(I thought it was worth adding this review of a recent release as a supplement to the recent piece on old DC superhero comics).

The second Flash volume is, for me, the best Showcase* collection yet. I love Carmine Infantino’s art on these old comics, the cleanness and liveliness and sharpness of everything he draws. I’m also fond of two odd stylistic tricks: the use of little hands pointing and gesturing in captions, and especially the bizarre way he depicts the city: almost everywhere Flash goes, from any angle, there is a huge paved plain, like the biggest city square in the world, with a modern city skyline in the distance, whatever is in the foreground.

The stories are sometimes very disposable: trivial and inconsequential, just another crook with a ridiculous gimmick (mirrors, tops, boomerangs…) captured by our hero. On the other hand, there is plenty of clever stuff, and some extraordinarily bizarre tales, often based on Infantino showing up with a cover idea he liked and John Broome writing something to fit. The one where he is correctly thinking “I’ve got the strangest feeling I’m being turned into a PUPPET!” is an old favourite. There’s a great splash page, also, where the Flash is running towards Grodd (an evil super-powered gorilla – Infantino always liked drawing apes), beaming adoringly, saying “Grodd, you… you’re WONDERFUL!” Sadly he doesn’t actually kiss him.

Almost all the stories are by Broome: the first exception is among the most important ever in superhero comics. Some history for non-experts: the first superhero age started with Superman’s debut in 1938. By the early ’50s, sales had dropped, and very few superhero titles survived. Some years later DC decided to try reviving their old characters, and the first to get a revamp was the Flash. That went well, and soon we had new versions of several other characters from the ’40s, as well as lots of new ones. In this 1961 story (which happened to almost exactly coincide with the start of superheroes at Marvel), the Flash vibrates fast enough to breach the dimensional barrier, and finds himself on a parallel Earth, which he soon realises is the one he read about as a kid. He meets the original Flash, and theorises that the writer of his ’40s adventures (that was Gardner Fox, at least some of the time) somehow plugged into this other universe in his dreams.

‘Flash of Two Worlds’ is a delightful and rather silly story, but it was genuinely seminal: after that, characters started moving back and forth with increasing frequency. Other writers thought they’d give us more parallel worlds, and we got evil versions of the big stars, and so on. The rather messy results made DC try to clean up with the big Crisis On Infinite Earths project, and many more since – we are now getting something entitled Final Crisis, and we can only hope they mean it, as rewriting their cosmology every few years is pretty wearying.

* The Showcase series collects over 500 pages of old comics in each volume, in B&W on cheap paper, for around $17/£11.