Originally posted at InfiniteComix.com
Over the course of comics’ history, there are few comics that truly stand out as landmarks within the medium. There are some that are big at the time of their release, but their impact is negligible. Spawn #1 and X-Men #1 from the 1990s immediately come to mind, as does the 2014 relaunch of Amazing Spider-Man. These high sellers are not truly iconic, landmark issues. One comic that does reach that status was published back in 1961. Though it was meant to be just a fun story, it would go on to change the landscape of DC Comics forever. That year, in the pages of The Flash #123, Barry Allen would meet his childhood hero and Golden Age Flash, Jay Garrick, in the legendary story “The Flash of Two Worlds.”
In a rare moment of punctuality, Barry Allen meets up with his fiancee, Iris West, at the Central City Community Theater only to find her flustered. With the magician that was supposed to perform for Iris’ charity function unexpectedly cancelling, Barry promises (with a wink) to reach out to the Flash to fill-in. During the function, the Flash performs several feats which impress the children in the audience. However, during one trick he hits a certain vibrational frequency and disappears, leaving the audience confused and dumbfounded.
Meanwhile, Barry discovers himself in a vacant field and has to run back into town. As he enters the city, he notices things are different from what he’s familiar with, only to discover that he’s really in Keystone City. Acting on a hunch, Barry shows up at the door of Jay and Joan Garrick. He proceeds to explain the situation to the Garricks, including that Jay’s adventures as the Flash were printed in comic book form on Barry’s Earth. With the recent crime spree which has popped up in Keystone City combined with Barry’s appearance, Jay decides to come out of retirement to help is alternate-Earth ally.
It is revealed that the brains behind the robberies are the classic Golden Age characters The Shade, The Fiddler, and The Thinker. After a quick introduction, these three decide to do what they do best: steal things. Because of their separate agendas, the three decide to split up. As they are patrolling, the Flashes also decide to split up in an effort to cover more ground. This leads to the books first two confrontations, as Jay encounters The Thinker while Barry takes on The Shade. Neither Flash is prepared for battle as both baddies manage to slip away with their prizes in tow.
The Flashes regroup, and decide after their failed solo attempts that it’s best to work together to take out these villains. Elsewhere, The Fiddler is fiddling away, cause a mess of things in Keystone City, which prompts the Flashes into action. After saving several innocent bystanders from certain doom, the two rush to take on the Fiddler, only to fall under his spell. Once The Shade and The Thinker arrive, Barry and Jay manage to break free of The Fiddler’s mind-control and take down the treacherous trio. Once the villains are in police custody, Barry returns to the field outside of Keystone and vibrates back to Earth One.
The story contained within the pages of The Flash #123 is definitely of its time. While there is no denying that this holds an important place in the history of comics, that does not make it critic-proof. There are a lot of elements to the story which are silly and make no sense whatsoever. The logic behind Barry and Jay’s escape from The Fiddler’s control is downright stupid. But perhaps the most egregious fault comes when Jay Garrick first confronts Thinker. How does he know where this villain is? It’s not due to keen investigatory skills. It’s because dogs tell him. He doesn’t infer it in a “what is it Lassie? Did Timmy fall into the well?” kind of way. They literally speak just as any other person does in conversation. The laws of science have always been malleable in the world of comics – this is an issue dealing with alternate universes – but the presence of these talking dogs really pull the reader out of the story.
Over the course of the issue’s 26 pages of story, the dialogue does not help either. However, this is more forgivable when the target audience is taken into account. Though modern audiences look back fondly at these stories for their creativity and impact on the medium, they were written primarily for children and teenagers. Writers and artists did not have the benefit of a market that fostered decompressed storytelling, and as a result The Flash #123 is a very dense read. Because the standard called for each issue to be a complete story, Gardner Fox did not have the option to seed plot threads in one issue and develop them over the course of a 6-issue arc. Instead, the dialogue is very dense and expository. From a modern context, it can be tiresome to read through. If reimagined today, “The Flash of Two Worlds” would easily be a 6 or 12-issue story arc.
These flaws aside, “The Flash of Two Worlds” remains, at its core, a very fun story. One area in which it excels compared to other early issues of The Flash is the depiction of its cast. Though she is not in the issue very much, Iris West has a strong characterization. Commonly, she is considered a lesser version of Lois Lane, which makes sense on a surface level. Yes, she is the reporter-girlfriend of the titular superhero, but she is also shown to be a tough, no-nonsense character. Throughout the early issues of The Flash, she does not spend her time pining over her fiance or the Scarlet Speedster – she actually spends a lot of time calling them out on their mistakes. Those traits are present here, as is her willingness to take time away from her job to organize a charity event for the city’s children.
Barry Allen himself has more personality in this issue compared to most of his original series. This is partly due to the story tapping into one of the character’s early characteristics that was subsequently brushed aside: his love of comics. Of all the characters in DC’s canon, Barry is the one that readers should be able to connect with the most, but this trait is usually downplayed. Here, however, Barry’s love of comics is able to thrive as he is able to come face-to-face with his childhood hero. It taps into the same excitement and exuberance that fans would experience if they were able to come face-to-face with the heroes of their childhood.
Perhaps the most memorable and stand-out feature in this issue is the charmingly handsome artwork by Carmine Infantino. As the artist for over 100 issues of The Flash, it is no surprising that Infantino’s work here is nothing short of definitive. Many artists can attribute the sense of speed and motion they give to today’s comics to his efforts here. The layouts are also worth noting, as Infantino makes great use of the space on the page. Many of the panels are “widescreen,” which gives the book a cinematic feel. If there is a complaint, it is that the backgrounds are sparse – a commonality for comics of this era.
People can spend hours performing a detailed, critical review of nearly any comic – including this one – but the end of the day the impact this issue had on the medium is what really matters. In a larger context, this is the birth of the Multiverse, a concept which continues to be a through-line in DC’s biggest story arcs. At a micro level, this is 20 pages of classic Silver Age storytelling. The good guys are good, bad guys are bad, and the story is just plain fun.
1. “The Flash of Two Worlds” was later reimagined for the post-Crisis DCU by Grant Morrison. In the story, which can be found in 1990’s Secret Origins #50, Keystone City neighbored Central City, and which was trapped in a vibrational stasis. Using his abilities, Barry Allen inadvertently discovered the missing city and teamed up with Jay Garrick to bring it back to the real world.
2. Within the story, writer Gardner Fox is a character on Earth One, who was able to tap into the world of Earth Two when he dreamed. He was then able to write the Golden Age Jay Garrick stories that Barry also read as a child. Later, in The Flash #179, Barry Allen would cross over into the real world and come face-to-face with editor Julius Schwartz.
3. The cover of The Flash #123 has been referenced many times throughout the years. Such comics to pay homage to the imagery include Sonic the Hedgehog, Dark Horse Preents, and Action Comics.
4. Though this issue is credited as the birth of DC’s Multiverse, it is not the first time a character crossed over to an alternate reality. Wonder Woman #59 (1953) saw Diana cross over to a parallel world and team-up with an alternate version of herself.
5. The next time Barry Allen and Jay Garrick would meet was in The Flash #129, this time with Jay Garrick crossing over to Earth One.