The next book on “the shelf” jumped me ahead about fifteen years, leaving behind the war-torn comics of the early 40’s and landing in the mid-50s’ “Silver Age”. Sensing the possibility for progression in storytelling, I was eager to keep reading. Having completed this trade in one sitting, I can’t help but think the content of the comic must have influenced me in some way. Sadly I don’t think my super-speed extends beyond reading (drat).
The Flash Chronicles: Volume One, begins with a new variant on Flash’s story. Jay Garrick is no longer The Flash; he has been replaced by Barry Allen, a scientist working for the police who through a freak lightning strike (occurring next to some conveniently placed chemicals) gains super speed.
The introduction to Barry Allen’s story made me smile. Right before the accident that gives him his super power, we see Barry reading a familiar title:This whimsical touch adds a hint of nostalgia, even for modern readers, and is a brilliantly subtle way of paying homage to the original character. I was also glad to see that that silly winged helmet was gone, and the more recognizable red and yellow costume was being adopted.
The stories in this trade progress quite nicely, in my humble opinion. We are given a succinct description of The Flash and his abilities, we learn how he carries around his Flash suit to be ready at a moment’s notice (a ring from which the miniaturized suit “springs” and enlarges when it comes in contact with oxygen), and we are introduced to a wide variety of villains.
What struck me in this trade was the prevalence of stories and villains that seemed plucked out of science fiction. Whether battling a time traveler, giants from the 4th dimension, intelligent gorillas, or super-sized bugs, many of The Flash’s stories are heavily grounded in this genre. The sci-fi craze gaining popularity in the 50’s is all-too present within these pages.
Here we see Katmos, a man made of iron who’s race died out 8,000 years prior to the story, awoken from sleep and seeking to rule over the existing civilization. Stories like this were cropping up again and again in this trade, each more fantastical than the last.
When I saw this panel I instantly envisioned a classic 50’s sci-fi film, or even a variant on an old Godzilla movie. Just as the 1940’s comics maintained a focus on war and military combat, so the 1950’s saw a shift away from real life into more unconventional territory.
As though the science-fiction based stories weren’t enough, these comics show a prevalence of cold, hard science as well. The Flash encounters a number of scientific-based villains who dabble in alchemy, the elements, sound and vibration, as well as a number of other concepts. In addition, the comics themselves often explain the physics behind Flash’s amazing feats of speed. Whereas The Flash of the 1940’s would have just run quickly, this newer version can run up buildings, generate enough of an updraft to support a full-grown man, and even run through walls. The comics bandy about such terms as escape velocity and cyclotron, and even goes so far as to include editor’s notes that define them. The characters and their great feats are no longer meant to be taken at face value; context and reason are applied to explain their occurrence. The injection of science and reason into these otherwise unexplainable feats gave the stories a sense of order and realism that was lacking in earlier comics.
That being said, these were not completely perfect comics. There was still a certain lack of continuity. Each story was mostly self-contained, and as a result some things were repeated.
The Flash is slipped up in almost identical fashion on two occasions in this trade alone. While I understand that the writers likely had a difficult time coming up with ways to slow down the fastest man alive, the use of the same move twice within a few issues of one another felt a little tired.
Not only that, but nearly every story made reference to Allen’s ring and the hidden Flash suit within it, and even went so far as to use the same panels and dialogue multiple times to explain it. I’m sure for writers in the 50’s this was a smart way to make sure your readers knew what was going on if they just picked up a random issue; reading the same explanation over and over in the collected trade simply got a bit tedious.
One interesting point I picked up on was the first instance of a superhero referencing why he can’t reveal his secret identity to anyone. It seems to be a universal truth among superheroes that one’s identity is sacred and cannot be shared with anyone, yet up until this point I hadn’t read any explanation as to why. The first response I found surprised me:
Barry Allen’s secrecy is not out of a duty to protect his fiance Iris, as I originally assumed. Instead he gives his reason as wanting to maintain the aura of mystery about the character. Although I’m sure none of the other superheroes, past or present, would dispute this as a motivating factor, it seems odd to me that protecting his loved ones isn’t worth mentioning. I’m left wondering when the need to protect your loved ones from your enemies becomes fully realized in the comics, at least enough to be vocalized.
Overall I was happy with this trade. I’m glad to witness the progression of storytelling, especially through the artwork. The panels feel much less static here, and the action is brought alive in a way that was missing in the earlier trades. I’ll be continuing The Flash’s stories soon enough with The Flash Chronicles: Volume Three (Volume Two being absent from “the shelf” due to a sheer lack of availability from sellers). While I’m sure the next round of Flash stories will be very similar to those contained here, I’m still looking forward to reading them. I’m eager to see which villains make reappearances, what new feats of speed Flash will perform next, and whether or not Barry Allen will ever be on time for his date with Iris!