Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Not-So-Secret Origins of the JLA Week- The Flash

For many comics historians, Showcase #4, October, 1956 is the "Day the universe changed". Or at least one of them. The publication of this little number ushers in The Silver Age. The Flash is widely regarded as the first new superhero of the Silver Age. Especially by DC. I'm not sure why they withhold their love from poor little Johnny Jones, Manhunter from Mars. After all, he did debut almost a full year earlier than The Flash. Perhaps, as a back-up feature to Batman he just didn't bring in the sales figures of a coverboy like Flash.

At any rate, in Showcase #4, DC takes it's first steps towards creating a new age of heroes. And they did it by looking towards the past. The Flash was a remake of a previous DC hero from the 1940's whose book had been cancelled (in fact, Barry Allen is reading one of his comics in the story). This process is old hat these days, but in 1956, comics had only been around for 2 decades. As you'll see tomorrow, it was successful, because DC went back to the same well time and time again.

Enjoy the beautiful dynamic art of Carmine Infantino, inked by Joe Kubert (more commentary after the feature) :

I have to say, Barry Allen is a likeable guy. While The Flash is a very physical sort of hero, his alter-ego is a genuinely nerdy police scientist and comics geek.

There are many ways to show a man running fast but Infantino seems to have mastered the technique of depicting The Flash's speed through blurred motion lines, suggesting that he's moving faster than the eye can keep up with.

My favorite panel in this issue? Top of page 5, with the food floating in mid-air. Comics don't actually move, like film or TV, so it's remarkable how well Infantino captures the moment here. I think the coffee really sells it. It would have been very easy to draw this scene and simply rely on captions to tell you what was happening, but this picture actually tells you that everything is standing still except Barry.

Tomorrow: Green Lantern.


  1. Hi, Aaron. You’ve managed to post two of my favourite comics, one after the other – comics I loved as a kid: The Strange Experiment of Dr. Erdel and Mystery of the Human Thunderbolt. No, I don’t really see John Jones as the first Silver Age hero, although I will try to understand why you may want to view him that way. He really does look like a bit of a throwback to those ubiquitous 50s SF adventures, and he is very much like Superman in that he is super-alien royalty pretending to be a commoner so as to blend in. Flash is much more in keeping with my impression of the Silver Age; he is much more hip, light and modern than the atmospheric, almost depressing Jones… Flash here is MUCH more like the real Silver Age heavyweights, eg. Green Lantern (a firm childhood favourite) and of course the Marvel heroes like Spidey, who have power thrust upon them through an accident of fate. I like the very early “detective” depictions of John Jones, but I never cared for the more conventional super-hero portrayal as he evolved (for the worse). This puts him out of the running as the “first Silver Age super-hero” as far as I’m concerned. And I am guessing we will see “S.O.S. Green Lantern” tomorrow? OK – I will now return to Phantom country where I belong.

  2. Dad Who Walks: I didn't even know you read this blog! Once again, my analytical, Kiwi friend, you have jumped right to the heart of the matter. John Jones' potential claim to the title of "first" IS really more of a technicality. I suppose the best argument is simply that he debuted right before the Flash.

    I think you are right, though, he wasn't even a superhero when he debuted. He sort of evolved into that over time. I mean, let's face it, he had the big muscles, the cape, the little underpants... but he only wore that stuff in private.

    So, yeah, I guess I can let it go and acknowledge The Flash as the first Silver Age hero... At least at DC. There's still the question of Sterling comics' "Captain Flash" from 1954...

    Yes, you are correct, Tomorrow is Green Lantern (thanks to an assist by Mykal Banta), to be followed by Wonder Woman and then, Aquaman. Stay tuned.

  3. God, little Johnny Jones really doesn't get any respect, does he--not even any follow-up comments. I think the above statements hit it as to why it's Barry, not J'onn (especially the vibrancy of the cover of Showcase 4), but also don't forget the Carmine factor.


  4. Neill: I believe I previously referred to Detective Jones as the superhero "picked last for dodgeball".

    The artwork on Manhunter From Mars was also beautiful and dynamic, but there was no way Johnnie was getting the cover of Batman's magazine.

  5. It's a minor thing, but it's always bugged me that Barry's reading Flash Comics #13, because the cover shown has no resemblance to the actual cover of that issue--for one thing, Flash Comics #13 is a Hawkman cover (Hawkman and Flash basically alternated cover appearances).

    I think the reason that Flash is considered the first Silver Age hero is that at DC, the Silver Age consists of updated heroes from the golden age with new identities, uniforms and in some cases, new powers.