Saturday, February 12, 2011

Flash #120

The Flash was probably the most interesting DC hero of the Silver Age. Certainly his comic ran the longest of any of Julius Schwartz's reincarnations; Green Lantern was gone by 1972, the Atom and Hawkman ceased publication (after being merged) in 1969. The Flash made it all the way to 1985.

Given that history, it's worth speculating as to why Barry Allen lasted while the others did not. For starters, it pays to be first; Schwartz introduced the new Flash well before his other re-imagined heroes. The Barry Allen Flash first appeared in Sept-Oct 1956, while Green Lantern debuted a full three years later. Similarly, the first two superheroes from the Golden Age (Superman and Batman) outlasted almost all of their contemporaries.

Second, the Flash had an interesting and colorful rogues' gallery, as shown here (from 80-Page Giant #4):

Third, I would argue that the Flash's ability, running fast, is especially suited to exciting the imaginations of youngsters. Who wouldn't want to be able to tear up the miles rather than having to plod home from school? Who wouldn't want to be able to zip ahead to Grandma's house rather than suffer through the interminable car trips?

One element that was probably not a significant factor, was that the Flash had a juvenile counterpart. While I enjoyed Kid Flash, and especially the "moral" stories that he often appeared in, he didn't show up much in the later 1960s outside of Teen Titans

As you can see from the cover above, this is a Flash/Kid Flash teamup. As the story begins, Barry and Wally West are running late for a yachting trip with Iris and an explorer named Dr. Manners to South America. Dr. Manners is looking for evidence to confirm his belief that South America and Africa were once joined. It's worth noting that this theory was still controversial at the time, although it has now become widely accepted.

It looks impossible for Barry and Wally to make it to the yacht on time, but Barry reveals that he knows Wally is Kid Flash, as a prelude to disclosing his own secret:

They are delayed a bit when they have to prevent a plane from crashing into a crowded area of the city, but they still make it. On board, they learn that there's a young girl of Wally's age:

I like that Infantino has them rather pointedly sitting on separate couches in that last panel. Dr. Manners explains their mission here:

And in fact the Wikipedia article on continental drift notes that the existence of the same animals on both continents are part of the proof that Africa and South America were once joined (although it's mostly fossils and earthworms that are cited there, not lemurs and aardvarks).

They dock in South America and journey inland. A tribe of natives warn them about a mountain known as the Sleeping Giant, but Iris dismisses it as superstitious drivel. However, as they make their way into the valley nearby, the Sleeping Giant awakens; it was a volcano, which causes earth tremors and rockslides. When the party recovers, they seem to have been transported far away, as the Sleeping Giant is nowhere to be seen.

Barry and Wally discover something odd:

They volunteer to do a little scouting around, not telling Dr Manners that it will be in their crimson uniforms. They come upon a caveman being threatened by a giant bird, and save him. But what are cavemen doing in modern times? Later, they see paintings of prehistoric animals created by the cave people. Have they stumbled into a valley that time forgot? They also learn that the primitives fear a giant named Grodan. And sure enough:

Flash vibrates his way free of the giant. He and Kid Flash use some cables that had been brought on the expedition to truss up the behemoth (as shown on the cover). Then Barry realizes that they are not in some hidden valley that has been missed by civilization; rather they are literally in the past. Sure enough, as they do some more exploring:

Okay, so that's a bit of artistic license. The dinosaurs in fact became extinct about 65 million years ago, well before the time of cavemen. Flash and his younger counterpart race around the globe, establishing that the continents were indeed joined at this period in time. But at that moment the earthquakes begin that separates the continents. They dash off to help the cavemen, who are under attack by the giants. But:

The actual phrase is, "there were giants in the earth in those days..." and it comes from the Book of Genesis in the Old Testament.

Barry and Wally rush back to their expedition and try to set up duplicate vibrations to the original earthquake that transported them to the past. We get a rather psychedelic panel here:

And then they're back in the present day (well, 1961 anyway). Dr Manners has photographic proof that the continents were joined, and the juvenile romance subplot has been resolved:

Comments: A terrific and entertaining story by John Broome and Carmine Infantino, with only the occasional anachronisms as negatives.


Allan said...

The aspect of the Flash that most fascinated me as a kid wasn't his speed -- it was the ring that contained his super-compressed costume. Man, I wanted one of those!

Ed said...

Notice the lack of Paraguay on the scientist's map?

As a kid, I always thought Flash was a super-sophisticated comic: the science, the architecture, the interior design, Barry's haircut... all screamed early 60s cool. And I have to admit, the scientific elements of the stories sometimes lost me. The Flash comic was cool in the Marshal McLuhan sense of the word

Blaze said...

Much is often made in certain comic book circles about "Flash Facts". Real science tidbits to enlighten young readers. But, when they make a total hash of just about every known fact concerning dinosaurs and prehistory, one can't help but wonder what crazy Flash Fact people are carrying around to this day.

Super speed is darned cool, but I always found the Flash too fast. I suppose that was keeping up with all the super-de-dooper power levels of the DC Universe.

As a kid I wondered why Barry had this special ring containing his costume. When he skip along at nearly light speed (careful not to cross over and crack time barriers and the whatnot), he could run from anywhere in the world back to his apartment, change, maybe eat a snack and return before the bank robber finishes "Hands up"

Pat said...

Blaze, that's certainly the truth. I covered a Flash story (from Showcase #8) awhile ago where Barry zipped into a photo booth to change. The booth owner thought he had a real scoop, but even with a stated shutter speed of 1/100,000th of a second, the photo was blurry. As I pointed out then, if you can change faster than that, there's really no need to use a booth.

And I always thought the obvious solution to the old "criminal has a gun to someone's head" routine was simply for the Flash to zip around the world and come up behind the crook.

Anonymous said...

There's a difference between Flash Facts--which usually covered things like the speed of light or the melting temperature of zinc--and "facts we're going to ignore because it makes a good story." Pairing cavemen and dinosaurs was just too good to pass up, which is probably why movies did it so many times too.

Marc Burkhardt said...

Barry Allen will always be "The" Flash in my book. Cool costume, cool powers and a down-to-earth personality that was easy to relate to.

Also love Carmine Infantino's art, of course!