A Tribute to the of
Greetings yet again from the Silver Age Sage, brought to you through the generosity of our benevolent webmaster. Speaking of our generous webmaster, he demonstrated this amply recently and left me with a happy predicament. He came into a windfall of reprints under the banner of "Silver Age Classics" produced by our friends at DC in 1992 and he passed some onto me. After much difficult deliberation, I've decided to start at the beginning. This installment will feature Showcase #4 and the debut tale of the revamped Flash entitled "Mystery of the Human Thunderbolt!".
As you know if you've read any of the other very detailed sections of this website, it is generally acknowledged that this issue officially kicked off the Silver Age.
For reasons I don't fully comprehend yet, the old Golden Age heroes, such as Green Lantern, The Flash, The Spectre, Hourman, Dr. Fate and the Atom abruptly went into hiatus in the late 1940's and early 1950's. With their departure, the entire genre began to suffer. Sales were down and something needed to be done. Someone with vision and the wisdom of Brainiac 5 brought Julius Schwartz into play to revive things. "Julie" as he was known around the offices of DC had impeccable credentials as he had done the editing for the original run of Flash Comics from 1944 to the end of the series in 1949. Let's see what he, along with writer Robert Kanigher and artists Carmine Infantino, both veterans of the Golden Age book, (pencils) and Joe Kubert (inks), came up with.
Showcase was an ideal setting for a project of this kind and as you'll see in future installments, remained a viable "showcase" for years to come. It was literally an avenue to try out new characters and storylines without going to the difficulty of breaking in a new series, only to have it tank. Thus, Showcase #4, September/October 1956 brought us an old friend under a new guise. Instead of Jay Garrick, (who did not use a secret identity) we now had Barry Allen, a police scientist who lived and worked in the mythical Central City. We encounter Barry as he's having lunch and thumbing through an old copy of Flash Comics! "What a character Flash was--battling crime and injustice everywhere! And what a unique weapon he had against the arsenal of crime! Speed! Supersonic speed! Undreamed of speed," muses Barry in the cafeteria. "I wonder what it would really be like--to be the FASTEST MAN ON EARTH? Well, I'll never know--the Flash was just a character some writer (Gardner Fox) dreamed up!" Now despite Barry's copious use of exclamation points, you see that he has a timely fascination with The Fastest Man Alive. This is indeed fortuitous, as two panels later, he gets a very shocking surprise. He's hanging out in the lab, as any self-respecting police scientist ought to be, when out of nowhere a bolt of lightning comes through the window, zapping the chemical-filled cabinet and dousing our hapless scientist with an undisclosed combination of them. Barry reacts with a stoic "Lightning...certainly is...unpredictable! It knocked me over...but it didn't scratch the cabinet! Then it smashed only certain...of the chemicals...and gave me a bath in them!" A master of understatement is ol' Barry. As our newly transformed hero gets ready to head for home, he narrowly misses a cab. As he tries to catch up to it, to his great surprise, he blows by it like it's in reverse (as depicted in this signed limited edition lithograph by Carmine Infantino). Thinking he's still recovering from the encounter with lightning, he stops into a diner, where a clumsy waitress drops a tray of food that's headed right for Mr. Allen. He manages to catch the coffee in the plummeting cup, the soup, pie, and other foodstuffs with nary a drop spilled. Now he knows something is up! Barry comes to the conclusion, with the inspiration of his old Flash comic book, that he is now the fastest man on earth.
Fortunately, Barry is a scientist by trade, so he quickly devises a crimson costume at his laboratory that compresses down to wafer size into a specially designed ring. When he releases it, the costume rapidly expands on contact with the air and voila! One super hero coming up! He soon discovers that he can run straight up and down buildings, defying gravity. He can break the sound barrier as he runs (heady stuff for the jet age 50's!) He can even run across bodies of water so quickly that he doesn't sink. He proves to be formidable as he seeks out those criminals in his beloved Central City. He bests the rather silly Turtle Man, dubbed The World's Slowest Man in the feature story. In the accompanying tale, The Man Who Broke the Time Barrier! (written by John Broome), he's up against someone a bit more challenging. An exiled criminal from earth's future accidentally gets sent to the 20th century instead of the future. (This storyline aptly demonstrates "Julie's" extensive work with science fiction titles.) When the Flash deduces who and what this strange criminal is about, he uses his amazing speed to break the time barrier with his captive, returning him to his place of sentencing for proper disposition.
A pretty auspicious rebirth for a classic hero, I'd say. The Flash was reintroduced with great style and imagination, and his long run from that day forward attests to his widespread appeal.
How could I give this issue anything but a rating of 10? Not only for the triumphant return of this great hero, but for it's seminal nature in creating what is now called the Silver Age. This is where it all began, and what a ride it's been since.
As usual, I solicit your feedback and comments at firstname.lastname@example.org. See you in about two weeks with another review of the great classics from DC's archives.
Long Live the Silver Age!
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