Flash #123 (1961) Retro Review

Reviewer: John Babos
Main Story Title: Flash of Two Worlds

Written by: Gardner Fox
Pencils by: Carmine Infantino
Inks by: Joe Giella
Cover by: Carmine Infantino and Murphy Anderson
Publisher: National Periodical Publications (later becomes DC Comics)

Flash (Jay Garrick) created by Gardner Fox and Harry Lampert
First Appearance: Flash Comics #1 (January 1940)

Flash (Barry Allen) created by Robert Kanigher
First Appearance: Showcase #4 (September-October 1956)


Brave New Worlds

I have always loved the old Justice Society and Justice League crossovers of the Silver Age and beyond. It was a twenty-year tradition that introduced readers to brave new worlds and their heroes. It was a tradition that came to an abrupt end around the time of DC’s mid-1980’s Crisis on Infinite Earths and was only recently begun anew in the pages of the successful Vice and Virtue one-shot, then followed-up in the pages of the JSA series this past Thanksgiving.

In the pre-Crisis DC Universe, the JSA, who debuted in the Golden Age of comics in the pages of All-Star Comics #3 in 1940, two and half years after Superman’s debut in Action Comics #1. The JLA, in turn, debuted within Brave and the Bold #28in 1960 — many years after fan malaise ended the Golden Age in the early 1950’s.

Incidentally, the Silver Age of comics dawned in 1956’s Showcase #4 with the debut of a new scarlet speedster, a new Flash for a new generation, sixteen years after the debut of his predecessor.

The JSA/JLA crossover tradition that I spoke of began on a smaller scale first and revolved around the Fastest Men Alive, testing the waters of fan interest. A Flash has always been at the cusp of industry change as a harbinger for bold new ideas. This tradition continued in the pages of 1961’s Flash #123 and the first meeting between the Golden and Silver Ages’ respective Flashes.


Through the Looking Glass

As I distilled in our inaugural Near Mint Memories column:

The Silver Age Flash met his Golden Age counterpart in the classic Flash of Two Worlds issue of his self-titled series. In 1961’s Flash #123, Barry Allen accidentally bridged the “vibrational barrier” of his Earth and a similar Earth – one where the JSA had been justice’s champion twenty years previous – and came face-to-face with his comic-book-turned-flesh heroic inspiration, Jay Garrick, the Flash of DC’s Golden Age. The world that Barry had thought fictitious, to his surprise, was an actual parallel Earth.

Readers of the Silver Age Flash series were (re)introduced to their Flash’s scarlet predecessor, a hero so few knew or remembered. So enthralling was the “Flash of Two Worlds” tale that DC contrived further team-ups, between the Golden Age Flash of, a newly-named, Earth 2, and Earth 1’s Silver Age Flash, to meet fan demand.

These inter-Earth crossovers extended past the Flash series. Each “Age’s” respective super-team — Earth 1’s JLA and Earth 2’s JSA — started their own contrived annual meeting tradition that began with 1963’s “Crisis on Earth One” in Justice League of America #21. From then on, the summer issues of the JLA title would feature a “Crisis” of some kind that would require a JLA / JSA team-up to avert disaster.


The 411 on 123

This is a great issue and classic easy-to-understand Silver Age tale. It has one of the most recognizable and replicated covers of all time. You know the one — where the two Flashes are on either side of a wall racing to save a man from being crushed by a metal beam.

Gardner Fox pens a great science-fiction inspired story introducing the notion of parallel Earths to the DCU — an event that represents the philosophical origins of the industry’s first ever mega-crossover, the Crisis on Infinite Earths also featured in another Near Mint Memories column.

Barry Allen finds himself on “Earth 2″ and meets his hero, Jay Garrick, who comes out of retirement to team up with his name-sake to foil heists by a trio of Golden Age villains — the Shade, the Fiddler, and the Thinker. Two Flashes teaming up against menaces — a fanboy dream come to pass. Awesome.

The wholesome and elegant pencils of comics great Carmine Infantino really delivers the action and emotion of the story.

This a great fun read. Period.


F-U-N

By today’s standards, this is a very simple tale, but one that I argue is representative of what we lack today in comics — an honest embrace of the ludicrousness of men and women in tights with fantastic powers. So many creators have been intent on bringing grim and gritty pessimism, wrapped under the misleading banner of “realism,” to comics. As a result, the industry has alienated fans from what was a traditional escapist medium — clearly there are other reasons too, but this, to my mind, is at the root of many of the industry’s problems. Today’s comics are improving, but are still dominated by tales ripped from modern day headlines as opposed to the truly fantastic inventive imaginations that today’s creative elite does not appear to value or cultivate.

Flash #123 displays the sensibilities of an age that today’s industry should embrace in spirit, but not emulate in deed or shun in a self-loathing manner. Comic elites should stop trying to make comic books Shakespearean or Twainian and accept and enjoy the lavish absurdity about super-powered, brightly garbed, super-heroes.

Lets bring fun back to comics and be inspired by the heart of Flash #123.