WHEN DC COMICS REVIVED THE FLASH, the sales figures told the editors they had a hit on their hands. But the Flash they brought back shared only his name and speediness with the original Flash of the 1940s, and many fans who still remembered the other guy kept asking if he would ever show up in the new, revitalized series.
The funny thing was, the “old” Flash had already made an appearance — sort of — in the new Flash’s book. In the new Flash’s very first story (1956’s Showcase Comics #4), Barry Allen was reading a comic book about the old Flash before the accident that gave him his own speedy powers. Thus, in one swoop, editor Julius Schwartz and writer Gardner Fox were able to explain what inspired Barry to become a superhero and to give older fans something to chuckle over (the Jay Garrick Flash hadn’t appeared in a comic since his title’s cancellation in 1949).
The new Flash was a big hit, but there were still some fans who wanted to see more of the old Flash. So, in Flash #123, Fox gave them the team-up they were looking for. While performing a trick for an audience, the Flash of “our” world accidentally transports himself into a separate dimension, one in which his comic-book hero was a real person. Fox explained it by creating the other-dimensional world called “Earth-2,” a place that was home to all of DC’s Golden Age heroes. When the two Flashes met, they reasoned that Gardner Fox, the writer of the original Flash comics, must have pierced the dimensional barrier in his dreams and wrote down what his mind saw on Earth-2.
Sure, it was a stretch, but it was believable enough for comic fans, and suddenly all of DC’s Golden Age heroes had a new lease on life. Following the original Flash’s re-appearance, the original versions of the Green Lantern, the Atom, Batman, Superman, and the rest met their updated Silver Age counterparts. From there, it was only a hop and skip to the Justice Society of America and the Justice League of America teaming up on a regular basis to deal with menaces to both Earths. The idea of parallel worlds also gave writers the ability to create other worlds where they could deposit new heroes and villains, or even imagine totally different versions of the old heroes.
For more than two decades, it was an idea that held up pretty well for DC’s writers. But by the 1980s, it became clear that something had to give. The introduction of more and more heroes into the DC Universe made it difficult for writers and readers alike to keep track of which hero was on which planet. This, plus the fact that DC wanted to start fresh with its biggest characters, led to the mini-series Crisis on Infinite Earths, DC’s attempt to clean house on a cosmic scale by streamlining its titles into one coherent universe.
It seems fitting that the book that started DC’s parallel-world development would be the Silver Age Flash’s; his death during the Crisis mini-series was a clear signal to readers that the old order of things had passed. Of course, readers in 1962 wouldn’t know any of this yet; what they saw back then was an ingenious way for DC’s writers to bring the company’s rich Golden Age heritage into the Silver Age, allowing both the new and the old to co-exist with each other to the benefit of both.
By the end of the century, many of the original DC heroes from the 1940s were still a part of the DC Universe, playing pivotal roles in several series and acting as mentors to the generations of heroes that followed in their footsteps.
From The 100 Greatest Comics of the 20th Century By Mitchell Brown
Did you know…
The introduction of Earth-2’s Golden Age heroes would lead to periodic team-ups between the Justice League of America and the Justice Society of America. These crossover stories — usually titled “Crisis on Earth-1,” “Crisis on Earth-Two,” and so on — would inspire the title for DC’s groundbreaking Crisis on Infinite Earths mini-series.
Julius Schwartz and Gardner Fox were the ideal choices for editing and writing this story since they were also the writer and editor for the original Flash stories.
Whenever DC bought the characters from another company, it gave those heroes their own separate Earth. Thus, Fawcett’s Captain Marvel family lived on Earth-S, the Quality Comics heroes lived on Earth-X, the Charlton Comics heroes lived on Earth-4, etc. After the Crisis, all the heroes that survived were moved to the one, true Earth of the DC Universe.