The first time I saw the Flash as a solo feature I was 5 years old, at a newsstand in the spring of 1960, looking at the cover of the 113th issue of his comic book.
Really, it was the 9th issue following a four-issue, two-year tryout run in Showcase comics. The numbering of the title had continued from the end of the original Flash’s run in 1949 because high numbers were, at the time, thought to signal a successful comic book, one worth reading.
And this one was, featuring the initial appearance of the Trickster. He loomed large on the cover, running on air and mocking the earthbound superhero, and I’m sure the blond, harlequin-costumed villain was what drew my brightness-fascinated young eye and my dime. He was caped, yellow-clad, flying — three things I loved.
I understood the appeal of the hero — whom I’d first seen with the Justice League of America — on an equally instinctive level. The superabundant energy of little children spills over into a love of running, and the Flash could run anywhere, accomplish anything, with his speed. Up the sides of buildings, across the surface tension of oceans and right through walls he raced, leaving behind strobe-effect images or an elegant jet stream or — if he cared to — a spin-generated, full-blown tornado.
He could whip the wheels off a getaway car in a second, while it was in motion, and the man never got winded or even raised his voice. About the only thing the Flash couldn’t do was fly, and even that restriction seemed arbitrary and iffy.
The obscure scientific facts and historical references in the comic also whizzed by me, because I was really too young to understand the title at the time. Mighty Mouse was more my speed.
For example, I remember puzzling over the title page of the second story, The Man Who Claimed the Earth. Alien beings who had once posed as Greek gods returned to seize our planet, and the Flash fended them off alone without too much trouble (Earth averaged at least a half-dozen alien invasions and visitations per month in DC titles back then). That was satisfying — then as now, I like my superheroes to be effortlessly competent. But how, I wondered, could this “Po-Siden” character and the Flash be as big as continents, towering over the globe on the title page of the tale?
So symbolism escaped me, but the sleek elegance of Carmine Infantino’s art did not. It was contemporary, clean-lined and sunlit, as optimistic and reassuring as the stories by John Broome. Infantino made the impossible seem pleasantly plausible, somehow.
“The mature Infantino drew everything — a hidden city of scientific gorillas, a harlequin committing crimes with toys, Flash strapped to a giant boomerang — as if he believed absolutely in its existence,” observed Gerard Jones and Will Jacobs in their book The Comic Book Heroes. “But Infantino’s art could so fully evoke the quiet of a small-town afternoon or the cool of a shaded lawn that readers could forgive even plots full of beatniks, schoolteachers and singing idols. Even those of us who resented, as kids, finding Kid Flash stories in the backs of so many Flash comics now find them hypnotically nostalgic.”