BY THE LATE 1950s, the comics industry was
in pretty bad shape. Except for Superman, Batman and a handful
of others, the heroes of the Golden Age were forgotten. A
restrictive code of conduct disallowed all but the most
inoffensive stuff, television cut deeply into the comic book's
core audience, and distribution problems put many smaller
publishers out of business. War, romance, humor, science
fiction -- these were the steady sellers in an industry that
almost forgot how to create heroes.
Almost, but not quite.
No one knows whose idea it was, but the creators at DC began
toying with a superhero revival in the mid-1950s. Since the
Flash was one of the company's most popular heroes of the past,
it fell upon editor Julius Schwartz to resurrect the speedster
from his four-color grave.
But the new Flash would not be the same as the old Flash.
Schwartz edited the original Flash
Comics until the book's cancellation in 1949, and he was
not interested in looking back. He agreed to bring back the
character, but only if he could make a few changes. By the time
he was finished, the Flash's name was just about the only thing
that remained unchanged -- the new Flash was younger, sported a
sleeker costume, and worked by day as a slowpoke police
scientist named Barry Allen.
In retrospect, the character might have seemed like a winner,
but this was still the 1950s, and launching the Flash in his own
title was a risky proposition. Showcase was an anthology
that was developed as a tryout book for DC -- new characters
would be introduced, and if readers liked them enough, they
would get their own series. Response to the new Flash was so
favourable that he was brought back in later issues, and then
awarded his own series in 1959.
It's hard to overestimate this book's impact on comic
history. Before Showcase #4, the heroes of the Golden Age
seemed doomed to past glories, with only Superman, Batman, and a
few others to carry the torch. But the Flash's phenomenal
success spawned revivals of other famous heroes from the past --
Green Lantern, Hawkman, the Atom, the Spectre, Dr. Fate and more
were given new leases on life. In almost every case, the
characters were updated and redesigned for a new age, which made
them seem as fresh as the day they were first introduced. And in
1961, Marvel Comics, encouraged by DC's success, began
resurrecting its own old heroes to join new ones in their
It didn't happen quite as fast as the Flash, but there was no
denying the excitement that was building. Comicdom's Silver Age
had officially begun.