Thursday, August 21, 2008

Key Issues: Showcase #4

Undeniably the Holy Grail for DC Silver Age fanatics (no, I don't have it either), Showcase #4 is generally credited with kick-starting the superhero revival of the Silver Age. That it was the first comic to succeed in reintroducing a superhero from the 1940s is undeniable, although one thing that I have been surprised to note is that there were several other attempts by other publishers right around the same time.

For example, Marvel attempted to reintroduce the Human Torch, Submariner and Captain America in Young Men Comics #24 (December 1953). The effort lasted through #28 (June 1954). And Charlton attempted a relaunch of the Blue Beetle for four issues from February 1955 to August 1955. So Showcase #4's (Sept-Oct 1956) was actually at best the fifth attempt at a relaunch of a Golden Age character in the 1950s.

But unlike the others the Flash took hold, and so I thought I would take a look at some of the reasons why:

1. The Flash was not the old Flash, it was a new, modern version. This of course became the template for almost all relaunches afterwards, with only a few exceptions (notably the Silver Age Captain America). When Marvel came up with the Fantastic Four, they completely changed the Human Torch; made him a kid into fast cars and faster women.

2. The Flash specifically acknowledged the prior Flash and his comic book adventures in the 1940s. Indeed, the first time we see Barry Allen, he's reading an old issue of Flash Comics:

Now that is an interesting concept; a kind of breaking of the fourth wall if you will. It was the beginning of the idea that the comics of the Golden Age were what the characters of the Silver Age grew up reading, but that the heroes never existed in reality in their world. Of course, we would later learn that they did exist in reality on another Earth. (Incidentally, that cover is completely made up and looks like none of the actual 104 issues of Flash Comics, and certainly not #13, which actually featured Hawkman on the cover).

We learn that Barry is a police scientist. This aspect of the character almost never mattered in a story in the Silver Age, except of course for the origin sequence:

The lightning and the chemicals combine to turn Barry into the Flash. He discovers his tremendous speed when he sees the last taxi disappearing in the darkness and suddenly runs past it. Then, in a diner, the waitress drops a tray and:

If that looks familiar, think of the cafeteria scene in Spiderman. This ability to see things in slow-motion becomes important when Barry encounters his impatient fiancee, Iris West. He spots a bullet headed directly towards her and shoves her away at the last minute. Passing cops explain that it was a bullet from the Turtle, who bills himself as the Slowest Man On Earth.

This incident, combined with the comics that influenced him, results in Barry taking on the double identity of the Flash. At first, the Turtle uses his speed against him, but eventually Barry figures out how to capture the crook.

We see the Flash do several of the interesting stunts that defined him during the Silver Age, such as running down the sides of buildings, running across water, and the bit with the costume coming out of the ring.

Comments: Excellent origin story with many entertaining sequences. However, the villain is mediocre at best, and given that the Silver Age Flash would have one of the greatest Rogues' Galleries of all time, it's especially surprising.

The text story features the tale of two girls on their way to a dance who are upset that their parents have a curfew, until they learn that the boyfriend of one of them, who's two years older and named Muggsie (no kidding) also has a curfew. So it's no big deal, and they decide to enjoy the dance.

There are a couple of factoid pages entitled Fastest Creatures on Earth and Wonders of Speed. At some point I should do a post on the factoids in DC comics; most of the DC Silver Age Comics had one or two every issue, and they added up to a lot of information. Maybe call it the Encyclopedia DCicca?

The second Flash story is The Man Who Broke the Time Barrier. The Flash fights a villain from the future (as he would often do in his own mag, with the Reverse Flash and Abra Kadabra). Mazdan, the villain from sometime in the future, had been sentenced to the 50th century, when Earth is (was?) supposedly a "desolate place". But there was a malfunction (jeez, how many times did DC use that as a plot device), and he was sent back to the 20th century instead.

Mazdan is trying to get back to his own time, but he needs materials to propel the time capsule he arrived in back to the future. When the Flash finally apprehends him, he points out that since he can escape any jail, the Flash should simply help him get back to his own time. But Barry notices that the capsule would kill lots of people and so he decides to try breaking the time barrier himself, carrying the crimimal. He runs very fast and eventually breaks through into Mazdan's time, where he hands the crook over to the authorities.

Comments: Interesting story over all. It's not the first time-travel story, by any means, but it's an important one. DC's use of time travel became much more common in the Silver Age of Comics than it had been in the Golden Age.

Text Story: 100-Yard Dash. Considering the current Olympics, in which a (Thunder)Bolt became the fastest man alive, it's worth posting this text page in its entirety. Like most kids I read few of the text stories, and I don't read a lot more of them now. But this is terrific:

Overall evaluation: This is as good as it gets. My only criticism, that it lacks one of the classic Flash villains, is really just a comment from the benefit of hindsight. Viewed in isolation, and for its time, this comic must have come like a bolt (sorry) from the blue.