Review by Win Wiacek
This charmingly seductive deluxe Archive edition collects the Fastest Yarns Alive from Flash’s 1941 appearances, picking up where Volume One left off, all written by the apparently inexhaustible Gardner Fox. The art is shared by Hal Sharp and E. E. Hibbard, both kindly described as energetic, but crude.
The opening story is ‘The Restaurant Protective Association’, with Jay Garrick and girlfriend/confidante Joan Williams stumbling upon a pack of extortionists. They expose a treacherous viper preying on Joan’s best gal-pal, after which ‘The Fall Guy’ reveals how a gang of agile fraudsters fake motor accidents to fleece insurance companies. Both cases give Garrick ample opportunity to display the hilarious and humiliating bag of super-speed tricks and punishing pranks that astounded playful kids of the day, and still delight decades later.
Flash’s popularity led to the introduction of a second title, All-Flash Quarterly, the “All” referring to Flash’s adventures occupying the entire page count, whereas plenty of back-up features graced Flash Comics. The epic premiere issue opened with a tantalising frontispiece ‘The JSA Bid Farewell to the Flash’, celebrating the fact that The Fastest Man Alive was the third character to win his own solo comic – after Superman and Batman – and would therefore be “too busy for Justice Society get-togethers”. Also notable was the debut of a rare returning villain, the Monacle, with an unwise addiction to other people’s jewels, but enough brains to counter the Flash’s speed – if not Jay’s courage and ingenuity.
Fox prioritised the Flash helping out ordinary people targeted by the rich, corrupt and gangsters, with a novel variation being ‘A Millionaire’s Revenge’, wherein wealthy plutocrat Leffingwell Funk decides to avenge an imagined slight by a poor but happy man. His method involves engineering unsuspecting shoe store owner Jim Sewell’s inheritance of half a million dollars and would have ended with leg-breaking thugs, disgrace and prison had not Jim counted Jay Garrick amongst his circle of friends.
Also notable is the ambitious undertaking of a massive four-chapter saga of vengeance and justice. This oddly time-skewed tale might jar slightly with modern continuity-freaks, as it spans nearly a lifetime in the telling, but just go with it. It opens as brilliant young criminal Joe Connor is sentenced to ten years in jail and swears vengeance on DA Jim Kelley. From that Fox delivers a constantly surprising yarn featuring twists and tortured connections ending with a swathe of revelation and a shocking conclusion.
This splendid selection closes with a full-on alien extravaganza as Flash investigates a series of abductions and foils a madman’s plot to forcibly colonise the Red Planet. It’s a gloriously madcap, spectacular fantasy high note.
Sadly, there has been no third collection of these amazing, exciting and quirkily captivating stories, although with the caveat that they may not to every modern fan’s taste. The sheer exuberance, light-hearted tone and constant narrative invention provides utter delight for lovers of early superhero fantasy.