenfeld now urged his two Showcase editors to create science fiction heroes to capitalise on the twin zeitgeists of the Space Race and the popular fascination with movie monsters and aliens. Jack Schiff came up with a “masked” crimefighter of the future – who featured in issues #15 and 16 – whilst Julie Schwartz concentrated on the now in the saga of a contemporary Earth explorer catapulted into the most uncharted territory yet imagined.

Showcase #15 (September/October 1958) commenced without fanfare – or origin – the ongoing adventures of Space Ranger – beginning in ‘The Great Plutonium Plot’ (plotted by Gardner Fox, scripted by pulp veteran Edmond Hamilton and illustrated by Bob Brown).

Their hero was in actuality Rick Starr, son of a wealthy interplanetary businessman who – thanks to incredible gadgets and the assistance of shape-shifting alien pal Cryll and capable Girl Friday Myra Mason – spent his free time battling evil and injustice. When Jarko the Jovian space pirate targets only ships carrying the trans-uranic element, Rick suspects a hidden motive. Donning his guise of the Space Ranger, he lays a cunning trap, exposing a hidden mastermind and a deadly ancient device endangering the entire solar system…

From his base in a hollow asteroid, Space Ranger ranges the universe and ‘The Robot Planet’ brings him and his team to Sirius after discovering a diabolical device designed to rip Sol’s planets out of their orbits. At the end of his voyage, Starr discovers a sublime civilisation reduced to cave-dwelling and a mighty computer intelligence intent on controlling the entire universe unless he can stop it…

Issue #16 opened with ‘The Secret of the Space Monster’ (plot by John Forte, scripted by Hamilton, illustrated by Brown) with Rick, Myra and Cryll investigating an impossible void creature and uncovering a band of alien revolutionaries testing novel super-weapons. ‘The Riddle of the Lost Race’ (Fox, Hamilton & Brown) then takes the team on a whistle-stop tour of the Solar system in pursuit of a vicious criminal and hidden treasures of a long-vanished civilisation.

A few months later Space Ranger was transported to science fiction anthology Tales of the Unexpected, beginning with issue #40 (August 1959) to hold the lead and cover spot for a 6-year run…

One of the most compelling and revered stars of those halcyon days was an ordinary Earthman who regularly travelled to another world for spectacular adventures, armed with nothing more than a ray-gun, a jetpack and his own ingenuity. His name was Adam Strange, and like so many of that era’s triumphs, he was the brainchild of Julius Schwartz and his close team of creative stars.

Showcase #17 (November/December 1958) proclaimed Adventures on Other Worlds, courtesy of Gardner Fox, Mike Sekowsky & Bernard Sachs, telling of an archaeologist who, whilst fleeing from enraged natives in Peru, jumps a 25-foot chasm only to be hit by a stray teleport beam from a planet orbiting Alpha Centauri. Rematerialising on another planet filled with giant plants and monsters, he is rescued by a beautiful woman named Alanna who teaches him her language via a cunning contrivance. ‘Secret of the Eternal City!’ reveals Rann is a world recovering from atomic war, and the beam Adam intercepted was in fact a simple flare, one of many sent in an attempt to communicate with other races.

In the four years (Speed of Light, right? As You Know, Bob – Alpha Centauri is about 4.3 light-years from Sol) the Zeta-Flare travelled through space, cosmic radiation converted it into a teleportation beam. Until the radiation drains from his body Strange is a most willing prisoner on a fantastic world of mystery, adventure and romance…

And an incredibly unlucky one apparently, as no sooner has Adam started acclimatising than an alien race The Eternalsinvades, seeking a mineral that grants them immortality. Strange’s courage and sharp wits enable him to defeat the invaders only to have the Zeta radiation finally fade, drawing him home before his adoring Alanna can administer a hero’s reward. Thus was established the principles of this beguiling series. Adam would intercept a Zeta-beam hoping for some time with his alien sweetheart, only to be confronted with a planet-menacing crisis.

The very next of these, ‘The Planet and the Pendulum’ sees him obtain the crimson-and-white spacesuit and weaponry that became his distinctive trademark in a tale of alien invaders attacking a lost colony of Rannians. They reside on planetary neighbour Anthorann – a fact that also introduces the major subplot of Rann’s still-warring city-states, all desperate to progress and all at different stages of recovery and development….

The next issue featured the self-explanatory ‘Invaders from the Atom Universe’ – with sub-atomic marauders displacing the native races until Adam unravels their nefarious plans – and ‘The Dozen Dooms of Adam Strange’, wherein our hero outfoxes the dictator of Dys who plans to invade Alanna’s home-city Rannagar.

With this last story, Sachs was replaced by Joe Giella as inker, although the former did ink Showcase #19’s stunning Gil Kane cover, (March/April 1959) which saw the unwieldy Adventures on Other Worlds title replaced with eponymous logo Adam Strange.

‘Challenge of the Star-Hunter’ and ‘Mystery of the Mental Menace’ are classic puzzle tales wherein the Earthman must outwit a shape-changing alien and an all-powerful energy-being. After so doing, Adam Strange took over the lead spot and cover of anthology comic Mystery in Space with the August issue.

Clearly on a creative high and riding a building wave, Showcase #20 (May/June 1959) introduced Rip Hunter… Time Master and his dauntless crew as Prisoners of 100 Million BC’ (by Jack Miller & Ruben Moreira) in a novel-length introductory escapade seeing the daredevil physicist, his engineer friend Jeff Smith, girlfriend Bonnie Baxter and her little brother Corky travel to the Mesozoic era, unaware they are carrying two criminal stowaways.

Once there, the thugs hi-jack the Time Sphere, holding it hostage until the explorers help them stock up with rare and precious minerals. Reduced to the status of castaways, Rip and his team become ‘The Modern-Day Cavemen’, but when an erupting volcano provokes ‘The Great Beast Stampede’, our dauntless chrononauts finally turn the tables on their abductors…

Miller was always careful to use the best research available, but never afraid to blend historical fact with bold fantasy for Hunter’s escapades, and this volume concludes with an epic follow-up. Illustrated by Sekowsky & Joe Giella, ‘The Secret of the Lost Continent’ (Showcase #21, July/August, 1959,) has the Time Masters jump progressively further back in time in search of Atlantis. Starting with a dramatic meeting with Alexander the Great in 331 BCE, the explorers follow the trail back centuries to ‘The Forbidden Island’ of Aeaea in 700 BCE and uncover the secret of the witch Circe before finally reaching 14,000 BCE and ‘The Doomed Continent’ only to find the legendary pinnacle of early human achievement to be a colony of stranded extraterrestrial refugees…

Rip Hunter would appear twice more in Showcase before winning his own comic. The succeeding months would see the Silver Age truly kick into High Gear with classic launches coming thick and fast…

These stories from a uniquely influential comic book determined the course of the entire American strip culture and for that alone they should be cherished, but the fact they are still some of the most timeless, accessible and entertaining graphic adventures ever produced is a gift that should be celebrated by every fan and casual reader.

Buy this for yourself, get it for your friends and get a spare just because you can…
© 1956, 1957, 1958, 1959, 2012 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

The Flash: The Silver Age Volume One


By John Broome, Robert Kanigher, Carmine Infantino & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-6110-8 (TPB)

The actual Silver Age of US comics is formally and forever tied to Showcase #4 and the rebirth of the Flash. The epochal issue was released in the late summer of 1956 and from it stems all today’s print, animation, games, collector cards, cos-play, TV and movie wonderment. Let’s all shout a hearty Happy 65th Anniversary to the entire modern comics phenomenon…

No matter which way you look at it, the Silver Age of American comic books began with The Flash, but it’s an unjust yet true fact that being first is not enough: it also helps to be best and people have to notice. MLJ’s The Shield beat Captain America to the news-stands by over a year yet the former is all but forgotten today.

America’s comic book industry had never really stopped trying to revive the superhero genre when Showcase #4 was released in 1956. Readers had already been blessed – but were left generally unruffled by – such tentative precursors as The Avenger (February-September 1955); Captain Flash (November 1954-July 1955) and a full revival of Marvel’s 1940s “Big Three” – the Human Torch, Sub-Mariner and aforementioned Captain America from December 1953 to October 1955. Both DC’s own Captain Comet (December 1953-October 1955) and Manhunter from Mars (November 1955 until the end of the 1960’s and almost the end of superheroes again!) had come and been barely noticed. What made the new Fastest Man Alive stand out and stick was … well, everything!

Once DC’s powers-that-be decided to seriously try superheroes once more, they moved pretty fast themselves. Editor Julie Schwartz asked office partner, fellow editor and Golden-Age Flash scripter Robert Kanigher to recreate a speedster for the Space Age: aided and abetted by Carmine Infantino & Joe Kubert, who had also worked on the previous incarnation.

The new Flash was Barry Allen, a forensic scientist simultaneously struck by lightning and bathed in exploding chemicals from his lab. Supercharged by the accident, Barry took his superhero identity from a comic book featuring his notional predecessor (a scientist named Jay Garrick who was exposed to the mutagenic fumes of “Hard Water”).

Designing a sleek, streamlined bodysuit (courtesy of Infantino – a major talent rapidly approaching his artistic and creative peak), Barry Allen became point man for the spectacular revival of a genre and an entire industry.

This splendid trade paperback and digital compilation superbly compliments Infantino’s talents and the tone of the period. These stories have been gathered many times but still offers punch, clarity and the ineffably comforting yet thrilling tone of those now-distant times. Conversely, you might be as old as me and it was only the day before yesterday…

This is what a big book of comics ought to feel like in your eager, sweaty hands.

Collecting all four try-out issues (Showcase #4, 8, 13 and 14) – and the first dozen issues of his own title (The Flash volume 1 #105-116, spanning October 1956 to November 1960) the high-speed thrills begin with Showcase #4’s ‘Mystery of the Human Thunderbolt!’

Scripted by Kanigher, it sees Barry endure his electrical metamorphosis and promptly go on to subdue bizarre criminal mastermind and “Slowest Man Alive” Turtle Man, after which ‘The Man Who Broke the Time Barrier!’ – scripted by the brilliant John Broome – finds the newly-minted Scarlet Speedster batting a criminal from the future before returning penal exile Mazdan to his own century, proving the new Flash was a protagonist of keen insight and sharp wits as well as overwhelming power.

These are all slickly polished, coolly sophisticated short stories introducing the comfortingly ordinary, suburbanite superhero and firmly establishing the broad parameters of his universe. Showcase #8 (June 1957) opens with another Kanigher tale. ‘The Secret of the Empty Box’ is a perplexing if pedestrian mystery, with veteran Frank Giacoia returning as inker, but the real landmark is Broome’s thriller ‘The Coldest Man on Earth’.

With this yarn the author confirmed and consolidated the new costumed character reality by introducing the first of a Rogues Gallery of outlandish super-villains. Unlike the Golden Age, modern superheroes would face predominantly costumed foes rather than thugs and spies. Bad guys would henceforth be as memorable as the champions of justice.

Captain Cold would return time and again and Broome would go on to create every single member of Flash’s pantheon of classic super-foes.

Joe Giella inked both adventures in Showcase #13 (April 1958). Kanigher’s ‘Around the World in 80 Minutes’ displayed Flash’s versatility as he tackles atomic terrorists, battles Arabian bandits, counters an avalanche on Mount Everest and scuttles submarine pirates in the specified time slot. Broome’s ‘Master of the Elements’ then premiers outlandish Mr. Element, who utilises the periodic table as his formidable, innovative arsenal…

Showcase #14 (June 1958) opens with Kanigher’s eerie ‘Giants of the Time-World!’: a masterful fantasy thriller and a worthy effort to bow out on as Flash and girlfriend Iris West encounter extra-dimensional invaders with the strangest life-cycle imaginable.

The issue closed with a return engagement for Mr. Element, sporting a new M.O. and identity: Doctor Alchemy. ‘The Man Who Changed the Earth!’ is a classic crime-caper with serious psychological underpinnings as Flash struggles to overcome the villain’s latest weapon: mystic transmutational talisman the Philosopher’s Stone…

When the Scarlet Speedster graduated to his own title, Broome became lead writer, supplemented by Gardner Fox. Kanigher would return briefly in the mid-1960s and later write a number of tales during DC’s ‘Relevancy’ period. Taking its own sweet time, The Flash #105 launched with a February-March 1959 cover-date (so it was out for Christmas 1958) and opened with Broome, Infantino & Giella’s sci-fi chiller ‘Conqueror From 8 Million B.C.!’ before introducing yet another money-mad super-villain in ‘The Master of Mirrors!’

Issue #106 premiered one of the most charismatic and memorable baddies in comics history. Gorilla Grodd and his hidden race of telepathic super-simians instantly captured fan attention in ‘Menace of the Super-Gorilla!’ and even after Flash soundly thrashed the hairy hooligan, Grodd promptly returned in the next two issues.

Presumably this early confidence was fuelled by DC’s inexplicable but commercially sound pro-Gorilla editorial stance (in those far-ago days for some reason any comic with a substantial simian in it spectacularly outsold those that didn’t) but these tales are also packed with tension, action and challenging fantasy concepts. By way of encore here is ‘The Pied Piper of Peril!’: a mesmerising musical criminal mastermind, stealing for fun and attention rather than profit…

Issue #107 led with the ‘Return of the Super-Gorilla!’ by regular team Broome, Infantino & Giella: a multi-layered fantasy taking our hero from the African (invisible) city of the Super-Gorillas to the subterranean citadel of antediluvian Ornitho-Men, before closing with ‘The Amazing Race Against Time’, featuring an amnesiac who could outrun the Fastest Man Alive in a desperate collaborative dash to save all of creation from obliteration. With every issue the stakes got higher whilst the dramatic quality and narrative ingenuity got better!

Frank Giacoia inked #108’s high-tech death-trap thriller ‘The Speed of Doom!’ with trans-dimensional raiders stealing fulgurites (look it up, if you want) but Giella was back for ‘The Super-Gorilla’s Secret Identity!’ wherein Grodd devises a scheme to outwit evolution itself by turning himself into a human…

The next issue saw ‘The Return of the Mirror-Master’ with the first in a series of bizarre physical transformations that would increasingly become a signature device for Flash stories, whilst the contemporary Space Race provided an evocative maguffin for a fantastic undersea adventure in the ‘Secret of the Sunken Satellite’. Here Flash encountered an unsuspected sub-sea race on the edge of extinction whilst enquiring after the impossible survival of an astronaut trapped at the bottom of the sea.

The Flash #110 was a major landmark, not so much for the debut of another worthy addition to the burgeoning Rogues Gallery in ‘The Challenge of the Weather Wizard’ (inked by Schwartz’s incredibly versatile artistic top-gun Murphy Anderson) but rather for the introduction of Wally West, who in a bizarre and suspicious replay of the lightning strike that created the Vizier of Velocity became a junior version of the Fastest Man Alive.

Inked by Giella, ‘Meet Kid Flash!’ introduced the first teenaged sidekick of the Silver Age (cover dated December 1959-January 1960 and just pipping Aqualad who premiered in Adventure Comics #269 with a February off-sale date).

Not only would Kid Flash begin his own series of back-up tales from the very next issue (a sure sign of the confidence the creators had in the character) but he would eventually inherit the mantle of the Flash himself – one of the few occasions in comics where such torch-passing actually stuck.

Anderson inked #111’s ‘The Invasion of the Cloud Creatures’ which successfully overcomes its frankly daft premise to deliver a taut, tense sci-fi thriller nicely counterpointing the first solo outing for Kid Flash in ‘The Challenge of the Crimson Crows!’

This folksy parable has small-town kid Wally use his new powers to rescue a gang of kids on the slippery slope to juvenile delinquency. Perhaps a tad paternalistic and heavy-handed by today’s standards, in the opening months of 1960 this was a strip about a boy heroically dealing with a kid’s real dilemmas. This occasional series would concentrate on such human-scaled problems, leaving super-menaces and world-saving for team-ups with his mentor.

Flash #112 – ‘The Mystery of the Elongated Man’ – introduced an intriguing super-stretchable newcomer to the DC universe, who might have been hero or villain in a beguiling tantaliser, after which Wally tackled juvenile Go-Karters and corrupt school contractors in the surprisingly gripping ‘Danger on Wheels!’

Mercurial maniac The Trickster launched his crime career in #113’s lead tale ‘Danger in the Air!’ and the second-generation speedster took a break so that his senior partner could defeat ‘The Man Who Claimed the Earth!’: a full-on cosmic epic wherein ancient alien Po-Siden attempts to bring the lost colony of Earth back into the galaxy-spanning Empire of Zus.

Captain Cold and Murphy Anderson returned for ‘The Big Freeze’, where the smitten villain turns Central City into a glacier just to impress Barry’s girlfriend Iris. Meanwhile, her nephew Wally saves a boy unjustly accused of cheating from a life of crime when the despondent student falls under the influence of the ‘King of the Beatniks!’

Flash #115 offered another bizarre transformation, courtesy of Gorilla Grodd in ‘The Day Flash Weighed 1000 Pounds!’, and when aliens attempt to conquer Earth, the slimmed-down champion needs ‘The Elongated Man’s Secret Weapon’ as well as the guest-star himself to save the day. Once again Anderson’s inking gave over-taxed Joe Giella a breather whilst taking art-lovers’ breath away in this beautiful, fast-paced thriller.

This gloriously satisfying volume concludes with Flash #116 as ‘The Man Who Stole Central City’ sees a seemingly fool-proof way to kill the valiant hero, which takes both time-tinkering and serious outwitting to avoid, whilst Kid Flash returns in ‘The Race to Thunder Hill’: a father-son tale of rally driving, but with car-stealing bandits and a young love interest for Wally to complicate the proceedings.

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 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. This lovely collection is a must-read item for anybody in love with our art-form and especially for anyone just now encountering the hero for the first time through his TV incarnation.
© 1956, 1957, 1958, 1959, 1960, 2016 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

World’s Finest: Guardians of Earth


By Denny O’Neil, Mike Friedrich, Steve Skeates, Len Wein, Elliot S! Maggin, Dick Dillin, Joe Giella & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-7795-0178-3 (HB)

For decades Superman and Batman were quintessential superhero partners: the “World’s Finest team”. The affable stalwarts were best buddies as well as mutually respectful colleagues, and their pairing made sound financial sense since DC’s top heroes could happily cross-pollinate and cross-sell their combined readerships. This most inevitable of Paladin Pairings first occurred on the Superman radio show in the early 1940s, whilst in comics the pair had only briefly met whilst on a Justice Society of America adventure in All-Star Comics #36 (August-September 1947) – and perhaps even there they missed each other in the gaudy hubbub…

Of course, they had shared covers on World’s Finest Comics from the outset, but never crossed paths inside; sticking firmly to their specified solo adventures within. In fact, they never shared an official comic book case. However, once that Rubicon was crossed in Superman #76 (May 1952), the partnership solidified thanks to spiralling costs and dwindling page-counts. As 52-page titles dwindled to the 32, WFC permanently sealed the new deal and the industry never looked back…

The Cape and Cowl Crusaders were partners and allies from #71 onwards (July 1954), working together until the title was cancelled in the build-up to Crisis on Infinite Earths in 1986. All that is, except for a brief period when the Man of Steel was paired with other stars of DC’s firmament.

This mighty compelling compendium re-presents those cataclysmic collaborations from the turbulent 1970’s (World’s Finest Comics #198-214, spanning November 1970 to October- November 1972), as radical shifts in America’s tastes and cultural landscape fostered a hunger for more mature, socially relevant stories. That drive even affected the Dark Knight and Action Ace – so much so, in fact, that their partnership was temporarily suspended: paused so Superman could guest-star with other DC icons.

After three years, another bold experiment reunited them as parents of The Super-Sons before the regular relationship was revitalised and renewed. With the World’s Finest Heroes fully restored, their bizarrely apt pre-eminence endured another lengthy run until the title’s demise.

Without preamble the action kicks off here by returning to a thorny topic which had bedevilled fans for years…

The comic book experience is littered with eternal, unanswerable questions. The most common and most passionately asked always begin “who would win if…” or “who’s strongest/smartest/fastest…”

Here, crafted by Denny O’Neil, Dick Dillin & Joe Giella, ‘Race to Save the Universe!’ and the concluding ‘Race to Save Time’ (WFC #198-199; November and December 1970) upped the stakes on two previous competitions as the high-speed heroes are conscripted by the Guardians of the Universe to circumnavigate the entire cosmos at their greatest velocities to reverse the rampage of the mysterious Anachronids: faster-than-light creatures whose pell-mell course throughout the galaxies is actually unwinding time itself and unravelling the fabric of creation. Little does anybody suspect that Superman’s oldest enemies were behind the entire appalling scheme…

Anniversary issue #200 was crafted by regular Robin, the Teen Wonder scripter Mike Friedrich, with Dillin & Giella doing the drawing – as they did for this entire book. ‘Prisoners of the Immortal World!’ (February 1971) focusses on college-student brothers on opposite sides of the Vietnam War debate abducted along with youth icon Robin and “Mr. Establishment” Superman to a distant planet where undying vampiric aliens wage eternal war on each other.

Green Lantern pops in for #201, contesting ‘A Prize of Peril!’ (O’Neil, Dillin & Giella) which would grant either Emerald Gladiator or Man of Steel sole jurisdiction of Earth’s skies. Sadly, all is not as it seems…

Batman returned for a limited engagement in #202 as the O’Neil-penned ‘Vengeance of the Tomb-Thing!’ sees archaeologists unearth something horrific in Egypt, just before Superman seemingly goes mad and attacks his greatest friends and allies. A superb ecological scare-story, this tale changed the Man of Tomorrow’s life for decades to come…

Current Aquaman writer Steve Skeates waded in for #203 as ‘Who’s Minding the Earth?’ pits Metropolis Marvel and King of Atlantis against parthenogenetic mutant dolphins attempting to terraform the polluted world into something more welcoming to their kind…

More ecological terror underpins O’Neil’s bleak warning in #204 as ‘Journey to the End of Hope!’ finds powerless former Wonder Woman Diana Prince and Superman summoned to a barren lifeless Earth. Here a dying computer warns that a butterfly effect will inevitably lead to this future unless they prevent a certain person dying in a college campus riot. Only time will tell if they succeed as the clash does indeed cost a life despite all their efforts…

Racism, sexism and the oppression of reactionary conservative values then get a well-deserved pasting in #205’s ‘The Computer that Captured a Town!’

Here Skeates deviously layers a Teen Titans tale with a wealth of eye-opening commentary after the team are locked into a mid-Victorian parochial paradise enforced by a dead man and alien tech, until the Man of Tomorrow wades in to set things straight…

WFC #206 (October-November 1971) was an all-reprint giant, represented here by its rousing Dick Giordano cover, after which #207 again reunites the true World’s Finest team as Batman returns to solve a murder mystery in the making and save the Man of Tomorrow in ‘A Matter of Light and Death!’, after which Earth-2 sorcerer hero Doctor Fate aids the Action Ace in thwarting the extraterrestrial ‘Peril of the Planet-Smashers!’ – both courtesy of Len Wein, Dillin & Giella.

Supernatural menaces were increasingly popular as a global horror boom reshaped readers’ tastes, informing (#209) Friedrich’s ‘Meet the Tempter – and Die!’ wherein Hawkman and Superman are seduced into evil by an eternal demon, whilst Elliot S! Maggin’s ‘World of Faceless Slaves!’ in #210 catapults the Caped Kryptonian and Green Arrow into a primordial magic kingdom to liberate the vassals of diabolical sorcerer supreme Effron

The Darknight Detective returns again in #211, as O’Neil, Dillin & Giella devise a global manhunt for a ‘Fugitive from the Stars!’ Their target is a political refugee whose arrest is demanded by warriors who are a physical match for Superman, but happily, not Batman’s intellectual equals…

‘…And So My World Begins!’ in #212 is O’Neil’s thematic sequel to Justice League of America #71, which saw Mars devasted by race war and its survivors flee to the stars in search of a new homeworld. Here, Martian Manhunter J’onn J’onzz seeks Superman’s aid to rescue the last survivors from life-leeching mechanoids, unaware that a traitor has sold them all out to predatory aliens…

Maggin drills deep into super science for #213 as ‘Peril in a Very Small Place!’ finds the greater universe endangered by a microscopic and insatiable Genesis molecule, demanding a fantastic voyage into the Microverse inside a phone line for the Atom and Superman before this compilation concludes with wild west weirdness from by Skeates, O’Neil, Dillin & Giella. Here Golden Age troubleshooter The Vigilante delivers the silver bullet necessary to save Superman when ‘A Beast Stalks the Badlands!’

With covers by Neal Adams, Dick Giordano, Nick Cardy and Curt Swan & Murphy Anderson, this book is a gloriously uncomplicated treasure trove of adventures which still have the power and punch to enthral even today’s jaded seen it-all audiences.

The contents of this titanic team-up tome are a veritable feast of witty, pretty thrillers packing as much punch and wonder now as they always have. Utterly entrancing adventure for fans of all ages!
© 1970, 1971, 1972, 2020 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Justice League of America: A Celebration of 60 Years


By Gardner Fox, Dennis O’Neil, Steve Englehart, Gerry Conway, Keith Giffen, J.M. DeMatteis, Grant Morrison, Mark Waid, Brad Meltzer, Geoff Johns, Scott Snyder, Mike Sekowsky, Dick Dillin, George Pérez, Pat Broderick, Carmine Infantino, Jim Aparo, Dick Giordano, Gil Kane, Brian Bolland, Joe Kubert, Chuck Patton, Kevin Maguire, Howard Porter, Ed Benes, Jim Lee, Jim Cheung & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-9951-4 (HB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Comic Perfection and the ideal Stocking Stuffer… 10/10

A keystone of the DC Universe, the Justice League of America is the reason we have comics industry today. This stunning compilation – part of a series reintroducing and exploiting the comics pedigree of veteran DC icons and concepts – is available in hardback and digital formats and offers a too-brief but astoundingly enticing sequence of snapshots detailing how the World’s Greatest Superheroes came to be, and be and be again…

Collecting material from The Brave and the Bold #28; Justice League of America #29, 30, 77, 140, 144, 200; Justice League of America Annual #2, Justice League #1, 43 and Justice League of America volume 4 #1 (covering July 1960- August 2018), the landmarks selected are all preceded by a brief critical analysis of the significant stages in their development, beginning with Part I – 1960-1964: The Happy Harbor Years

After the actual invention of the comicbook superhero – by which we mean the launch of Superman in June 1938 – the most significant event in the industry’s progress was the combination of individual sales-points into a group. Thus, what seems blindingly obvious to everyone with the benefit of four-colour hindsight was irrefutably proven – a number of popular characters could multiply readership by combining forces. Plus of course, a whole bunch of superheroes is a lot cooler than just one – or even one and a sidekick…

The Justice Society of America is rightly revered as a true landmark in the development of comic books, and – when Julius Schwartz began reviving and revitalising the nigh-defunct superhero genre in 1956 – the true key moment came a few years later with the inevitable teaming of his freshly reconfigured mystery men…

When wedded to the relatively unchanged big guns who had weathered the first fall of the Superhero at the beginning of the 1950s, the result was a new, modern, Space-Age version of the JSA and the birth of a new mythology.

That moment that changed everything for us baby-boomers came with issue #28 of The Brave and the Bold, a classical adventure title that had recently become a try-out magazine like Showcase.

Just in time for Christmas 1959, ads began running…

“Just Imagine! The mightiest heroes of our time… have banded together as the Justice League of America to stamp out the forces of evil wherever and whenever they appear!”

When the Justice League of America was launched in issue #28 of The Brave and the Bold (March 1960) it cemented the growth and validity of the genre, triggering an explosion of new characters at every company producing comics in America and even spread to the rest of the world as the 1960s progressed.

Crafted by Gardner Fox & Mike Sekowsky with inking from Bernard Sachs, Joe Giella & Murphy Anderson, ‘Starro the Conqueror!’ saw Flash, Green Lantern, Wonder Woman, Aquaman and J’onn J’onzz – Manhunter from Mars unite to defeat a marauding alien starfish whilst Superman and Batman stood by (in those naive days editors feared that their top characters could be “over-exposed” and consequently lose popularity). The team also picked up an average American kid as a mascot. “Typical teenager” Snapper Carr would prove a focus of fan controversy for decades to come…

The series went from strength to strength and triumph to triumph, peaking early with a classic revival as the team met the Justice Society of America, now sensibly relegated to an alternate Earth rather callously designated Earth-2.

From issues #29-30, ‘Crisis on Earth-Three’ and ‘The Most Dangerous Earth of All!’ reprise the first groundbreaking team-up of the JLA and JSA, after the metahuman marvels of yet another alternate Earth discover the secret of multiversal travel. Unfortunately, Ultraman, Owlman, Superwoman, Johnny Quick and Power Ring are ruthless villains from a world without heroes who see the costumed crusaders of the JLA and JSA as living practice-dummies to sharpen their evil skills upon…

With this cracking 2-part thriller a tradition of annual summer team-ups was solidly entrenched in heroic lore, giving fans endless joys for years to come and making the approaching end of school holidays less gloomy than they could have been.

Although a monster hit riding a global wave of popularity for all things masked and caped, the JLA suffered like all superhero features when tastes changed as the decade closed. Like all the survivors, the team adapted and changed…

A potted history of that interregnum, emphasising the contributions of iconoclastic scripters Denny O’Neil and Steve Englehart follows in Part II – 1969-1977: The Satellite Years after which groundbreaking issue #77 exposes a new kind of America.

America was a bubbling cauldron of social turmoil and experimentation at this time, with established beliefs constantly challenged and many previously cosy comics features were using their pages to confront issues of race, equality, and ecological decline. O’Neil and his young colleagues began to utterly redefine superhero strips with their relevancy-driven stories; transforming complacent establishment masked boy-scouts into uncertain, questioning champions and strident explorers of the revolution.

Here, the team’s mascot suddenly grows up and demands to be taken seriously. The drama commences with the heroes’ collective confidence and worldview shattered as enigmatic political populist Joe Dough suborns and compromises their beloved teen sidekick in ‘Snapper Carr… Super-Traitor!’ Crafted by O’Neil, Dick Dillin & Joe Giella, the coming-of age-yarn changed the comfy, cosy superhero game forever…

By March 1977, the team was back in traditional territory but still shaking up the readership. Issue #140, by Steve Englehart, Dick Dillin & Frank McLaughlin questioned heroism itself in ‘No Man Escapes the Manhunter!’ as the venerable Guardians of the Universe and their beloved Green Lanterns are accused of planetary extinctions – until the JLA expose a hidden ancient foe determined to destroy galactic civilisation…

Sadly, all you get here is the opening chapter, but it’s worth tracking down the entire saga elsewhere…

Closely following is issue #144 ‘The Origin of the Justice League – Minus One!’ (July 1977) by the same team. Here Green Arrow does a little checking and discovers the team have been lying about how and why they first got together: a smart and hugely enjoyable conspiracy thriller guest-starring every late 1950’s star in the DC firmament…

Change is a comic book constant and events described in the essay fill in crucial context before Part III: The Detroit Years 1982-1987 precis’ the first Beginning of the End for the World’s Greatest Superheroes, starting with blockbuster anniversary giant #200.

Here scripter Gerry Conway and artists George Pérez, Pat Broderick, Carmine Infantino, Jim Aparo, Dick Giordano, Gil Kane, Brian Bolland, Joe Kubert, Brett Breeding, Terry Austin & Frank Giacoia reprise, re-evaluate and relive the alien Appellax invasion that brought the heroes together in ‘A League Divided’: a blockbuster saga involving every past member…

Big changes began in Justice League of America Annual #2 1984. ‘The End of the Justice League!’ by Conway, Chuck Patton & Dave Hunt saw the team disband following a too-close-to-call alien attack, leading Aquaman to recruit a squad of full-time agents rather than part-time champions. Relocating to street level in Detroit, his old guard veterans Elongated Man, Martian Manhunter, Zatanna and Vixen also began training a next generation of costumed crusaders…

The biggest innovation came after a couple of publishing events recreated the universe and a new kind of team was instituted. In 1986 DC’s editorial leaders felt their 50-year continuity was stopping them winning new readers. The solution was a colossal braided-mega series to streamline, redefine and even add new characters to the mix.

The worlds-shattering, reality-altering bombast of Crisis on Infinite Earths was such a spectacular commercial success, those movers-&-shakers felt more than justified in revamping a number of their hoariest icons for their next fifty years of publishing. As well as Superman, Flash, and Wonder Woman, the moribund and unhappy Justice League of Americawas earmarked for a radical revision. Editor Andy Helfer assembled plotter Keith Giffen, scripter J.M. DeMatteis and untried penciller Kevin Maguire to produce an utterly new approach to the superhero monolith: they played them for laughs…

The series launched as Justice League with a May 1987 cover-date before retitling itself as Justice League International with #7. The new team was formed from the ashes of the old on the basis of events comprising follow-up crossover-event Legends. The gathering comprised a roster of relative second-stringers as America’s newest champions – Black Canary, Blue Beetle, Captain Marvel (now Shazam!), Dr. Fate, Green Lantern Guy Gardner and Mr. Miraclewith heavyweights Batman and Martian Manhunter J’onn J’onzz as nominal straight-men.

The first story introduced charismatic filthy-rich manipulator Maxwell Lord – who used wealth and influence to recreate the neophyte and rather shambolic team who started their march to glory by fighting and defeating a bunch of rather inept terrorist bombers in initial outing ‘Born Again’ (Giffen, DeMatteis Maguire & Terry Austin).

An eventful decade passed and the team were rebooted again, as described in Part IV: The Watchtower Years 1986-2003

After the Silver Age’s greatest team-book died a slow, painful, wasting death, not once but twice, DC were taking no chances with their next revival of the Justice League of America, tapping Big Ideas wünderkind Grant Morrison to reconstruct the group and the franchise.

The result was a gleaming paradigm of comic book perfection which again started magnificently before gradually losing the attention and favour of its originally rabid fan-base. Apparently, we’re a really fickle and shallow bunch, us comics fans…

That idea that really clicked? Put everybody’s favourite Big-Name superheroes back in the team.

It worked, but only because as well as name recognition and star quantity, there was a huge input of creative quality. The stories were smart, fast-paced, compelling, challengingly large-scale and drawn with effervescent vitality. With JLA you could see all the work undertaken to make it the best it could be on every page.

The drama begins in ‘Them!’ (January 1997 by Morrison, Howard Porter & John Dell) as a family of alien super-beings called the Hyperclan dramatically land on Earth and declare that they’re going to usher in a new Golden Age – at least by their standards.

Almost simultaneously the current iteration of the Justice League is attacked in their orbital satellite and only narrowly escape utter destruction. Tragically, one of their number does not survive…

Hyperclan’s very public promises to make Earth a paradise and attendant charm offensive does not impress veteran heroes Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Martian Manhunter and Aquaman or even the latest incarnations of Flash and Green Lantern.

These legends see their methods and careers questioned and are not impressed by seeming miracles or summary executions of super-criminals in the streets. They know there’s something not right about the overbearing sanctimonious newcomers…

The hits kept coming: a strung of superb adventures that enticed the readership. One of the very best and often cited as one of the best Batman stories ever created, multi-part paean to paranoia Tower of Babel saw immortal eco-terrorist Ra’s Al Ghul’s latest plan to winnow Earth’s human population to manageable levels well underway. Again, only the first instalment is here but you know where else to look…

Issue #43 declared ‘Survival of the Fittest’ (by Mark Waid, Porter & Drew Geraci), as a series of perfectly planned pre-emptive strikes cripple Martian Manhunter, Flash, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, Plastic Man and Green Lantern whilst Batman is taken out of the game by the simple expedient of stealing his parents’ remains from their graves…

Comics stars increasingly became multi-media franchises at the beginning of this century, and Part V: The Crisis Years 2006-2011 acknowledges the change as the printed form started a constant stream of ever-escalating blockbuster scenarios to compete. A perfect example is Justice League of America volume 4 #1 (October 2006) as Brad Meltzer, Ed Benes & Sandra Hope examine ‘Life’.

Thanks to the events Infinite Crisis, One Year Later and 52, Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman convene as a star-chamber to reform the Justice League of America as a force for good, only to discover that events have escaped them and a new team has already congealed (I really can’t think of a better term) to defeat the imminent menace of Professor Ivo, Felix Faust and the lethal android Amazo, plus a fearsome mystery mastermind and a few classic villains as well.

The tale is told through the heartbreaking personal tragedy of the Red Tornado, who achieves his deepest desire only to have it torn from him: an enjoyable if complex drama that hides its true purpose – that of repositioning the company’s core team in an expanded DCU which encompasses all media, tacitly accepting influences from TV shows, movies and animated cartoons underpinning everything – even the Super Friends and Justice League Unlimited-inspired HQ.

In 2011, DC took a draconian leap: restarting their entire line and continuity with a “New 52”. Justice League volume 2 #1 (November) led from the front as ‘Justice League Part One’ by biggest guns Geoff Johns, Jim Lee & Scott Williams introduced a number of newly debuted heroes acrimoniously pulled together to fight an alien invader called Darkseid

This celebration concludes with Part VI: The Media Era 1986-2018 and Justice League volume 4 #1 (August 2018) wherein Scott Snyder, Jim Cheung & Mark Morales kick off a colossal, years-long company-wide event. ‘The Totality Part 1’ sees the universe fall apart, its creator escape eternal imprisonment and the JLA hard-pressed to prevent the final triumph of Evil as represented by Lex Luthor and his Legion of Doom

Adding immeasurably to the wonderment is a superb gallery of covers by Sekowsky, Anderson, Rich Buckler, Dillin & McLaughlin, Pérez, Patton & Giordano, Maguire & Austin, Porter, Dell & Geraci, Ed & Mariah Benes, Lee & Williams and Jim Cheung.

The Justice League of America has a long, proud history of shaking things up and providing dynamic provocative, drama delivered with quality artwork. This compelling assortment is staggeringly entertaining and a monolithic testament to the inestimable value of a strong core concept matured over decades of innovation.
© 1960, 1964, 1969, 1977, 1982, 1984, 1987, 1997, 2000, 2006, 2005, 2011, 2018, 2020 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Scooby-Doo! Team-Up volume 1


By Sholly Fisch, Dario Brizuela & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1401249465 (TPB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: All-Ages Fun and Frolic… 8/10

It’s been bad year for everybody, but from my selfish and blinkered perspective, the graphic arts have been particularly diminished by the loss of many giants. Here’s an offhand tribute to two more…

The links between kids’ animated features and comicbooks are long established and, I suspect, for young consumers, indistinguishable. After all, it’s just adventure entertainment in the end…

Although never actual comics workers, animation titans and series writers Joe Ruby (March 30th 1933-August 26th 2020) and Ken Spears (March 12th 1938-November 6th 2020) co-originated dozens of cartoon shows which ultimately translated into multi-million comic book sales, joy and glee for generations and a subtle reshaping of the World’s cultural landscape. They also popularised the superhero concept on TV, through shows such as Superman, The Plastic Man Comedy/Adventure Show and Thundarr the Barbarian, consequently employing former funnybook creators such as Doug Wildey, Alex Toth, Steve Gerber, Jack Kirby and other comics giants. For all this, they are most renowned for devising mega-franchise Scooby-Doo, Where Are You!

Over decades of screen material, Scooby-Doo and his sidekicks Shaggy, Velma, Daphne and Freddy became global icons, and amidst the mountain of merchandise and derivatives generated by the franchise was a succession of comic book series from Gold Key (30 issues beginning December 1969 and ending in 1974), through Charlton (11 issues 1975-1976), Marvel (9 issues 1977-1979), Harvey (1993-1994) and Archie (21 issues, 1995-1997). The creative cast included Phil DeLara, Jack Manning, Warren Tufts, Mark Evanier, Dan Spiegle, Bill Williams, and many others.

In 1997, DC Comics acquired all the Hanna Barbera properties for its Cartoon Network imprint, which was for a very long time the last bastion of children’s comics in America. It produced some truly magical homespun material (such asTiny Titans, Batman: Brave and the Bold or Billy Batson and the Magic of Shazam!) as well as stunning interpretations of such television landmarks as Powerpuff Girls, Dexter’s Laboratory, Ben 10 and vintage gems such as The Flintstones and Scooby Doo

In 2013, the mystery-solving pesky kids fully integrated with the DCU via a digital series of team ups that inevitably manifested as comics books and graphic novels. Compiling material from Scooby-Doo! Team-Up #1-6 (January-November 2014) this first fabulous trade paperback – or eBook – features a wild parade of joint ventures from writer Sholly Fisch illustrator Dario Brizuela, colourists Franco Riesco & Heroic Age and letterers Saida Temofonte & Deron Bennett.

It all begins with Mystery Inc. aiding Dynamic Duo Batman and Robin in a hunt for mutated scientist Kirk Langstrombefore being diverted by a gang of fake flyers in ‘Man-Bat and Robbin’!’ after which issue #2 asks ‘Who’s Scared?’ As the Caped Crusader and Ace, the Bat-Hound enjoy seeing the original Scooby gang admitted to the legendary Mystery Analysts of Gotham City, the terror-inducing Scarecrow strikes, and only the canine contingent can resist his latest fear chemicals…

Still visiting Gotham City, the gang discover ‘Two Mites Make It Wrong’ as impulsive imp Bat-Mite starts his reality-altering pranks again and normality is only possible through the intervention of unforeseen antithesis Scooby-Mite

Channelling a contemporary surreal TV hit, ‘Teen Titans – Ghost!’ then brings the Mystery Machine to Jump City for a spot of haunting at Titans Tower, before Daphne and Velma visit Wonder Woman on Themyscira and indulge in a Kanga rodeo whilst the boys mess about in the invisible jet before reuniting to solve a mythological monster mystery causing ‘Trouble in Paradise’

This initial outing concludes with a mass masked hero marathon when a visit to the Super Friends’ Hall of Justice leads to a ghost hunt. Mystery soon solved, the gang, Wonder Twins Zan and Jayna, the Justice League of America and Supergirl then must all battle the notorious Legion of Doom in ‘A (Super) Friend in Need’

Despite being ostensibly aimed at TV kids, this fast-paced, funny and superbly inclusive parcel of thrills skilfully revisits the charm of early DC in stand-alone mini-sagas no self-respecting fun-fan should miss: accessible, entertaining, well-rendered yarns for the broadest range of excitement-seeking readers. This is a terrific tome offering perfect, old fashioned delight. What more do you need to know?
© 2014, 2015 Hanna-Barbera and DC Comics. All Rights Reserved. Batman, Robin, Superman, Wonder Woman and all related characters and elements are ™ DC Comics. Scooby-Doo and all related characters and elements are ™ and © Hanna-Barbera.

The Flash of Two Worlds Deluxe Edition


By Gardner Fox, John Broome, Carmine Infantino, Joe Giella, Sid Greene & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-9459-5 (HB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Timeless Superhero Wonderment… 10/10

As previously stated, there have been a lot of comic book anniversaries this year, possibly none more significant than original speedster The Flash who debuted in 1940. That’s happily led to a swathe of splendid vintage material being revived, such as this tome from 2009, gathering material that truly reshaped how the industry and the fanbase consumed their reading matter: a stunning collection gathering some of the most influential and beloved stories of the Silver Age.

Way back then in 1956, Super-Editor Julius Schwartz ushered in that epoch with his Showcase successes The Flash, Adam Strange and Green Lantern, directly leading to the Justice League of America (happy sixtieth!) and more revivals – which in turn inspired Fantastic Four and the whole Marvel Empire, which further changed the way comics were made and read…

Whereas 1940s tales were about magic and macho, the Silver Age polished everything with a thick veneer of SCIENCE and a wave of implausible rationalistic concepts quickly filtered into the dawning mass-consciousness of a generation of baby-boomer kids.

The most intriguing and rewarding was, of course, the notion of parallel worlds: the very crux of this celebration gathering the first half dozen Barry Allen team-ups with his predecessor Jay Garrick: specifically, the contents of The Flash #123, 129, 137, 151, 170 and 173, originally seen between September 1961 and September 1967…

The continuing adventures of the Scarlet Speedster were the bedrock of the Silver Age Revolution. After ushering in the triumphant return of the costumed superhero concept, the Crimson Comet – with key writers John Broome and Gardner Fox at the reins – set an unbelievably high standard for superhero adventure in sharp, witty tales of technology and imagination, illustrated with captivating style and clean simplicity by Carmine Infantino.

Fox didn’t write many Flash scripts at this time, but the few he did were all dynamite; none more so than the full-length epic which literally changed the scope of American comics forever. Following an Introduction from Flash-Fanatic Geoff Johns and Foreword by Paul Levitz, you can see how and why…

‘Flash of Two Worlds’ (Flash #123, September 1961 and inked by Joe Giella) introduced the theory of alternate Earths to the continuity which grew by careful extension into a multiversal structure comprising Infinite Earths. Once established as a cornerstone of a newly integrated DCU through a wealth of team-ups and escalating succession of cosmos-shaking crossover sagas, a glorious pattern was set which would, after joyous decades, eventually culminate in a spectacular Crisis on Infinite Earths

During a benefit gig, Flash (police scientist Barry Allen) accidentally slips into another dimension where he finds the comic book hero upon whom he based his own superhero identity actually exists.

Every ripping yarn he had avidly absorbed as an eager child was grim reality to Jay Garrick and his 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 make their own criminal comeback…

The floodgates were opened, and over the following months and years many Earth-1 stalwarts met their counterparts, either via annual summer collaborations in the pages of Justice League of America or in their own individual series. Schwartz even had a game go at reviving a cadre of the older titans in their own titles. Public approval was decidedly vocal and he used DC’s try-out magazines to take the next step: stories set on Earth-2 exclusively featuring Golden Age characters. Of those bold sallies only The Spectre graduated to his own title…

Received with tumultuous acclaim by the readership, the Earth-2 concept was revisited months later in #129’s ‘Double Danger on Earth!’ (June 1962) which also teasingly reintroduced evergreen 1940s stalwarts Wonder Woman, The Atom, Hawkman, Green Lantern, Doctor Mid-Nite and Black Canary. Clearly Editor Schwartz had something in mind…

‘Vengeance of the Immortal Villain!’ from #137 (June 1963) was the third incredible Earth-2 crossover, and saw both Flashes in action against 50,000-year-old tyrant Vandal Savage to save the abducted Justice Society of America: a tale leading directly to the veteran team’s first meeting with the Justice League of America and the subsequent creation of an annual team-up tradition.

When ‘Flash of Two Worlds’ introduced the concept of Infinite Earths and multiple versions of costumed crusaders, public pressure had begun almost instantly to agitate for the return of the Greats of the “Golden Age” but the Editorial powers-that-be were hesitant, fearing too many heroes would be silly and unmanageable, or worse yet, put readers off. If they could only see us now…

A less well-known but superbly gripping team-up tale is ‘Invader from the Dark Dimension!’ (Flash #151, March 1965,): another full-length shocker wherein demonic super-bandit The Shade ambitiously infiltrates Earth-1 as the opening gambit in an avaricious attempt to plunder both worlds…

Flash #170 (May 1967) was scripted by John Broome and inked by the sublime Sid Greene, reuniting the Speedsters after a gap of two years to face the ‘The See-Nothing Spells of Abra Kadabra!’, with the Earth-1 Vizier of Velocity hexed by the cunning conjuror and rendered unable to detect the villain’s actions or presence.

Sadly for the sinister spellbinder, Jay Garrick is visiting and calls on the services of JSA pals Doctors Fate and Mid-Nite to counteract the wicked wizard’s wiles…

Promptly following and concluding this cornucopia of cosmic chills, Flash #173 (September 1967, by Broome, Infantino & Greene again) featured a titanic triple team-up as Barry, Wally “Kid Flash” West and Jay were sequentially shanghaied to another galaxy as putative prey for alien hunter Golden Man in ‘Doomward Flight of the Flashes!’

However, the sneaky script slowly reveals devilish layers of intrigue since the sinister stalker’s Andromedan super-safari conceals a far more scurrilous purpose for the three speedy pawns before the wayward wanderers finally fight free and find their way home again…

Still irresistible and compellingly beautiful after all these years, the stories collected here – in lavish hardback or handy digital editions – shaped American comics for decades and are still influencing not only today’s funnybooks but also the wave of animated shows, movies and TV series which grew from them. These are tales and this is a book you simply must have.
© 1961, 1962, 1963, 1965, 1967, 2009, 2020 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Golden Age Flash Archives volume 1


By Gardner F. Fox, Harry Lampert, E.E. Hibbard, Hal Sharp & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-0784-7 (HB)

The innovative fledgling company that became DC published the first ever comic book super-speedster and over the decades has constantly added more to its pantheon of stars. Devised, created and written by Gardner Fox and initially visually realised by Harry Lampert, Jay Garrick debuted as the very first Monarch of Motion in Flash Comics #1. He quickly – of course – became a veritable sensation.

“The Fastest Man Alive” wowed readers of anthologies like Flash Comics, All Star Comics, Comics Cavalcade and other titles – as well as solo vehicle All-Flash Quarterly – for just over a decade before changing tastes benched him and most other first-generation costumed crimebusters in the early1950s.

His invention as a strictly single-power superhero created a new trend in the burgeoning action-adventure Funnybook marketplace, and his particular riff was specifically replicated many times at various companies where myriad Fast Furies sprang up such as Johnny Quick , Hurricane, Silver Streak, the Whizzer, Quicksilver and Snurtle McTurtlethe Terrific Whatzit amongst so many others…

After half a decade of mostly interchangeable cops, cowboys and cosmic invaders, the concept of human speedsters and the superhero genre in general was spectacularly revived by Julie Schwartz in 1956. Showcase #4 revealed how police scientist Barry Allen became the second hero to run with the concept. We’ve not looked back since – and if we did it would all be a great big blur…

This charmingly beguiling deluxe Archive (sadly not available in not-quite-faster-than-light digital) edition collects the first year and a half – spanning January 1940 to May 1941 – of the irrepressible Garrick’s whimsically eccentric exploits in 17 (regrettably untitled) adventures from the anthology Flash Comics, revealing an appealing rawness, light-hearted whimsy and scads of narrative experimentation in tales of a brilliant nerd and (ostensibly) physical sad-sack who became a social reformer and justice-dispensing human meteor.

Following a fulsome Foreword from sometime Flash scribe Mark Waid, the fast fictions commence with the debut of ‘The Fastest Man Alive’ speedily delivering in 15 pages an origin and returning cast, and staging a classic confrontation with a sinister cabal of gangsters.

It all started years previously when student Garrick passed out in the lab at Midwestern University, only to awaken hyper-charged and the fastest creature on Earth thanks to the “hard water fumes” he had inhaled whilst unconscious. After weeks recovering in hospital, the formerly-frail chemist realised the exposure had given him super-speed and endurance. He promptly sought to impress his sort-of girlfriend Joan Williams by becoming an unstoppable football player…

Time passed, the kids graduated and Garrick moved to New York where, appalled by rampant crime, he decided to do something about it. The Flash operates mostly in secret until one day, whilst idly playing tennis with himself, Jay meets Joan again, just as mobsters try to kill her in a drive-by shooting.

Catching the storm of bullets, Jay gets reacquainted with his former paramour and discovers she is a target of criminal combine the Faultless Four: master criminals set on obtaining her father’s invention the Atomic Bombarder. In the blink of an eye Flash smashes the sinister schemes of the gang and diabolical leader Sieur Satan, saving Joan’s life whilst revelling in the sheer liberating fun and freedom of being gloriously unstoppable…

In his second appearance The Flash stumbles upon a showgirl’s murder and discovers that Yankee mobster Boss Goll and British aristocrat Lord Donelin plan to take over the entire entertainment industry with ruthless strong-arm tactics. The speedster is as much hindered as helped by wilful, “headstrong” Joan who begins her own lifetime obsession of pesky do-gooding here…

Everett E. Hibbard began a decade-long association with Flash in #3, when Major Williams’ Atomic Bombarder is targeted by foreign spies. The elderly boffin framed for treason prompts Garrick to come to his future father-in-law’s aid, before Jay and Joan smash an off-shore gambling ring graduating to kidnapping and blackmail in #4.

During these early adventures, Flash seldom donned his red, blue and yellow outfit; usually operating invisibly or undercover to play super-speed pranks with merciless, puckish glee. That started changing in #5, when the speedster saves an elderly artist from hit-men to foil mad collector Vandal who uses murder to increase the market value of his purchases.

Flash Comics #6 found Jay and Joan at old Alma Mater Midwestern, foiling a scheme to dope athletes trying to qualify for the Olympics, before #7 saw a stopover in Duluth lead to the foiling of gambler Black Mike who was industriously fixing motorcar races with a metal melting ray. For #8, the Vizier of Velocity tracks down seemingly corrupt contractors building shoddy, dangerous buildings only to find the graft and skulduggery go much further up the financial and civic food chain…

In issue #9, gangsters get hold of a scientist’s invention and the Flash finds himself battling a brigade of giant Gila Monsters, after which #10 depicts the downfall of a political cabal in the pocket of gangster Killer Kelly and stealing from the schools they administered. For #11, Garrick meets his first serious opponent in kidnap racketeer The Chief, whose sinister brilliance enables him to devise stroboscopic glasses to track and target the invisibly fast crime-crusher…

With the threat of involvement in the “European War” a constant subject of American headlines, Flash Comics #12 (December 1940) had the heroic human hurricane intervene to save tiny Ruritanian nation Kurtavia from ruthless invasion. His spectacular lightning war sees Garrick sinking submarines, repelling land armies and crushing airborne blitzkriegs for a fairy tale happy ending here, but within a year the process would become a patriotic morale booster repeated ad infinitum in every American comic book as the real world brutally intruded on the industry and nation…

Back in the USA for #13, Garrick assists old friend Jim Carter in cowboy country where the young inheritor of a silver mine is gunned down by murdering owlhoots. Jay then heads back east to crush a criminal combine sabotaging city subway construction in #14 and saves a circus from robbery, sabotage and poor attendances in #15.

Throughout all these yarns Jay paid scant attention to preserving any kind of secret identity – a fact that would soon change – but as Hal Sharp took over illustrating with #16 (Hibbard presumably devoting his energies to the contents of the forthcoming 64-page All-Flash Quarterly #1 – to be seen in a succeeding Archive collection), Joan is kidnapped by Mexican mobsters aware of her connection to The Flash. Rushing to her rescue, Garrick battles a small army, not only saving his girlfriend but even reforming bandit chief José Salvez.

This initial high-energy compilation ends with another light-hearted sporting escapade as the speedster intervenes in a gambling plot, saving a moribund baseball team from sabotage even as Jay Garrick – officially “almost as fast as the Flash” – becomes the Redskins’ (a nickname now thankfully consigned to history’s dustbin of insensitivity) star player to save them from lousy performances…

With covers by Sheldon Moldoff, Dennis Neville, George Storm, Jon L. Blummer, Hibbard and Sharp, this book is a sheer delight for lovers of the early Fights ‘n’ Tights genre: exuberant, exciting and funny, although certainly not to every modern fan’s taste. Of course, with such straightforward thrills on show any reader with an open mind could find his opinion changed in a flash.
© 1940, 1941, 1999 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

The Flash: 80 Years of the Fastest Man Alive – the Deluxe Edition

By Gardner F. Fox, Robert Kanigher, John Broome, Cary Bates, William Messner-Loebs, Mark Waid, Mark Millar & Grant Morrison, Geoff Johns, Francis Manapul & Brian Buccellato, Joshua Williamson, Gail Simone, Harry Lampert, Joe Kubert, Carmine Infantino, Alex Saviuk, Greg LaRocque, Mike Wieringo, Paul Ryan, Scott Kolins, Neil Googe, Clayton Henry & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-9813-5 (HB)

The Flash was the first specialist superhero in comics. He was the blessed by only one extra-normal power yet started a trend and inspired a wave of imitators.

Jay Garrick debuted as the very first Scarlet Speedster in Flash Comics #1 (January 1940) and  “The Fastest Man Alive” wowed readers for over a decade before changing tastes benched him in 1951. After a period of unremarkable he-men dominated comics pages for half a decade, the concept of speedsters, and indeed, superheroes in general were revived in 1956 by Julie Schwartz in Showcase #4 where and when police scientist Barry Allen became the second hero to run with the concept.

The Silver Age Flash, whose creation and subsequent stellar run ushered in a new and seemingly unstoppable era of costumed crusaders, died heroically during Crisis on Infinite Earths (1985-1986). He was promptly succeeded by his sidekick Kid Flash. Of course, Allen later returned from the dead, but doesn’t everyone, eventually?

There have been many super-speedsters in the DCU and most of them congregate in the conjoined metropolis of Keystone and Central City. As Kid Flash/Flash, Wally West – chronologically the third official incarnation – lived there with his true love Linda Park, his Aunt Iris (Barry Allen’s widow) and fellow fast-fighters such as Jay Garrick. Impulse (juvenile speedster Bart Allen from the future, who also became a/The Flash) and his mentor/keeper Max Mercury – the Zen Master of hyper-velocity – lived in Alabama, but often visited as they only were picoseconds away…

A true icon of the industry and art form, The Flash is synonymous with superb comics storytelling and this splendid collection – available as a bonanza hardback and in various digital formats – offers curated material from Flash Comics#1, 89, 96, Showcase #4, The Flash #106, 110, 123, 155, 275, 300, Flash #54, 91, 133, 182, The Flash #0, DC Comics Holiday Special 2017 and The Flash Giant #2, celebrating a concept as much as the heroes who serially embodied it. The stories span January 1940 to February 2019 and are augmented by a succession of essays and articles, beginning with an Introduction by Dan Didio, before sprinting head first into the first milestone.

Created and crafted by Gardner F. Fox & Harry Lampert, ‘The Origin of the Flash’ appeared in and headlined anthology Flash Comics #1, which also introduced Hawkman and Johnny Thunder amongst others. The fast-paced first feature reveals how over-achieving physics student Garrick is exposed to “hard water fumes”. After initially putting him in a coma, the accident gives him super-speed, reactions and endurance. The breezy tale speedily delivers an origin, a returning cast and a classic confrontation with sinister syndicate the Faultless Four and their diabolical leader Sieur Satan.

Essay ‘Flash of Two Whirls’ by Roy Thomas then details Garrick’s career with a canny concentration on psychologically-framed arch enemy The Thorn. She was a plant-themed villain who hid within an innocent and demure split personality called Rose, who only had two published appearances. A third “lost” adventure completes the comics section, then  follows one of many unpublished episodes shelved by the abrupt decline of superheroes at the end of the 1940s. How and why so much material was saved is also revealed in Thomas’ treatise before the action resumes with ‘Introducing the Thorn: The Flash’s Newest Opponent’.

Cover-dated November 1947, Flash Comics #89, the lead story was crafted by Robert Kanigher & Joe Kubert and detailed how a vicious, sexy criminal rampaged across the city pursued by the hero and her “sister”. Sporting a far more refined outfit, she resurfaced in Flash Comics #96 (June 1948, Kanigher & Kubert) threatening Keystone in ‘The Flash and the Thorn-Stalk’, before once again apparently perishing.

Seen here in stark monochrome, again by Kanigher & Kubert, ‘Strange Confession’ sat in a draw unpublished since 1948 until rescued by Marv Wolfman. Now it completes a trilogy of epic psycho-dramas as Rose and the Thorn battle the Fastest Man Alive again before being apparently cured by the intervention of the Justice Society of America

‘A Flash of Inspiration’ by Paul Kupperberg then sets the scene for the Allen Age of Comics…

No matter which way you look at it, the Silver Age of the American comic book began with The Flash. It’s an unjust but true fact that being first is not enough; it also helps to be best and people have to notice. MLJ’s The Shield beat Captain America to the newsstands by over a year, yet the former is all but forgotten today.

America’s comicbook industry had never really stopped trying to revive the superhero genre when Showcase #4 was released in late summer of 1956 (cover-dated October). The newsstands had already been blessed – but were left generally unruffled – by such tentative precursors as The Avenger (February-September 1955), Captain Flash (November 1954-July 1955) and a revival of Marvel’s Human Torch, Sub-Mariner and the aforementioned Captain America between December 1953 and October 1955.

Both DC’s own Captain Comet (December 1953-October 1955) and Manhunter from Mars (November 1955 until the end of the 1960’s and almost the last days of superheroes again!) had come and made little mark. What made the new Fastest Man Alive stand out and stick was … well, everything!

Once DC’s powers-that-be decided to seriously attempt superheroes once more, they moved pretty fast themselves. Editor Julie Schwartz asked office partner, fellow editor and Golden-Age Flash scripter Robert Kanigher to recreate a speedster for the Space Age, aided and abetted by Carmine Infantino and former flash artist Joe Kubert.

The new Flash was a forensic scientist simultaneously struck by lightning and bathed in exploding chemicals from his lab. Supercharged by the accident, Barry Allen cheekily took his superhero identity from an old comic book featuring his (at that time “fictional”) predecessor Jay Garrick. Designing a sleek, streamlined bodysuit (courtesy of Infantino – a major talent rapidly approaching his artistic and creative peak), Barry became point man for the spectacular revival of a genre and an entire industry.

From his spectacular run comes the pivotal event which marked the beginning of a way of life for so many addicted kids. Written by Kanigher, pencilled by Infantino and inked by Kubert, Showcase #4’s ‘Mystery of the Human Thunderbolt!’was another quick-fire origin with crime story attached as the brand-new hero discovers his powers and mission and still finds time to defeat a modern iteration of the Turtle – a criminal mastermind dubbed “the Slowest Man Alive!”.

Following his meteoric launch in Showcase #4, the Flash was uncharacteristically slow in winning his own title, but finally (after three more cautiously released trial issues) finally stood on his own wing-tipped feet in The Flash #105 (February-March 1959 – so it was out for Christmas 1958). John Broome and Gardner Fox would write the bulk of the early tales, introducing a “big science” sensibility and – courtesy of Broome – an unmatched Rogues Gallery of fantastic foes which would become the template for all proper superheroes.

Crafted by John Broome, Infantino & Joe Giella, ‘Menace of the Super-Gorilla!’ comes from The Flash #106 (May 1959). It was the second story (behind the Pied Piper’s debut) and introduces one of the most charismatic and memorable baddies in comics history. Gorilla Grodd and his hidden race of super-simians debuted here – promptly returning for the next two issues – in a cunning yarn as the ultra-advanced ape invades the human world in search of the greatest mind on Earth, which he intends to subjugate for his own nefarious purposes…

Presumably this early confidence was fuelled by DC’s inexplicable but commercially sound pro-Gorilla editorial stance (for some reason any comic with a big monkey in it markedly outsold those that didn’t in those far-ago days), but these tales are also packed with tension, action and engagingly challenging fantasy concepts.

Next up is another landmark: two in fact…

The Flash #110 (January 1960) was a huge hit, not so much for the debut of another worthy candidate to the burgeoning Rogues Gallery in ‘The Weather Wizard’ but rather for the introduction of Wally West, who in a bizarre and suspicious replay of the lightning strike that created the Scarlet Speedster became a junior version of the Fastest Man Alive. Broome, Infantino & Giella’s ‘Meet Kid Flash!’ introduced the first sidekick of the Silver Age (cover dated December 1959-January 1960 and just pipping Aqualad who premiered in Adventure Comics #269 which had a February off-sale date). Not only would Kid Flash begin his own series of back-up tales from the very next issue (a sure sign of the confidence the creators had in the character) but he would eventually inherit the mantle of the Flash himself – one of the few occasions in comics where the torch-passing actually stuck…

Super-Editor Schwartz guaranteed a new epoch with his Showcase successes Flash, Adam Strange and Green Lantern, which directly led to the Justice League of America – and even more revivals. This in turn inspired Fantastic Four and the whole Marvel Empire, which changed the way comics were made and read…

Whereas 1940s tales were about magic and macho, the Silver Age varnished everything with a thick veneer of SCIENCE and a wave of implausible rationalistic concepts quickly filtered into the dawning mass-consciousness of a generation of baby-boomer kids. The most intriguing and rewarding was, of course, the notion of parallel worlds: the very crux of this celebration and a prime component of most modern fantasy serials in books, film, TV and comics.

The continuing adventures of the Scarlet Speedster became the bedrock of the Silver Age Revolution. After ushering in the triumphant return of the costumed superhero concept, the Crimson Comet – with Broome and Fox at the reins – set an unbelievably high standard for superhero adventure in sharp, witty tales of technology and imagination, illustrated with captivating style and clean simplicity by Infantino.

Fox didn’t write many Flash scripts at this time, but the few he did were all dynamite; none more so than the full-length epic which literally changed the scope of American comics forever.

‘Flash of Two Worlds’ (The Flash #123, September 1961 and inked by Giella) introduces the concept of alternate Earths to the continuity. The idea grew by careful extension into a multiversal structure comprising Infinite Earths. Once established as a cornerstone of a newly integrated DCU through a wealth of team-ups and escalating succession of cosmos-shaking crossover sagas, a glorious pattern was set which would, after joyous decades, eventually culminate in a spectacular Crisis on Infinite Earths

During a benefit gig Flash accidentally slips into another dimension where he finds the comic book hero upon whom he based his own superhero identity actually exists. Every ripping yarn he had avidly absorbed as an eager child was grim reality to Jay Garrick and his 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 make their own criminal comeback…

The floodgates were opened, and over the following months and years many Earth-1 stalwarts met their counterparts either via annual collaborations in the pages of Justice League of America or in their own series. Schwartz even had a game go at reviving a cadre of the older titans in their own titles. Public approval was decidedly vocal and he used DC’s try-out magazines to take the next step: stories set on Earth-2 exclusively featuring Golden Age characters, but of those bold sallies, only The Spectre briefly graduated to his own title…

When the Scarlet Speedster wasn’t boggling minds he was furiously fighting the best villains in comics. The inevitable had to happen – and finally did – in The Flash #155 (September 1965) when Broome teamed six of the Rogue’s Gallery into ‘The Gauntlet of Super-Villains!’: a bombastic Fights ‘n’ Tights extravaganza, but one with a hidden twist and a mystery foe concealed in the wings…

As tastes changed, The Flash evolved with them and survived the early 1970s downturn in superhero storytelling, but nobody was prepared for a truly big shock. When Cary Bates, Alex Saviuk & Frank Chiaramonte held ‘The Last Dance’in #275 (July 1979), it heralded the end of an era when comfortable married Barry was unable to prevent the murder of his beloved Iris by a truly insane enemy…

No, that’s not a spoiler. She came back. They always do: it’s just that nobody knew that back then and it did take decades to undo the evil act…

In the meantime, Barry moved on and began life as a widowed singleton. Anniversary epic The Flash #300 (August 1981, Bates, Infantino & Bob Smith) featured ‘1981- A Flash Odyssey’ comprising a deft recapitulation of his life and career, all wrapped up in a cunning and sadistic scheme to drive him mad perpetrated by his most vicious foe…

‘The Flash – A.K.A. Wally West’ by William Messner-Loebs ushers in the era of the third Flash as the DCU underwent a radical reboot during Crisis on Infinite Earths. Initially Wally West struggled to fill the boots of his predecessor, both in sheer ability and, more tellingly, in confidence. Feeling a fraud, he nonetheless persevered and eventually overcame, becoming the greatest to carry the name. Typifying that highly-engaging transition period comes ‘Nobody Dies’ (Flash #54 September 1991) by Messner-Loebs, Greg LaRocque & José Marzán Jr., focussing on the intricacies of the speedster’s powers as his hyper-fast abilities – and their limits – are tested whilst trying to save a flight attendant plunging from a aircraft…

Mark Waid discusses the hero’s ‘Legacy’ before ‘Out of Time’ from Flash #91 (June 1994) expands the dilemma of how much even the most powerful man can do in a classic mind-boggler by Waid, Mike Wieringo & Marzán Jr.

Towards the end of the 1990s the grand, old-fashioned Fights ‘n’ Tights mythology and methodology was given a bit of post-modern gloss when Caledonian wizards Grant Morrison and Mark Millar turned their considerable talents to Wally West incarnation of the Fastest Man Alive. In Flash #133 (cover-dated January 1998), the Celtic lads showed American writers how it’s all pronounced when Scottish legacy villain Mirror Master attacks a wounded and recuperating hero: abducting his bride-to-be Linda in ‘Flash Through the Looking Glass’. Illustrated by Paul Ryan & John Nyberg, the story features a spectacular race against time to prevent her de-aging out of existence and is followed by a memorable contribution from Geoff Johns, Scott Kolins & Dan Panosian. ‘Absolute Zero’ (Flash #182, March 2002) delves deep into the frosty psyche of arch rogue Len Snart as the chilling Captain Cold goes looking for the killer of his little sister Lisa

Reboots are an inescapable hazard of modern comics as publishers periodically seek to make old soldiers fresh and palatable to an ever-changing readership. In 2011 DC used the Flashpoint publishing event to restart their entire continuity in a project dubbed The New 52. As always, the result was instant attention-grabbing from the press but mixed results for the fans. The Flash weathered the change better than most and a new, younger Barry Allen returned to the streets of his city to start his career all over again.

Crafted by Francis Manapul and lettered by Steve Wands, ‘First Step’ offers a potent painted picture spread introducing the new-old vizier of velocity and is followed by a rehashed origin in Manapul & Brian Buccellato’s ‘Before the New 52’from The Flash #0: released in November 2012, a year after the big change.

TV Flash scripter Todd Helbing describes ‘The Impossible’ before we hit the final stretch with delightful and evocative short tale ‘Hope for the Holidays’ by Joshua Williamson & Neil Googe – taken from DC Holiday Special December 2017 and with Scarlet Speedster playing Christmas spirit – before The Flash Giant #2 (February 2019) provides ‘Get Out of the Kitchen’ by Gail Simone, Clayton Henry, reintroducing classic Rogue Mick Rory as a far nastier Heatwave.

Closing this immense commemorative tome comes Cover Highlights celebrating each era – the Golden, Silver, Bronze, Dark and Modern Ages – with a selection of unforgettable front images and a full roster of Biographies celebrating the many artist and writers who have passed on the baton since 1940.

One of the most revered comics heroes of all time, The Flash has probably been all things to most people in his/their time. Always exciting and never a waste of time, the hero is one no fan of the basics should miss. Why not try them all? It’s a marathon, not a sprint, right?
© 1940, 1947, 1948, 1956, 1959, 1960, 1961, 1965, 1979, 1981, 1991, 1994, 1998, 2002, 2012, 2017, 2019 DC Comics. DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Batman in the Brave and the Bold: The Bronze Age volume two


By Bob Haney, Denny O’Neil, Jim Aparo, Nick Cardy, Neal Adams, Bob Brown, Frank McLaughlin & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-8582-1 (TPB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Perfect Pairings for Festive Fun Seekers… 10/10

The Brave and the Bold began in 1955 as an anthology adventure comic featuring short complete tales about a variety of period heroes: a format that mirrored the contemporary movie fascination with historical dramas.

Written by Bob Kanigher, issue #1 led with Golden Gladiator, the Silent Knight and Joe Kubert’s now legendary Viking Prince. From #5 the Gladiator was increasingly alternated with Robin Hood, but such manly, mainly mainstream romps still carried the title until the end of the decade when the burgeoning costumed character revival saw B&B transform into a try-out vehicle like sister publication Showcase.

Issue #25 (August-September 1959) featured the debut of Task Force X: Suicide Squad, followed by Justice League of America (#28), Cave Carson (#31) and Hawkman (#34). Since only the JLA hit the first time out, there were return engagements for the Squad, Carson and Hawkman.

Something truly different appeared in #45-49 with the science fictional Strange Sports Stories before Brave and the Bold #50 triggered a new concept that once again truly caught the reader’s imagination.

That issue paired two superheroes – Green Arrow and Martian Manhunter – in a one-off team-up, as did succeeding issues: Aquaman and Hawkman in #51, WWII combatants Sgt. Rock, Captain Cloud, Mme. Marie and the Haunted Tank in #52 and Atom and Flash in #53. The next team-up – Robin, Aqualad and Kid Flash – swiftly evolved into the Teen Titans. After Metal Men/the Atom and Flash/Martian Manhunter, new hero Metamorpho, the Element Man debuted in #57-58.

Then it was back to superhero pairings with #59, and although no one realised it at the time this particular conjunction (Batman with Green Lantern) would be particularly significant.

After a return engagement for the Teen Titans in #60, the next two issues highlighted Earth-2 champions Starman and Black Canary, whilst Wonder Woman met Supergirl in #63.

Then, in an indication of things to come, and in anticipation of the TV-induced mania mere months away, Batman duelled hero/villain Eclipso in #64. Within two issues, following Flash/Doom Patrol (#65) and Metamorpho/Metal Men (#66), Brave and the Bold #67 saw the Caped Crusader take de facto control of the title and the lion’s share of the team-ups. With the exception of #72-73 (Spectre/Flash and Aquaman/Atom) the comic was henceforth to be a place where Batman invited the rest of company’s heroic pantheon to come and play…

For the sake of brevity and clarity and according to the wise ones who dictate such arbitrary demarcations, it’s also the point at which Comics’ Silver Age transitioned into the Bronze Age…

This second selection of unalloyed Batman pairings with other luminaries of the DC universe reprints B&B #92-109 (spanning October/November 1970 to October/November 1973) featuring the last vestiges of a continuity-reduced DC where individual story needs were seldom submerged into a cohesive overarching scenario, and where lead writer Bob Haney crafted stories that were meant to be read in isolation, drawn by a profusion of artists with only one goal: entertainment. At this time editors favoured regular if not permanent creative teams, feeling that a sense of visual and even narrative continuity would avoid confusion amongst younger readers.

It thus signalled the advent of the superb Nick Cardy as an innovative illustrator: his short run of beautifully drawn and boldly experimental assignments is still startling to see five decades later.

Haney was always at his best with terse, human scale dramas, especially “straight” crime thrillers, as in the eccentric thriller in #92 wherein Batman travels to England, embroiled in a moody, gothic murder mystery with a trio of British stereotypes fancifully christened “The Bat Squad.” Although the scratch team never reappeared, ‘Night Wears a Scarlet Shroud!’ remains a period delight and a must for those who still remember when “Eng-ga-land Swung”…

At the end of the 1960s the Comics Code Authority ended its ban on crime and horror comics to allow publishers to exploit the global interest in the supernatural. This had instantly affected comics and more and more stories had macabre overtones. It led to the revival of horror and suspense anthologies, such as the venerable House of Mystery and unquestionably the oddest team-up in B&B history.

Scripted by Denny O’Neil and illustrated by Neal Adams, #93’s ‘Red Water, Crimson Death’ is a chilling ghost story with the added advantage of having the Dark Knight’s sombre shtick counterbalanced by the musings of the sardonic laconic Cain, ethereal and hip caretaker of that haunted habitat…

Haney, Cardy and the Teen Titans returned for powerful counter-culture bomb-plot ‘Rebels in the Streets’ after which a forgotten mystery hero (I won’t spoil it for you) helps Batman get the goods on ruthless, fat-cat industrialist Ruby Ryder in ‘C.O.D. – Corpse on Delivery’ in #95 before – somewhat more palatable for continuity bugs – Sgt Rock’s second engagement with the Bat was set in contemporary times rather than in WWII. Here the honourable old soldier becomes a bureaucrat’s patsy in compelling espionage thriller ‘The Striped-Pants War!’

Haney clearly had a fondness for grizzled older heroes as former pugilist Wildcat made another comeback in #97’s South-of-the-Border saga ‘The Smile of Choclotan!’: an epic of exploration inked by Cardy over the husky he-man pencils of the hugely underrated Bob Brown.

The Phantom Stranger guested next in a truly sinister tale of suburban devil worship which found Batman thoroughly out of his depth in ‘The Mansion of the Misbegotten!’, illustrated by the man who would soon become the only B&B artist: Jim Aparo.

Brown & Cardy returned to draw the Flash saving the Gotham Gangbuster from ghostly possession in ‘The Man who Murdered the Past’ and Aparo illustrated the anniversary 100th issue as Green Lantern, Green Arrow and Black Canary had to take over for a Batman on the verge of death and trapped as ‘The Warrior in a Wheel-Chair’.

Aparo stuck around for the outrageous murder-mystery ‘Cold-Blood, Hot Gun’ wherein Metamorpho, the Element Man assists the Caped Crusader in foiling the World’s most deadly hitman, but Brave and the Bold #102 featured a true rarity.

The Teen Titans again featured in an angry tale of the generation gap but ‘Commune of Defiance’ began as an Aparo job, but in a bizarre turnabout Neal Adams – an artist legendary for blowing deadlines – was called in to finish the story, contributing the last nine pages of the tension-packed political thriller, after which Brown and Frank McLaughlin illustrated ‘A Traitor Lurks Inside Earth!’: a doomsday saga of military computers gone awry featuring the multipurpose Metal Men.

Aparo was back in #104 for a poignant story of love from beyond the grave in the enigmatically entitled ‘Second Chance for a Deadman?’ after which a depowered Wonder Woman resurfaced after a long absence in Haney & Aparo’s superb revolutionary epic ‘Play Now… Die Later!’ as Diana Prince and the Darknight Detective become pawns in a bloody South American feud exported to the streets of Gotham.

Newly penniless social reformer Green Arrow is then sucked into a murderous get-rich-quick con in #106’s ‘Double Your Money… and Die’, featuring a surprise star villain, before Black Canary co-stars in a clever take on the headline-grabbing – and still unsolved – D.B. Cooper hijacking of an airliner in ‘The 3-Million Dollar Sky’ from B&B #107 (June-July 1973). Inflation sucks: “Cooper” only got $200,000 when he jumped out of that Boeing 727 in November 1971, never to be see again…

A wonderfully chilling tale of obsession and old soldiers never dying follows as Sgt. Rock tries once more to catch the greatest monster in history on ‘The Night Batman Sold his Soul!’ before this bronze bonanza concludes with superb supernatural thriller ‘Gotham Bay, Be My Grave!’ wherein the Caped Crusader and Jack Kirby’s then newest sensation Etrigan the Demon battle an unquiet spirit determined to avenge his own execution after nearly a century…

These are some of the best and most entertainingly varied yarns from a period of magnificent creativity in the American comics industry. Aimed at a general readership, gloriously free of heavy, cloying continuity baggage and brought to stirring, action-packed life by some of the greatest artists in the business, this is a Batman for all seasons and reasons with the added bonus of some of the most fabulous and engaging co-stars a fan could imagine. How could anybody resist? Can you…?

© 1970, 1971, 1972, 1973, 2018 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.