Blast from the past

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I just got my first war-era comic book, Flash Comics #38, originally published in 1942. You know it’s a bad day when you’re at crime school and the Flash pole vaults through the window using a bamboo stick! This book features the original Flash, Jay Garrick, who fights crime in his Hermes-inspired uniform and iconic tin hat. Garrick made his debut in 1940 – 16 years before his more popular predecessor, Barry Allen.

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Back in the day, the Flash had to share his comic book with Hawkman, who also made his first appearance in Flash Comics #1 alongside the Fastest Man Alive.

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So when you bought a Flash comic, you got two superhero stories – all for the price of 10 cents!

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In the ’40s, DC Comics was officially called Superman-DC, named after their most popular character at the time, and the comic book title that gave birth to Batman, Detective Comics. It wasn’t until the ’70s that the comic book company dropped “Superman” from their name and adopted their current brand.

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Another marked difference between the comic books from this decade and the ones we have now is the clear lack of supervillains. Most of them only began showing up in the 1960s, leaving superheroes of the early years with no one to fight, except for common criminals. Nazis were also a popular match-up for the super-powered crime fighters of that era.

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It’s quite fitting that I got my first war-era comic book while I’m in the middle of reading The Book Thief. Knowing how turbulent it was back then, it really isn’t a stretch to think that stories like this kept the world sane. I can only imagine what journey this book must have had – from that kid who bought it from a magazine stand for 10 cents over seven decades ago to the here and now; from the chaos that was World War II to the still-tumultuous present. What amazing stories it could tell, if only its pages could talk.

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Silver Age Showdown

It’s always a treat when I get to add a vintage comic book to my collection. You simply don’t come across these things every day. Plus, I’ve been looking for this particular issue for a while now. I’m a huge Flash fan, and you can’t have a proper Flash collection without collecting his races against Superman.

I’m pretty sure we’ve all heard (or participated in) the age-old debate about who’s faster between these two titans. Well, things weren’t much different half a century ago. Superman is known for being “faster than a speeding bullet” and Flash is the Scarlet Speedster, the Sultan of Speed, the Crimson Comet. So it only makes sense to pit the two against each other in a race around the world.

It was in 1967 – nearly 30 years after the creation of the two superheroes – that DC Comics finally gave the fans what they wanted. The race that was three decades in the making took place in the pages of Superman #199 where the two raced for a charity event organized by the U.N. This was one of the earliest comic book crossovers and certainly the most interesting one at the time.

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With the success of this Superman issue, a rematch shortly followed in the pages of Flash #175, and the two went on to have several races against each other in the decades that followed. Nearly 50 years since the iconic showdown, the Flash raced Supergirl in a crossover episode of their TV shows, proving that super-speed races still captivate fans of the superhero genre.

…Though if you really want to know who’s faster, check out this page from the third issue of The Flash: Rebirth (2009).

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The Brave and the Bold

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In 1955, DC launched an ongoing series entitled The Brave and the Bold. It originally featured done-in-one stories of varying heroes from issue to issue, and eventually became a vehicle for experimenting with new character ideas through team-ups. Its most notable issue – The Brave and the Bold #28 – brought together, for the first time, the world’s greatest superheroes: the Justice League. The series was quite successful, running for almost three decades and producing 200 issues of odd pairings and crazy adventures.

From my collection: The Brave and the Bold #99 (Nov. 1971), where Batman gets possessed by an evil spirit and the Flash comes in to save the day.

Hot n’ Cold

 

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While supervillains have become a staple in today’s comic books, it wasn’t until the Silver Age (mid 1950’s-late 1960’s) that readers saw a boom in their creation. Golden Age comic book stories (late 1930’s-mid 1950’s) were mostly characterized by conflicts between the superhero and everyday bad guys such as bank robbers, mobsters, common thugs, crooked politicians, and – perhaps most notable for that era – the Nazis.

With a newly revamped Flash that debuted in Showcase #4 (Aug. 1956), Carmine Infantino and his crew proceeded to introduce an array of supervillains to pit against the Crimson Comet. Showcase #8 (Apr. 1957), Barry Allen’s second appearance, gave birth to one of the Flash’s most prominent rogues: Captain Cold. But the hero in red wouldn’t be the Captain’s only rival.

Making his first appearance in Flash #140 (Sep. 1963) is Mick Rory, a.k.a. Heat Wave. In the story, the two criminals initially hit it off as Heat Wave helped Captain Cold escape with his loot by attacking the Flash just as the icy criminal was about to get caught. However, things quickly turned sour between the two. They found themselves at odds with each other after a short conversation revealed they were after the same girl – a TV celebrity widely known by her stage name, Dream Girl.

This was the beginning of a rivalry that has so far lasted for half a century. Although the two supervillains belong to the same super group (fondly called the Rogues), readers still find them constantly butting heads over issues such as who should be the leader of the gang or whose fault it was that the job didn’t go as planned and so much more. This volatile relationship caused by their constant bickering has created a unique dynamic among the villains of the Flash mythos, and has kept its readers entertained through several decades.

From my collection: The Flash #140 (Sep. 1963), Heat Wave’s first appearance – one of my favorite Silver Age stories and cover art.

It’s a race!

It's a race!

Who’s faster? Superman or the Flash?

This has been the subject of so many debates over several decades of comic book history. Nowadays, it’s quite established that the Flash has earned the title “Fastest Man Alive” (perhaps most decisively in June 2009’s Flash Rebirth #3). But back in the 40’s, 50’s and early 60’s, people could only guess. It wasn’t until June of 1967 in Superman #199 when comic book fans finally got to see the Man of Steel and the Scarlet Speedster in a showdown to see who’s the fastest.

Needless to say, it was a big hit. And having their first two races end in a draw only captivated readers even more. In the decades that followed, Superman would go on to race not only Barry Allen, but also fellow Flashes Jay Garrick and Wally West. Most recently, sidekicks Superboy and Kid Flash raced for the very first time in Superboy #5 (Mar. 2011), proving that comic book fans still appreciate a good old-fashioned high-speed throwdown.

From my collection: Superman and Flash race for the second time in The Flash #175 (Oct. 1967).