The Flash #123 (September 1961)
"Flash of Two Worlds!"
Gardner Fox-Carmine Infantino/Joe Giella
Doug: One of the books I picked up at WizardWorld Chicago back in August was the DC Comics Library edition of The Flash of Two Worlds. It contains the first six meetings of Barry Allen and Jay Garrick, from The Flash #s 123, 129, 137, 151, and 170. Today we're obviously going to discuss that first landmark story, a tale that touched off DC's alleged continuity quandary that would result in the "Crisis on Infinite Earths" event and then ultimately the undoing of most of that. Ugh... But hey, this is a fun story, so let's wait to dwell on its future until the comments section.
Doug: I have to say from the start that Carmine Infantino's art (of which, at least in the Bronze Age, I am not a fan) throughout this story is pretty darn good. However, could the Barry Allen Flash look any more like Gazoo in that splash page? What a huge melon! But what an incredible cover -- truly, that image has to be one of the highlights of any age of comics. And how exciting would that have been for a youngster picking this one off the spinner racks (hey, were spinner racks invented in 1961?)? Help a brother out, here -- was DC reprinting their Golden Age material as the Silver Age was dawning? I do not know the answer to that, so I'm wondering if a 10-year old in 1961 would have recognized the Jay Garrick Flash? Surely his old man would... Let's get on with the story, which at a whopping 25 pages felt like an Annual to me.
Doug: Barry Allen is of course late to a commitment he'd made to Iris West. Iris is chairing a fundraiser for a local orphanage, but is furious as Barry arrives. He assumes it's because of him, but he really had a legitimate excuse this time. But no, she's upset that her magician who was tabbed as the entertainment for the children hasn't shown up. Barry says he can't stay (wait, weren't they supposed to be together at the fundraiser?), but wonders if Iris would like him to phone the Flash as a potential stand-in for the magician? She's elated, so Barry slips away, pops his special ring, and emerges moments later as the Fastest Man Alive. The Flash goes through a litany of skills and showmanship, but stuns the crowd when he climbs a rope that he's set to spinning beyond the human eye's capability to see and disappears.
Doug: Flash is next shown on a country road, still holding the rope. He wonders where he could possibly be, and then muses that he could have vibrated so fast that he broke through time and space. Call-out to Flash fans -- had Barry ever done that before? I would assume that this is the first time doing any sort of warping, but I don't know -- the fact that he thought he could vibrate the rope and make himself disappear and then reappear has me wondering. Assuming he's outside Central City, the Flash sets his course back toward where he thinks the city is. But as he enters the city limits, all is not what he'd thought it would be. Many of the landmarks that he expected are not present. He now wonders if he's gone through time and has emerged at a time in Central City's past. Running to the spot where he thinks he'll find Iris's place of work, he's stunned to see that instead there is a building housing the Keystone City Herald. Now thoroughly confused, the Flash runs to a newsstand and picks up a paper. It's date? June 14, 1961 -- "today", as far as the Flash is concerned. He asks the vendor where Keystone City is located, and the guy looks at him like he has three heads. Then the Flash begins to really wonder -- a guy he knew before used to live in Keystone City. A guy named Jay Garrick, the original Flash! But wait -- that was only in the comic books! The Flash finds a telephone book and sure enough -- there's a Jay Garrick in it. So, a quick run and a quicker change, and Barry Allen is about to announce himself to a childhood hero.
Doug: Barry rings the bell of Jay Garrick's apartment. Garrick opens, and Barry says that he recognizes him. Jay's of course a little weirded-out by this, but humors his guest. We get a nice recap of the original Flash's origin told by Barry, which further confounds Jay and his wife Joan. As they lament the "secret" no longer being so, Barry says to wait -- he has something to show. He activates his ring, and out pops the Flash costume which he dons. Now seated in full hero garb in the living room of the Garricks, Barry surmises that he must have somehow vibrated through a space warp and landed on an alternate Earth. Barry further guesses that the two Earths vibrate at different frequencies, which keeps them apart. On his Earth, Central City is very much like Garrick's Keystone City, with a few pronounced differences. Barry then relates his own origin, and tells how he was inspired to become the Flash after having read the adventures of Jay Garrick. Garrick is astounded -- how did Barry read of him?? Barry then does a bit of fourth wall-breaking by bringing writer Gardner Fox into the tale. Barry says that Fox wrote of the Golden Age Flash, and alleged that the adventures came to him in dreams. Barry wonders if somehow, while sleeping, Fox was "in tune" with Jay Garrick's world. Barry says that Flash Comics ceased publication in 1949; Garrick is amazed, as that was the very year he retired as the Flash. OK, kids -- there is the explanation for DC's multiple Earths. What do you think?
Doug: Garrick says that lately he's been thinking of coming out of retirement, and relates to Barry some crimes that have happened locally. Of course, Barry says he's in if Jay will have his help. Oh, how the seeds of a team-up for the ages are sown!
Doug: In the second chapter we are (re-)introduced to three baddies from the Golden Age Flash's rogues gallery: the Thinker, the Fiddler, and the Shade. Of course, by modern standards these three dudes wouldn't cause most heroes to break a sweat, but as many of DC's villains go they each have a schtick. The Thinker wears an army helmet with all sorts of wires on it -- he can cause anything he can think of to actually happen if within 50 yards of him. The Fiddler can cause strange accidents to happen by playing his Stradivarius (and riding in his Fiddle Car, no less). The Shade uses his cane to create absolute darkness. The three do-badders plot to a) steal the Neptune Cup from millionaire Edward Jarvis (hmmm... you think that's Edwin's long-lost twin?), b) steal the "European crown jewels" (there's a European crown?), and c) steal a collection of historical curios. Say, did you ever wonder who fences all of the loot that comic book bad guys steal?
Doug: As the rogues get on with their crime spree, the Flashes decide to separate and attempt to cover the city faster. The GA Flash comes across the Jarvis mansion, and is warned by two watchdogs that the Thinker is inside! Odd, but when you're in the superhero biz I'd assume you reach a point where nothing surprises you. Flash enters the mansion, but the Thinker uses his collander-doohickey to trick Flash into thinking he's caught his man. Flash literally gets tired running around the Jarvis study chasing the Thinker, and finally slams headfirst into a door. Barry Allen is tracking the Shade to a ship offshore of Keystone City. The ship is engulfed in darkness, but once aboard the Flash whips the murky ether into a pillar. The Shade sees this and uses it as his cue to depart. Jumping into a motor boat the crook speeds away. The Flash follows him, running on the water. The Shade uses his cane to not only emit the dark stuff, but by mixing oil into it the Flash loses his concentration and begins to sink into the sea. Super-baddies 2, fastest men alive 0.
Doug: The chapter just past shows why books like All-Star Comics were fun, because the Justice Society would be broken into smaller teams to solve crimes and bad guys. I suppose it was somewhat of a nod to that past here in breaking the Flashes apart. But as we segue into chapter 3 we get what all youngsters wanted in the first place -- these two titans teamed as one! We haven't seen our heroes deal with the Fiddler yet. Rectified. As the Beethoven lookalike rides through town on his Fiddle Car (seriously -- see for yourself), the Flashes race toward their encounter. On the way, though, we get the scene that the cover was drawn from (or vice versa -- no idea which came first). The Flashes divert their path to save a construction worker menaced by a falling steel girder. It's a nifty bit of teamwork, and foreshadows (we hope) what they'll do to the soon-to-be-assembled rogues. But in the meantime, they encounter the Fiddler. Away from this area of town, the Thinker and the Shade get back together and relate their adventures. In recounting the play-by-play, they determine that there must be two Flashes -- the Fiddler could be in trouble! They race off to help their partner, only to find him playing away as our heroes dance like puppets for him. Not good.
Doug: The Fiddler gloats to his buddies about how simple this was, and that he actually got the Flashes to steal the crown jewels. He says as a final show of his power, he'll freeze the Flashes in place for 24 hours. As the villains turn to leave, however, the Flashes suddenly run toward them and overpower their enemies with the element of surprise! At the local precinct, the Fiddler wants to know how the Flashes were able to resist him. Simple, Jay says -- the Fiddler neglected to order the Flashes not to try to escape. Additionally, when the Fiddler ordered Jay and Barry to bring him the larger jewels, they took the smaller ones and inserted them in their ears, thus distorting the musical commands. That, pals, is how they resisted! Later, Jay and Barry congratulate each other on a job well done. Jay pledges to go on being the Flash -- because you know, if he stayed retired we wouldn't get to do this again! Barry spins his body, hoping to duplicate the vibrations that allowed him to breach the barrier between their Earths. He re-materializes on the stage from which he'd left -- but in real time. Everyone has gone home! Racing to the newspaper, he finds Iris and tells her that he had to leave... on a most unusual mission. She of course scoffs, and our hero thinks that the only person who would believe this is... Gardner Fox. And he's going to look him up to tell him!