The Flash #123 blew in during the late summer of ’61 and blew everyone’s mind while it was at it. I don’t think it’s a stretch to posit that this is the single most important cover and book created during the Silver Age. It opened doors to creative universes that are still being explored to this day. As I sat in my backyard on a hazy summer afternoon reading the freshly minted opus , I recognized instinctively that this issue was something special. I recalled the letter I had written to Flash writer Gardner Fox with my queries about the Golden Age characters, and, now, here in my hands were some of the answers. It all starts with the iconic cover showing the Silver Age Flash and the Golden Age Flash raising to save the seemingly doomed construction worker. For the first time, I got to see what the Golden Age Flash looked like, and that was just the beginning.
The story begins with the Flash performing of a group of orphans at the Central City Community Center. As he climbs a rope a la the Indian Fakir rope trick, he suddenly disappears and ends up in Keystone City, the home of the Golden Age Flash. Barry recalls this fact and looks up Jay Garrick, the older Flash. The conceit here is that the stories of the Golden Age Flash came to writer Gardner Fox in a dream, but were really coming to Fox in his sleep as his mind “tuned in” to the alternate dimension. The two heroes swap origin stories and then Jay Garrick comes out of retirement as the two Flashes set off to stop a crime wave by three Golden Age villains, the Shade, the Thinker and Fiddler. The page that introduces the villains is one of the striking masterpieces of comic book art. Watching the two Flashes battle their evil counterparts was nothing short, as I said at the top, of mind blowing. Eventually, we’d get the chance to meet all of the enticingly mysterious Golden Age heroes that had been tantalizingly out of the reach of those of us who came of age in the Silver Age of comics.
Reading this monumental work, it was easy to envision all of the fascinating story possibilities that it opened up. To someone who dreamed of writing for these books one day, each page was a springboard to spin-off ideas and stories. Of course this was also true for the current crop of scribes working in the field, and they wasted little time taking full advantage of it. Eventually, alternate universes would proliferate like grains of sand on the beach to the point that it would one day require a story spanning the entire DC line of comics to reign them all in. I once read somewhere that editor Julie Schwartz had conceived of bringing back the original Flash at the same meeting where it was decided to create a new Flash. If that’s so, then it was truly an inspired afternoon’s work, one that would continue to reverberate through the decades.