Not many people know this but today, 4th June, is an anniversary.
DC Comics have been going around lately celebrating certain character’s 80th Anniversaries but I bet they haven’t even thought of this one. Then again, it’s not exactly a memorable number of years, since it’s only the 59th.
People, I refer you to the legendary, seminal, invaluable The Flash 123, the classic story “Flash of Two Worlds”.
Many of you will already be ahead of me, but for the others: Barry Allen, aka The Flash, puts on a show of superspeed stunts to entertain the children of the Central City Orphanage. He ends the show with his version of the Indian Rope-trick which causes him to vanish and reappear outside of town. and town is different when he gets back.
That’s because Barry Allen has become the first person to penetrate the vibrational barrier and find himself in another, parallel world. One in which he is in Keystone City, one in which the Flash is the retired hero Jay Garrick, whose adventures filled Flash Comics and All-Flash throughout the 1940s.
He has landed upon what will become known as Earth-2. The Multiverse is born, and the number of stories that derive from this one moment is incalculable.
What leads me to say that today is the Multiverse’s 59th birthday? Go to your copy of “Flash of Two Worlds” and turn to the panel where Barry-Flash, fearing he’s dropped through a timewarp, stops off at a newstand to check the date of the paper. Its the Keystone City Herald, not the Central City Picture-News, the moment at which Barry realises he’s in a parallel world.
And look at the date of the newspaper: 4th June 1961.
This fortnightly Friday afternoon slot is traditionally where I indulge my nostalgic fascination for the British weekly boys comics of my youth, but as a change of pace, my most recent exploration of comics on DVD has taken a different route, all the way into the Golden Age of (American) Comics. To be specific, I have been working my way through a DVD containing the entire 104 issue run of Flash Comics, the anthology title published at first by All-American Publications, and then by National Comics, forerunner of National Periodical Publications, the company that became the present-day DC, between 1940 and 1949.
Flash Comics was one of the very first titles published by All-American, a company run by M.C. (Charley) Gaines, and owned in equal measure by himself and Harry Donenfeld, owner of Detective Comics, publishers of Superman and Batman. Gaines, who had most recently been Donenfeld’s chief salesman, wanted to set up his own company, whilst Donenfeld wanted to publish more comics to take advantage of the boom, but was restricted by his Accountant and Business Manager, Jack Liebowitz. Gaines was Donenfeld’s solution, but he insisted on Gaines accepting Liebowitz as his Business Manager as well.
This ultimately proved divisive, as Gaines and Liebowitz absolutely loathed each other, but it lasted until 1944, when Donenfeld gifted Liebowitz a share in his ownership of All-American. This was too much for Gaines, who withdrew co-operation with his partners, until agreeing to be bought out for $500,000.00, which he used to set up a new comics company. With effect from issue 68, Flash Comics became a National comic, created by the merger of Detective and All-American, for the remainder of its run. Flash Comics was the company’s fourth title but its first superhero title (flagship title All American Comics didn’t feature any masked men until nine months after Flash Comics 1). It starred, unsurprisingly, the Golden Age Flash, along with the Golden Age Hawkman. These two characters appeared in every issue and alternated nearly every cover (Black Canary in issue 92 was the only other character to appear on the cover, bursting through a hoop held by the two mainstays), with the other one appearing above the masthead.
The initial line-up also included, in no particular order, Johnny Thunderbolt (later re-named Johnny Thunder), The Whip, Cliff Cornwell and Ed Whelan’s Minute Movies. King Standish (later re-named The King) was added in issue 3. Of these, Johnny Thunder lasted the longest, until issue 91, before being displaced by the Black Canary, who’d debuted in his strip, the ungrateful minx, whilst Cliff Cornwall, an American intelligence agent, only lasted until issue 19, followed out of the title by The King (last seen in issue 41), The Whip (issue 55) and the Minute Movies (issue 58).
Another early, but thankfully short-lived feature was Rod Rian of the Space Police, a junior league Flash Gordon with superficially Raymond-esque art but nothing to distinguish it.
This gave way to ‘Les Watts, Radio Amateur’ in issue 12 (renamed ‘Les Sparks’ in issue 16). It was all about crimes being solved or stopped by radio hams. Like Cliff Cornwell, it was neither bad nor good, though Don Cameron’s art was pleasantly attractive but it was repetitive, and it wasn’t missed.
The Minute Movies were replaced by a brief run of much shorter Picture Stories from American History, until issue 68, which, whilst still static in approach, at least looked like a comic book story, not a newspaper strip.
There was another brief regular feature in the form of Rockhead McWizzard, a rather formulaic comic series about a caveman inventor who, every month, would get a bang on the head that inspired him to invent some device a thousand years ahead of its time, using current ‘technology’ that didn’t work and saw him getting punished by the local bigwig, Mr Gotrocks, who was always trying to exploit Rockhead’s newest invention. This ran from issue 71 to 79, before being bounced to facilitate The Atom’s transfer from All American Comics.
The DVD contains every issue from 1 to 104, but that’s not to say that I’ve now had the unanticipated chance to read every issue. Wherever possible, the compiler has used actual issues, which are complete, subject to minor wear and tear, clear and bright and easy to read. But over half the issues are available only as fiche (i.e., microfiche) copies, and these are a different prospect. Universally, the fiche pages are washed out, the colour blurring sometimes into mere shades. These are hard on the eye where they are decently readable, but the effect on the lettering is stressful, and a number of these have been so badly photographed that it is impossible or next-to-impossible to make out captions or dialogue, essentially rendering the stories unreadable.
And what of these stories? What of the Golden Age classics, of Jay Garrick’s career as the Flash before he became a mere adjunct to Barry Allen. That’s very interesting.
Jay Garrick was created by Gardner Fox, who wrote the first eighty stories. Harry Lampert drew the first five issues before handing over to E.E. Hibbard (Lampert went on to draw The King), who is credited with drawing the series until he was in turn replaced by a young Carmine Infantino in issue 87. I say credited, because there are quite a few issues in 1945 and 1946 that have Hibbard’s name but which are clearly being drawn by Martin Naydel, who was drawing The Flash in the Justice Society of America in All Star Comics.
Garrick’s origin is the justly infamous fumes of hard water, breathed in overnight after a lab accident, but it’s interesting to see how this comes with a seemingly scientific explanation that’s repeated several times during the series’ first year. Hard water, it is claimed, contains certain natural gases that act upon the human body’s reflexes, speeding these up to the point where Garrick is capable of thinking and moving far faster than ordinary humans.
And whilst his secret identity is supposed to be known only to his girlfriend, Joan Williams, it’s very noticeable that Garrick makes to attempt to keep his superspeed secret, especially when it comes to the Midwestern university football team, and he’s none too precious about it when he’s adopted his uniform and is beating crime as The Flash. Even when he starts to pay attention to keeping his mouth shut, it’s known to all and sundry that you can get in touch with The Flash by giving a message to Joan Williams, who is also known as Jay Garrick’s girlfriend, not to mention the number of times Jay goes missing just before The Flash turns up…
Actually, I must say a word about Joan’s incredible patience, given the number of times she has to go home from broken dates because Jay’s run off. And whereas Barry Allen has his compressed uniform in a ring on his finger, and Jay just tosses aside his street clothes, that wasn’t the case at first: as soon as he spotted something suspicious, Jay would have to run home first to grab his uniform. Thank God his power was super-speed, eh?
Yet there’s a decent brightness about the stories in the early days. Most of the time, The Flash is up against gangsters and mobs, with the odd mad scientist thrown in, but the Forties was a scant period for supervillains, unless you were reading Batman or Superman. The Flash tends to run too fast to be seen, run carrying crooks who find themselves unable to breathe, and usually ends up procuring confessions and promises to reform that would surely be illegal as coerced, but there’s an energy to the tales, a freewheeling looseness, a freedom from rules or tropes because nobody knew what didn’t work.
It’s not all good fun, however. Joan goes through a run of trying to compete with The Flash, paralleling the same attempts of Sheira Sanders in the Hawkman series (also written by Gardner Fox…), which constantly gets her into trouble. Thankfully, that doesn’t last too long, but what does is Winky, Blinky and Noddy, aka the Three Dimwits (any resemblance to the Three Stooges is sufficiently distant to stay out of litigation).
I have long been aware that The Flash, like so many other superheroes in the later Forties, was afflicted by Comic Relief, but I never realised that it started so soon. The Dimwits made their debut as early as All-Flash Quarterly issue 5 (The Flash’s solo title) in 1942, and were introduced into Flash Comics in issue 46, October 1943, popping up far too frequently until being dropped after issue 79. And a few times in Three Dimwit stories, Fox goes prematurely metafictional, having The Flash complain about what he has to do in the story.
Freewheeling isn’t all beneficial, you know.
Once the Dimwits (and Fox) moved on, The Flash’s stories restored something of a more serious tone, to the strip’s benefit.
Flash Comics‘ other star was Hawkman, whose early career paralleled the Flash in an unexpected manner. Like Jay Garrick, archaeologist Carter Hall, a reincarnated Egyptian Prince Khufu whose memories were restored by sight of the glass dagger by which he was originally sacrificed, was created by Gardner Fox, this time with artist Dennis Neville, and once again the original artist only lasted a handful of issues before being replaced by a longer-running penciller, Sheldon Moldoff in issue 4.
Moldoff’s an interesting case. He left Hawkman after being drafted into the Army in 1944, his last work appearing in issue 61, after which Hawkman was handed over the teenage prodigy Joe Kubert. Moldoff boasted of seeing that Hawkman required an Alex (Flash Gordon) Raymond approach, which endeared him to Charlie Gaines. Most people describe it as an Alex Raymond swipe, and can run down the original panels they accuse Moldoff of tracing. Certainly, Moldoff doesn’t go big on panel to panel continuity, not even the primitive kind. And there are plenty on instances where he is clearly tracing photographs.
Nevertheless, Moldoff was the first to put Hall’s girlfriend and fellow reincarnatee Shiera Saunders into costume as Hawkgirl, in issue 24, though that aspect of the series was an awkward one. Shiera was brought in as Hawkgirl for a one-off, or so Hawkman intended, but once she’d dressed up once, she kept wanting to fly again every issue. Like Joan Williams, she was initially portrayed as trying to beat Hawkman at his own game, and being pretty much inadequate, and even when he accepted her as a regular partner, she was constantly getting beaten, captured, unmasked because, well, she was a woman.
Then suddenly this silly stuff evaporated, and Hawkgirl got good overnight, though she always got less exposure than Hawkman. Still, this was now a real partnership.
The arrival of Kubert brought a sparkling originality and angularity to the series, not to mention a vivid ugliness to the crooks, with their narrowed, mean eyes, cramped postures and pencil-moustaches above prominent chins. Kubert picked up Hawkman in issue 62, left the character for issues 77-84, when Hawkman was drawn by Chet Kozlack, and returned to draw all but a couple of the remaining stories, by which time his art had shed its early angularity.
Hawkman’s stories mostly pitted him against ordinary crooks and mad scientists and, like the Flash, he was unfeasibly prone to getting clonked from behind on the helmet. A couple of adventures foreshadowed his Silver Age counterpart’s career by getting him involved with aliens, and there were a couple of stories involving the water-breathing scientist, Neptune Perkins, whom Roy Thomas would revive in the Eighties, but Hawkman didn’t get a recurring villain until late on, in the form of the Gentleman Ghost (was he or was he not a real ghost?)
Flash and Hawkman were Flash Comics’ representatives in the Justice Society of America in All Star Comics 3, with the former being replaced by Johnny Thunder, who was the title’s number 3 character. Johnny was the creation of writer John W Wentworth and artist Stan Aschmeier, who signed his art as Stan Josephs. Wentworth (whose W distinguished him from John B Wentworth, writer of The Whip) wrote the series until 1947, when it was taken over by Robert Kanigher.
What can you say about Johnny Thunder? The series debuted as Johnny Thunderbolt, though the boy was Thunder, son of Bank Clerk Simon Thunder, from the beginning. Being born at the seventh hour on the seventh day of the seventh month of a year ending in seven (1917) made seven year old Johnny a target for kidnapping by the Bahdnesians, who gave him control of a magic thunderbolt that, if summoned by the words Cei-u, would make people do what Johnny told them to for an hour at a time.
Johnny escaped back to America and his family by accident. At first, he had no idea he had a thunderbolt. Then, when he cottoned onto it, he didn’t know how to summon him (fortunately, the words Cei-u sound exactly like Say You, and you’ve no idea just how many different ways that can be accidentally contrived into a sentence. Even when Johnny sussed out the right words, it didn’t improve things any because, basically, Johnny was a dope. An idiot. A clown, who never worked out a) how to give sensible and coherent instructions to his thunderbolt and b) that the Bolt carried out his instructions literally.
Comic relief characters are one thing, but when they’re the star of the feature, that’s another thing entirely. Johnny and the Bolt were one thing, but at a dismally early stage, Johnny adopts the bratty eight-year old menace Peachy Pet, comic relief to a comic relief character. Later in the series, Wentworth introduced the Bolt’s family, his wife and brattish son, Shocko, who kept popping up on Earth (the Bolt was initially given the name of Archibald, though this was rapidly forgotten and he was Oswald on the family’s second appearance and ever after).
If this were not such an horrendous and unfunny mess of a series by this point, I might be tempted to applaud some aspects of Wentworth (W)’s approach. In a forerunner of both The Goon Show and, long after, metafiction, Wentworth started to write his comic book story as a comic book story with the characters conscious that they are being written. Unfortunately, Wentworth also uses this trick to play some lazy games with stories by having them run out of pages before an ending can be contrived.
Robert Kanigher took over Johnny Thunder with issue 86, introducing a beautiful female jewel thief, the Black Canary, in Carmine Infantino’s first work for National. But I’ll come back to her a little further on.
These were the big three of Flash Comics. Compared to them, compared to themselves, the other series were minor league. When The Flash won the right to his own title, Johnny Thunder replaced him in All Star Comics. But for the Second World War and the introduction of paper-rationing, there’s a good chance Hawkman would have followed him. Who then would have been the new JSAer? The King? The Whip? No sir, not either one of these.
The King started out as King Standish, his real name. Standish was a rich young man who fought crime armed with a phenomenal skill at disguise. Within seconds, he could transform himself into anyone at all, substitute for them, several times an episode. Supposedly, the reader never ever saw the King’s real face, but if that’s so, he had a remarkably regular ‘stock’ false face. The same went for his one and only recurring – and boy, did she recur! – enemy, The Witch, a female crook and mistress of disguises. The same theory went for Witchie, as the King affectionately called her, the only way she ever knew she was facing him, but she too had this ‘stock’ false face that the King was forever recognising.
Despite the fact that he got her bang to rights in nearly every adventure, the King always allowed the Witch to escape and plot again. He always claimed that this was because life was more interesting with her around, though personally I think he was just trying to get into her knickers, if you’ll forgive the crudity.
The King was a pretty poor series, to be truthful, but it exerted a strange fascination on me, although not quite as much when the King took to wandering around in a costume consisting of a top hat, a domino mask, an opera cape and immaculate gloves. I was sorry to see it disappear, without trace.
It was outlived, though not by much, by the rather more vigorous The Whip, the creation of John B Wentworth, with artist George Storm, although Homer Fleming drew the strip on a longer term basis, and Dr Mid-Nite’s creator Charles Reizenstein subsequently took over the scripting. The Whip, whose series ran until issue 55, was a junior league Zorro, the Mexican hero El Castigo, who defended the peons and peasants against the grasping landowners in the 19th century. His modern day equivalent was effete playboy Rodney Gaynor, a distant descendent of El Castigo, who inherited a Hacienda in a Mexican town owned by grasping landowners. After meeting crusading reporter, Marisa Dillon, Gaynor revived The Whip to firstly take up where his ancestor left off, then generally to fight crime.
The Whip was decently active but was marred by the cliché of having Marisa despise Rod as a bored, spineless playboy and revere the Whip for his determined fight, just like Lois Lane with Clark Kent. Worse though, as the Whip, Rod spoke in a shamelessly racist Mexican accent, full of the worst kind of cheap and nasty dialogue that no-one thought anything of then, but which now assaults the eye and mind. Him in the Justice Society? Ye Gods.
Of the other two series, Cliff Cornwell (drawn by Sheldon Moldoff) was a modestly decent adventure thriller about an American Agent, foiling saboteurs and the like, neither especially bad nor especially good in any respect. Ed Whelan’s Minute Movies (initially credited as Flash “Picture” Novelettes) was something else entirely. It had originally run in Movie Comics, a six-issue All-American series, and before that as a newspaper strip, and it retained the latter format, of narrow, rectangular panels with no attempt to exploit even the least of comics’ possibilities.
The series told movie-type stories, using a repertory company of recognisable ‘actors’, such as Dickie Dare and Hazel Dearie, who were romantic leads, or Fuller Phun, who was comic relief. I read the first few offerings in amusement, but the repetitive nature of the series and the lack of any visual variety, not to mention the archaic art style – very Twenties – meant that it rapidly became tedious. Still, it lasted until issue 58.
The longest and most popular of the later series was The Ghost Patrol, which started in issue 29, replacing Les Sparks, and, with a couple of gaps, ran until the final issue, no 104. The Ghost Patrol were three American aviators, Fred, Slim (who wasn’t) and Pedro (who spoke like thees) who died but had to hang around on Earth because they weren’t yet due in Heaven. Though they were ghosts, they could switch back and forth between completely solid and human and being ghosts. Frankly, I found it unreadable – this is a comic featuring Johnny Thunder and Peachy Pet!
The Atom’s advent in issue 80 was something of a surprise. He’d been a regular in All American Comics since issue 19, but his series in that title was cancelled with issue 61 and he was about to be dropped from the Justice Society in favour of Wildcat. But some unexpected scheduling issues saw Wildcat’s debut appear with three stories featuring The Atom awaiting print. No-one wanted to chop and change, and it’s been theorised that there were a handful of Atom five pagers left unused, so he was dropped into Flash Comics until the end of the run so as to justify keeping him in the JSA.
By this time, creators Ben Flinton and Bill O’Connor were long gone, but Atom stories were rarely better than perfunctory and the art was better only because Flinton’s work was atrocious. Even so, that meant that no less than four JSAers had their base in Flash Comics.
Following the DVD through to the end has thrown up some interesting wrinkles. The standard impression I’ve always had of the Golden Age is that superheroes began falling out of fashion after the War, and that many series were effectively abandoned to their comic relief characters, with the hero only a straight man.
But Winkly, Blinky and Noddy disappear without fanfare after issue 79, from which point onwards, The Flash becomes an almost entirely serious strip, and enjoys the best art of the decade from Carmine Infantino. Joe Kubert returned to Hawkman in issue 85, stripped of his early angularity and grotesquerie, with a sleek, almost balletic style. Hawkgirl (and Shiera Saunders) never looked better. Indeed, after a long-term set-up that had The Flash as the first story and Hawkman as the last, several issues see the heroes swap places.
Johnny Thunder remains ridiculous until issue 85, but in the next issue, Robert Kanigher takes over the writing, Carmine Infantino the art (his DC debut) and the Black Canary begins the quick process of taking over the series. She’s introduced as a glamorous jewel thief who steals from crooks, but was so immediately popular she was brought back as a crimefighter, with whom Johnny was, understandably, besotted.
The Canary appeared in all but one of Johnny’s stories from 86 – 91, is credited as co-star and then bounces him out in issue 92, which introduces Dinah Drake, her flower shop, and her boyfriend, private eye Larry Lance.
There’s a certain repetitive element to the Canary’s series, since somewhere about halfway through the story both she and Larry get a crack on the back of the head with a pistol butt, until you start to fear for her skull, but they always do escape, and the story ends with Larry boasting to Dinah Drake about he was invaluable in solving the Black Canary’s case.
With Infantino drawing both Black Canary and The Flash, and Kubert drawing Hawkman, Flash Comics’ final phase saw it at its most splendid and gorgeous. Even The Atom got some decent art, from Paul Reinman, to see him to the end of his career.
Just as Hawkman and The Atom’s costumes changed with effect from All Star Comics 42, the same change was performed for both characters from Flash Comics 98, and I noted that Hawkgirl also gave up her hawk-helm for a cloth mask, covering only her forehead and eyes, and allowing her lustrous brown locks to flow free (and with Kubert they were definitely lustrous, to the point where you wondered how nobody ever recognised Shiera Sanders).
One thing I found interesting was that the opening pages of the Flash, Hawkman and Black Canary episodes carried a marking in the corner of a panel, FL and a series of three numbers. This numbering suggested that they were the issue numbers of Flash Comics that the stories were intended to be published in, but each of these numbers were in advance of the issue in which the story appeared, and as the issues advanced, these were issue numbers that would never appear.
In contrast, the equivalent marking on Atom stories used OH as its key, which doesn’t appear to correlate to any contemporaneous National Comics title.
Given that some Flash stories carry similar tags using AF (for the recent cancelled Flash solo title, All-Flash), there’s no other reasonable explanation. Which suggests a number of stories that hadn’t yet been used, or that were not intended to be used. In 1968, DC did write off an enormous amount of unused art, for tax purposes, making it plausible for there to have been several stories skipped over for whatever reason. Flash Comics was cancelled from issue 104. Unlike All American Comics or All Star Comics, it did not continue as a Western. The end obviously came quickly: all the features except The Flash ended with the usual tag that the star’s adventures could be followed every month in Flash Comics. Issue 105 would not be published until ten years later, and would star a different Flash entirely.
This isn’t the only Golden Age comic of which I’ve read a full run: I have the complete All Star Comics in DC’s hardback Archive editions. But that was a complete run of a flagship series and this has been an anthology title with decidedly varying series. It’s fun to see what the comics of that era really were like, and I’m more likely than not to do the same thing with All American Comics, which was Green Lantern’s home title. And in a silly way, I’m grateful to see the original and only Forties appearance of Jay Garrick’s foe, The Shade, who was nothing remotely like the one that appeared in Jay’s return in the classic The Flash 123, and upon which all subsequent versions have been based. I shudder…
But despite the limitations of the material, I wouldn’t want to have this stuff in any other format than the DVD. Had I the space, I still wouldn’t want to give it that space..
Every now and then, the makers of The Flash tv series throw in an unobtrusive Easter Egg for us older comics fans to recognise with glee, whilst not drawing attention to it in a manner that makes the majority of the audience feel they’re missing something.
Classic amongst these was the moment in season 2 episode 2 when the two Flashes, Barry Allen and Jay Garrick (as he was then believed to be) recreated the classic cover to The Flash 123, which first brought back the Golden Age Flash for the Silver Age kids.
And there’s another brilliant touch in this week’s episode, the mid-season premiere, returning from the Xmas break. It’s the end of the episode, everybody’s truning up for the housewarming at Barry and Iris’s new loft apartment that’s surely too big and spacious for them to actually be able to afford. HR Wells’s gift is a pet, a turtle. It is named McSnurtle the Turtle.
Pause at this point to allow me a fit of laughter, with gales of chortles to follow every time I think of it. It won’t mean anything to you, but it hit me where the funny bone lives. Of course the turtle is named McSnurtle: way way back, back in the mid-Forties, the Golden Age of Comics, when Jay Garrick and his silver helmet was the one, the only Flash.
The only Flash, but not the only speedster. Jay was rivalled by The Terrific Wotzit, a superspeedster who wore the identical silver helmet/red shirt/blue pants combo as The Flash. And, you’re ahead of me now, I can tell, The Terrific Whatzit was… a turtle.
I love The Flash. Forget this grim’n’gritty nonsense, the superheroes I grew up on, who imprinted upon me my innate sense of recognition for the form, were filled with excitement and a sense of fun, and from its inception, this show has been the best at portraying that internal lightness, the joy and thrill of powers and the sheer yee-hah cut-looseness of superspeed.
A lot of people have talked down season 2, and are already talking of even further limited expectations for season 3. Not I. Whilst I recognise the flaws of this season, especially the way its first half was rather clogged up by the donkey work required to set up Legends of Tomorrow, the show had me from the moment when, at the end of episode 1, this tall, clean-cut guy walked into Star Labs and said, “I’m Jay Garrick.”#
The Flash of Earth-2. Earth-2. Earth-freaking-2 and it’s on tv and I’m watching people crossing the vibrational barrier that blew my mind so much fifty years ago!
So my objectivity and critical faculties tended to get overlooked on Wednesday mornings and I luxuriated in the show. And there was a lot to luxuriate this season. Iris growing into a viable and respectable character. The introduction of a young, strong Wally West (even if he isn’t ginger-haired). The week-in, week-out excellence of Jesse L. Martin’s performance as Joe. Danielle Panabaker getting to rock it out as Killer Frost.
And the presence of Jay Garrick, wearing a darker version of the Golden Age Flash’s costume, but hell’s bells, I am watching such an esoteric thing on TV!
True, I wasn’t happy with the show turning Jay into a villain, though the reveal was nicely handled. And I was definitely not on board with how, after the writers revealed that Jay wasn’t Jay at all, but was actually Hunter Zolomon, everybody still kept calling him Jay. But, still…
The finale was well set-up last week, with Zoom, aka Hunter (not Jay Garrick) Zolomon, killing Barry’s Dad, Henry, who we all remember is being played by John Wesley Shipp, the Barry Allen/Flash on the 1990 series. This wound Barry up to a pitch of genuine agony/anger that everyone else thought was unsafe, but which enabled him to face off and defeat Zolomon in a final race, where the penalty for losing was not just death for Barry and everyone on his side, but the destruction of the entire Multiverse, Earth-1 excepted. Barry pulls off a neat trick by duplicating himself, leaving one version to save the day Crisis on Infinite Earths style, by running himself into disintegration, whilst the other whupped Zoom.
So, this led into a seemingly downbeat endgame. The man in the iron mask in Zoom’s lair had already been revealed by Zoom to be the real Jay Garrick, whose name he had stolen, and who turned out to be the Flash of Earth-3. But the kicker – which did not come unforeseen – was that he was the spitting image of Henry Allen. Which did Barry no good at all.
So, rather improbably stuffed into a red and blue Flash costume, John Wesley Shipp took Harry Wells and Jesse back to Earth-2, where they would help him get on to Earth-3 (it’s funny how Barry hasn’t told anybody about his side-trip to Kara Zor-El’s Earth). Jesse wanted to go home. Harry had her blessing to stay, since he obviously fit in over here, but his promise never to leave her held, which means some hopefully tolerable contrivance is going to be needed next season to bring Tom Cavanagh back, because he is just as important to The Flash as Grant Gustin.
But the real Jay’s appearance completed the job of breaking Barry Allen. Iris is ready for him, what he’s dreamed of, but he feels too hollow, too broken inside to be what she deserves. So the real finale is Barry running back in time to his old home, that very night, the night the Reverse-Flash killed Nora Allen.
This time last season, Barry did this, but was warned off saving his mother by a future version of himself, wearing this season’s uniform. But this time, the season 2 Barry rips into the Reverse-Flash, and saves Nora. When season 1 Barry peeps through the door, he sees his Mom alive, and promptly fades out. As does season 2.
So. Barry’s saved his Mom. He’s Flashpointed his world (which ought technically to bugger up Arrow, Legends and Supergirl, if it now turns out Barry never became the Flash) which led to absolute disaster in the comics (the new 52, for a start).
Let’s bring it on! I can’t wait to see how they get themselves out of this. Roll on September.
This ‘Fall Season’ bit isn’t meant to be an episode-by-episode blog of anything but, like Gotham but for the exact opposite reason, I can’t contain myself about the second episode of The Flash. It was almost like falling into a crossover episode of the comic book way back in the Sixties, when I was young and fresh and everything was new and exciting.
You know that I love Earth-2, I’ve written about the Justice Society so much. From the moment I first heard of it, the idea has thrilled and excited me my whole life. First and foremost amongst these has always been The Flash, the Flashes, Barry Allen and Jay Garrick. It was where the idea started.
And now Earth-2 has come to the series. And Jay Garrick has walked across the vibrational barrier, and I am seeing so many of my old comics in front of my eyes. I have seen the two Flashes in action, with my mouth open in awe. That moment when, having defeated Sand Demon, and Patty Spivot calls for the Flash and both respond, running towards her, one either side of a brick pillar… Great glory, I am laughing out loud for sheer joy for this recreates the cover of The Flash 123, the story that is the fountainhead, that gives it’s title to this episode: “Flash of Two Worlds”.
There are so many goodies in here, a season-worth in implication. 52 breaches between Earths 1 and 2, one of them, the biggest, in STAR Labs: that’s more than enough for two whole seasons!
And then that glorious coda, as we cross into Earth-2 itself, a glorious, retro-future world, it’s very look the look of the Forties when it was DC’s only world, and who should be the Director of STAR Labs in this world but Harrison Wells. Well, well, well.
I am in my own private fanboy heaven, this is my childhood rising up to overwhelm me. I am so going to enjoy this season of The Flash.
This is the one I’ve been most looking forward to seeing return. The Flash‘s first season was the unexpected hit among the superhero shows, mainly for its air of fun, and underlying lightness of touch among all the grim’n’gritty series focusing on the oh-so-serious and dark elements of costumes and powers.
In fact, I understand that, whereas the week 8 crossover between The Flash and its parent vehicle, Arrow, was intended as support for the newbie, by the time it hit the screens it was Arrow that needed the crossover appeal: outside of the crossover, Arrow‘s best rated episode didn’t get neat The Flash‘s worst.
So, good things to look forward to, and even better things on the card if season 2’s underlying arc is to involve Earth-2: the appearance of Jay Garrick’s winged helmet in the season finale was not just an easter egg for us D veterans.
But what of the cliffhanger that we were left with at the end of season 1? After a whirlwind flashback covering the whole season, we jumped straight to a perfect world: Flash and Firestorm take down Captain Cold and Heat Wave, everybody’s happy in STAR labs until we see Eddie Thawne and Harrison Wells… No, the reality is a deserted, dilapidated STAR labs and Barry alone.
It seems that for the past six months, the Flash has been pushing everybody away and trying to go it alone. Eddie and Wells are still dead. Caitlin’s quit and gone to work for Mercury Labs. Cisco is Joe’s science expert on the Anti-Metahuman squad. And Barry’s being very stubborn.
It’s quite understandable: he didn’t get to undo his Mom’s death, his Dad is still unjustly in prison for it – but it’s not until the carefully delayed flashback to the save from the Singularity that we see the real reason. Central City is holding Flash Day to celebrate the man who saved the City, but Barry knows that he only did so much, and that the true hero was Firestorm. Except that when Firestorm split, only Victor Gerber emerged, not Ronnie Raymond. Ronnie’s dead, and Barry won’t let any of his other friends face that risk.
Of course the episode is dedicated to reversing that decision and restoring the basic set-up for the next 22 episodes. This is accomplished around the menace of Atom-Smasher, aka Al Rothstein, a chunky, radiation-sucking gentleman with the power to expand his size and weight. Team Flash comes up with the solution of overloading his radiation absorbing capacities, though this doesn’t merely neutralise Rothstein, it kills him.
His dying words are to say that he was trying to kill The Flash at the behest of Zoom, who had promised to send him home. Who Zoom is was not explained, though we ancient comic book fogies know full well that the other name for Flash-foe Professor Zoom is… the Reverse-Flash (though since Geoff Johns is all over this series, it’s bound to be his revised version of Zoom: if you hear the name of Hunter Zolomon being bandied about…)
Nor was any detail given of where Rothstein calls home beyond, ‘You wouldn’t believe me.’ Oh, but I would: try Earth-2…
But there was still a surprisingly emotional moment to come. Barry receives a kind of living Will from the late Harrison Wells that he’s resistant to watching until Caitlin volunteers to share the pain. The late Doctor woofles a bit before telling Barry to erase the tape up to here: he then launches into a full confession for the murder of Nora Alllen. Barry’s dad is set free.
It’s a joyous moment, as well as an end to an overbearing plot that Johns introduced into the comics, and which I’ve always felt was totally inimical to the world of the Flash. To have that lifted was a great blessing on all levels, though the show then made its great mistep: no sooner is Henry Allen free than he’s buggering off out of Central City to parts far away from the son who has missed growing up with a father and whose greatest wish has just been realised. And why? Because having Henry around will stifle Barry’s growth as the Flash.
That’s definitely a comic book moment: stupid, implausible, based on specious reasoning, a clueless expedient towards trying to recreate the status quo after game-changing incidents.
So, we and the vast majority of Team Flash are now back where they were, which is to be both expected and welcomed. There are still tweaks to be ironed out: as Tom Cavanagh is staying with the show, either Harrison Wells has left a whole parcel of living Wills or else something ingenious is up someone’s sleeve (hopefully).
Nevertheless, it’s all good. STAR Labs is fully intruder-proofed: no-one’s just walking in here unannounced anymore. Except for the guy who does. He’s hear with a warning: Team Flash’s Earth is in danger. The guy’s name is Jay Garrick.
The original Flash was created by writer Gardner Fox and artist Harry Lampert for Flash Comics no 1, published by All-American Publications in 1940. He was Jay Garrick, a Research Chemist in Keystone City, and his was the most simple and appealing of powers: super-speed: who had not dreamed of being able to run fast, with the wind whipping through their hair?
Garrick gained his powers through a lab accident whilst a student at Midwestern University: clearing the lab one night, he broke a retort of hard water: overcome by its fumes, he breathed them in all night, until discovered and rushed to hospital in the morning. He made a complete recovery, but concealed from everyone but his girlfriend, feisty Army Colonel’s daughter Joan Williams, that his body chemistry had been changed and that he could now run with superspeed.
That origin has been tweaked half a dozen times since, in an attempt to introduce even a fraction of plausibility into it, but all the reboots do is to further emphasise that, as superhero origins go, this is one of the least credible ever, and there is, trust me, a great deal of competition. It’s typical of comic book irony that such a silly origin should characterise such an excellent and successful character.
As The Flash, Garrick wore a simple costume consisting of a long-sleeved red top decorated by a yellow lightning bolt, blue pants, red boots, and a symbolic winged helmet of Mercury, the Roman God of Speed. Like his fellow heroes, Garrick wore that costume under his street-clothes, ready at any time to throw them off and race into action.
Garrick was a founder member of the JSA, and its first Chairman, recognising his status as the character most likely to be voted into his own solo title, making him the first after Superman and Batman to achieve this success. All-Flash ran from 1941 – 1948, during which period not only was the Flash invited back into the JSA, but he also became one of the regulars in Comics Cavalcade, one of the last successful anthology titles to be introduced in the 1940s. This meant that The Flash was appearing regularly in four titles, one more than each of Superman and Batman.
But the swing away from superheroes after the end of the war affected everyone, except a handful. One by one, All-Flash, Comics Cavalcade and Flash Comics were cancelled, and at the end of 1950, when All-Star became a Western title, The Flash disappeared, presumed forever.
However, as we already know, in 1956 National Periodical Publications decided to test the waters of whether kids were ready to read superheroes again by reviving The Flash. But editor Julius Schwartz, unwilling to revive a character who had already been “done”, insisting on creating a brand new character, more in tune with the 1950s.
The Flash 2, created by Robert Kanigher and Carmine Infantino, was Barry Allen, blonde crew-cut, bow-tie and sports jacket, the perfect image of Organisation Man. He was a Police (i.e. Forensic) Scientist with the Central City P.D., again out in the flat mid-West. Allen was working late one night in the lab, with a storm approaching. After a coffee-break during which he reads an old issue of Flash Comics, starring his childhood favourite, the lab is struck by lightning. It overturns a cabinet of chemicals on Allen, drenching him with an unpredictable mixture of electrified chemicals (now THAT’S an origin!).
After leaving the lab, Allen undergoes a series of experiences in which he seems to move at superspeed, but he does not fully realise what has happened until the following morning, when he can not only see a bullet flying towards his fiancée, reporter Iris West, but push her out of its way. In emulation of his comic book hero, Allen becomes the Flash.
The new Flash ran in an all-red body suit, incorporating a pull-over head cowl and eye-mask, with yellow boots, yellow lightning flashes at wrists and waist, and a chest symbol of a yellow lightning bolt across a white circle. The costume was made of an advanced version of the material used in inflatable life-rafts: in compressed form it was stored in a signet ring on Allen’s finger: when exposed to the air, it instantly grew to full size and Allen would don it over his street clothes (yeuch!).
National’s management were strangely reluctant to accept the positive sales figures and it took four try-outs over three years before Allen was awarded his own series, picking up the original numbering of Flash Comics with issue 105, and John Broome took over scripting.
Given the background of both Broome and Schwarz, there was an unsurprisingly strong SF element to the Flash’s adventures. Broome made use of a wide variety of scientific and pseudo-scientific tricks to underpin Allen’s speed (long though I believed it, I have been forced to come to the conclusion that there is no scientific validity to the notion that objects which vibrate at different rates can occupy the same physical space without damaging each other: I invite any reader of this to come up with even a shred of proof that this actually is true). And Broome also came up with a constant stream of costumed villains, a Rogues Gallery built around scientific gimmicks, who would stretch the scientist in the Flash to defeat them.
Schwartz’s success with the Flash led to a new Green Lantern and then to a revived Justice Society, renamed by Schwartz as the Justice League of America. The Flash was a founder member. Unlike the JSA, the League didn’t require all its members to appear in each issue, nor did it have a permanent Chairman: instead, the office was passed round from issue to issue. As one of National/DC’s most popular characters, the Flash appeared in most issues, and took his turn in charge many times.
Also in 1960, Broome gave the Flash a boy side-kick. Kid Flash – who originally wore a cut down version of Barry’s uniform before gaining a snazzy yellow and red version of his own – was Iris’s nephew Wally West, a 10 year old from the farming community of Blue Valley and a big Flash fan. Iris arranged through Barry for Wally to meet the Flash (Reporter though she was, Iris was certainly no Lois Lane). The Flash explains his origin in Barry Allen’s home laboratory when an identical lightning bolt overturns the cabinet on Wally, giving him exactly the same powers! Ok, it’s a good origin, but this was stretching probability, and a much later story went to great lengths to suggest a reason why this event duplicated itself so exactly.
Kid Flash would appear periodically as a guest star, or in back-up stories, until he gained an independent life as a member of the Teen Titans, a foursome of teenage sidekicks hanging out together.
Meanwhile, the steady stream of letters wanting to know about the Golden Age Flash, and how Jay Garrick fitted in with Barry Allen. It was obviously a story that would sell, so Schwartz brought in Garrick’s creator, Gardner Fox, to write the landmark “Flash of Two Worlds” for issue 123. Whilst carrying out superspeed tricks for the Central City orphans, Allen vibrates into invisibility and finds himself several miles outside town. Thinking he’s passed through a space warp, he runs back only to find prominent local landmarks missing. Fearing he’s also passed through a time warp, he checked the date on the newspaper, which is correct (June 4th 1961). However, the paper is not the Central City Picture News but rather the Keystone City Herald – Keystone City as in Jay Garrick.
Allen finds Garrick’s address in the phone book and, in civilian clothes, calls on him and his wife, Joan. He shocks them by relating Garrick’s origin as the Flash, before revealing his own. Allen’s theory, based on the vibrating-at-different-rates idea, is that there are two Earths occupying the same physical place in the Universe, but forever invisible and intangible to each other because they vibrate at different rates: Allen has discovered Garrick’s Earth because he has accidentally tuned into its rate.
The implications of this single issue would underpin the entire DC Multiverse for twenty five years to come, and its waves continue to have effect even now, in The New 52.
For now, though, it was a massive success, concluding with a nostalgia fest as three of Garrick’s old foes obligingly appeared out of retirement to require a fight.
The story was the predicted smash and called for a sequel, in issue 129, when Garrick came to Allen’s Earth and helped him out against a couple of his Rogues. It also included a teaser flashback to All-Star 57, marking the first post-Golden Age appearance for the other six JSA members of the team’s last phase.
Emboldened, Schwartz and Fox took things a stage further in the third team-up, in The Flash 136, which took place on Garrick’s Earth, where six of his old JSA comrades had been kidnapped. Thanks to Barry Allen, they are rescued and agree to come out of retirement, which happened only two months later, in a two part story in Justice League of America 21 and 22, with both Flashes taking part.
This story formally named Allen’s Earth as Earth-1 and Garrick’s as Earth-2, and was the foundation of a series of annual team-ups that ran for 23 years.
With Kid Flash changing his costume so as to no longer be identical to Barry Allen, and joining the Teen Titans, by 1965 there was a status quo that would hold for twenty years. Garrick appeared regularly in JLA/JSA team-ups, and occasionally teamed up with Allen: in 1976, surprisingly belatedly, All-Star was revived for the JSA, with the Flash as a regular attendee.
There was more development in Teen Titans for Kid Flash. In 1970, as a response to the ‘Age of Relevance’, most of the Titans, Wally West included, gave up their powers and costumes after their inexperience led to a campus riot that killed a prominent peace envoy in issue 25. Under the philanthropic gaze of millionaire Mr Jupiter, the grey-jump-suited teens dealt with social and teenage issues. Unfortunately, the experiment sent sales tumbling, and was abandoned (as was scripter Steve Skeates) halfway through a two-part story. The series tried a ghoulies and ghosties approach instead, but was still cancelled with issue 43.
Two years later, Teen Titans returned for another and very pallid ten issues before being cancelled again, but it, and Wally West, took on a new lease of life in 1980 when the team of Marv Wolfman and George Perez started The New Teen Titans, DC’s first genuine fan-favourite series, and its first corrective to the effects of the notorious DC Implosion in 1978.
We’ll return to the New Teen Titans and Wally’s part in it, after looking at Barry Allen’s career since the early-Sixties.
To be frank, entertaining and amusing as Broome’s (and Fox’s) stories could be, and successful as The Flash was, after starting the Golden Age Revival there were very few stories of significance in the rest of the decade. One such, however, featured Allen’s marriage to Iris West in 1965: National’s first superhero wedding, and only the second in comics after Marvel’s same year pairing of Mr Fantastic and The Invisible Girl from Fantastic Four.
The marriage was almost ruined by Allen’s 25th century foe, the Reverse-Flash, who was obsessed with Allen to the point of believing himself in love with Iris. Professor Zoom (his alternate name) tried to substitute for Allen at the ceremony but was beaten off with Iris none the wiser.
The new Mrs Allen was also none the wiser as to her husband’s secret identity, which became a running theme for the next year until, after a visit from the Garricks and some strong words from Joan, Allen agreed to tell Iris on their first Anniversary. At which point he discovered that she’d known since their Wedding Night, because Barry talked in his sleep!
That’s a charming little story that betrays too much of its time, and of the Comics Code Authority’s strictures. In 1965, nice girls didn’t – at all – until they were married, but in the Nineties the notion that Barry and Iris wouldn’t have slept together until then would have been too strange for an audience to believe, and a more complex justification had to be found for his sudden lapse into somniloquy.
Two other stories of significance achieved this by being so insanely dumb that, if back issues did not exist, we would politely assume them to be merely urban legends. The first of these, published in 1967, purported to be the real origin of the Flash: that he had been given his speed by a trainee angel named Mopee who had broken the rules by using materials that Barry Allen didn’t own himself, hence the need for Mopee to return and take them away again. This was so colossally dumb, National were trying to pretend it hadn’t happened practically before the inks dried.
But the other, a 1969 Robert Kanigher effort entitled “The Flash’s Wife is a Two-Timer!”, despite being almost as buzzard-gaggingly stupid, cannot be so ignored, for it would go on to form a crucial component in the Flash-mythos.
For the benefit of our younger readers, a ‘Two-Timer’ was an already archaic, or ‘square’, term for someone who was cheating on their partner, and it is as misleading as it is cheesy. Instead of being about adultery, the story was even worse. Iris Allen discovered that Professor and Mrs West were not in fact her parents but that she had been adopted. Which would not have been so bad if it hadn’t also have been revealed that she had actually been born in the Thirtieth Century, but that her scientist parents, in fear of an imminent and destructive nuclear war, had sent her back in time a thousand years so that she might live.
Now if you sit back a think for just a second about the likelihood of a woman born after a millennium of human evolution being medically indistinguishable from her incredibly distant ancestors or the likelihood of concerned parents sending their child to such an unutterably primitive age, you will have thought for exactly one second longer than Kanigher himself.
Nevertheless, the fact that Iris Allen was no longer the sweet, uncomplicated, loving wife of one of the saner and well-balanced heroes, but a time-travelling visitor was shuffled into the deep background until, in Barry Allen’s final months, it was resurrected as the big twist in his final issue.
Such things apart, most of Allen’s career avoided great highs and lows. By the late Sixties, John Broome was easing himself out of comics and America, and his role as Flash scripter went to Cary Bates, one of the earliest fans-turned-writers, who would go on to write over 150 issues of Allen’s series, in a quiet, pseudo-Silver Age manner, for so long as Julius Schwarz maintained editorship of The Flash.
Let us move ahead to 1980, and resume Kid Flash’s story, in The New Teen Titans. The new team consisted of three old characters, three new ones, and a rebooted Sixties teenager with no previous connection to the Titans. Under Wolfman, Wally West would receive the first sustained attention to character of his career: Wolfman depicted West as a product of his midwestern, small-town background, naturally conservative – or at least rabidly anti-Communist – undemonstratively but firmly Christian.
But the most significant aspect of West’s presence was that it was coerced: initially, he had turned down the Titans, only to join up after falling in love with new girl Raven, unaware that the half-human, half-demon girl had used her empathic powers to induce his ‘love’, because she desperately needed him for the new team.
When this was revealed, almost three years later, West was badly hurt, but he did not leave the Titans for another six months, and then for two totally different reasons. One was to assist his girlfriend Frankie Raye in coming to terms with unwillingly developing superpowers, the other the (secret) discovery that he had himself developed a mysterious degenerative condition whereby his own speed was killing him.
In this period, Garrick was effectively inactive, under the ground conditions of the new All-Star Squadron series. In ‘real life’, he was now in his sixties, but writer Roy Thomas unveiled a hidden JSA adventure in which the entire team, plus significant others like Joan Williams, had been exposed to chronal radiation, which slowed everybody’s ageing process by about fifty per cent: the sixty-something Garrick was, physically, only forty-something.
Our focus now swings back to Barry Allen. Things had changed in the world of Central City. Schwartz had finally retired as editor of The Flash, after over twenty years, in 1978, to be succeeded by artist Ross Andru, veteran of several series at both National/DC and Marvel.
Bates had been writing his calm, polite, Broome-manque stories for many years. True, at any given stage you could gather together a year’s issues of The Flash, throw them in the air and read them in whatever order they fell, without seeing any difference, but this had been good enough to keep Allen’s audience as stable as any other in the declining market of the decade.
But Andru wanted more. He had come from Marvel, where issue-to-issue progression and development and stories based in emotional dramas were the order of things, and where continuity meant more than the meticulous cross-referencing of Allen’s super-speed tricks to which issue they had previously been used in.
Things changed, suddenly. Allen found himself under pressure from a strict Police Captain, giving him grief over all his absences from the lab. An undercover cop started investigating drug-running through the lab, with the same Captain framing Allen as the culprit. Barry and Iris started to bicker and argue. Allen was ordered to supervise a morally dubious experiment on a prison inmate, Clive Reston, undergoing a Clockwork Orange procedure that would backfire, turning Reston into a monster who escaped. At a fancy dress party, with Iris making a very tasty Batgirl, she and Barry resolve their differences and decide it’s time to try for a baby. Reston kills Iris.
And yes, it was almost as schematic as that, not helped by veteran penciller Irv Novick retiring after the first issue, throwing Andru back on, first fill-ins, then a young and inexperienced penciller with no ability at body language or expressions. Though despite that, a disbelieving Allen’s grief at being shown his wife’s body in the morgue came over with sufficient power and helplessness to momentarily pause the story.
After that, the clichés start to run into each other. The Flash pursues Reston but is injured by him, enough that, when Allen shrinks back from exacting the Ultimate Price for His Crime, Reston still falls to his death from A High Place, the injured Flash unable to save him.
Then Bates promptly unveils evidence that Reston did not, after all, kill Iris. The true villain was actually the Reverse-Flash, giving Iris a final ultimatum to leave Allen for him and, when she gave him a final refusal, killing her by vibrating his hand into her head and literally scrambling her brain (ew, yeuch! and no-one spotted this at the autopsy?).
So Allen gets to go through the revenge issue again, up to a fresh point of exacting the Ultimate Price, only this time a vision of Iris comes to him to turn him away from Sinking to the Villain’s Level, but the Reverse-Flash still pays a terrible price, being trapped in a malfunctioning Time Bubble that will never again materialise in an actual time period into which he can escape.
Note that Zoom gets a comic book ‘death’ from which he can be retrieved whenever he’s wanted whilst Reston actually dies, but that’s the difference between a name player in the stock supporting characters and being an inarticulate new creation who doesn’t even get a codename.
Andru moved on, Len Wein took over as editor and Bates went back to his calm, polite, Broome-manque stories, this time with added new background as Allen moves into an apartment building and tries to cope with being a bachelor again.
But before we consider that, we must look at the anniversary story Bates wrote for The Flash 300, a triple-size tale, drawn by the returning Carmine Infantino, back at DC after his sacking as Publisher, a story that would be Bates’s masterpiece.
A bandaged man lies in a hospital bed in a private room, unable to move. Years ago, Barry Allen was caught in an horrific lab accident, when he was showered by electrified chemicals. Allen suffered appalling, paralysing burns, and has been bed-ridden ever since whilst Doctors slowly rebuilt him physically. Soon, their work will be complete, and he will be able to move, walk, live again.
But, unable to bear the reality of his condition, Allen’s mind has constructed for himself a powerful fantasy, that the accident gave him superpowers, comic book superspeed. Instead of paralysis, he lives a wild, free life, capable of running round the world in,literally, seconds.
Now, Allen’s doctors must free him of this delusion, break down his comforting fantasy, if he is to truly recover.
For Allen, it’s a lonely, utterly unsupported battle of wits to escape a subtle, paranoid plot by one of his enemies. But the slowly building case is inarguable; seamless, complete, absolutely convincing. The Doctor can even produce a living, still-loving Iris West, and a Reverse-Flash to confirm he never killed her.
For the reader, it’s obviously a cunning plan and, if you escape the beautifully maintained suspension of disbelief, a fundamentally flawed one – what happens when the ‘cured’ Allen is released from hospital into a world where the Flash manifestly does exist, and meet friends who know Barry Allen to be the Scarlet Speedster? But for the duration of the story, that suspension is willingly, eagerly maintained.
And it is the Reverse-Flash who saves Allen, by giving him the one incongruity, the one flaw that his relentless search for logic can seize on to destroy the whole structure of lies: if there never was a Flash, how can there have been a Reverse-Flash?
From there, the series resumed its general course. Allen met and started to date a young red-headed woman called Fiona Webb, who was initially suspicious of him: Webb had been relocated under the Witness Protection Programme and Allen was identical to the man she feared. Once the Flash had removed the threat to her life, she relaxed with Allen.
Meanwhile, Crisis on Infinite Earths was now being discussed and the decision was taken to kill off Barry Allen as a massive symbolic, we’re-serious-about-this gesture. With more than two years to go until the actual event, Bates started laying the ground.
Out of the blue, Allen asks Fiona to marry him. Their rushed wedding day is marred when the Reverse-Flash reappears, set on killing Allen’s second wife. The pursuit of Professor Zoom kept Allen from appearing at Church, causing Fiona great distress and humiliation. The Flash finally stopped Zoom at the final instant, managing to drag him back in a choke-hold that, stopping Zoom at superspeed, broke his neck. The incident drove Fiona into an asylum, whilst the Flash was charged with manslaughter, later upped to Second Degree Murder. Barry Allen had ‘disappeared’ and was presumed murdered by Zoom. Allen left it that way after learning that his re-appearance might cause Fiona permanent mental damage.
The next two years dealt at length with preparations for and the conducting of the Flash’s trial. He was quickly suspended from the Justice League, several of whose members vote for expulsion. The series was set for cancellation with issue 350, which would appear simultaneously with Crisis 7, in which Supergirl was killed. As early as Crisis 2, the Flash had appeared in pain and terror, arousing fears.
The trial ended with the Flash being found guilty, but this verdict was ‘forced’ on the other Jurors by Flash’s foe Abra Kadabra, masquerading as Jury Chairman. Another juror also came from the future, intent on ensuring that History’s true verdict of Not Guilty was not disturbed. This juror persuaded the Flash to fight back and expose Kadabra, and winning his acquittal.
This other juror was Allen’s beloved Iris.
Using Kanigher’s appalling story, Bates revealed that Iris’s thirtieth century parents, knowing the time of her death, had created a machine that reached through time to pluck her ‘soul’ from her body seconds before Zoom struck, bring it to their time and house it in a clone body, ensuring Iris still lived.
Now, with his twentieth century life in ruins, with Barry Allen ‘dead’ and the Flash’s reputation mired, Allen chose to retire to the Thirtieth Century, reunited with Iris. The couple enjoyed a blissful month, during which, unknown to Allen, Iris became pregnant, before the Flash was swept up into the Crisis. In issue 8 he died, alone, unseen, sacrificing himself to save the entire Universe by destroying the Anti-Monitor’s Tachyon Cannon.
Allen literally ran himself to death, his body disintegrating into its component atoms as he poured it on. Cut loose from the time stream, he bounced from time to time before unravelling. A later Origin re-telling added a touching note as Allen’s final conscious moment saw him slip back in time to Central City, to a night of storm, his atoms forming into a lightning bolt that flashed down towards the Central City Police Department lab…
Despite Wally West’s declaration in Crisis 12 that he would take up Allen’s name and costume, DC initially intended to produce a completely new Flash. Little is known of who/what this Flash might have been (a throwaway reference in Alan Moore’s unproduced Twilight of the Superheroes proposal refers to “Barbara Randall’s new female Flash”. Eventually, DC announced they were abandoning that idea because they couldn’t think of a way to do it without it appearing to be a massive insult to the legacy of Barry Allen.
Thus, after a year’s delay, first in the pages of the crossover series, Legends, then immediately in a new Flash series (no definitive article), Wally West became The Flash 3, the first teen sidekick to actually grow up and take over his father-figure’s role.
At first, the name of the game was to be as unlike Barry Allen as possible. West, who lived in New York and didn’t keep his identity secret, was callow, brash and self-centred. He’d seen his Uncle die a pauper so he wanted payment for his non-emergency work. The Crisis had got rid of the mysterious degenerative speed condition but now he was stuck at just over the speed of sound and had to refuel constantly by wolfing down junk food. West was also moody and promiscuous (he was 20, so what’s new?) and he even started seeing a woman ten years older than him who was separated but not divorced from her husband. Bad boy, bad boy.
West was also filthy rich, having won the Lottery in issue 1.
All this stemmed from new writer Mike Baron, who lasted only until issue 14, in which he obligingly bankrupted West for incoming writer Bill Messner-Loebs. Loebs, who, like Baron, came from outside mainstream superhero comics, took a more left-wing, even socialist approach, with West experiencing poverty and seeing the DC Universe with a darker eye. His associates were friends outside the superhero field, even after he moved back to Keystone City in search of a lower cost of living.
West also found himself joining the new Justice League International, as part of its spin-off Justice League Europe, as much for the salary as anything, though he was treated as money-conscious and weak-willed in that series.
West did not begin to come into his own as the Flash until Loebs left the series and Mark Waid – one of the better, most inventive superhero writers of the last twenty years – took over. Waid immediately positioned the series as a firmly Silver Age oriented title, yet incorporating the emotional dramas, continuity and, to as little an extent as he could get away with, the enforcement of grim’n’gritty agony.
Waid’s aim was to solidify and elevate West to become the Flash, a process he began by bringing back not just Jay Garrick but Barry Allen.
At this point, let us go back briefly to Garrick. Since 1986, he and the JSA had been trapped in limbo but, as described elsewhere, a Justice Society of America mini-series featuring Garrick in his prime had led to the JSA being returned from limbo and receiving their own, albeit short-lived and controversial series, again with Garrick prominent. As a bonus, Garrick received another rejuvenation, this time mystical, owing to his time in limbo.
Of more significance, Garrick immediately became a central part of West’s supporting cast, a wise, experienced grandfather-figure, who would have a significant role to play in “The Return of Barry Allen” and many more of West’s subsequent adventures.
“The Return” begins with the utterly unexpected return of Allen on Christmas Eve, apparently resolving out of electrical energy into his body in a back alley. West is, at first, sceptical, unwilling to let himself believe his beloved uncle and mentor is back, but gladly accepts him when Allen finally mourns at Iris’s grave. Allen too is weirded out to find West has adopted his name and costume.
This starts to come out more as Allen grows increasingly self-centred about the title of the Flash and resentful towards West. Eventually, he accuses West of trying to replace him, to make people forget him, and he abandons West in a death-trap. West only just escapes, to find Allen publicly announcing his death.
Heartbroken, West is left purposeless as Allen starts to direct a revenge spree against Central-Keystone for forgetting him. Garrick enlists fellow speedsters Johnny Quick and Max Mercury, to (unsuccessfully) go up against Allen. West’s malaise ends when, in the alley where Allen returned, he discovers an old, badly damaged book which is not to be published for several years yet. He is stunned by the names of the book’s author, and its writer.
West sets up a fight that destroys Allen’s costume, forcing him to come to the Flash Museum to retrieve the last one existing. But West has substituted another costume, that of the person who thinks he is genuinely Barry Allen but who is really the owner of the strange book – the Reverse-Flash.
Zoom’s story is rewritten to portray him as someone who hero-worshipped Barry Allen and who forced his way back in time to meet his idol, only to arrive several years too late, and to discover that he was destined to be Allen’s worst enemy, and to be killed by Allen. Hysterical trauma forced the knowledge deep, leaving Zoom thinking he was Allen and trying to take his place.
Eventually, West not only beats Zoom but forces him back to his own time, with no memory of anything but a burning hatred for Barry Allen. To do so, he has to burst through his own psychological limits and finally surpass Allen’s speed.
Incidentally, the book’s writer was Iris West Allen, whom West believed to be dead.
This was the springboard for a series of stories, during which West discovered that his, and all speedsters, speed came from a semi-sentient energy dimension known as the Speed Force, into which all speedsters were gathered when they died. West became the first speedster to enter the Speed Force and return, anchored by his love for girlfriend, TV reporter Linda Park. After that, West ‘mainlined’ speed, becoming the Fastest Man Who Ever Lived.
Shortly before this, Waid introduced a new element to the Flash Mythos, in the form of Impulse.
Impulse was Bart Allen, grandson of Barry Allen and heir to all his speed. Iris’s pregnancy had resulted in twins, Don and Dawn, both of whom inherited half their father’s speed. They had gone on to become heroes themselves before being killed at the behest of a descendent of the Reverse-Flash, but Don had married Meloni Thawne, also of the Reverse-Flash’s dynasty, and he had inherited Barry’s full speed.
Unfortunately, he had also inherited a hypermetabolism that saw him grow to the physical age of 12 in only two years. Bart was brought up in Virtual Reality, which could run fast enough to keep up with him. As Bart was in danger of simply dying by living too fast, his grandmother Iris broke him free and brought him back to the 20th Century, to West, the only other speedster to get his powers as a child, who could help cure him.
But Bart, used to living in a video game, found reality confusing. Max Mercury took on the job of training and raising him, as Impulse got his own series.
Waid’s run on The Flash was West’s best period. He succeeded in outlasting the grim’n’gritty period, making West’s adventures underpinned by glory and the sheer love of speed. He established that Barry Allen had originally been born with a twin, who had been still-born, leaving Allen in unconscious search for what was missing, that this need in Allen called down the lightning that transformed Wally West and that finally Allen’s twin turned up alive, as a mysterious villain, Cobalt Blue.
And that Cobalt Blue’s real name was Malcolm Thawne, the ancestor of the Reverse-Flash.
Waid’s final adventure involved getting Wally and Linda married, after a long story introducing the short-lived Hypertime – an intriguing means of reintroducing a much more flexible version of the Multiverse that DC dispensed with all too soon.
Waid’s period saw a large number of other Flash’s added to the legend, though not to the main line of Flash’s that we’re discussing here. He created future Flash John Fox, originally of the 27th century, and, very temporarily placed Jesse Quick, daughter of Johnny, in a Flash uniform when West, afraid he was going to die, was desperately trying to get Bart to take seriously the responsibility of being the Flash, but Waid’s most notable addition was actually a tendentious character, a new Kid Flash in a contingent future timeline, who was Iris West II, West’s own daughter, a warm-hearted, eager-to-please, somewhat anxious teenage girl in a slick Kid Flash costume who would have made a great character if only she’d been ‘real’.
Another interesting creation was Dark Flash, aka Walter West (Wally’s full name was Wallace), a older, harder, hypertime alternate who found himself in West’s timeline for a memorable year of stories.
There were also a millennia’s worth of ‘future’ Flash’s as Waid portrayed Barry Allen’s legacy spanning the centuries, his speed running true in his family line. When Barry Allen fans complained that Wally West’s series demeaned their hero, by making Wally out to be the best and fastest of all time, it should be noted that it was not West’s legacy that lasted 1,000 years.
Impulse was quickly given his own series, a high-tempo, light-hearted, wonderfully comic affair of Max Mercury trying to train both Impulse and Bart Allen in a quiet southern town (Manchester, yay!). First Waid, then Bill Loebs, maintained this theme for 49 issues, before a new team took over with a more serious approach in mind: Impulse would join such teams as Young Justice and the Teen Titans, where he would take on a more grown-up aspect and become the new Kid Flash.
Waid moved on from The Flash after almost 100 issues and was replaced by the increasingly central figure of Geoff Johns, though I dropped the series at that point. Linda would get pregnant, miscarry due to the machinations of Johns’s new Reverse-Flash, leave Wally for a time. West’s identity would become secret again for a time, Linda’s babies would be (improbably) restored and she gave birth to twins. Wally talked of slowing down.
And the revival of a new JSA series gave Garrick a lease of life, as one of the elder trinity, the first generation founding fathers of the team, taking on responsibility for encouraging and training their legacies.
With the twentieth anniversary of Crisis on Infinite Earths coming up, DC decided upon a sequel that would shake things up as the original had. Infinite Crisis, more tightly controlled than its predecessor but still utterly risible in many places, shook up The Flash. In attempting to neutralise a raving villain, West, Garrick and Bart tried to imprison him in the Speed Force: Garrick dropped out but Bart and West disappeared, the latter having chance to bring Linda and his new-born twins along with him.
And Bart returned, in a Flash costume, a decade older, but apparently without powers: the Speed Force had vanished.
Only not so. Bart Allen became The Flash 4, in a new series, The Flash: The Fastest Man Alive. Jay Garrick continued with the JSA in a new Justice Society of America series. Though his various rejuvenations had been reversed, and he was now in his mid-Eighties, it was implied that the exposure to the Speed Force for all those years had kept Jay physically young.
It was not announced at first that Bart’s series was only planned to run for 15 issues, by far the shortest Flash ever. In the event, it was ended after 13. Bart, unsurprisingly, still had his superspeed, the Speed Force having coalesced into him, but through the machinations of Inertia – his Thirtieth Century cloned twin brother – Bart was temporarily cut off from his speed during a pitched battle with the massed Rogue’s Gallery and was killed.
Simultaneously, Wally West and his family were drawn back from the alternate dimension in which they’d lived for 10 years (?) over the last twelve months. West resumed the role of Flash 3, his series picking up its old numbering and, after meeting out appropriate punishment to Inertia, focused on training ten year old Jai and Iris in their respective abilities with the Speed Force.
Even this arrangement did not last long. The ‘creative’ Powers-That-Be at DC had decided upon a Silver Age-oriented theme of Iconicity. Hal Jordan was back as Green Lantern and, after twenty-three years, Barry Allen would return in 2008’s Final Crisis. Wally West was overshadowed. Geoff Johns wrote a six issue reboot of Allen’s history as The Flash: Rebirth, and a new Flash series starring The Flash 2 began.
Meanwhile, in one of Final Crisis‘s offshoot series, Bart Allen was revived, in the Thirty-First Century, back as a teenager, and brought back to the present day to resume being Kid Flash.
It didn’t last long. Barry Allen was used as the centrepiece of Flashpoint, the 2011 crossover series that rearranged the furniture of the DC Universe yet again, this time sweeping away any history older than five years ago.
The picture is different now. Barry Allen is now The Flash 1, and a new Jay Garrick, younger than Allen, of a completely different character and origin, is The Flash 2, in the series Earth-Two, now a contemporary and, to the new readers, a secondary creation. Neither Wally West nor Bart Allen exist, yet, if ever. There is not yet a Justice Society, though there will be. The world has been changed since then, and you can read it for yourselves.