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.
Here 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:
The 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:
Grodd 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:
The 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.
These 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.