Tales from the Calendar: Flash Comics 1

Welcome to Tales from the Calendar, where I write about the comic behind the cover featured that month (or, in some cases, the prior month) in the 2018 Vintage DC Comics Calendar from Asgard Press.  As I've mentioned in the past, sometimes life just gets in the way of keeping a schedule, and August was a good example.  Today, we'll go through last month's entry, Flash Comics #1, with cover art by Sheldon Moldoff. 

I've talked about Moldoff before.  A recognized artist in his own right, Moldoff was also one of Bob Kane's ghost artists on Batman stories, where he co-created a number of classic villains, like Poison Ivy, the Matt Hagen Clayface, Mr. Freeze, and Bat-Mite.  He also created Jon Valor, the Black Pirate, in Action Comics mere months after this cover saw print.  Gifted in the framing of single panel action (just look at that classic Flash catching a bullet shot), Moldoff became a prolific cover artist for DC, which is why multiple covers of his are in this calendar.  Gifted with the ability to effectively adopt multiple styles, Moldoff's portfolio features a number of different looks, ranging from classic animation style to the Alex Raymond-esque line work he brought to his Hawkman tales, the character I associate him with the most (though you'll find below that he was not a creator of Hawkman).

Flash Comics #1 was cover dated January, 1940 but actually hit the stands in November, 1939.  The weeks it was on the stands saw much of the world continue its spiral into world war while things were hopping in America.  Great Britain and Germany battled both at sea and in the air.  The Soviet Union bombarded its own border town and blamed Finland so it could justify invasion.  In the U.S., which at the time was decidedly staying out of the conflicts, the cornerstone was laid for the Jefferson Memorial in Washington, DC while New York saw the opening of what would eventually be called LaGuardia Airport.

It's difficult to overstate the importance of this particular comic.

Imagine: It's late 1939, and you are a DC comic book reader.  You've enjoyed the first two years of Superman's existence both in Action Comics and his own book, and the introduction of Batman in Detective Comics to star alongside the Crimson Avenger back in the spring wowed you.  The first appearance of Sandman and his taking a starring role in Adventure Comics soon after has you excited about the possibilities.  Having these colorful superheroes alongside the usual mix of adventure heroes, mystics, and crime stories that primarily populate those books (like Hop Harrigan in All-American Comics, which hasn't seen a true superhero feature yet) really makes them stand out.

1/3 of the JSA was introduced in Flash Comics #1.
Nothing could have prepared you for Flash Comics #1.  The book introduced not just one colorful superhero but four (or maybe just three if you don't think Johnny Thunder should count in this category).  DC doubled its costumed superhero count with a single comic book issue.

This would open the floodgates.  The Spectre would soon premiere in More Fun Comics.  Hourman would join Sandman in Adventure.  The King would jump into Flash Comics with issue 3.  Doctor Fate would join the Spectre in More Fun soon afterward.  Green Lantern would premiere in All-American by midyear 1940, followed by the Atom in the fall.  Most of these heroes would band together to form the Justice Society, setting up 1941 to introduce even more heroes.

This issue contained the premiere of five new featured characters as well as a feature called "Flash Picture Novelette", so the writers and artists involved in these stories should be considered the characters' creators.

I guess that's tobacco...
First up in Flash Comics is, naturally, The Flash.  In this origin tale, Jay Garrick, a science student and self-described football scrub is, frankly, a bit of a loser, as the woman of his dreams, Joan Williams tells him.  After being rejected by her and being reminded why he's a scrub on the football team, he retreats to the lab in which he works trying to separate the elements of the gasses given off by "hard water".  Deciding an active chemistry lab is the right place to light up a smoke, Jay accidentally knocks over a Pasteur flask filled with the hard water and succumbs to the fumes.  When he wakes up in the hospital, he finds he now has super speed.  He launches into a new career as the superhero The Flash (sadly, where that winged helmet came from is not explained) while also enjoying his powers in his civilian disguise as a professor at Coleman University.  That's when Joan, who knows about his powers, comes to him for help finding her abducted father.  A squad of foreign operatives collectively called the Faultless Four (a name that is both pretentious and quite ironic given the events of the story) that includes mastermind Sieur Satan, evil surgeon Serge Orloff, pilot Duriel, and the assassin Smythe, kidnapped Mr. Williams to find out about his and Joan's research in "The Atomic Bombarder" (a MacGuffin that's never explained).  The Flash rescues Mr. Williams, who somehow doesn't recognize Jay (the hat working possibly even better than Clark Kent's glasses as a disguise).  Along the way, The Flash gets to partake in his favorite pastime, catching speeding bullets, multiple times.  Sieur Satan murders his collaborators in an attempt to electrocute The Flash, then drives off a cliff trying to elude Jay, who coldly watches him die at the bottom of a ravine.

Setting up a refreshingly honest Jay/Joan relationship.
The Flash was written by Gardner Fox (who wrote half the stories in this issue) and drawn by Harry Lampert.  Fox is a legend in comics history, co-creating half of DC's pantheon in both the Golden and Silver Ages.  An out of work lawyer, he was recruited by old friend Vin Sullivan to write for Detective Comics.  Able to crank out stories and characters with blazing speed, Fox became a mainstay for DC, creating The Flash, Hawkman, Skyman, The Face, Sandman, Starman, and Dr. Fate.  He also became the writer for the Justice Society's adventures in All Star Comics.  When the late 1950s and early 1960s arrived, he helped create modern versions of Hawkman and the Atom, as well as their equivalent of the JSA, the Justice League.

Harry Lampert would only stay on The Flash for five issues, shifting to work on his preferred humor strips.  He did work on a number of superhero and action strips for DC, but The Flash was his only major creation.

Next up is Cliff Cornwall, an FBI agent recruited by the Army to track down saboteurs and other villains.  He's sent alone to Alaska to investigate a lost fleet of bombers.  He's shot down by a black plane, then teams up with a mysterious woman who is trying to thwart the band of black plane pilots who are destroying U.S. warplanes in Alaska.  They sabotage the pilots' base, trapping them to allow the Army to come in and arrest the evildoers.

Cornwall was created by Gardner Fox and Sheldon Moldoff.  He would last just seventeen issues of Flash Comics before seeing his feature canceled.

Boy, it's a good thing I invented everything I need to be a superhero and had it lying around!
The issue returns to superheroics with the introduction and origin of Hawkman.  Scientist and dilettante Carter Hall receives a gift from a friend in Egypt: an ancient glass sacrificial knife for his collection.  However, seeing the knife puts Carter into a stupor, where he dreams that he was Ancient Egyptian Prince Khufu, who's been captured by the evil priest Hath-Set, who wants from him the location of his princess, Shiera.  Khufu escapes Hath-Set, but leads him directly to Shiera.  After fierce battle, they are sacrificed, but not before Khufu promises that they will live again.  Waking up, Carter is convinced that this was a memory and not just some dream.  Going out to collect his thoughts, he miraculously runs into Shiera, and after discussing the fact they've both had these dreams of a past life, they witness countless innocent people burned alive on the subway as arcs of electricity are pumped into their rails.  Leaving Shiera to rest (she would not become heroic for a few more stories), Carter dons a hawk mask and wings made from an anti-gravity material he calls Ninth Metal (to be updated to Nth Metal years later) that he somehow just had sitting around.  He discovers the villain behind the attack is the villain Hastor, the reincarnation of Hath-Set.  Hastor summons a mesmerized Shiera to be sacrificed to the Egyptian god of death, Anubis, but Carter arrives just in time to save her and shoot Hastor in the heart with a crossbow (these heroes were pretty bloodthirsty when they started out).  Hastor dies noting he might not die after all (now that's some villain logic there).
Seriously, how top heavy is that?

Hawkman was created by Gardner Fox and Dennis Neville.  Neville would last only three issues before being replaced by Sheldon Moldoff, who wisely adapted the hawk headpiece Neville drew into a true mask, which looked way cooler and a lot less physically awkward.  Neville returned to working as an assistant to Joe Shuster on the Superman newspaper strip, which he worked on for the next several years.

Contrasting with the somber tone of Hawkman was the light humor of the next story, introducing Johnny Thunder.  This origin tale talks about how Johnny was the son of bank teller Simon Thunder, but because he was born at the seventh hour of the seventh day of the seventh month of the seventeenth(!) year of the 20th century, some operatives from the nation of Badhnisia kidnapped him to fulfill a prophecy.  He is disguised with some dark hair dye that somehow lasts five years and is given a sacred belt, the Eternal Zone of the Zodiac.  However, the neighboring country of Agolea invades, and Johnny is sent into exile to keep him safe until his seventh birthday, when his powers should manifest.  His caretaker, who took him to Borneo, was not very good at her job, as Johnny and his pet monkey (yes you read that right) simply wander off and abscond with a sailboat, only to be rescued by a passing American freighter, who returns him to New York where Johnny's father now works on a streetcar, the same streetcar that the sailor who rescued Johnny puts him on to take him to the police.  Reunited, Johnny grows up a precocious child, and sure enough, on his seventh birthday, the belt (which for some reason he's still wearing) activates, giving him unknown powers.  The Badhnisians don't find him until Johnny is 23 and muddling his way through jobs (a trend that would continue for his career).  Johnny's power is the ability to have any command he gives obeyed after he says the magical word Cei-U, which he has a habit of saying accidentally.  He manages to stave off being re-kidnapped by the Badhnisians, but loses his job at the department store where he'd just been hired.

"Jump at a duck" doesn't really make any sense, but I think I'll say that from now on.
Johnny Thunder was created by John B. Wentworth and Stan Aschmeier.  Besides Johnny Thunder, Wentworth also created The Whip later in this issue.  He would also create Sargon the Sorcerer in All-American Comics and (in a later issue of Flash Comics) King Standish.  His time in comics was relatively short, and he was out of the industry in 1948.

Stan Aschmeier had a long and storied career in comics, working for EC, Charlton, and Quality among others in addition to his work at DC.  He spent some time working for the Eisner & Iger studio, an amazing collection of talent in one studio.  Besides Johnny Thunder, Aschmeier also created fellow JSAer Dr. Mid-Nite.

Flash Picture Novelettes were longer form fiction spread over multiple installments in consecutive issues of the book.  Created, written, and drawn by Ed Wheelan, In the first novelette, "The Demon Dummy", ventriloquist Harry Dunstan is framed for murder by a corrupt PI who wants Harry's fiancee for himself.  Harry is sentenced to prison but is able to bring his dummy Red with him.  Red seems to come to life in prison, providing Harry's dark side a means of getting out.  The PI's crime is eventually revealed, freeing Harry.  However, Harry's former fiancee has died while giving birth to the PI's child and he can't even get revenge on the PI, who is now in prison himself.  The story will continue in Flash Comics #2.

Ed Wheelan was a prolific cartoonist who drew multiple comic strips for the San Francisco Examiner, the New York American, King Features, and the George Matthew Adams Service.  Under King, he invented the strip Midget Movies, which made fun of the movies.  When he moved to Adams, he adapted it to become Minute Movies.  After seventeen issues of Flash Comics and his Flash Picture Novelettes, Wheelan ended that feature and brought Minute Movies to DC, where it would last for 58 issues.  He also drew the humor comic Fat and Slat and created Foney Fairy Tales for Wonder Woman and Comic Cavalcade.

Finally, The Whip is introduced, providing Flash Comics with its fourth superhero.  The Whip was Rodney Gaynor, who adopted his Anglicized name from his birth name, Rodrigo Gaynor.  He was the typical East Coast playboy who was a noted polo player when he traveled across country and found himself in Seguro, New Mexico.  Angered by the treatment of the poor there, he vowed to fight injustice and took the persona of The Whip. In his first adventure, The Whip frees an imprisoned worker named Carlos from the corrupt Seguro sheriff.

The Whip was created by John B. Wentworth and George Storm.  Storm didn't do a lot of comics work, leaving The Whip after just three issues.  His newspaper strips for Bobby Thatcher appeared in a few issues of All-American Comics.  He also did a few stories featuring his creation Ambrose Porterhouse in Whiz Comics for Fawcett.

That's it for August, and just in time for the first week of September to end!  I'll be back sometime this month with a look at September's entry, World's Finest Comics #36.

JL Franke is a fan of both hard science fiction and hard fantasy.  He has been collecting comics for over 40 years and has been an on-and-off active member of online fandom for 25.  Those interested can find other writings at his personal blog, NerdlyManor.com.  When not geeking out, you may find him at a baseball park or cheering on his favorite college and pro football teams.  In his spare time, he is chief scientist for a research and development laboratory somewhere in the Washington, DC greater metropolitan area.

Tales from the Calendar: Flash Comics 1 Tales from the Calendar: Flash Comics 1 Reviewed by JL Franke on Friday, September 07, 2018 Rating: 5
Powered by Blogger.