Here’s another comic from the Silver Age that I acquired in my Windfall Comic haul in 1988, paying a three-for-a-dollar price for them. The Flash had been my favorite super hero as a kid, and while his luster had dimmed somewhat for me by 1988, it was still a joy to find issues of his series from back in the day that I had not read. I can remember early on in my comic book buying career sending away for the Robert Bell mail order catalog and going through the entries for THE FLASH to work out how much money it would cost me to buy the entire run. (My memory says that it could have been done at that point in the early 1970s for just over $40.00). But I didn’t like mail order for back issue comic books, didn’t trust it. I wanted to see what i was buying before I handed over my hard-earned coins.
The inside cover on this issue runs a house ad touting DC’s newest creations, the Atom, Hawkman, Aquaman and the Metal Men. It’s difficult to remember when those books and characters were brand new, but that’s where we were when this issue saw print. (New, of course, being a relative term; The Atom and Hawkman were re-envisionings of 1940s characters of teh same name, and Aquaman had been around for decades but had only just been given his own title. Of these four, only the Metal Men were truly new.)
I want to speak in particular here about the beauty of the work of artist Carmine Infantino during this period. Infantino had been working in the field since the late 1940s, but it was in the 1950s and 60s that he really found his voice and hit his stride. DC at the time was pushing for a sort of “house look’ that emphasized few blacks on the page and wide open spaces for color. And nobody made the most of those attributes better than Infantino. His work was routinely expansive and imaginative and open. The shift in the size of original art to smaller paper would box Carmine’s work in a bit from there out–it was never quite so vista-filled as it had been. But up to that point, he was likely the best, most modern practitioner in the DC stable, his sense of design and composition eventually leading him to become the firm’s in-house cover designer. This splash is a good example of the beauty of an Infantino page. Carmine crops the border of the background partway up the page, allowing the Flash figure in the foreground to pop beyond its confines in a move that creates a feeling of added depth. Additionally, all of the blacks are spotted on that central Flash figure–the visual interest in the background is all down to its linear approach and the specific use of negative space. This is a simple image (and one that doesn’t really convey the idea of the Flash moving at hyper-velocity) but a very elegant one as well.
This issue of FLASH contains two stories, both of which are illustrated by Infantino and written by John Broome. Broome was a mainstay of the Julie Schwartz editorial office, a writer with a certain flair for shorthand characterization and a wit that didn’t take the events of his stories too seriously. While not the originator of Barry Allen, he was the Flash’s principle biographer throughout the character’s best years. Broome’s Flash stories were often a synthesis of absurd science fiction elements with clever heroics thrown in. They often would have been at home in the pages of Schwartz’s two science fiction titles, MYSTERY IN SPACE and STRANGE ADVENTURES, albeit without the fast guy in the red longjohns. Looking at the page above, Panel 4 is a good example of the sort of shot Infantino would often compose, with central figures in mid-range backed by a futuristic skyline way off in the distance and no containing border top and sides. This lent his work an airy flavor–there’s a ton of open space on this six-panel page, such that it never feels crowded in the slightest.
A pause here for this terrific house ad that separates the two chapters of the lead FLASH story. As usual, this page was executed by DC’s master of typography Ira Schnapp, and it’s a marvel–both showing off the actual cover that readers should look for at their local newsstand while also previewing the villain they’ll find in its pages and describing the adventure in tantalizing detail. I don’t know that shrinking to tiny size is teh most compelling super-power ever put to paper, but with covers and ads like this one, you can understand how THE ATOM was published for the whole of the 1960s. Those striped pants on Chronos are a weird design choice on the part of artist Gil Kane, though.
We also get one of editor Schwartz’s single page filler features at this point, devoted (as was often the case in the pages of FLASH) to scientific feats of extreme velocity. These science-based fact pages somehow made the daffy science often used in the actual stories seem a bit more plausible, especially when Schwartz and his writers would sprinkle these same kinds of factoids into the proceedings to help provide them with verisimilitude.
As was all too typical for this period, the lead story is the one which features the situation depicted on the cover–and it turns out that, rather than the story actually being about the Flash suddenly becoming super-heavy, that’s simply a stop along the way in the plot of a completely different tale. The story is actually about the world of Gobdor in Dimension 24, which had appeared in FLASH one time earlier. On that world, windows into our reality are presented as television programs that are watched by almost everyone. So the Flash is something of a celebrity there. Dro Dorno, the top man at the leading Tel-Vis station, though, has a problem: nothing interesting is happening on Earth for him to broadcast. As a remedy for this, he intends to create some catastrophes on Earth that he can then record and broadcast, keeping his ratings alive. Unfortunately for him, the Flash interferes, bringing his cataclysmic spectaculars to a premature finish.
After being frustrated by the Scarlet Speedster, Dro Dorno decides that he must eliminate teh super-swift pest so that his broadcasts can resume. So he bathes Flash in a ray that causes him to become super-heavy as he approaches. Thinking quickly, the Flash simply reverses his course, and as he moves away from Dro Dorno, his weight returns to its regular state. After that, and with that warning, it’s teh work of instants for him to incapacitate the producer and return him to his home dimension for sentencing by his homeworld’s authorities.
Next came the two-page letters page that Schwartz ran in his heroic titles. This particular entry comes from a period that’s perhaps difficult to fathom so many years later. Every issue, editor Schwartz would reward the best letter writers with the original artwork to entire stories and covers to the issues in question. The good part about this is that, during a period in which DC routinely destroyed much of its original art, seeing no value on it, this gift-giving allowed a bunch of it to survive to the present day. On the other hand, it would have been nice to have seen it returned to the artists in question, as would become industry standard in the following decade. These letter writers were awarded the original artwork to the second Flash team-up with his golden Age counterpart in FLASH #129–so if you see any of that artwork for sale on the original art market, this is its provenance.
After another scientific “Flash Facts” page came the second, shorter story in this issue. The pattern for Schwartz and Broome, at least in instances where two Flash stories were featured (as opposed to a Flash lead and a Kid Flash back-up) was to do a more action-oriented story up front, and a story featuring more human interest in the back. That was the case here, in a story that brought back Barry Allen’s childhood sweetheart Daphne Dean, now a famous film star. She had been featured in the past, and would go on to make sporadic appearances in the series all the way through the 1970s and beyond. In this story, following up on her earlier appearance, Daphne has given up on her feelings for Barry Allen in favor of romantic affection for his alter ego, the Flash.
So the conflict here is all about Flash trying to turn down her amorous overtures without breaking her heart. Barry finds himself meeting with Daphne and attempting to convince her that his romantic speed is all an exaggeration on the part of overzealous reporters. Why that should make her not love him is a bit mysterious. In teh middle of the story, teh Flash is called upon to foil a nearby bank robbery, which he has to do in the space of an instant without Daphne noticing that he’s dashed off. He does it, of course–but it turns out that she glimpsed his reflection dashing off in a window, and this made her realize what he was trying to do. And so she relents, and the story winds up satisfactorily. It’s the kind of story you would never see today, with extremely low stakes, no villain or enemy to speak of, and turning on a completely dated understanding of women. But that was Silver Age DC for you.