Saturday, November 20, 2010

If I Had Started the Silver Age at DC Comics

As everyone familiar with comic book history knows, the Silver Age of Comic Books began when editor Julius Schwartz revived The Flash in Showcase #4, October 1956 at National Periodical Publications (now DC Comics). This Flash would be different from The Flash who was introduced in Flash Comics #1, January 1940 during the Golden Age. In fact, the original Flash would merely be a character in comic books read by the new Flash, police scientist Barry Allen. When one night while working late a lightning bolt strikes a case of chemicals, which then splash all over him, Barry gained the ability of moving at super speed. Created by Robert Kanigher and John Broome, and penciller Carmine Infantino, The new Flash proved to be a success, paving the way for revivals of other Golden Age superheroes from Green Lantern to The Atom. The success at National Periodical Publications would lead to the rebirth of Marvel Comics, which was an also-ran during the Golden Age but would become the second biggest comic book company in the world.

Of course, things could have unfolded differently. Rather than creating a brand new character called The Flash, Julius Schwartz, Robert Kanigher, and John Broome could have simply revived the Golden Age Flash. Or he could have chosen another character published by Detective Comics, National Comics, and All-American Comics (the three interrelated companies that would become National Periodical Publications and hence DC Comics). That the Silver Age would take place at all there seems to be little doubt. And given the fact that in 1956 most comic book companies were either already out of business or in danger of going out of business, it makes sense that it would have begun at National Periodical Publications.  Beyond that, however, it could have unfolded differently. As a comic book fan and a fan of the characters from All-American Comics in particular (The Flash, Green Lantern, Hawkman, The Atom, and so on), I have given much thought to how the Silver Age would taken place if I had been in Julius Schwartz's place. Or if Mr  Schwartz thought like me.

Given the fact that he was possibly All-American Comics' most popular character besides Wonder Woman (who was still being published by National Periodical Publications in 1956), much like Julius Schwartz I would have probably have chosen The Flash as the superhero to revive. That having been said, I would not have created a whole new character. Instead, I simply would have revived The Flash of the Golden Age. The original Flash was created by writer Gardner Fox and artist Harry Lampert. He was Jay Garrick, a college student who attained the ability of moving at super fast speeds when he inhaled heavy water vapours. He would be a founding member of the first superhero team in comic book history, the Justice Society of America. He was so popular he appeared at one time in four different titles: Flash Comics, his own title (All Flash), Comic Cavalcade, and All Star Comics (as a member of the Justice Society of America). He last appeared in the final issues of All Flash (January 1948), Flash Comics (February 1949), and All Star Comics (March 1951).

Of course, while I would revive Jay Garrick, I would probably give him a new costume. While I personally like his costume, it definitely looks like something a hero from the Forties would wear, not a hero working in the Fifties. That having been said, Carmine Infantino would not be the man to design that costume. Mr. Infantino has his following, but I personally have always found his art lacking. I probably would have went with Gil Kane (who later co-created the Silver Age Green Lantern) or Murphy Anderson (who worked on a number of Silver Age DC comic books). As to writers, much like Julius Schwartz, I would have gone with John Broome.

Of course, within the comic books themselves there would have to be a backstory behind the revival of Jay Garrick. As I see it, Jay Garrick would have retired as The Flash shortly after his last appearance in All Star Comics #57, March 1951. In the meantime he would have married his sweetheart, Joan Williams. This brings us up to 1956, when Jay has been retired for five years. Keystone City is threatened once more when three of The Flash's opponents (The Shade, The Fiddler, and The Thinker) are released from prison and begin a crime wave in Keystone City. With Keystone City so threatened, Jay Garrick would design a new costume and resume his career as The Flash.

Provided this revival of The Flash was as successful as the introduction of Barry Allen as The Flash was in real life (and I have little reason to doubt it wouldn't be), I would then revive more Golden Age characters. Historically, Green Lantern (although, like The Flash, a different character from the Golden Age one) would be the next character Julius Schwartz would revive. As much as I love Green Lantern (the Golden Age version is my second favourite superhero of all time besides Batman), I think I would have taken a different route. In 1956 Busy Arnold sold his company, the Quality Comics Group, to National Periodical Publications, lock, stock, and barrel. National Periodical Publications would only continue publishing a few of Quality Comics' titles, Blackhawk among them. They would not continue Plastic Man, Quality Comics' most popular character, whose title barely lasted into the Silver Age (the last issue was #64, November 1956). I would then revive Plastic Man. Or perhaps given his last issue would only have been very recently, I suppose I would simply be picking up where Quality Comics left off. Plastic Man would begin again, with issue #65 sometime in 1957. I would probably revive Doll Man as well, whose last issue of his own title was in 1953. Doll Man would pick back up with issue 48 sometime between 1957 and 1960. I would then revive other Golden Age Quality Comics characters, including The Ray, Uncle Sam, The Black Condor, Kid Eternity, and so on. Here it must be noted that with the exceptions of Plastic Man (finally revived by National Periodical Publications in 1966) and Kid Eternity (who would not be revived until 1976, and then as part of DC's revival of Captain Marvel, a Fawcett character), the major heroes from Quality Comics would go unused by DC until 1973!

Of course, while I would have not missed the opportunity National Periodical Publications had to mine the Quality Comics superheroes they had bought in 1956 the way the company did so historically, I would have revived Green Lantern just as Julius Schwartz did in real life. Like The Flash, this was not the original character, but an entirely new one. The Green Lantern of the Silver Age was created by writer John Broome and Gil Kane and first appeared in Showcase #22, October 1959. He was test pilot Hal Jordan, who was given a ring, which gives the wearer power over the physical world limited by his own will power, by the dying alien Abin Sur. It turns out Abin Sur belonged to galactic police force called the Green Lantern Corps, making Hal Jordan only one of many. The revival of Green Lantern proved as successful as that of The Flash, leading to the revival of other Golden Age characters.

Like I would have with The Flash, I would not have created a whole new character, but simply revived the original, created by Gardner Fox and Martin Nodell. The original Green Lantern was Alan Scott, who as a railroad engineer came upon a magic green lantern, which instructed him to make a ring from its metal. With this ring he had power over the physical world limited only by his own will power. Green Lantern proved popular, appearing in four titles at one time: All-American Comics, Green Lantern, Comic Cavalcade, and, as a member of the Justice Society of America, All-Star Comics. Like The Flash, he last appeared in All Star Comics #57, March 1951. I would probably use the same creative team Julius Schwartz did historically: John Broome and Gil Kane. I would also give Green Lantern a new costume (as much as I love Alan Scott, his costume is outlandish looking). As to a back story, well, Alan Scott would have retired in 1951 to concentrate on his career in broadcasting (I figure by then he'd be making the transition into television). It would be in either 1958 or 1959 that Vandal Savage, the immortal villain, would seize total control of Gotham City. Alan Scott would then be forced out of retirement. This would be ideal if I also edited the Batman titles, which sadly Julius Schwartz did not yet (I assume I would not either).

I figure like Julius Schwartz I would also revive The Atom, Hawkman, and The Black Canary, although in each case I would simply revive the Golden Age character as opposed to creating a whole, new character as Mr. Schwartz did. Of course, this could mean I could bring back the Justice Society of America and All Star Comics (beginning with issue #58, ignoring the ten years it survived as a Western title). Of course, in simply reviving the Golden Age characters this would mean the history of DC Comics would be dramatically different from the way it actually unfolded. As everyone familiar with comic book history knows, after the revivals of The Flash and Green Lantern, there was some demand on the part of the older fans of the original characters. This presented Julius Schwartz and in particular writer Gardner Fox with a problem. It was established that Jay Garrick was simply a comic book character in the world of Barry Allen! The solution to the problem was to establish that the Golden Age National Comics, Detective Comics, and All-American Comics characters existed in a different world. As established in "Flash of Two Worlds" in The Flash #123, September 1961, in which Barry Allan accidentally travels into another reality, Earth Two, where Jay Garrick was The Flash from 1940 onwards! Barry Allan and the Silver Age characters all lived on Earth One. By the Seventies, DC Comics would not only have Earth One and Earth Two, but Earth-S (home of the Fawcett characters licensed to them at the time and, for some odd reason, Kid Eternity), Earth-X (home of the Quality Comics characters except Kid Eternity), and others. Of course, if Julius Schwartz had simply revived the original characters, there never would have been any parallel universes (unless the old Quality characters lived in one....)!

Of course, Julius Schwartz would not only be responsible for reviving many Golden Age superheroes in new forms, but he would also be responsible for saving Batman. In the late Fifties Batman had degenerated into an imitation of Superman, but without the super powers. He had an extended family (Batwoman, Bat-Girl, Ace the Bathound....). He engaged in such silly adventures as fighting aliens and travelling through time. This took a toll on the popularity of Batman, at one time the most popular character in the whole comic book industry besides Superman. Indeed, by 1964 both Batman and Detective Comics were in danger of cancellation. Having had great success in reviving superheroes, Julius Schwartz was made editor of the Batman titles and given the task of saving the character.

Julius Schwartz did away with Batman's extended family. He also did away with the rather silly, pseudo-science fiction stories, instead making Batman the world's greatest detective. He also had Carmine Infantino redesign Batman's costume, including placing an oval around the Bat insignia on his chest. One unpopular decision Mr. Schwartz made was killing off Alfred the butler and introducing Aunt Harriet (this was done to assuage the accusations Dr. Frederic Wertham had made in his 1954 book Seduction of the Innocent that Batman and Robin were gay). Alfred would appear on the 1966 TV show and hence he would be revived in the comic books as well. The sales of the Batman titles would improve, although it would not truly be safe until the TV show debuted in 1966.

Like Julius Schwartz, I would have also performed emergency surgery on Batman. During the Fifties, the character had become something of a joke, so it was little wonder his sales slipped so badly. I would, however, go about things differently from Julius Schwartz. I would have kept Batman's old costume, and I certainly would not have hired Carmine Infantino as a new artist. I would have gone with Gil Kane, Murphy Anderson, or Joe Kubert. While I liked the early New Look stories with Batman as a detective, I would have gone all the way back to the original portrayal of Batman in 1939 as a brutal vigilante. Oh, I know I could not have gotten away with the violence of the stories in the late Thirties (the Comics Code of the Sixties would not permit it), but I would come as close as I possibly could. I certainly would not have killed off Alfred. Bruce Wayne is a millionaire, which means he should have a butler! Like Julius Schwartz, I would have gotten rid of Batwoman, Bat-Girl, the Bathound, et. al, although I probably would have killed them off. One thing I would have done is gotten rid of Robin the Boy Wonder. Oh, I would not have killed him off, but after 24 years of appearing in comic books I figure it would be time for Dick Grayson to graduate high school and go off to college (preferably as far away from Gotham City as possible, like Oxford...). If Robin ever made a guest appearance, he'd have a new costume (something close to what Robin wears these days). Batman's old rouge's gallery having fallen into disuse save for The Joker, I would bring back Two-Face, Catwoman, The Penguin, The Mad Hatter, and so on. The Joker having become a mere practical joker since the Fifties, I'd return him to his original, homicidal self. Of course, I have to wonder how all of this would affect the upcoming TV show....

Historically, when Julius Schwartz revived The Flash in 1956, he began the Silver Age. The new version of The Flash proved so popular that there would be other new versions of Golden Age heroes: Green Lantern, The Atom, and Hawkman. This would lead other companies to get back into the superhero business. The first would be Archie Comics, publishing The Adventures of The Fly in 1959 and The Jaguar in 1961. When Julius Schwartz created a new superhero team, the Justice League of America, featuring DC Comics superheroes much like the Justice Society of America of the Golden Age, it inspired Marvel Comics to re-enter the field of superheroes. Quite simply, Julius Schwartz started the Silver Age. That having been said, it could have unfolded very differently.

1 comment:

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