Friday, July 22, 2011

Fifty Years Ago This Month

The multiverse begins as Flash #123 goes on sale.

This story was implied by the very first Barry Allen Flash story in Showcase #4, which opened with Barry enjoying a Golden Age Flash comic during his lunch break:

That's an interesting decision by the writer (Bob Kanigher), I suppose chosen to explain why Barry quickly decides to become the Flash himself when the lightning bolt hits a page later. But it does raise some uncomfortable questions. If the superhero comics are assumed to take place in the real world, then in what world did the Jay Garrick stories take place, since Barry clearly considers the Golden Age Flash to be a fictional character.

As the Flash of Two Worlds story starts, Iris is trying to put on a show for her pet charity, a group of orphans. Unfortunately, the magician she arranged to provide the entertainment has not shown up, and it looks like the kids will be disappointed. Barry suggests that he call the police station, as he just saw the Flash over there, and perhaps the Scarlet Speedster will agree to dazzle the youngsters.

He plays a game of tennis with himself, and then tries the Indian fakir trick of climbing a rope, only to disappear suddenly:

The Flash finds himself suddenly in a field outside the city. But not Central City, as he quickly discovers. Although some of the landmarks look the same, the signs in the metropolis indicates this is Keystone City. But isn't that where... on a hunch, Barry looks into a phone book and sure enough:

So he visits the Garrick residence, where we learn that Jay has aged since his Golden Age adventures and that he has married his former girlfriend, Joan Williams. Barry explains that he knows all about Jay's adventures as a superhero, and gives his theory:

Barry has further thoughts on how Jay Garrick ended up as a fictional character on his own world:

That's interesting because Fox himself was writing this particular tale, in place of usual Flash scripter, John Broome. Note that this maintains the implication that Barry Allen's stories were taking place in "our" world, since Gardner Fox was a real person. This would be maintained as the official story for years, although it was eventually discarded in a 1970s Flash tale, when we learned that our Earth was Earth-Prime, while Barry was from Earth-1 and Jay Garrick from Earth-2.

This concept of multiple Earths became very popular in the DC universe for years, as it gave writers and editors additional "outs". If a current story contradicted another one from years ago, well that old story took place on an alternate Earth. It also gave them an opportunity to play "What if" games without quite admitting that these were "imaginary stories".

Of course, it also caused uncomfortable questions as well. For starters, since Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman had appeared in or were mentioned in several Justice Society stories, did that mean that the Golden Age appearances of those stars had also not taken place on Earth 1? DC was not yet ready to confront the implications of those questions, and would continue to dodge them until near the end of the decade.

As it happens, Jay Garrick has been debating coming out of retirement due to a series of strange robberies. We learn that three Golden Age villains, the Thinker, the Fiddler and the Shade are responsible. They have recently escaped jail and are hoping to defeat their old nemesis.

The individual Flashes split up and combat the Thinker and the Shade, but are defeated. They combine forces to face the Fiddler, but his fiddle controls them:

But they manage to plug up their ears with small jewels, and make quick work of the trio.

Afterwards, Barry returns to his own world and has an idea:

This story led to many more, including the annual JLA/JSA teamups, nearly annual Barry Allen/Jay Garrick pairings, as well as stories featuring the GA Green Lantern and Hal Jordan. It is, as I mentioned in an early post on this blog, one of the five most important DC comics of the Silver Age.

Update: Aaron reminds me of an interesting tidbit about that Flash issue that Barry Allen is reading at the opening of Showcase #4. If you look closely at the cover, especially this panel from an earlier page:

You will see that he appears to be reading Flash #13. The amusing thing is that's not what Flash #13's cover looks like:

You see, Flash Comics back in the Golden Age was an anthology title, like Action or Detective in the Silver Age, and Flash alternated covers with Hawkman, with the latter appearing on the odd-numbered issues all the way up to #87. In fact, that cover could not have appeared as on the covers featuring the Flash, the little inset picture was of Hawkman, and vice-versa.

Jim notes that there were two GA and Silver Age Atom teamups as well, but no pairings of the 1940s Hawkman with his 1960s counterpart. I suspect the problem there was that the two characters were simply too similar to make for an interesting combination.


Ghost Who Blogs said...

Hey Pat, you didn't mention your fantastic discovery about the Flash comic Barry is reading!

CMN said...

The concept of parallel universes I find much more palatable than time travel and I salute Schwartz, Fox, etc. for coming up with it though I don't recall reading a Superman Family story where Supergirl says something like, "I'll have to take care of this problem by myself because Superman is on a mission in a parallel universe."

Anonymous said...

The Atom teamed up with his Earth-Two counterpart twice, in issues 29 and 36 of his comic. In issue 29, they fought the Thinker (who'd ditched his suit and tie for a truly awful costume). As far as I recall, the Hawkmen of Earths One and Two never met outside of the JLA/JSA team-ups. --Jim

Anonymous said...

Was Flash #123 the first full-length Flash story?

Anonymous said...

No. That distinction goes to "Land of Golden Giants," in #120 (which Pat reviewd a while ago). --Jim

Anonymous said...

well they established WW's GA earth-twoness in Vengeance of the Immortal Villain just 14 issues later. The Earth Two Batman was '67 in a JLA/JSA crossover (technically it was the grown-up Robin but if he's there ...).
A bigger question is whether they ever appeared in Earth One comic-books, as nobody ever asked Superman if he was Clark Kent just like the 1940s Superman

Pat said...

Hah, good point, Frasersherman! Of course, there was that one goofy Superman story from the GA where Clark and Lois go to a movie showing of the Fleischer Superman cartoons and he has to go to great lengths to make sure that she misses the parts where he's changing to and from his secret identity.

Tony Young said...


Are there any websites reviewing or discussing the Bronze age Barry/Jay teamups?

I had them all at one point but did get sick of Vandal Savage. Can't recall what the other stories were about.