Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Guest Post - A Flash in the Pan?

Doug: Loving all of these guest posts -- just loving them! Hey, today Mike S. (aka Martinex1) is back with another Open Forum on one of the all-time greats, the Flash! Although the Scarlet Speedster has made a few appearances on the BAB, he's certainly not received his due given the long history of the character. Today's a step in the right direction. And, as you read through this, note how ol' Mike/Martinex is playing the same riff our "Paint It Black" covers post of a few weeks ago was blasting!

Mike S.: I have been watching the new Flash television show and have been surprised by how much I enjoy it. It is definitely light fare, and in tone it probably leans more toward the action adventure shows of the late 70’s (threat of the week, cast of supporting characters, romantic undertones, episode bridging mystery, etc.) rather than the dark mood and cynicism of more recent primetime shows. One aspect I like is that the creators are not shying away from its comic book genesis and are embracing some of that genre’s inherent oddities and drama. The template for the show seems to be to throw in everything and the kitchen sink, keep it all generally good spirited, and keep it moving.

Introduce a new rogue nearly every week? No problem. Actually present Grodd, a telepathic genius gorilla? Sure why not. Name drop many of DC’s characters and hint at future subplots?  There are easter eggs galore. How about time travel? Throw it in; mix and stir.

I have always known Barry Allen’s Flash origin and cannot even tell you when I first heard about the crash of chemicals and lightning strike; that story must have somehow been ingrained in me by the time I could read. But I have never owned many Flash comics. If I said I have five Barry Allen issues that may be exaggerating. I did follow Wally West’s adventures a bit in both Teen Titans and his own series, but I cannot recall much detail.

With my newfound interest in the Flash because of the series, I decided to look at some old Silver and Bronze Age covers to see what I may be interested in reading. I was surprised by a style and motif in the cover art that is the polar opposite of what I envisioned. Interspersed throughout the years, particularly in comics dated 1966 through 1974, there are some interesting concepts that I don’t think I have seen used much elsewhere. Although sometimes touched with Silver Age insanity (i.e. Barry’s head growing to the size of a watermelon in issue #177), there was a serious edge to the Flash. There was a type of grimness that I would have thought common in Batman, but in my limited exposure to the Flash would not have expected. And some of the design is better and more cutting edge than I realized. Certainly Marvel did not often employ this vibe in its superhero standards at the time. I am not a DC aficionado so I am not sure if this was the house style and would be interested in hearing others' thoughts on the topic.

Here are some of the details around that styling and some examples of issues I am referring to:

1) The covers broke the fourth wall. It seems fairly common for the character on the cover to address the reader. Whether featuring the Flash himself or the villain of the issue, the cover challenges the customer to purchase or even partake in the adventure. See issues #163, #172, #193, and #222 for examples. This of course was long before series like She-Hulk by John Byrne commonly employed this tactic of self-awareness. I think this was rare in the Bronze Age (it was a dated technique in some regards that lost its appeal, but seems somewhat novel in retrospect).


2) The text itself was part of the cover’s appeal. See Issues #174 and #184. The logo in #174 is so eye catching and seems like a technique that Steranko or Eisner would use.

3) There was an element of fear or tonal darkness to the covers, often including the Flash’s death and stark black backgrounds. Some covers would almost seem appropriate in a horror anthology like “Unexpected”; the only differentiation is the brightness of the Flash’s costume. Check out Issues #186, #190, #191, #194 and #227.


Each of the above covers intrigue me. I have no idea if the stories inside are any good at all, or if the atmosphere changes at all. But I like these covers and I have to say I want to read them. If I had been buying comics at the time of their release I would have purchased these comics. The artists for the instances shown include Ross Andru, Nick Cardy, Neal Adams, Carmine Infantino, and Joe Kubert.   No slackers there, and even the artists with mixed reviews show nicely. It seems to me that with such a varied group of contributors, much of the feel must have been editorial’s choice. It is hard to say for sure. The coloring of the books had a large impact. The Flash’s costume is a classic and hasn’t changed much in the fifty plus years of existence. The red and yellow are so striking particularly against dark backgrounds, so I am sure that contrast led to some of the decisions. But the stretching of the art form and the forbidding aura add a complexity that I was not expecting from that era’s scarlet speedster comic.


What do you think about the Flash? Do you like the new television show? And what is your opinion about the cover art I mentioned? Did the stories match their covers’ appeal? Was DC pushing any boundaries with this title or were they always chasing Marvel? Did other DC books share this approach or was it limited to the Flash?  Do you prefer Barry Allen or Wally West? What are some great Flash stories? What else did I miss that was just plain Flashtastic?


Anonymous said...
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Edo Bosnar said...

Those Flash covers are quite striking, and quite popular, I think, as it seems that I often see them posted throughout the comics blogosphere and other comics-related sites. However, I haven't read many of the stories attached to them, as my reading of Silver Age Flash is limited to what was reprinted in the digests of the late '70s. Most of those stories were solid, but nothing I ever got excited about. I still prefer Marvel's Silver Age output.

Otherwise, I got caught up in the Flash for a while right around the time of the death of Iris story arc and the period just after - it wasn't a bad series, with passable art by Don Heck.
And there were some pretty good Flash stories in Adventure Comics during that year it was a dollar comic, and the art, by Irv Novick, was much better than in the regular series.

That's all I can say about the Flash, really - he was never my favorite character, and I tended to like him more in JLA stories. Haven't seen this new show, either, although I keep hearing good things about it.

Martinex1 said...

Not much love for the Flash; guess I should rethink my 5000 word analysis on Kid Flash, Johnny Quick, Jay Garrett and Impulse. Ha.

Seriously though, if you have not seen the television show I do highly recommend it. I feel it gets better almost every week. I think it really started building up steam around episode 6, so if you are watching the season push yourself through the first handful of setup episodes because it starts getting much more tense and exciting with a lot of subplots coming to fruition. The speed is good ... so to speak. And I have to say I think it really captures some of the comic book magic (not always perfect but much better than some other comic related shows). Even since I wrote this blog a month or so ago, the show created some nice spins. Interested to hear if anybody else is watching.

Humanbelly said...

I really enjoy the show very much. A solid high B+, and if it ran for a Smallville-like 10 years, I would be delighted. It's not brilliant, perhaps, but it's fun and extremely engaging with a very capable cast and some decent writing and directing. My main knock against it is the heavy reliance on the secret-identity angst as it effects personal relationships. To the show's credit, it does seem to be putting a little more depth of thought into the trope, though, and not letting it hang there at its cliched worst.

The Flash's creepy covers were always a favorite of mine! The skeleton one is one of the best covers ever-- and I know I read that issue 'way back when. I-- think the circumstances in that issue were rather more mundane than the cover led one to believe. That may have been the case for a number of them, IIRC (I know I read the Bride/Two Shadows one at some early point, too). Like a lot of folks, I didn't really buy or collect Flash a lot-- although I did acquire the final Barry arc from the 80's-- but for some reason I always think of him as my favorite DC superhero. Much like Wendell Vaughn (Quasar), Barry was always the quintessentially nice, likable, innately-approachable super-fella. Someone you'd happily buy a burger for, y'know? (And heck, he'd burn the calories right off. . . )


Anonymous said...

One thing to be aware of is that for most of the run where these covers originally appeared Julius Schwartz was editing and Carmine Infantino was designing the covers.

Infantino was one of the best ever cover designers to work in comics.


Humanbelly said...

Y'know, I could swear there was another Flash cover very similar to the skeleton one, where it was a couple of kids walking under. . . a train trestle? And it was more a close-up view of the Flash's skull in the foreground? Am I crazy, there, Martinex? Does that ring a visual bell for anyone else?


Martinex1 said...

Sorry HB, I don't recall that cover, and quickly going back through some cover scans it does not jump out at me. Is it possible it is a splash page? I will look again later, but no luck yet.

Garett said...

Great covers! I always liked the Flash for his positive personality, appealing costume and powers. I was good at running and sprinting in school, so I liked all the quick characters. Even Johnny Quick, etc. I didn't get to read these issues as they were a bit before my time, but I liked the Irv Novick version, and even read some of the Don Heck issues.

The horror aspect is interesting, and I think would be an intriguing storyline for Flash. He's so bright, it'd be natural to have dark foes. Also he's so powerful with his speed, but susceptible to magic.

I have read some of the early Infantino issues in the last few years, and especially the early stuff is very good artistically. Infantino at his best in my opinion. He won the Alley Award as Best Artist in comics from 1961-64, plus a special award in 1969 as the person "who exemplifies the spirit of innovation and inventiveness in the field of comic art".

Humanbelly said...

You know what. . . I wonder if I'm mixing it up with one of the early Weird War covers. . . ? That wouldn't be surprising-- as the memory ages. . .

There was also a pretty cool time-travel convention used in Flash's book, I believe-- a treadmill thingy? Completely inane, yes, but I remember thinking it was the greatest thing ever when I was a kid-! It did eventually get wrecked, I believe-- possibly because it simply made the Flash too ridiculously powerful?


Anonymous said...

I'm like Edo...I liked Flash in JLA, but never felt motivated to read his solo book. I've read a few of the early silver age issues, but the only later storyline that comes to mind is the "Trial of the Flash", which I think dragged on for an inordinate amount of time. It was pretty "dark", from what I've heard.

I love the Flash TV show (last night's episode was great, with Mark Hamill chewing the scenery as Trickster). I can't wait till Grodd gets the spotlight, and I'm looking forward to the upcoming x-over with Arrow (which I also watch). There's supposed to be a spin-off coming out sometime with Atom, Martin Stein, Hawkgirl, and Captain Cold among others...should be good!

Mike Wilson

P.S. @Doug and Karen: I love the dancing robot on the captcha verification!

david_b said...

Like HB commented on, that ish 186 was one of my first comics.., and it was pretty dark. From the other Flash's I've read around that era they all were dark, which I liked.

Was it a conscious push like Adam's Batman and B&B, Titans, obviously GL/GA, and Aparo's Aquaman (to the extent of adding Deadman to that title at times...)..? They all seemed to go that route in 1969/70.

I never liked Kubert's art so there's a few Flash covers I'll never collect, but the others here are pretty great.

As for Flash on television, I still enjoy the at-times-sophmoric 1990 series, John Wesley Shipp was outstanding (Ms. Pays...., not so much). It did have a lot of charm going for it, especially introducing Mark Hamill as a MASTER villain, creating an entirely new niche for his incredible vocal abilities. I missed his appearance last night, but will watch it this weekend (my cable company has specific channels where you can watch episodes of certain series again..). I didn't think much of the new series when I watched an episode last fall, but will try it again with Hamill's appearance this weekend.

Having Hamill reprise his Trickster was a clear.. stroke.. of.. GENIUS..!!

Yeahhh, I like that dancing robot too ~ Hmmm, does BAB need an animated mascot?

Karen said...

Another great job, Mike. Those covers are fun to look at. As a young kid, I would look at my uncle's comics -he had many DC, Dell, and Gold Key books, a few Marvels, but I always thought the DCs from the sixties had a 'dark' cast to them. Not as bright and exciting as the Marvel books I was reading in the early 70s but more moody-looking; indeed, they do seem more suited to a horror or mystery title. For some reason, anything Nick Cardy did had a 'horror' feel to me, and still does.

I like the new Flash show, don't love it, but have hopes for it. The quality seems to vary wildly from week to week, or even within the same episode. It reminds me a lot of Smallville, or even Supernatural - it must be something about those CW shows!

Hey I see the dancing robot! Cool!

Martinex1 said...

Karen, it is funny you mention Cardy, because my first exposure to his work was in "Unexpected" and I always liked his horror covers. Some of his ghouls and skeletons and close ups of terrified characters were top notch. He was great with shadow and light; and his design of facial characteristics and expressions was I believe ahead of its time. I think those moods gave mystery and suspense to his covers.

HB, there definitely was a "cosmic treadmill" that allowed speedsters to not only travel in time but to traverse between the many DC worlds. In the TV show, Flash tests his speed on a treadmill and I wonder if that storyline is forthcoming.

It is interesting how Infantino's art changed over the years. It was really quite dynamic and good in the early going and his layouts were nice. Some later Marvel stuff was horrible though and really turned me off (ie Nova, Spider Woman), but what is weird is that around the same time he did some really nice work in Iron Man. I just recently came across it and was surprised that it was Infantino. Maybe some inkers accentuated his rough layouts better. But his early Flash stuff is quite solid.

Garett said...

Yes that's true Mike. The issue Infantino drew of Iron Man during the Layton/Micheline run was very good. Must've been Layton inking?

Anonymous said...

Hey Mike S/Martinex1 great post. I was wondering when the Scarlet Speedster was gonna get his day in the sun. Although he was never one of my favourites, I have watched a few episodes of the new CW show and the 1990s John Wesley Shipp Flash too.

I believe it was a masterstroke to include Shipp as the father of Grant Gustin's Barry Allen. It bridges the gap between the two series, and I cheered when they revealed a small glimpse of Gorilla Grodd, even if he was partially obscured in shadow.

I also feel it was a good idea to incorporate as many of the villains from his rogue's gallery like Captain Cold, Heat Wave and the Weather Wizard. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I haven't seen Mirror Master as yet! I also think it's a good idea to keep the show lighter in tone than say, Gotham. These days, it seems everyone wants to make a series as dark as possible, which is a mistake in my humble opinion.

- Mike 'flashes to the refrigerator' from Trinidad & Tobago.

Martinex1 said...

Mike, you are correct in that there has been no Mirror Master...yet. I was curious if he was gong to come into play when they used the old mirror to digitally recreate the crime scene. Still suspect that tool mayhave some impact.

BK said...

Haven't seen the tv show. Turned off by the hype for new Marvel and DC film/tv stuff and don't like to support those companies in general. The old comics are good enough for me.

Ifantino was a genius. His Flash and Strange Adventures led the revitalization of DC in the SA, mostly due to his covers, costume designs, and the naturalistic sci-fi stylings of his penciling. (And his innovations as Publisher brought Kirby's Fourth World to the company!)

What a surprise it was to discover that the artist responsible for that "weird" art in Nova, Spider-Woman and other Bronze Age Marvels had a history at DC that I slowly learned about later.

Part of that learning took place when I stumbled on my cousin's copy of Flash #300 in 1981. I highly recommend this massive comic to anyone curious about the "classic" Flash and his history. The story, written by Cary Bates, imaginatively covers the history of the characters and all of the major rogues, and features Infantino art. I knew about Flash because of the Superfriends and I had read the occasional issue of his comic previously, plus guest appearances in the odd Superman comic and JLA (Perez!), but this one made me something of a fan and an immediate "expert." This knowledge really made my reading of Crisis on Infinite Earths different when I read it a few years later.

Imagine encountering those Infantino Flash covers (and his famous Batman covers) as a kid in the 60s and 70s. Ditto for those peak period Neal Adams covers!

Edo Bosnar said...

Garett and Mike S., the issue of Iron Man you're talking about is #122, and yes, it was inked by Bob Layton, which I think has a lot to do with why it looks a notch better than most of Infantino's work at the time.

Otherwise, I agree with several of the comments above about Infantino's art. I wasn't a fan back then, and I especially didn't like his work at Marvel - Star Wars in particular.
However, I wasn't a fan of his DC work at the time, either. I know this will sound like heresy to many, but I actually preferred Heck's art on the main Flash title over Infantino's, and kept reading it when he took over mainly because of the Firestorm back-up stories.

And no dancing robot for this comment, although I did see one when I posted my first one yesterday...

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