The Flash Vol. 1, No. 123, September 1961. Written By Gardner Fox, Pencilled by Carmine Infantino and Inked by Joe Giella.
Art is usually best viewed in the context in which it was first created. Understanding that Michelangelo’s “David” was created to be viewed from below at a fair height goes a long way in explaining the odd proportions. It’s not always easy, though. One cannot listen to The Beatle’s “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heartsclub Band” album as if it were 1967. Similarly, one cannot read The Flash #123- “The Flash of Two Worlds” as a 10 year old in 1961. The modern reader is affected by the change in form and execution of the comic book that has occurred since then. However, by no means does it diminish the fact that it is a fun comic and stands up as a quality read 53 years later.
Barry Allen, the Flash from the then current DC Earth inadvertently travels to a parallel universe where the Golden Age Flash- Jay Garrick lives. The story itself features not only a team-up of the two Flashes, but a trio of Golden Age villains- the Thinker, the Fiddler and the Shade who have come out of retirement to trouble Keystone City, Garrick’s home. The Flashes meet, figure out how Barry travelled across the dimensional barrier and then team-up to stop the villains. It takes Jay and Barry working together with some classic super-speed tricks to stop the threesome. It ends with Barry returning home, Jay coming out of retirement on his earth and sets the stage for future meetings of characters between parallel earths.
From an historical perspective, The Flash #123 is important because it introduces the DC Comics Multiverse while at the same time re-introducing the original Fastest Man Alive, Jay Garrick- the Golden Age Flash. This brings one of the significant innovations in the issue to the forefront- the hero not in his prime. Garrick is older and while still in shape and as fast as ever no longer has the endurance of his youth. Also, he is married. The once static status quo of the perpetually young super-hero has truly grown up. This along with the burgeoning friendship between the Flashes sets up motifs that play out in DC Comics for years. Jay is the mentor to Barry, though on separate Earths. While not a direct passing of the mantle his is also the beginning of the idea of the legacy character. While not as direct as Barry Allen passing the Flash identity to Wally West, Barry’s adoration of Jay as his boyhood comic book hero sets up a similar dynamic.
And of course this leads directly into another innovation that is currently playing a critical part of Grant Morrison’s The Multiversity. In Showcase #4, the first appearance of the Barry Allen Flash it was established that he was an avid reader and fan of Jay Garrick’s comic book adventures even naming his costumed identity after him. Jay is startled to learn from Barry that his life was chronicled in a comic book on Barry’s Earth. So in the very first appearance of the DC Multiverse we are introduced to the concept of comic books being the actual events of parallel earths. This is a pretty incredible innovation and it certainly makes this story stand out from the average Silver Age story, although it would be a few years before the creators themselves would appear in a story. However, Barry mentions the writer- Gardner Fox and looking him up so he can write this most recent adventure up in a comic! In the last panel Barry looks right at the reader as he muses on his intentions.
It’s a fun story that is a highlight of the Silver Age. It’s quickly paced, but features good character moments and a number of innovations in form and story. Carmine Infantino’s figures in the Flash feature always convey the sense of speed and movement. Additionally, his figures feel natural. There are some great panels of Barry, Jay and Joan (Jay’s wife) sitting around the house talking that exemplify this. It is with the characters either in Barry’s enthusiasm at meeting Jay or Jay’s all too real aging that allow the reader to connect with the characters. We can easily see ourselves or someone we know in these real-life elements of the two Flashes.
It’s hard to find a negative in this story. Certainly, viewed through modern eyes the form is different- there are a lot more captions and exposition than one finds in modern comics and of course there is an innocence that is indicative of the era. For some this innocence may be a positive, but often it creates a sense of childishness for modern readers.
A classic- the story that shaped the future of DC Comics and opened the door to breaking the fourth wall. This is a story with far reaching implications which are explored throughout the next 25 years until the demise of the original Multiverse in “Crisis on Infinite Earths.” But its importance continues to be felt in the current DC Universe in The Multiversity as well “Forever Evil.”