The Flash Chronicles: Volume Three

I’m twitching slightly as I write this. It bothers me more than it should that there is no entry for Volume Two (a shrink could have a field day with me, I’m sure), but sadly Volume Two is not part of “the shelf” due to its utter lack of availability (trust me, I looked).  My completionist side dislikes this gap in the storyline, but alas, I will persevere.  Luckily Misah J is a veritable cornucopia of knowledge, so if I happen to come across any characters or references later on that I don’t understand, he’ll be able to fill me in.

Okay, back to business.  This collection of Flash comics continues in much the same vein as Volume One (and I assume Volume Two).  We see The Flash in a number of stories, continuously switching between slightly absurd exploits and adventures involving a heavy science-fiction overtone. I’m torn as to which I prefer.

wpid-20150915_130648.jpgHere we have The Flash bouncing to great heights on a pogo-stick in a circus tent, trying to apprehend a high-flying criminal, because why not?  I can’t be the only adult to find this highly entertaining, so there is no doubt in my mind that children in the early 60’s were thoroughly enjoying this as well.

I love me some Batman, but it’s this type of silly fun that seems to be missing from many superhero comics.  I’m not too cool to admit I really enjoy this comedic style.  It’s peppered throughout The Flash enough to keep me entertained, without being so pervasive as to make the comic feel overly childish.

Another one of my favorites: the introduction of Winky, Blinky, and Noddy, clearly an homage to The Three Stooges:

wpid-20150915_195419.jpgThe issue noted at the end of their first appearance that they would be appearing in future issues.  Although I can imagine the gags getting stale after a while, I’m curious how often these bumbling, well-meaning fools appear in The Flash before falling to the wayside (unless I’m somehow wrong in my guess and they actually end up standing the test of time. I guess I’ll just have to wait and see).

On the other side of the coin are stories more heavily grounded in science and pulp science fiction.  Perhaps one of my favorites in this trade involved the reappearance of the gorilla Grodd, who I first encountered in Volume One.  In this appearance, he is imprisoned and seeking a means of escape.  His solution:

wpid-20150915_133730.jpgGrodd decides to fake his death so his consciousness can be transferred to another living creature.  His plan is a success, and as he comes face to face with The Flash again I was riveted to find out how the encounter would end. So many of the stories in these issues feel like they were pulled right out of an old sci-fi movie; I can’t help but wonder if the movies influenced the comics, or vice versa.  Perhaps it was a bit of both.

This trade also saw the emergence of new side characters, the most notable being Kid Flash.  When Kid Flash, aka Wally West, first appeared, I was a bit thrown, as he was an accepted member of the Flash universe already.  Luckily, My confusion subsided thanks to a well-placed recap:

wpid-20150915_132902.jpgThe fact that the exact same freak accident happened twice makes me think Barry Allen really ought to store his chemicals someplace else, but that’s besides the point.  At first I wasn’t sure how I felt about Kid Flash.  After all, his powers are identical to The Flash’s, so any stories featuring Kid Flash could just as easily have been told with the original Flash.

As I kept reading though, I began to see the importance of the character.  While The Flash is a mythical hero, far removed from the world of children, Kid Flash serves as a bridge between the two.  Yes, he has super powers, but he still goes to school and deals with every day problems like any other kid.  He laments about being teased that he likes a girl, he suffers through initiation into his school’s prestigious fraternity.  These issues would have been much more relatable for children, as opposed to Barry Allen’s romantic woes.  I can’t say I know for sure yet whether Kid Flash will be a continuous character or not, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he stuck around for a while.  I can see the appeal.

And now, because this was the early 1960’s and apparently incorporating scientific learning into comics was the thing to do, let’s pause a moment to address The Flash’s contribution to educating America’s youth.

wpid-20150915_192759.jpgThese educational “editor’s notes” seem to appear much more frequently in this trade.  Although once or twice they were used to reference a backstory, more often they are explaining the scientific principle behind one of The Flash’s amazing feats.  With these notes appearing in both The Flash and Green Lantern comics, I’m left wondering why the writers felt it necessary to include these.  Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s great that there’s a little lesson thrown in.  I just wonder if the writers felt they had to provide an explanation for these events rather than just allowing them to be an extension of the super power.  I doubt that comics today provide similar explanations.  Characters have special abilities that go beyond explanation, and that’s that.  I’m curious to see if and when this trend of explaining the hero’s amazing feats with science dies out.

I believe I’m well ensconced in the silver age of The Flash and Green Lantern, and at this point certain undeniable themes are emerging.  Science-fiction stories are heavily favored, and there is a move towards more elaborate storytelling.  There also seems to be a shift away from the more violent aspects of earlier comics.  Although I can’t say definitively as I haven’t gotten to any Batman or Superman comics from the silver age, based on my reading of these past few trades I think it’s safe to say that the especially violent images and deaths that infiltrated the earliest comics have been replaced with more comical scenarios and less untimely death.  In fact, looking back I don’t believe a single character, good or bad, has died in these last few trades.  They certainly feel more kid-friendly than the comics of the 1940’s.  I know this form of storytelling won’t last forever, as trends and styles change over time.  The themes will eventually change again, moving towards those of the more modern comics of today.

I thoroughly look forward to tracking that progression.

-Jess

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The Flash Chronicles: Volume One

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:wpid-20150913_174429.jpgThis 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.

wpid-20150913_192958.jpgHere 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.

wpid-20150913_194645.jpgWhen 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.

wpid-20150913_190934.jpgThe 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:

wpid-20150913_193602.jpgBarry 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!

-Jess