“The Flash: A Celebration of 75 Years” (Review)

Note: This article was originally published at InfiniteComix.com

In case you didn’t already know, DC Comics has been around for a long time. Even though they originally formed in 1934 (as National Allied Publications), they didn’t hit their stride until the 1938 debut of Superman in Action Comics #1. Two years later, Flash Comics #1 introduced the world to the Flash, and the Scarlet Speedster has been a staple of the industry ever since. For 75 years, the famed speedster has captured the imagination of fans as a cornerstone of the DC Universe. And so, as they have done previously for Superman, Lois Lane, Batman, and The Joker, DC Comics has chosen to honor the Flash with The Flash: A Celebration of 75 Years. 

Like DC’s previous 75th Year collections, this hardcover does a good job – for the most part – in honoring the Flash’s adventures throughout the decades. It’s even more impressive considering the sense of legacy which has become crucial to the Flash’s canon, with the mantle passing on to different characters across generations. Each incarnation – be it Jay Garrick, Barry Allen, Wally West, or Bart Allen – is given their proper due. Perhaps the more impressive feat is that DC managed to honor the creators that left a lasting impact on the character (seeing a story from Mark Waid’s run in here gives me hope that we’ll eventually have those stories collected).

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What’s In It?

The presentation of this hardcover is gorgeous. First of all, it’s dense. You’ll see why when we get to the issue-by-issue breakdowns – there’s a lot of material in here. The dust jacket features iconic artwork by Andy Kubert, which can be removed to reveal classic work by Everett E. Hibbard. DC also seems to have fixed the binding problem that their oversized collections of the past suffered from as gutter loss is a nonissue here.

After a nice little forward by none other than Mark Waid, the collection begins with “The Origin of the Flash.” No, not the struck-by-lightning origin that everyone knows, but the origin of Jay Garrick’s Flash from Flash Comics #1 by Gardner Fox and Harry Lampert. Not only is this a charming little tale from the industry’s formative years, but it’s also the first of four Golden Age adventures starring Jay Garrick in this collection. Given DC’s reluctance to push speedsters not named Barry Allen, this is a pleasant surprise.

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Jay’s origin is followed up by two adventures from All-Flash Comics #31. The first, “The Secret City,” was written by Robert Kanigher with pencils by Carmine Infantino. The second story, “The Planet of Sport,” was also written by Kanigher, joined this time by Everett E. Hibbard on art duties. Both are solid stories full of Golden Age goofiness. The spotlight on Jay Garrick ends with the final issue of his Golden Age series. “The Rival Flash” from Flash Comics #104 by John Broome and Infantino introduces readers to what is considered the first incarnation of the Reverse Flash and one of the greatest stories from Jay’s early adventures.

Next up is the arguably the most notable Scarlet Speedster. The first Barry Allen story is of course “The Mystery of the Human Thunderbolt” from Showcase #4. The memorable details of the story are well ingrained into the collective consciousness of both hardcore and casual comic readers. However, anyone that has yet to read it may be surprised to find out who Barry’s first foe was. Hint: it’s not one of his more popular Rogues.

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The next two stories are among the most integral in the Flash canon. “Meet Kid Flash” from The Flash #112 introduces the sidekick who would go on to replace his mentor: Wally West. This story is immediately followed by the legendary “Flash of Two Worlds” in The Flash #123, which introduced the concept of the DC Multiverse and reintroduced the Golden Age Flash, Jay Garrick, to readers. Once more, Carmine Infantino provides the artwork for both stories, the combination of which solidifies the “legacy” aspect of the character’s mythos.

Time travel became a big part of the ongoing Flash saga, thanks to it’s use in stories such as The Flash #125′“The Conquerors of Time.” It’s a solid interlude as Flash and Kid Flash travel across multiple eras fighting an array of beasts and aliens. However, it is small potatoes compared to the next installment: the first of many races between The Flash and Superman. “Superman’s Race With The Flash” from Superman #199 may have ended in a draw, but that does not discount the historical significance of this issue. It would fuel a debate for decades to come before a final resolution decades later in The Flash: Rebirth.

The collection continues with “The Stupendous Triumph of the Six Supervillains” is a classic tales featuring the collection of antagonists known as The Rogues. Perhaps the more notable achievement from this issue is the iconic imagery by Carmine Infantino that adorned the cover of The Flash #174, which would be referenced multiple times in the years to come. Next up is “Death of an Immortal”, in which Barry Allen would team up with Jay Garrick to battle Vandal Savage.

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Eobard Thawne, known as the Reverse Flash or Professor Zoom, has always been depicted as one of the most vicious and nefarious villains in comics. It is fitting that this collection take the time to make note of that. The next two stories, “The Deadly Secret of The Flash” from The Flash #233 and “The Last Dance” from The Flash #275. The inclusion of these stories should serve as a reminder that tragedy befell the Flash franchise well before the additions made to Barry’s history in recent years.

The focus on Barry Allen concludes (for now) with the character’s iconic death from Crisis on Infinite Earths #8. “The Final Fate of The Flash” remains (in my opinion) the single greatest death in the history of comics. Though the character has been since resurrected, he died – and remained dead – for over 20 years. Not only that, but he made the ultimate sacrifice not saving a person, or a city, or a planet, but the entire DC Universe from oblivion.

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The death of Barry Allen left a void in the DC Universe that would not last very long. His protege, Wally West, would soon take up the mantle and become the Flash for a generation of fans, beginning with the all new The Flash #1. That issue’s story, “Happy Birthday Wally”, introduces readers to a Flash that is immature, self, and occasionally a jerk. He also had limitations which is predecessor never dealt with, making his struggle against Vandal Savage all the more difficult.

“The Unforgiving Minute” from Secret Origins Annual #2 is one of the many underrated stories from former Flash scribe William Messner-Loebs. In it, Wally West talks with a psychologist about why he has certain limitations that Barry seemingly never did, recounted through various flashbacks to Wally’s time as Kid Flash.

The only inclusion from Mark Waid’s legendary (and out of print) run might be the best chapter in the entire collection. “Flashing Back” from The Flash #0 is not setup for the famous “Terminal Velocity” story arc (which introduced readers to the Speed Force),  it is one of the few done-in-one stories from Waid’s run. True to form, Waid (and artist Mike Wieringo) deliver a knockout.

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The last of Wally’s stories to be included here is the conclusion to Geoff Johns’ extended run on the character, The Flash #225”s “Rogue War: Conclusion”. This is a solid, action packed installment that sees Wally team up with Barry Allen to take out Eobard Thawne and a new Reverse Flash: Hunter Zoloman.

The fourth Flash, Bart Allen, held the mantle (and his own series in the red suit) for a mere 13 issues. The sole inclusion from his title, Flash: The Fastest Man Alive #1, is very much representative of his time as the Flash. As part one of the “Lightning in a Bottle” story, it’s forgettable at best and easy to skip over.

Barry Allen would return to the DC Universe in the pages Grant Morrison’s polarizing event Final Crisis, but his return would not be truly examined until Geoff Johns and Ethan Van Sciver’s collaboration in The Flash: Rebirth #1“Lightning Strikes Twice” shows a Barry Allen that is uneasy with his resurrection and struggling to adapt to a world that moves a lot faster. There is also a rekindling of the bromance between Barry and Hal Jordan, which adds a nice touch of levity.

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Skipping over the remainder of The Flash: Rebirth and the short-lived series that followed it, the collection jumps right to the concluding chapter of the 2011 event Flashpoint, with birthed the modern DC continuity. Geoff Johns once again is on writing duties, but it is the work by superstar artist Andy Kubert that is the true standout. This issue features another deadly battle between Barry Allen and his longtime nemesis, Eobard Thawne.

The final inclusion, and sole representative of the New 52, is “Fear” from The Flash #9. Storytellers Francis Manapul and Brian Buccellato deliver a story which not only features arguably the hardcover’s best artwork, but also the only appearance of Gorilla Grodd.

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Notable Ommissions

When trying to boil down a character – or in this case, a mantle – that has survived 75 years into one hardcover collection, there are bound to be some notable omissions. The Flash #155 from Barry Allen’s first series is famous first team-up of the Rogues. Ditto for The Flash #179 where the Flash enters the “real world” and meets various DC creators of the day. Perhaps the biggest ommission from Barry’s first series is The Flash #283, which resolves the story from The Flash #275 (which is included).

William Messner-Loebs’ run did feature one of the best done-in-one stories of all in The Flash #54′s “Nobody Dies.” As mentioned, Mark Waid’s run was comprised mostly of long story arcs, but there were a few additional one-shots that could have been included, such as the team up with Aquaman in The Flash #66. The brief, 12 issue run by Grant Morrison and Mark Millar is completely ignored, which is a shame because The Flash #134 is among the best Jay Garrick stories in the modern era.

The Flash: Rebirth is a worthy inclusion to this collection, but it would have better served the “celebration” to include issue #3 (mostly a race against Superman) or #6 (a big Flash family/legacy team-up). To see the complete omission of the 2010-2011 series by Johns and Manapul is a little surprising.

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Final Thoughts

With the popularity of the television show, there has been an uptick in the general public’s interest in the character. This might be the thing to get those individuals, as it features a solid smattering of material from across the Flash mythos. Longtime fans will find this equally enjoyable, as it does a fantastic job of embracing the Flash as a legacy character, something that has gone amiss in recent years. In short, this collection does an admirable job in cramming 75 years of character history into one reasonably priced package.

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This entry was published on April 16, 2015 at 3:14 pm. It’s filed under Reviews and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

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