‘Showcase Presents The Flash: Volume 1’ has stories from Showcase # 4, 8, 13 and 14 and from Flash # 105-119. Apart from the special feature, see below, this takes us from 1956 to early 1961. Eisenhower was President, the dollar was worth something, America was the world’s creditor and, apart from a few threatening communists abroad, all was right with the world.
The book opens with ‘The Rival Flash’, a story from Flash Comics # 104, February 1949 with a script by Robert Kanigher and art by Carmine Infantino and Frank Giacoia. This features the Golden Age Flash, Jay Garrick, in a story where bad guys copy his powers. It is interesting to see how Infantino’s art has changed seven years later in Showcase # 4, October 1956 with ‘Mystery Of The Human Thunderbolt’ in which police scientist Barry Allen is struck by lightning while standing next to some chemicals in his laboratory and gets super-speed. This was also written by Robert Kanigher but inked by Joe Kubert, as was the second story. This combination of two acknowledged masters makes for very good work. Over the next few issues, Infantino developed a very clean, spacious style but there are subtle differences depending on the inking. Most of it is by Joe Giella, which is fine, but I liked the work of Frank Giacoia and Murphy Anderson better. Infantino used a lot of wide narrow panels, useful for showing the speed trail where the Flash has been.
The stories are entertaining, too, in their way. Being able to run fast would not normally be a very useful super-power but it is transformed utterly by DC pseudo-science. The chief pseudo-scientist is writer John Broome, who has the Flash running fast enough to time travel in only the second story. When launched into space by the Master of the Elements in Showcase # 13, the Flash manages to vibrate himself to get caught in the Moon’s gravitational pull, swing around it and return to Earth. His only protection was his costume but he was able to hold his breath as it only took a minute. By running very fast, he can pass straight through solid objects leaving them intact. (Don’t try this at home!) By spinning very fast, in The Flash # 107, he can slip through the solid Earth down into the hollow interior where the Bird People live. However, when he runs too fast down there the strange atmosphere, called Mola, solidifies around him so he is trapped and has to suffer the gloating of the super-intelligent gorilla that tricked him. The villains, you see, are equipped with similar John Broome pseudo-science so good and evil are pretty evenly matched. In The Flash # 106, the Pied Piper can stop him dead with a vibratory aura and the Mirror Master can shrink himself and Flash to three inches high by clever use of mirrors in The Flash # 109. It was marvellous what you could get away with in those innocent days.
An interesting aside about gorillas. They featured frequently on DC covers of this issue and I read somewhere on-line, admittedly a world of unverifiable half-truth, that top DC men used to study the sales figures in tandem with the covers. Someone noted that covers with gorillas on sold better and so demanded more gorillas. I also read an interview with John Broome in which he said the covers were sometimes drawn first and he had to come up with a story to suit. So a DC boss orders Infantino to draw a cover with a gorilla on and Mister Broome has to dream up a plot featuring said ape. I don’t think this is how Joseph Conrad used to work.
Anyway, like most heroes the Flash has a girlfriend, Iris West, a reporter on Picture News. The running joke is that Barry Allen is always late for their dates and she calls him the slowest man alive. This was in the days before soap opera took hold in comics so they have the odd tiff about Barry’s perpetual tardiness but are not forever falling in and out of love in true romantic style. Frankly, it’s a bit of a relief.
Iris has a young nephew called Wally West, who is president of the Flash Fan Club in his home town. She brings him to Barry, a friend of the Flash as far as she knows, so that he can introduce the boy to his hero. The Flash soon appears and Wally asks him how he got his power. The Flash takes him into a laboratory full of chemicals and explains that he was standing in such a laboratory when lightning struck. Then…lightning strikes! Wally West is bathed in electro-chemical soup and gets super-speed, too, just like his hero. The Flash calls it a billion to one chance but I suspect it is slightly more than that. Wally talks about the ‘cats’ back home to show he is young and says ’jumping jets!’ and ’jeepers weepers!’ when he is surprised. This is certainly preferable to the language heard in modern playgrounds.
In The Flash # 112, the Elongated Man first appears in another burst of wondrous science. Ralph Dibny was fascinated by India rubber men in the circus and, after long research, he noticed that they all drank Gingold soda water, one ingredient of which is the juice of a little known tropical fruit. Ralph isolates the essence of the fruit by chemical means and drinks the resulting potion. Afterwards, he gets very stretchable and starts to upstage the Flash in super-heroics but they become friends in the end.
This is an interesting document in comics history. Not as interesting as the original four colour comic, of course, but a lot cheaper. The revival of the Flash in the second half of the 1950s is regarded by fans and professionals alike as the beginning of the Silver Age of comics. I don’t know which age we’re in now – the Bronze? – but I grew up in the ‘Silver Age’ so this is the my era. Furthermore, since I mostly read the products of a rival company in the sixties, these ‘Showcase’ editions give me the chance to catch up on the stuff I missed. I sometimes feel that I didn’t miss much, to be honest, but they provide useful back story for the better stuff DC started doing in the seventies.
(pub: DC Comics. 552 page graphic novel softcover. Price: about £ 6.50 (UK) if you know where to look), ISBN: 978-1-40121-327-5)
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