RETRO REVIEW: The Flash #123

The Flash #123
Written by Gardner Fox
Art by Carmine Infantino
Inks by Joe Giella
Published by DC Comics

Is there such a thing as the multiverse? What the heck is a multiverse? How has the concept of a multiverse impacted the comic book industry for the majority of its existence?

For decades, it has been hypothesized that our universe may not be the only universe that exists – it could be one of many…many as in an infinite number of them. If you’re thinking that the universe encompasses all that there is, then I suppose a good way to begin grasping the incredible notion of multiple universes, would be by considering the cosmos we live in as a vast region of space-time mankind has been able to see up to this point, which is about 14 billion light years in all directions; the remnants of the “Big Bang”. The Big Bang theory (no, not the TV show), is the most popular or recognizable model of how our known universe may have been formed.

So, what lies beyond the cosmological horizon? What is there past 14 billion light years? Nothing at all? Another universe? Multiple ones? This is where the idea of a multiverse comes into play. The term “multiverse” is used to describe the aggregation of universes, realities, dimensions, planes of existence, pockets, etc. This is a mind-bending idea, considering the fact that we have yet to fully understand the extent of our own universe, let alone any others if they are out there.

The suggestion that a multiverse could be a possibility, begs the following questions:

  1. Where did the primordial matter come from that ultimately resulted in the formation of the universe we currently inhabit? Did it originate from another universe or dimension?
  2. How did our reality spring into existence?
  3. Is our cosmos truly one-of-a-kind?
  4. Were there other universes that existed, or still exist, from the time when our universe was born?
  5. Was there another Big Bang prior to our Big Bang?
  6. Are more Big Bang’s even possible? If so, could they differ from one another?
  7. If another Big Bang is possible, then how could that impact our universe? Would it be the end of our reality as we know it, the beginning of a new one, or even multiple ones?
  8. Could the suggestion of numerous Big Bangs occurring at different points in time produce various types of universes?
  9. If other universes exist, do they expand at separate exponential rates? Or contract?
  10. What would these universes be composed of? What laws of physics would apply, if any? Could one universe contain more energy than another one?
  11. Is seeing really believing? How do we go about detecting something we’re not even sure exists? How could we determine the physical dimensions of all there is?
  12. How many potential universes could there be? Could it really be infinite?
  13. If there is a potential for infinite realities, is it possible that we could have doppelgangers living in another universe at this very moment or at various points in time?

To make matters even more interesting, there are several types of multiverse theories, each containing a myriad of universes that could adhere to their own set of physical laws and properties. As incredible as any multiverse theory might sound, I’m definitely a proponent of the idea in general. There has to be something beyond our observable universe, wouldn’t you think? There was a time when civilization believed that the Earth was flat and if were you to sail west, you’d eventually fall off the planet. It’s a good thing that wasn’t the case. So, I apply that same analogy when thinking about the cosmos. I can’t accept that there’s nothing beyond the edge of our universe. No one has been able to prove if our universe is finite or infinite yet with the technology or science we currently possess.

So, what does the multiverse theory have to do with the 123rd issue from the first Flash series that was released over a half-century ago? The answer to this question begins with the Golden Age of Comic Books (late 1930’s to the early 1950’s). During this epoch, the popularity of comic books soared, thanks to the introduction of superheroes such as Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Captain Marvel, Captain America, Human Torch, Sub-Mariner, Green Lantern and the Flash.

The Flash from the Golden Age, Jay Garrick, made his first appearance in Flash Comics #1 way back in 1940. The Flash flourished for most of the 1940’s, up until the time the title was cancelled in 1949.

Flash Comics was not the only book that was cancelled during the late 1940’s and early 1950’s. After World War II, the interest in the superhero genre overall started to fade. Books such as Sensation Comics featuring Wonder Woman, Captain America Comics, the first Green Lantern volume, were all stopped. Other well-known titles of the time were converted to other genres with the hopes of retaining readership. Some titles also underwent a hiatus, such as The Sub Mariner comics.

Complicating the situation of the early 1950’s, was an increase in juvenile delinquency. Conveniently linking this misbehavior to comic books, was psychiatrist Friedrich Ignatz Wertheimer, better known as Fredric Wertham. His crusade against comic books included statements such as “95% of children in reform school read comic books”…therefore, comics must have been the root cause of criminal behavior. He even brought his points before a U.S. Congressional hearing which centered on the contents being published in comic books and its impact on society. Congress never blamed comic books for the juvenile delinquency problem, but it did recommend comic book publishers to take their content down a few notches – voluntarily. Fearing eventual censorship or government regulation, publishers developed the Comic Code Authority (CCA) as an effort to self-regulate its subject matter within its books. In case you’re wondering, most of Wertham’s comic book research was eventually challenged and proven to be unfounded and skewed. The CCA would last until 2011.

Due to the changes brought about by the CCA, publishers started to focus on superhero stories once again. In 1956, DC Comics began to reinvent its Golden Age characters, starting with The Flash. The “newer” Flash (Barry Allen) made his first appearance in Showcase #4, which ushered in the Silver Age of Comics.

Heroes were becoming popular again and despite the success DC was having with replacing the old Golden Age characters, DC did not want to abandon them completely. A few years later, DC pondered on how best to deal with the question of how they could possibly integrate its Golden Age characters with its Silver Age characters within its new continuity. The clever solution? A multiverse.

In 1961, the concept of the multiverse found its way into DC Comics with The Flash #123. The “Flash of Two Worlds”, written by the great Gardner Fox and drawn by legendary artist Carmine Infantino (one of my favorite artists of all-time, as I have mentioned on the Undercover Capes podcast) had long-lasting ramifications for DC Comics, as well as for the entire comic book industry. For in this tale, we see the Flash (Barry Allen) meet the Flash from the Golden Age era of comics, Jay Garrick, for the very first time.

How was it made possible for two versions of Flash to exist simultaneously? Well, it all started with a “magic trick” the Flash was performing for a group of orphaned children at the Central City Community Center. By spinning a rope at a tremendous rate of speed, Flash was able to keep the rope upright and still be able to climb it. As a result of the high-speed stunt, both he and the rope disappeared from sight, surprising the young audience at hand and leaving his future wife, Iris West, totally baffled.

Split-seconds later, Flash (Barry Allen) resurfaces on a vacant road, outside the city limits of a metropolitan area he’s completely unfamiliar with. Barry heads towards the city and soon realizes that he is no longer anywhere near his hometown. At first, Barry thinks he traveled through time, but after picking up a newspaper, Barry notices the date, June 14th,1961 – the same date that he had left the community center back in Central City. He also learns he has somehow arrived in Keystone City, which he believed to be a fictional place he read all about in his favorite childhood comic book, Flash Comics. Instinctively, Barry grabs a phone book and looks for the name of his “fictional” childhood idol, Jay Garrick.

Is it just me, or are you DC fans also freaked out by Jay Garrick’s house number? Moving on…

Barry arrives at Jay Garrick’s residence and delivers a remarkable explanation of how he happened to know about Garrick’s secret identity as The Flash and how he arrived in Keystone City from an Earth belonging to an alternate universe.

After hearing out Barry Allen and his origin story, Jay Garrick informs him of the recent crime sprees occurring in Keystone City and his decision to make a comeback as the Flash. Together, they join forces and tackle the combined menace of The Thinker, The Fiddler, and The Shade.

The criminals are eventually defeated by both speedsters and are subsequently imprisoned. Afterwards, Barry leads Jay to the spot where he first arrived near Keystone City. The two heroes exchange goodbyes before Barry vibrates at super-speed and achieves enough velocity to be able to return to his Earth.

This historic meeting between the Golden Age Flash and the Silver Age Flash would not be their last team-up. Barry’s Earth would later be designated as Earth-1, while Jay’s Earth would be known as Earth-2. Collaboration between Earth-1 and Earth-2 heroes would continue for many decades, with perhaps the more popular crossovers involving the Justice Society of America and Justice League of America groups, with stories such as Crisis on Earth-Two and Crisis on Earth-Three. Eventually, more crisis stories would emerge: Crisis on Infinite Earths, Zero Hour: Crisis in Time, Infinite Crisis, Final Crisis and Convergence.

There is not much room to argue against the significance of Flash #123 and what it did for the industry during a very critical time for comics. It kicked-off the Silver Age and introduced the multiverse concept to DC comic books for the first time. It was a perfect explanation and an excuse for characters from different eras to meet, join forces or battle each other. Unfortunately, for as much as I love the multiverse theory, especially its interpretation in DC Comics, I do believe that the multiverse story plots involving the fate of other universes and all of its characters, has been overexerted by the industry as a whole. Its been done way too many times over the past couple of decades. Perhaps there is a universe out there where the multiverse theory isn’t applied in comic books as frequently as it is in our own universe.

Until next time Crusaders!

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