Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Crisis Part 1 - Flashes Of Two Worlds!

For us old comic book fans, the summer once meant over-sized annuals filled with extra adventures of our favorite heroes, and over at DC it meant that the Justice League of America would soon meet up again with the Golden Age's own Justice Society of America. My very first issue of JLofA was a crossover, the first issue of the series drawn by Dick Dillin and it introduced me not only to the League, but to the older and sometimes wiser Society. I've loved the JSofA since.

I miss those crossovers, eliminated because DC wanted to spruce up their universe and modernize it back in the 80's for a audience that was slipping away.

What I've got planned for the month of July is a careful and chronological reading of the beautiful trades DC published over the last several years showcasing these crossovers, as well as the one-on-one team-ups that various heroes such as Flash, Green Lantern, and Atom had with their counterparts.

Famously the whole Earth-2 concept was born in The Flash #123 when Barry Allen met his comic book inspiration. The team-up was popular enough to spawn a sequel the next year and another the year after that. I'll begin my overview of the JLofA-JSofA sagas with these first three Flash tales.

From 1961,"The Flash of Two Worlds" in The Flash #123 was written by Gardner Fox and drawn by Carmine Infantino and Joe Giella. Under an iconic Infantino and Murphy Anderson cover, we meet Barry Allen who while doing a benefit for Iris West and some unfortunate kids accidently vibrates himself out of his world onto what will be dubbed "Earth-2". He soon enough realizes that Keystone City, in which he finds himself, is the home of his boyhood comic book hero Jay Garrick, the Flash of the Golden Age.

He looks up Garrick in the phone book and soon enough he finds himself sitting in the Garrick home explaining things to Jay and his wife Joan. We discover that Gardner Fox must have been tuned into Earth-2 to create the adventures of the Golden Age Flash, who being several years older than Barry Allen has gone into retirement along with all of the Justice Society of America.

But as happens so often in these tales, a threat, specifically the alliance of three classic Flash villains, the Fiddler, the Thinker, and the Shade cause Barry and Jay to team up and predictably defeat the baddies who are shocked to find two Flashes in the way of their schemes to rob and plunder.

What is most striking about this story is its gentility. Barry finds himself on another world and very logically and simply finds his counterpart. They meet without rancor or suspicion and with a politeness only seen at the time in a DC comic they meticulously defeat the baddies. It's a whimsical and charming encounter.

"Double Danger on Earth" by Fox and the Infantino-Giella team in 1962's The Flash #129 it's Jay Garrick's turn to make the vibrational trip to another Earth as he leaves Earth-2 which is suffering a radiation threat from space and is missing a key meteorite to solve it. He goes to perhaps discover if a similar meteorite is available to solve Earth-2's crisis and he goes about it in a logical way by actually talking first to Barry Allen and then the powers that be to arrange help.

There is surprisingly little shock when the government and the world at large learn of Earth-2. But that doesn't stop Captain Cold and The Trickster from plotting crimes. Jay helps Barry battle the baddies, but has to then turn his attention on the global threat he's come to solve while Barry focuses on the robbers. This is the one aspect of this story that rings hollow. Clearly the threat to Earth-2 is far more grave than the shenanigans of the rogues, but somehow both are treated with the same level of significance. It makes Barry come off a bit unaware to be frank. Fox would've been better served to have had the Rogues' crimes more directly linked to the other threat. As it is, they seem a distraction in a much more serious adventure.

Not surprisingly Jay solves the problem of mining and transporting the meteorite and then he and Barry wrap up the rogues. It's a fun tale, and the threat of the radiation is a worthy one, but despite its elegant craftsmanship the lack of focus does make this story seem a tad sillier than it needs to.

1963 saw another team up of the two Flashes and this time a Golden Age villain with some real heft shows up -- Vandal Savage.

"Vengeance of the Immortal Villain" in The Flash #137 again by Fox and the Infantino-Giella team give us another tale of Barry Allen going to Earth-2 after noticing a coincidence about some mysterious lights and some city names. He digs out his old Justice Society of America comics and checks that he's correct, the names are associated with the vintage group and so off he vibrates to Earth-2.

It turns out that the mysterious lights are the work of Vandal Savage, and Jay is already on the case. He reveals that his colleagues in the JSofA have vanished. Soon enough the means of that mystery is revealed when Jay is bound in a cube of transparent material and transported across the sky. Barry rescues him and they confront the immortal Cro-Magnon Vandal Savage who quickly captures both Flashes after revealing he's already kidnapped the other JSofA members.

The two Flashes are pitted against each other, but Barry's quick thinking reveals Savage's tricks and soon enough his plot is foiled and Justice Society members (Hawkman, Wonder Woman, Dr.Mid-Nite, Atom, Green Lantern, and Johnny Thunder) are out and about and thinking that a reunion might be in order.

The stage is set.

These are some whopping fun tales. They are sometimes burdened by Fox's intricate over-plotting, but somehow it all gels for the most part. It's clear that each of the three adventures adds a new dash to the mix. The first meeting is novel enough on its own with Earth-1 finding Earth-2, the second turns that on its head, and the third has the heroes battle each other for the first time. A Marvel comic of the time would've had them beating the stuffing out of each other in all three tales, and that speaks to key difference in the two companies and their approach to heroism.

The comics of DC's Silver Age were pleasant and orderly and polite and polished. All of those traits are evident to a grand degree in all three of these Flash stories. Marvel was more vigorous and visceral at the time, latching onto fans left and right. This would be a problem eventually, but in 1963 it was only a small one.

Next stop is the very first JLofA-JSofA crossover. See you then.

Finally here's a small cover gallery of some of the reprints of these stories.

My first ever Flash comic book

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  1. Among my first comics was the annual crossover with the JLA and JSA that ALSO included the All Star Squadron. Instilled my love of Earth 2.

    I like your summer project very much.

  2. I'm looking forward to it. When I traded away all my DC comics many decades ago now, the one category I kept were my Earth-2 stories and my JLA comics. I never had them all, and the trades in recent years look fantastic.

    That's what summer should be about. :)

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  3. One minor note: the very first Silver Age Flash story in Showcase #4 shows Barry Allen reading a Golden Age Flash comic during his lunch break. Perhaps the first Silver Age fanboy? (reading a comic then creating a costumed identity goes back to Golden Age characters like Wildcat and Supersnipe!)
    Gardner Fox was noted for his careful researching and plotting, never missing a detail or clue in a story. He would've made a helluva plotter-writer on the various CSI shows!

  4. Quite correct. I was looking for that panel where Barry was reading a comic, but then remembered it was in the debut issue.

    Today we'd have assumed this was a clue planted to intentionally be developed later in the series. It points to the more expansive less overtly controlled writing of the time.

    Now plots are hammered into submission, then plots were carefully crafted but not strangled by an overdeveloped continuity.

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