Wednesday, December 2, 2015

The Classics - Showcase #4

   It is, quite simply, the most important comic in the modern age of comics.

   I'll grant that the first comic ever printed (reprints of newspaper comic strips) and the first appearance of Superman in Action Comics #1 are probably the most important of all time - but this issue of Showcase, which brings us the first appearance of the Silver Age (and Modern Day) Flash, may be even more important.

   By the late '50s, superhero comics were fading fast. Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman were the only mainstream heroes. Aquaman, Green Arrow and the new kid, the Martian Manhunter, were barely hanging on. The Justice Society were long gone.

   Timely (Marvel Comics) had already given up on superheroes - it probably wouldn't have taken much to convince DC to do likewise.

   But they had a new tryout title named Showcase. After issues focusing on firefighters, animals and frogmen, they needed something for the fourth issue. Just as the topics changed from issue to issue, so did the editors. The fourth issue would fall under Julius Schwartz's control.

   He decided to give superheroes another shot, so he recruited writer Robert Kanigher and artists Carmine Infantino and Joe Kubert - all of whom had worked on the Golden Age version of The Flash.

   But he didn't want to just bring back the "old" Flash - that one had been cancelled, after all - so he asked them to update the character and the costume.

   Infantino delivered, providing a sleek, streamlined, modern costume. Gone was the winged helmet and the two-colored uniform, and in was an identity-concealing mask and a cool chest logo.

   His origin was virtually unchanged - a mysterious bolt of lightning splashes unnamed chemicals on him - and just like that, he's the fastest man alive!

   He also had a new identity - he was now Barry Allen, a somewhat shy police scientist. (And how prescient was that? The CSI TV shows are the hugely popular now - Kanigher was way ahead of the curve!)

   His first foe was silly - the Turtle, the slowest man alive - but the second story in the issue was a nifty science fiction tale pitting the Flash against a criminal from the distant future!

   The issue was a hit, and led the way for the return (and updating) of other heroes - Green Lantern, the Atom, Hawkman - and eventually, the rebirth of a team comic, renamed the Justice League!

   Without the success of the Flash, DC's hero rebirth might not have occurred - and that's what led Timely's owner, Martin Goodman, to urge Stan Lee to give superheroes another try, which led to the Fantastic Four, Spider-Man, the Avengers - you get the idea.

    And that's why I maintain - the most important comic of modern times is Showcase #4!

Grade: A


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