ad for Flash

Here we see an ad — taken from Superman’s Girl Friend, Lois Lane #7 (February 1959) — for The Flash #105, which was the very first issue of the Scarlet Speedster’s own title. The previous 104 issues had been published in the 1940s and featured the Golden Age Flash, Jay Garrick. Poor sales following the end of the War saw the demise of most of the super-hero titles as readers turned their attention elsewhere, and comics publishers tried to lure them back with new genres such as horror, crime and romance.

When DC launched its Showcase title in 1956 it was intended as a try-out book for new concepts, a way to test the waters of popularity without having to invest in an ongoing series. The first three issues featured the adventures of a Fireman, an Indian and a Frogman (not all together, sadly — cos, y’know, that might have been too interesting!) The supposed idea was that each editor would handle a couple of issues in turn before handing over to the next in line. The reigns passed over to Julie Schwartz with #4 and, stuck for anything better, he decided to give super-heroes another whirl.

Schwartz had edited Flash Comics during the previous decade and so the titular hero seemed like a good bet for revival. However, Schwartz wanted some changes to try to update what was, after all, a moribund notion and give it a snazzy makeover for the swinging 50s. To that end he worked closely with writer Bob Kanigher and artist Carmine Infantino to update the Flash, giving him a brand new identity (Barry Allen), a new costume (the tin hat look was so dated by 1956), and a whole new reliance on hard SF for story lines.  During the 1930s and early 1940s, Schwartz  — along with his pal Mort Weisinger — had been an agent for pulp SF writers, so knew the concepts well. Chemicals, lightning, microscopic suits and time travel would all feature in the debut stories. Along with what was probably the Schwartz masterstroke — super-powered villains. Previously the bad guys fought by super characters had mostly been crooks, hoodlums and mad scientists. A villain with super-powers to match the good guy brought a whole new dimension, allowing for more spectacular action and demanded ever more inventive ways of defeating them.

It was a bold reinvention, and pointed towards a whole new way of doing super-heroes. But would it sell?

It would…

However, the 1950s were far more cautious times. Showcase featured a further two Flash try-outs (#8 and #12) before the super-hero finally migrated into his own book — and even then it was a revival of the 1940s title rather than starting over with a fresh #1, which something editors seemed reluctant to do back then.

Image ©2011 DC Comics