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?