When I was participating in Tony Isabella’s driveway panel back in the summer, one of the questions I was asked was who my favorite superhero was. Without a moment’s hesitation I said The Flash (as did fellow panelist Mike Barr). Back when the time came to sell of the bulk of my comics collection, the books I kept were my Flash comics, and, in fact as part of the deal, I had the dealer fill out some of the holes in that hallowed run. I think the response would be pretty much the same for any other comic reader whose golden age (12) came when the Silver Age Flash exploded onto the scene. It was a special book for a whole host of reasons, and a seminal book for me personally.
I’ve decided to take a comics page from my buddy Tony and try to institute something I’m calling Flash Fridays. Starting with the character’s first Showcase appearance, every Friday (kinda sorta) I plan to write about each successive issue until I’ve made my way through the entire Silver Age run. A task of biblical proportions for sure. These comments and observations will be completely free ranging and not a strict critical analysis. There are many sources out there that can provide much more detailed and analytical insights. What this is going to represent is my personal journey with these comics as much as anything else. Where I encountered them, what they meant at the time, and how they affected my artistic and career choices along with what I thought about them using a set of standards purely of my own invention.
So let’s, as they say, start at the beginning which would be with the first Flash tryout in Showcase number 4. The problem with this beginning is that it wasn’t my beginning. I came on board with The Flash number 115 (which isn’t as far down the road as it sounds and will be a story for a future Flash Friday.) But that means that this issue will always remain a bit distant to me because it wasn’t the one I first fell in love with. I didn’t encounter it until the first Silver Age Flash annuals came out and it was just different enough to always seem a little alien to me. Which is strange because it was drawn by my favorite artist at the time, Carmine Infantino and inked by an equally amazing artist, Joe Kubert. It should have been a match made in heaven, but Kubert’s inks lent a much darker tone to my favorite hero turning it into more of a noir piece which on hindsight wasn’t totally inappropriate. He just didn’t look like my Flash. All of the signature elements are here, the fact that Barry Allen was a fan of the old Flash comics, the lightning strike that bathes him with various chemicals, the slow discovery of his powers and the unfolding of his relationship with Iris West.
Here’s where it gets a little personal. I don’t get the cover. Never have. The cover shows the Flash bursting forth from a roll of (I’m just guessing here) movie film. The question that begs for an answer is… Why? Is he supposed to be faster than film? Film isn’t very fast. I never got the connection. Plus, the figure of The Flash is running straight at the reader which makes it that much tougher to illustrate and convey the feeling of speed. For my money, the picture that should have been the cover is the splash page from the first story, Mystery of the Human Thunderbolt!. Here we see The Flash symbolically bursting forth from a comic book… his comic book actually, and the symbolism makes much more sense (I learned what a symbolic splash was from Julie Schwartz in the Flash letter column in number 115). Plus the figure of The Flash is running at a three quarter angle which allows for a much more dynamic depiction of foreshortened speed. The splash beautifully says it all.
Then there’s the scene in the diner when Barry the waitress drops a tray full of food and Barry snatches it out of the air. We see it as if it’s happening in slow motion and the conceit is brilliant. The POV switches to Barry and we see it as it would appear to him. To a man moving very fast, the world around him would seem to be moving much slower. This concept would be little used (I think) moving foreword where The Flash would mostly be shown from the reader’s POV as multiple figures moving through the panel. That’s my impression anyway, but we’ll see if it holds-up as we move along on this little journey. It wouldn’t be used again as effectively until the movie X-Men:Days of Future Past when Qucksilver’s speed is displayed in a similar manner.
The fact that Barry is inspired to become the Flash from reading Flash comics is a great touch. Whether Bob Kanigher the writer or Julie Schwartz the editor had in mind what it would eventually become is sadly left to the ages to debate, but, for my money, I’d be willing to bet the pharmacy that Julie had that one in his back pocket all along. Flash’s foe the Turtle Man is a nice counterpoint, and the turtleneck sweater is cute, but I was already used to the Flashy (pun intended – just for the record, from here on out, they’re all intended, kids) costumed foes I’d already encountered by the time I’d read this so he came off as a little quiet to me. As an origin story, though, it did a near perfect job of introducing the new iteration of The Flash.
The second story The Man Who Broke the Time Barrier comes off as, well, a second story. John Broome’s initial take on a time travel story would soon evolve into a more sophisticated approach. The villain is a bald headed guy from the future which would become (trust me on this) an unfortunate Infantino trope when it came to representing people from the future as well as human identities for Grodd the super gorilla. What is fun to observe art wise is Infantino’s early attempts to show the new Flash running. While traditional running poses were fine for the older Flash, the sleeker Silver Age model called for more streamlined poses, and, while Carmine would eventually own those looks, these early attempts were still a little awkward. The actual story is rather pedestrian and, had things continued in this vein, the long term outcome for the new character might not have been as rosy. Fortunately changes in the approach were in the offing, but let’s save that story for another Flash Friday.