Monday, November 02, 2009

Showcase #8

This was the great unknown comic. DC reprinted stories like crazy in the 1960s and 1970s, especially Flash Comics, which joined their annuals rotation in 1963. And yet somehow the two stories in this issue were not reprinted until the 1990s, although one of them featured the first appearance of Captain Cold, one of the more significant villains in Flash's Rogue's Gallery. (Correction: As pointed out in the comments by Robert McKinney, DC reprinted the Captain Cold appearance in Limited Collector's Edition #C-39 in 1975.)

Reading it makes it pretty obvious why Julius Schwartz and DC's various reprint editors kept the issue under wraps during the 1960s. The first story, Secret of the Empty Box, while clever, has some obvious problems with the Silver Age Flash. It starts off with Barry late (as usual) for a date with Iris. But he's got a good excuse; a small girl has lost her ring down a storm drain:

Okay, given that it became accepted that the Flash could vibrate his way through anything (including dimensions), that's problematic. The story itself features three magician brothers whom the Flash defeats one at a time as they pop out of the Empty Box of the title:

The story has some interesting aspects, but there's also considerable DC silliness. For example, at one point Barry decides to change into his secret identity of the Flash in one of those old-fashioned "photograph yourself" booths. The sleazy owner thinks he's gotten the golden ring with Flash's secret identity, but:

Uh, if you can change faster than 1/100,000th of a second, why bother ducking into a booth?

The second story, is the Coldest Man on Earth, definitely one of those stories that I craved in the 1960s. Captain Cold was a strong contender for best Flash villain in the Silver Age. I preferred the Reverse Flash, but you could argue that CC was Dr Octopus to Professor Zoom's Green Goblin; the villain who seemed like the top enemy as the Silver Age ended.

Captain Cold pulls off a daring robbery in broad daylight:

The Flash attempts to stop him, but:

In a flashback, we learn that Len Snart was an ambitious criminal who searched for a way to defeat the Flash. This was helpfully supplied by a scientific magazine:

And when he accidentally invents a cold ray, we get this amusing moment:

I absolutely love the idea of the villain trying out nicknames for himself. Further experiments reveal to Captain Cold that he can create illusions from his ray gun, which he uses against the Flash:


And of course, the Flash ends the fight shortly thereafter.

Comments: The first appearance of Captain Cold demonstrates nothing of the characteristic he became noted for in the Silver Age: his desire to impress women. It's another significant negative to the story.

However, there is another three-page story in that issue, that I suspect will not see the light of day again. Not that it's a bad story by any means, it's just not part of the Flash saga. The story is entitled, "The Race of Wheel and Keel," and tells of a race:

So, New York to SF around South America versus St. Louis to SF through "Indian Country," is the basic premise. As you would expect, there are issues:

But eventually the stagecoach defeated the ship anyway, establishing the need for transcontinental travel rather than going around South America. The protagonist of the story is John Butterfield. Despite a somewhat less adventurous life than shown in this story, he did establish the companies that became American Express and Wells Fargo.

Overall, I can see why Showcase #8 remained under wraps for so long. Although the stories are not terrible by any means, they are inconvenient in several ways, since they reveal the way Schwartz and his writers were still experimenting with the character when this issue came out (in May-June 1957).

The stories in Showcase #8 and many other Flash tales are reprinted in: