Fans of the Flash who’ve only been reading about him in comics for say, the last quarter century or so — not to mention fans who primarily know him from the current CW network TV series — may find this a difficult notion to grasp; but, back in his Silver Age heyday, Barry Allen did not regularly share his adventures with other costumed speedsters. While it’s true that my own first issue of The Flash, bought and read in the September of 1965, featured an appearance by Barry’s teenage protégé Wally West — aka Kid Flash — as of summer, 1967, I hadn’t seen the two together again since. And while I was familiar with Barry’s Golden Age predecessor as the Flash, Jay Garrick, I’d only actually seen him in action in a vintage 1947 adventure that had been reprinted in Flash #160. — I’d yet to see him team up with “my” Flash, or even with his fellow Justice Society of America members in one of the annual Justice League – Justice Society team-up extravaganzas..
All of which is intended to convey to you, dear reader, that when this comic book came out in July, 1967 — with its terrific cover (penciled by Carmine Infantino, inked by Murphy Anderson, and strikingly lettered by the great Ira Schnapp) promising not one, not two, but three Flashes in one story together — it was a big honking deal for my ten-year-old self.
The story I eventually found (and read) behind that dramatic cover — “Doomward Flight of the Flashes!”, written by John Broome, pencilled by Infantino, and inked by Sid Greene — actually gets off to a relatively quiet, though still intriguing start, as the first real story page (following the introductory splash) takes us immediately into the company of the Flash my ten-year-old self had been exposed to the least, and was the most interested in learning more about, Jay Garrick:
As it happened, I’d made the acquaintance of “the former Joan Williams” over a year earlier, in the pages of that single Golden Age Flash story I’d read, the one reprinted in Flash #160 — so I was quite aware that not only did Joan know Jay’s secret identity today, as his wife, but had even known it way back in 1947, before they were married. Which made for a striking contrast with “my” Flash, Barry Allen, who’d kept his alter ego secret from his wife, Iris, for almost a full year of marriage by this time — in spite of having once made a promise that his wedding day would be “Flash-revealing day”.
So, here come Mr. and Mrs. Garrick, just an ordinary married couple taking a day-trip to Earth-One:
The two speedsters did indeed proceed to “jet up”, to borrow young Wally’s colorful vernacular, and soon Flash and Kid Flash had the Domino Gang reeling:
After leaving the Allens’ apartment, Jay and Wally suit up and, after deciding that their best course of action is to try to track down the Domino Gang, begin to canvass Central City at super-speed:
I’m not sure if Golden Man was the first bona-fide mutant to turn up in a DC superhero comic — I kind of doubt it, since the concept had been well-established in the science fiction genre even before 1963, when Stan Lee and Jack Kirby came up with Marvel Comics’ X-Men — but he may well have been the first comic-book mutant I ever encountered, if only by a few weeks (there were a couple of Marvel’s mutants waiting in my very near future, as we’ll see in a forthcoming post). Interestingly enough, however, the Marvel character that Golden Man probably most closely resembles visually is a non-mutant character — Adam Warlock, aka “Him” — a character originally designed by Jack Kirby for a Fantastic Four story, which, since it was published in the very same month as Flash #173, couldn’t possibly have influenced Infantino’s Golden Man — or vice versa. But the version of Warlock that Golden Man looks the most like is actually a redesign by Gil Kane, which first appeared in 1972. Could Infantino’s Flash villain’s forehead decoration and sharp-shouldered couture have later influenced Kane, even unconsciously? We’ll probably never know, but it’s fun to speculate.
But to return to our story…
Kid Flash’s foreboding turns out to be well-founded, of course — the natural landscape of the planet Vorvan is filled with traps, including giant geysers and rain which transforms into adhesive crystals. Nevertheless, by using their wits as well as their powers, the speedsters manage to elude the pursuing Golden Man, at least for the time being.
However, if you’ve been thinking that our villain’s “Most Dangerous Game” motivation for abducting and hunting the Flashes seems just a little bit thin — well, congratulations; you are correct:
It’s not clear why Golden Man believes that the populace of the planet will happily accept him as their leader once he’s evolved all of them to be his equals — but in the guy’s defense, he hasn’t had much of a sounding board to test out his ideas up to this point.
Soon afterwards, the Flashes fall into another trap, as the solid ground they’re running on melts into quicksand beneath their speeding feet. Their powers can’t propel them out of the bog, and soon an exhausted Kid Flash starts to sink beneath the surface:
Upon returning to his base, Golden Man verifies that he still doesn’t have enough super-speed juice to power his evolution machine — and Kid Flash won’t be able to finish the job by himself. Luckily for Goldie, however, he recalls that he spied a third super-speedster through his super-telescope, right before he teleported Kid Flash to Vorvan:
Unlike Barry and Wally, Jay isn’t immediately incapacitated by the effects of the teleportation beam (it later turns out that the minor vibration he maintains at all times when he’s the Flash, for the purpose of blurring his facial features, has protected him), and thus is able to put up a fight for a whole couple of pages — though he, too, eventually succumbs to Golden Man’s high-tech weaponry.
When Jay wakes up, he’s trapped in a radiation cell with Wally, who tells him of Barry’s apparent demise. Setting aside their grief for the moment, the two remaining Flashes put all their efforts into trying to vibrate free of their cell:
Whoa, Barry’s still alive! (And, yes, it is Barry in that last panel, although the unknown colorist seems to have gotten confused and mistakenly applied the hues of Jay’s costume to Barry’s blurred figure.) But how’d he survive the quicksand, you ask? As we eventually learn, our clever hero figured out that although he couldn’t vibrate upward out of the bog, nothing impeded him from vibrating downward — so he vibrated all the way down through the center of the planet, emerging on the far side of Vorvan, and then raced back to Vorvan City, arriving just in the nick of time to rescue Wally and Jay from being frozen to death:
But Barry has an idea. He has Jay and Wally vibrate at the same speed, which (somehow) adds their velocity to his — allowing him to break through Golden Man’s defenses:
Whoops! Looks like the chance that Golden Man took didn’t pay off quite as he’d hoped. But at least he won’t be the odd one out among his fellow inhabitants of Vorvan anymore.
After that, all our heroes have to do is “reverse the circuits” on the teleportation machine to send them home, and since they can work at super speed, it’s a piece of cake:
Looking back at this story today, fifty years after I first read it, it’s pretty easy to recognize its inadequacies. Even allowing for changes in style and taste over the decades, it’s problematic that a tale billed as featuring three Flashes in action together doesn’t actually show them together until the last few pages. Also, though the whole story is framed by Jay Garrick’s visit to Earth-One with his wife Joan, it doesn’t make very much use of Jay once the adventure gets underway — even his avoidance of the teleportation machine’s incapacitating effects ends up not amounting to anything — and it’s Barry, not the older (and presumably wiser) Jay, who has the idea that ultimately saves our heroes’ bacon (and, indeed, most of the other bright ideas in the story, as well).
But you know what? None of that mattered to me as a ten-year-old reader in July, 1967. I had been excited about the idea of seeing three Flashes together — and I did, indeed, get to see them. I had been especially eager to see the Golden Age Flash in action “today” — and there, too, I got what I wanted. And besides that — regardless of any deficiencies in John Broome’s script, Carmine Infantino was at the peak of his powers when drawing this issue. The book looked amazing.
Of course, I didn’t have any idea then that this would prove to be Infantino’s next-to-last issue of Flash in a run that had been unbroken since 1956. But — that’s a post for another day.
One last observation about this issue, and its personal significance to yours truly: I don’t think that any group of heroes underscores the significance of “legacy” in the DC Universe quite so strongly as Jay Garrick, Barry Allen, and Wally West. It’s a sense of tradition that managed to survive the disruptions of the “Crisis on Infinite Earths” — indeed, that massive change to DC’s continuity may have actually strengthened the sense of legacy, of a mantle being passed down from one Flash to another.
That loss of legacy was one of things that bothered me most about DC’s 2011 “New 52” reboot. It’s also one of the things that makes me the most hopeful about what the company is currently doing in “Rebirth.”
I’ve got my fingers crossed that they don’t screw it up.