Many comic collectors now in their 50s like to tell
the tale of being startled to find “The Flash”
#105 on the newsstands early in 1959. That was, of course,
the first issue of the Silver Age series from DC following
four tryout issues in Showcase #4, 8, 13 and 14. But
a few readers and budding collectors, aged 8–15,
couldn't help wondering about the earlier issues of
this Flash series.
Even in 1959 – when comic fandom had not yet formed
and when news out of the industry was non-existent except
for house ads and the earliest DC letter pages –
most comic fans knew they couldn't have missed
Some of those young fans, having seen the fleeting references
to the Golden Age Flash series in Showcase #4, alertly
figured the numbering must refer to the previous series.
Other fans, such as myself, had seen house ads from
a few 1940s comics and figured out the truth from those
intriguing ads. But not a few Baby Boomers remained
puzzled for a while.
Flash Comics, despite the name, always was an anthology
with only one Flash story. It was the only one of DC’s
“Big Eight” 1940s anthologies whose title
matched the name of one of the featured characters.
DC could just as easily have started its 1959 series,
which initially was devoted entirely to The Flash, with
#33, since the old All-Flash title ran 32 issues before
expiring with the Dec. 1947/Jan. 1948 issue –
a little more than a year before Flash Comics also ended.
But in those days of 10-cent comics, when DC’s
editors did not even include “No. 1” on
the covers of most first issues, the powers-that-be
must have figured that #105 carried more panache.
True enough. What also has always been true is that
for many collectors, the late issues of the original
Flash Comics are far more desirable than early issues
– again, the only such distinction held by any
of the eight anthologies!
It's not hard to explain why. The artwork by developing
stars Joe Kubert and Carmine Infantino, back in the
days when they were 20-something phenoms, emerged as
some of the most compelling and entertaining in any
super hero comics of the period. The stories and characters
had a nifty tone of serious yet tongue-in-check adventure
– a tone that was missing during most of the more
cartoony 1940-1946 issues.
nifty costume heroine Black Canary, which made her DC
debut in the Johnny Thunder strip in #86, puts issues
#86-104 over the top. Those 19 issues contain the only
Golden Age appearances of The Black Canary outside her
Justice Society teamups in All Star Comics #38-57. Flash
Comics #86-104 are all valued at well over $100 in “good”
in the Overstreet Comic Book Price Guide, and
many of them sell for $200 and up – way up in
some cases – in “very good.”
Although issues #100-104 are generally considered scarce,
many collectors prize issue #92 the most, what with
a strikingly gorgeous white cover of The Black Canary
bursting through a hoop held by Hawkman and The Flash
to indicate the beginning of her own series (and the
end of Johnny Thunder). Many collectors consider this
one of the top 10 DC issues of the Golden Age.
Beginning with #92, all of the final 13 issues have
the same contents – The Flash, Hawkman, The Black
Canary, The Atom and The Ghost Patrol – except
The Atom does not appear in #96 and 101. As they so
often did, The Flash and Hawkman alternated covers beginning
In addition to the superlative #92, the finest covers
in the #86-104 run include Everett Raymond Kinstler’s
Hawkman/Hawkgirl cover of #87 and the striking Hawkman
covers on #100, 102 and 104 by Kubert, along with The
Flash baseball cover by Infantino on #90. Some like
Kubert’s cover introducing The Flash villainess,
The Thorn on #89.
The only genuine super heroes of interest to appear
in Flash Comics #1-85 are The Flash and Hawkman, although
The Whip (last in #55) and The King (last in #41) marginally
qualify as costume heroes, both of relatively little
note. The intriguing Hawkman covers on every other issue
from #7-67, mostly by Shelly Moldoff, make these comics
seem much more attractive than they really are. Hawkman
also appeared on many later covers, as well. Hawkman
first appeared on #2, but to show how unsuspecting DC
editors were, #3 featured Cliff Cornwall, Special Agent;
#4 led with The Whip and #5 spotlighted The King before
The Flash finally returned with #6 after his debut on
the cover of #1.
Most of The Flash covers through #84 – many by
E. E. Hibbard and Martin Naydel and usually cartoony
in theme – were among the least attractive covers
of any DC comics of the period. The Flash character,
though, apparently was strong enough to carry sales.
By far my favorite Flash cover among the first 85 issues
was the dynamic window-breaking “School for Crime”
cover on #38 (Feb. 1943).
In retrospect, DC should have done much better by Hawkman
and Hawkgirl, who debuted in the Hawkman story in #24
and first appeared on a cover in #29 – one of
the best covers of the early series. The Hawkgirl covers
of #37 and 39 also are highly cool. Hawkgirl did not
appear on a cover again until #85 (July 1947) –
a mysterious span of four years! I've never understood
why DC didn't do more with Hawkman in the 1940's,
especially considering he was the only Justice Society
constant through the legendary run in All Star #3-57.
The best advice for a collector regarding Flash #1-85
is to consider buying the issues whose covers appeal
to you – after you check the interiors, especially
for the Hawkman stories. But you really can't
go wrong on #86 either. All are genuine gems!
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of Mystery #195
My past articles have covered a broad range of independent
comic titles and publishers ranging from Pacific to
Fantagor. All of those books are great, and I could
spend countless more newsletters discussing each title,
but I wanted to hit a more mainstream area first. In
one of my past articles in particular, I had written
a biography of Berni Wrightson and discussed a wide
range of his work, but never any work specifically.
As I was going through my comics last week, I flipped
through my run of House of Mystery by DC Comics and
one issue caught my eye. Next thing I knew, I was paging
through the book and enjoying it so much, I decided
to write this article on it.
House of Mystery, #195 is bound to catch the eye
of anyone who happens to be perusing any long box of
Silver Age DC horror titles. The cover illustration
by Berni Wrightson depicts a monstrous vampire bat swooping
down on a poor helpless man fleeing in sheer terror
and is titled in big red letters, “Bat out of Hell!”.
The dark shadowing around the human figure and the bat
add to the horror element of the cover and would coerce
anyone into purchasing it. But beyond the cover, about
four stories into the issue, is an incredible story.
It is titled “Things Old….Things Forgotten” and is also
illustrated by Berni Wrightson. It’s a great story about
how one’s greed for power can also be one’s demise.
Overstreet Comic Book Price Guide states this
story as “Swamp creature story by Wrightson similar
to Swamp Thing”, which makes it even better considering
it came out within a few months of House of Secrets
#92. But the story itself, about a madman dictator trying
to construct a road through a dense forest to lead an
invasion, is a suspenseful and horrific tale. Wrightson
was at his peak with his storytelling and clean penciling
and inking. His line work on the human face could tell
the horrific story itself and his signature body posturing
sets the suspenseful tone.
The story takes an ugly turn when workers building the road begin to report some strange figures that seem to be stopping construction. Fearing that the forest is haunted, workers begin to desert the construction, which leaves the madman no choice but to find out for himself what it is that is driving away his people so he can finish the road and begin his invasion. But what he finds is that the forest is inhabited by “Swamp Thing” like creatures that are trying to stop the devastation of their home. In the end, the madman is overcome with his greed for power and ultimately suffers his rightful demise. I won’t give away specifics, in hopes that the reader will find this story just as horrific and suspenseful as I did. What I will say, however, is that this story is one of Wrightson’s best, and one of House of Mystery’s finest issues.
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Kinder, Gentler Horror
Fans addicted to Atlas horror comics have long found
little relief in inexpensive generic reprints. The EC
enthusiast has his choice of formats in which to acquire,
at relatively little cost, any story he wants, and DC
used reprinted material extensively when they expanded
the size of their “horror” and mystery titles. Anyone
seeking Atlas stories, unfortunately, had to get a second
job, resort to petty theft, or, worst of all, accept
low-grade copies of these books.
In the early 1970’s Marvel launched a number of titles,
like Vault of Evil and Uncanny Tales, that promised
to alleviate this unhappy drought. Sadly, these comics
always seemed to me to be half-hearted attempts, aimed
primarily at flooding the comic market and not at providing
quality horror reprints. The stories often have a washed-out
look, and Marvel obviously cared little about crediting
the original creators of the material. The worst misstep,
though, was that the editors at Marvel occasionally
felt compelled to alter the stories, often with unintentionally
My favorite example is a story entitled “Propaganda,”
originally the cover story in Uncanny Tales #9 (June
1953). In it unfolds the tale of Gulov, a Communist
troublemaker, who has traveled to Africa to purchase,
with “knives, gewgaws and perfume,” 20 men whom
he transports to Indo-China. There they receive training
in terrorist activities and strategies. Gulov and his
cronies plan to unleash these hooligans on the native
population, then make it known that the oppressed indigenous
people are revolting against their imperialist oppressors.
Pretty great plan to generate Marxist propaganda, right?
Sadly for our hero, however, before they can be fully
indoctrinated, the Africans begin praying to their tribal
gods for deliverance from their evil instructors. These
deities, which turn out to be violent and ravenous monsters,
suddenly appear and utterly obliterate Gulov and his
henchmen, leaving the Africans wondering what the heck
“propaganda” is, anyhow.
This story turns up again 20 years later in Uncanny
Tales #1 (December 1973) but, apparently in the spirit
of detente with the Soviet Union, the editors made a
couple of changes. In the original, as the natives’
indoctrination begins, they are shown pictures clearly
portraying Stalin, Lenin and Mao, while their instructor
proclaims, “Forget your old tribal gods! There are TRUE
gods for you!” In the next panel he holds out a flag
with prominent symbols and says, “And here is your flag…the
hammer and sickle of Communism!” Very straightforward
stuff. In the reprint, however, the details in the portraits
have been coarsened, making them pretty unrecognizable.
Best of all, in the second panel the speaker holds out
a blank red sheet, rather like a bullfighter, and announces
“And here’s your map of the territories to be destroyed!”
The whole situation becomes quite nonsensical and downright
hilarious, and in a wonderful twist of irony, the changes
drive home the very point the original story tried somewhat
awkwardly to make.
I know of at least one other example of this kind of
editorial meddling that I will share in a future column.
The primary lesson I take from this is that the people
at Marvel did not have proper respect for the integrity
of the work of their creators, or for the sophistication
of their readers.
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Comics Publishes Electronic Version of Overstreet
For the first time ever, the Overstreet Comic Book
Price Guide is available for download in alphabetically
indexed and searchable (by any keyword), Adobe Acrobat
format. Available exclusively through Heritage Comics
Auctions, this new version of the Guide is designed
to add another dimension of convenience to your collecting
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