Review by Frank Plowright
With this black and white pulp paper collection the Showcase reprints move beyond the material printed in the Flash Archives hardbacks and are therefore the only source for these stories beyond the original comics. Taking the Flash series to 1966, it’s also the last volume providing the comforting warm-hearted nostalgia. Things become strange with volume 4.
As a clever plot-driven story representative of John Broome and Carmine Infantino’s output the opening story is as good a sample as any. Broome was particularly good at introducing sympathetic ordinary human characters into his stories, in this instance a young lad from a poor family who earns money delivering packages for a local tailor. That tailor is Paul Gambi, his name based on comics fan and later UK radio presenter Paul Gambaccini, and the story not only solves the mystery of how Flash’s villains regularly replace their costumes, but also temporarily provides Flash with a new costumed identity.
The next story introduces the father of Barry Allen’s journalist girlfriend Iris West. In a clever play on the by then regular story of Lois Lane attempting to figure out Superman’s civilian identity, Professor West becomes convinced the Flash is actually Barry Allen, and the small detail that trips him up is well delivered.
Those two contrasting tales typify the run. Science fiction may have figured early in the Flash’s run, but by 1963 Broome and Infantino had introduced so many charismatic villains it was them the readers wanted to see, and they all returned. The exception was Gorilla Grodd, who turns up here, but would only menace Flash on two further occasions over the next 15 years. His appearance in this volume is pivotal, though. Previous stories had teamed two villains, Captain Cold and the Trickster, and Professor Zoom and Mr Element, both in the previous volume, and the latter revisited here. This story, though, was the first time six of Flash’s villains had combined against him. They enjoyed themselves so much, there would be regular rematches.
By the end of the collection Broome was writing far fewer stories of the character he defined and popularised. The Gardner Fox scripts lacked Broome’s humanising touch, but there was a surprise return for Robert Kanigher (who introduced Barry Allen as the new Flash), with the clever device of writing an entirely different story to the one provided by Gardner Fox, but based on the same cover of Flash quitting.
Overall, these stories have dated, but not to the point where they’re unreadable as anything other than research. They still entertain, but the only depth is provided by the plots. For those who prefer their reprints in colour, the first half of the collection can also be found in the hardbound Flash Archives 6.