The Flash | Early Comic Cavalcade Tales | The SF Stories in Comic Cavalcade

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The above is not a complete list of Flash stories. Rather, it consists of my picks of the best tales in the magazines, the ones I enjoyed reading, and recommend to others.

These best stories of the comic books are preceded by their issue number.

This article is about the Golden Age Flash, Jay Garrick. The Silver Age, 1950's and 1960's stories about the Flash (Barry Allen) have their own article.

The Flash

The Flash (1940). Writer: Gardner Fox. Art: Harry Lampert. The origin of the original 1940's Flash: college student Jay Garrick achieves super-speed after a lab accident douses him with heavy water. The story has huge charm. Jay has a real personality, and he plainly enjoys his speed and helping others. The art is much simpler than Infantino's Silver Age art, but it is good natured, and vividly characterizes everyone in the story, especially Jay. The story shows considerable imagination in the creation of the Flash, and many of his powers. It shows that Fox was a major talent here, at the start of his career, just as he was towards the end of it during the Silver Age.

Siegel and Shuster's pioneering tales of Superman were clearly a key influence on this story, as they were for many Golden Age super-heroes. One of the main powers of the early Superman was his ability to run at great speeds. Superman regularly caught bullets in mid-flight, the main crime stopping technique of Flash in this origin. Superman also used his powers to win a big college football game, in "Superman, Football Star" (Action Comics #4, September 1938), just as the Flash does here.

Before he gets his powers, college student Jay Garrick is not much of an athlete, although he is a whiz at science. Fox would later write another story about a young science student whose experiments lead him to new powers and football glory, "Goliath of the Gridiron" (The Brave and the Bold #45, December 1962-January 1963), part of the series Strange Sports Stories. Both young men's motive is to impress girls - also the motive of the student in "Superman, Football Star".

In 1940, college was a rare privilege, mainly reserved for the wealthy. Millions of young people dreamed of going, and there were countless magazine stories, sports novels and movies showing ordinary people the delights of school. "The Flash" falls into this tradition. One wonders how many people in the Golden Age comics industry ever had a chance to go there. Being a college graduate was almost as much of a fantasy as having super-powers. Fox himself was a college graduate, being a lawyer. By the end of the story Jay is an assistant professor at fictitious Coleman University in New York City. This is similar to Craig Kennedy, who taught at Columbia in Arthur B. Reeve's scientific detective stories. Jay Garrick bears some relationship to Craig Kennedy, both being clean cut, brainy young scientists who fight crime.

The Gambling Ship (1940). Writer: Gardner Fox. Art: Everette E. Hibbard. (Title supplied by Grand Comics Database.) Flash attacks a gambling ship. Like most pre-1970 comic books and mystery novels, gambling is seen here as a sinister vice, one with links to the underworld. An equally sinister gambling ship appeared in Raymond Chandler's mystery novel that same year, Farewell, My Lovely (1940). So does one in the Hollywood crime thriller Gambling on the High Seas (1940), directed by George Amy.

The story shows the Flash use his powers to perform what are basically magic tricks, creating illusions that fool people. This will be a key part of many super-heroes' repertoire.

This is an early Fox tale to have his characters in trouble in water, here the ocean surrounding the gambling ship. Fox's Adam Strange will frequently encounter oceans, both on Earth and Rann. The image is often of an isolated person, alone on or in a big sea.

Flash has fun, dressing up in white tie and tails to play a society swell on the ship. Early comic book characters loved fancy clothes. Unlike later superheroes, who often operated exclusively while dressed in their costumes, the early Flash was quite content to use his powers while in civilian clothes, especially on undercover assignments like this. These recall the undercover roles taken on by the non-super-powered detectives in 1930's comics, several of which were scripted by Fox, such as Speed Saunders and Bruce Nelson.

The Flash helps out a nice young man in trouble here, just as he will in "The Olympic Adventure" (1940). Hibbard often makes the young men that the Flash meets be blond. This contrasts with Flash's dark hair. It also makes the men look younger and less tough than the Flash, as well as being upper crust and refined.

Menace of the Vandal (1940). Writer: Gardner Fox. Art: Everette E. Hibbard. (Title supplied by Grand Comics Database.) The Vandal is a murderous gang leader who loots art treasures. Fox uses this tale as a springboard, to explore many aspects of the world of art. This is one of the earliest Fox stories about sculpture, one of his perennial themes. The Flash shows gifts as a sculptor himself here, just as many later Fox heroes will. It is also an early Fox story with a museum background. Such Silver Age Fox characters as Adam Strange and Hawkman and Hawkgirl will be associated with museums in their civilian identities.

A tale like this stresses the Flash's ability to get from location to location almost instantly. It anticipates Fox's interest in teleportation, a key subject of his Silver Age work.

The Olympic Adventure (1940). Writer: Gardner Fox. Art: Everette E. Hibbard. (Title supplied by Grand Comics Database.) Gamblers attack Olympic runners. This is another anti-gambling tale. The Flash goes undercover in a new profession, as an Olympic runner. Once again, such undercover roles remind one of comic book detectives of the 1930's.

ATHLETES. "The Olympic Adventure" is part of a series of Flash stories about athletes' prowess under attack. In "Baseball" (1941), the Flash himself will be subject to threats to his athletic performance, while in "Winky Turns Wrestler" (1943), the Flash himself is the villain who interferes with Winky's wrestling abilities. The Flash also takes over a wrestler's role in the finale of "The Building Swindle" (1940). Such anxiety over performance, athletic and professional, is a major thread running through the early Flash tales by Fox. These stories are all variations on a common theme. They are not quite a Fox cycle. They are like a Fox cycle, in that there is a fairly common scenario in the tales, and two protagonists, the man whose performance is ruined, and the man who ruins it. They are also like a Fox cycle, in that Fox is always creating variations on them, with different protagonists. They are unlike a Fox cycle, in that the protagonists do not wind up back in the same situation in which they started. For a discussion of Fox cycles, please see the article on Adam Strange.

BREATHING. The mystery plot, of why the runners have difficulty in the race, is similar to the Officer Kelly subplot in Fox's later Flash tale, "Crime's Birthday Party" (Comic Cavalcade #1, Winter 1942). Both have a perverse, sexual, quality, involving the wearer's glamorous uniform, and difficulty breathing.

The difficulty breathing in "The Olympic Adventure" and in "Crime's Birthday Party", caused by chemicals, above all recalls the origins of the Flash's super-powers. In the origin, Jay is "overcome by the fumes", just like Officer Kelly in "Crime's Birthday Party", and passes out face downward on the floor. The accident is caused by Jay breaking training (he is on the football team) to have a smoke, further linking the themes of athletic performance and breathing. There is no villain in this origin story - just Jay Garrick himself as the sole protagonist - but otherwise, it too is linked to the scenario above. Unlike all the other instances, where the victim's performance is ruined, in the origin, it is enhanced. Jay goes from a mediocre football player to the team's star.

The difficulty breathing, its causes, and the villains behind it, recall an Anchors Aweigh! tale written and drawn by Fred Guardineer, "El Diablo, Part 2" (American Comics #29, August 1938). Guardineer's tale is earlier than any of the Flash stories. There are also elements of this approach in another Anchors Aweigh! tale by Guardineer, "It Ends With an Alligator" (American Comics #39, June 1939).

SMOKING. The Flash's origin is a rare instance of smoking in comic books - usually, heroes never smoke or drank. After this one instance in the origin, there is no more smoking in the rest of the Flash tales, as best I can tell.

There is an anti-smoking Golden Age tale: Dick Cole persuades his teammates not to smoke, because it will hurt their athletic performance, in "Our story opens in a fourth form room at Farr Military Academy" (Blue Bolt Comics #61 (Vol. 6, #5), November 1945).

The Building Swindle (1940). Writer: Gardner Fox. Art: Everette E. Hibbard. (Title supplied by Grand Comics Database.) Crooked building contractors are making unsafe buildings out of substandard materials. This is a fairly old subject: Cecil B. De Mille used it as the modern story in his silent film of The Ten Commandments (1923).

LINKS TO THE ATOM. This story shows a suite of ideas Gardner Fox would later use in his Atom tales. The Flash packs a big punch here, which is explained through the laws of physics, involving the velocity of his arm. Similarly, the Atom would use aspects of his size and mass to throw knockout punches.

Also, the Flash races telephone calls here, something the Atom will do more unusually later, with his "telephone trick". The Flash is racing phones here as part of his detective work. The telephone trick was created by Jerry Siegel, for his Spectre story, "Terror at Lytell's" (More Fun Comics #56, June 1940), and eventually reused by Fox for his Atom tales in the 1960's. Here Fox is having the Flash race telephones, just two months after Siegel's story.

Just as in the previous story, the Flash paid a whirlwind visit to the FBI to look up things in their files, here he is doing a similar search through the phone company's files. These stories show Fox looking for innovative ways of using Flash's speed to aid detection.

Also notable: the story looks not just at catching crooks, as do many Golden Age detective comics, but also getting enough evidence to legally convict them. Fox is showing his background as a lawyer. In his later Atom stories, the hero's girlfriend will be a lawyer, and there will be frequent legal aspects of the tales.

The early Flash tales stress his invisibility, due to high speed. He is always using this to gain access to locked up places, and to trail people unseen. This is similar to the later Atom, whose small size makes him similarly invisible to others. Although the core of the Atom's powers are different from the Flash's - small size versus super-speed - in practice the two heroes' super powers function in essentially the same way. Both move around quickly, nearly instantly in fact, both can trail others invisibly, both can punch out bad guys: the heroes use their fists, not weapons. Neither man can fly, neither has much technological gimmickry. Both also function essentially as detectives, using their skills to solve crimes.

Both the Flash and the Atom received their powers by accident, an accident rooted in science. Neither has any sort of mandate. Both just want to have fun, and to help others. Both are young research scientists. Both have a steady girl friend. Both regularly wear suits, when not in their super-hero gear.

The Giant Animals (Flash Comics #9, September 1940). Writer: Gardner Fox. Art: Everette E. Hibbard. (Title supplied by Grand Comics Database.) A scientist develops an enlarging ray, and giant lizards get loose and wreck havoc on a Canadian town. This story is very similar to later 1950's era monster movies, with giant reptiles running amok. The enlarging ray reminds us that Fox's Silver Age Atom would building shrinking rays.

Fox liked North woods settings in his Golden Age stories, and they regularly show up in his Speed Saunders tales.

The School Board Problem (Flash Comics #10, October 1940). Writer: Gardner Fox. Art: Everette E. Hibbard. (Title supplied by Grand Comics Database.) Gangsters are taking over and looting city government, starting with the Board of Education and the school system. This is one of several Golden Age stories in which the super-hero battles civic corruption. Fox was proud enough of it to sign his name to it.

The visit to the city slums is intended to stir the conscience of one of the bad guys. This is similar to such early Siegel and Shuster Superman tales, as "The Blakely Mine Disaster" (Action Comics #3, August 1938), in which Superman forced rich crooks to see the results of their actions on poor people.

FOX CYCLE. The Board of Education meeting here is a simple Fox cycle. It can and does happen again and again. It also uses that Fox approach, the "change of protagonist". Here the protagonist of the cycle is the Board's head, the School Superintendent. The man filling this position changes twice during the course of the story.

Trouble in Kurtavia (1940). Writer: ?. Art: Everette E. Hibbard. (Title supplied by Grand Comics Database.) When the small European country of Kurtavia is invaded by its large, militaristic neighbor Nural, the Flash stops the invasion and ends the war. Superb pacifist tale, showing Flash ending the European war. The vicious Nural is clearly modeled on Nazi Germany, and Kurtavia resembles such peace loving countries such as Poland and Czechoslovakia that Germany invaded. This story is both strongly anti-Nazi and anti-war. It expresses the deep desire of many Americans of the time to see the war in Europe come to an end. Such stories were a comic book tradition, in the period before America entered the war before December 7, 1941. The model of such pacifist tales, in which a super-hero stops warfare, is Siegel and Shuster's first Superman story, "Revolution in San Monte" (Action Comics #1, April 1938 and #2, July 1938). Siegel and Shuster also did the brief but politically outstanding "What If Superman Ended the War?". Another important such work is the Neon story, "The Transatlantic Bridge" (Hit Comics #4, October 1940), which appeared two months before this Flash tale. In the Flash tale, the hero makes a powerful anti-war speech, just as Superman did in "Revolution in San Monte".

Although this story has a serious theme, it is by no means grim. The Flash has lots of fun, coming up with non-violent ways to end the conflict. These show both humor and ingenuity.

The Flash is summoned by a radio broadcast, asking for his aid. This resembles the later Silver Age Atom, who also answers advertisements for his help. Most of Fox's heroes lack official status, or any government official who summons them, the way Batman has Commissioner Gordon.

Baseball (1941). Writer: Gardner Fox. Art: Everette E. Hibbard. (Title supplied by Grand Comics Database.) The Flash goes undercover on a baseball team being sabotaged by its crooked owner. Delightful story.

The Flash performing undercover as an athlete recalls "The Olympic Adventure" (1940) and "The Building Swindle" (1940). This tale is also like "The Building Swindle", in that both deal with a crooked business. We get a full look at how the businesses are run in both tales, and a look at employees, managers, owners, contacts and other people involved in running the business. And in the finales, the Flash persuades the crooked owners to reform, and shows them how to run their business in a more honest fashion. These details of the business are interworked throughout the plot of story. This gives the tales a different approach from a more conventional tale, about gangs of crooks who the hero must simply apprehend. The reformation at the end recalls Jerry Siegel's initial Superman stories, in which Superman tries to reform exploitative industrialists. It is part of the strong Utopian strand that runs through Golden Age super-hero stories, in which the super-hero actually tries to improve the world.

The Flash is always changing his clothes, here in "Baseball", and in "The Gambling Ship". Fox has a lot of fun with the possibilities. The Flash can change his clothes instantly, using his speed powers. Fox would write a tale about a non-super-powered quick-change artist, "The Riddle of the Two-Faced Astronaut" (The Atom #6, April-May 1963).

The giant R on the baseball uniforms recalls the symbolic use of such letters and numbers in comics: see Sports Numbers and Their Symbolism for a discussion.

The Affair of the Curiosity Ray (1942). Writer: Gardner Fox. Art: Everette E. Hibbard. A scientist invents a ray that makes people intensely curious about everything.

This story anticipates another Flash tale Fox would write, "Topsy Turvy Town" (1944). Both are sf stories about devices that alter human personality. Both alterations have many comic dimensions, but both are basically positive, at least in small doses. In both stories, Fox provides an antidote, something that restores the person to their original state. Both transformations are depicted with considerable inventiveness by Fox. Here, he shows both imagination in the rich detail of the transform, and strict logic in following the implications of his machine: an admirable combination.

The transform can be considered a small Fox cycle. Like many Fox cycles, it allows a change of protagonist: First Joe the Dope participates in the changes that follow from the ray; later the Flash is exposed. The Flash follows the same series of stages that Joe does, which is typical of Fox cycles: everyone always goes through the same steps in a Fox cycle. Fox later on sets up a variant cycle in the tale; this is also followed with rigorous logic and inventiveness. This makes for a strong performance by the writer.

The ray is presented as something of a menace. But the story also highlights its positive side: it is designed to make people smarter. The story is based on considerable truth. Many scientists and thinkers in real life already have the intense curiosity shown by the transformed people in this tale. Their inquisitive spirit is part of what makes them good scientists. The story shows an insightful psychological portrait of such people, one that is quite sympathetic. If it has a comic side, it also shows a profound value. One suspects that Fox himself was possessed of such a curiosity.

The Adventure of Abducted Trains (1942). Writer: Gardner Fox. Art: Everette E. Hibbard. A criminal is replacing American business and political leaders with look-alikes. I do not know if Fox was the first person to come up with this plot, or whether it had been used by previous thriller writers, perhaps in the pulps. It has been much re-used ever since, especially in the 1950's and 1960's. It still turns up regularly on TV. Fox's business leaders are thinly fictionalized versions of famous real life businessmen.

The Flash beats up most of the phony businessmen and politicians in this tale. On the surface, he is just attacking crooks. But it sure looks at many points as if he were attacking real business and political leaders, right in their home offices. One suspects that many people in the Depression wanted to give such leaders a good lickin', and that the story is allowing readers to indulge in thinly disguised versions of this fantasy.

In Frank Capra's film Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939), the filibuster power of Senators was presented as a good thing. Fox takes the opposite point of view, viewing it as mainly obstructionist.

Stone Age Menace (1947). Writer: Robert Kanigher?. Art: Joe Kubert. The Flash battles a Tyrannosaurus, in this mystery story set in a museum. This inventive mystery tale was reprinted in The Greatest Flash Stories Ever Told (1991).

This story is similar in feel to the movie who-dun-its of the era. It is full of the startling plot twists and successions of mysterious events found in these mystery films. It also resembles the weird menace mystery stories of the pulps, in that seemingly fantastic events occur, which are eventually given rational explanation at the end of the story. Please see my list of weird menace comic book mysteries.

LINKS TO LATER TALES. The GCD speculates this story may be by Robert Kanigher. Its plot has similarities to two, slightly later, impossible crime tales known to be by Kanigher, starring Johnny Thunder and / or the Black Canary: "Produce the Crime" (Flash Comics #89, November 1947) and "Triple Exposure" (Flash Comics #90, December 1947). Similarities:

However, both of the later tales are somewhat simpler than "Stone Age Menace", which weaves all of its elements together to produce a truly complex plot. The sheer bafflement of "Stone Age Menace", with its constant misdirection about what is going on, seems relatively unique.

COSTUMES. There are many different police and guard uniforms here - Joe Kubert has created a different style for each group of officers in the tale. The spiffiest are those of the prison guard at Jay Garrick's jail cell, with its Sam Browne belt and patch pockets. He is also the most sympathetic of the officers in the tale.

Jay Garrick wears a cool explorer's outfit startlingly similar to that which will be later donned by a certain movie hero.

The Rival Flash (1949). Writer: Robert Kanigher? John Broome?. Art: Carmine Infantino. A mysterious crook gains Flash's super-powers. Pleasant mix of mystery and science fiction.

This tale re-tells Flash's origin. And uses that origin as a base on which to build a new story of a crook's gaining super-speed too. This development is logical and soundly constructed.

SPOILERS. The best part of the mystery, is the revelation at the end of who the mysterious crook is. It surprised me.

Early Comic Cavalcade Tales

Crime's Birthday Party (1942). Writer: Gardner Fox. Art: Everette E. Hibbard. A sneaky mobster gives nice-looking but deceptive birthday presents to law officials. The premise of the tale is original. And Fox shows ingenuity in some plot developments.

A FOX CYCLE? A common plot pattern is repeated four times in the story:

  1. The crooks give a birthday present to someone on the side of the law.
  2. The person is delighted with the present, which seems helpful.
  3. The present eventually turns out to be deceptive - not what it at first looks like.
  4. The present is used to commit a crime.
  5. The Flash has to figure out the scheme.
This is not quite a true Fox cycle. A key difference: the protagonist (the person who gets the present) does NOT end up in the same state as in the beginning. They tend to be worse off.

OFFICER KELLY. SPOILERS. The best part of this story is the booby-trapped police uniform given to Officer Kelly (page 3). He just loves this extremely spiffy new uniform, which is part of the insidious plot line. Hibbard's art is excellent, with Kelly twirling his nightstick, while walking his beat in the snazzy uniform. The well-done uniform is dressy, worn with a white shirt and tie, a belt, patch pockets on the lower jacket, and a formal stripe along the side of the trousers.

The City on Wheels (1943). Writer: Gardner Fox. Art: Everette E. Hibbard. A cross section of humanity rides a subway car, then gets mixed up in a case at a beauty parlor.

The Keystone City subway here looks just like the New York City subway. Also, it runs from uptown to downtown, and stops at streets like 50th Street: the same layout as New York City and its subways. The impression one gets is that Keystone City is just a thinly disguised version of New York City, like Superman's Metropolis and Batman's Gotham City.

The subway car is compared to a small city, with its inhabitants a cross section of humanity. This gives rise to the title "City on Wheels". The story is full of subplots, and has a soap opera quality, with many characters facing personal crises. While G-rated, the issues faced by the characters seem a little more adult than those of many 1940's comic books.

THE BOXER. The Flash helps a boxer with his fighting, using his super powers invisibly to give him assistance. This is similar to earlier Siegel and Shuster Superman tales, in which Superman secretly aided athletes. See "Superman, Football Star" (1938) and "The Comeback of Larry Trent" (1939). Larry Trent is a boxer too.

The boxer faces a moral choice: whether or not to give in to a life of crime, or stay honest. It is a real temptation, and there is genuine suspense in the tale about what choice he will make.

The boxer is named Billy "Knuckles" O'Grady. He is clearly Irish-American.

LOVE. There is plenty of romance in this tale, with both the Flash and Joan trying to aid the story's lovelorn characters. No less than three different people need assistance. This is a bit like later Fox cycles, in which a series of events will repeat themselves: here there are two sets of characters all searching for love: a couple, and an unrelated married woman.

TRAIN. The subway train ride, when it eventually comes, adds some nice comedy to the story (pages 9, 10, 11).

COSTUMES. There is a good portrait of Jay Garrick in a suit with vest (page 7). The suit is full of pleasing curved lines. Vests were big in the early 1940's, whenever the artist wanted to make someone look dressy. Jay was always a fashion plate in his stories. He was definitely not a nerd, like Clark Kent. Instead he was a figure of glamour.

Jay wears the suit with a matching hat. Jay's hat is a phallic symbol, like many men's hats in bygone eras. So are the fireplug he leans on (middle right panel), the water tower and skyscraper (lower left panel). Earlier Jay gets a phallic subway rail (bottom right on page 3). These all enhance Jay's sense of masculinity.

One of the hoodlums also wears a good three-piece suit, similar to Jay's (splash panel). Otherwise, the tale's crooks are not glamorized.

The massively muscled boxer "Knuckles" O'Grady also looks good in his suit, filling it out with his broad shoulders (pages 1, 2). O'Grady has a good hat: a visored cap. The swaggering cap gives a uniform-like touch to his outfit. O'Grady gets a phallic symbol too: a staircase rail (page 1).

All the men in this tale wear suits. There are no uniforms. Or formal wear, except for a butler (page 3). The train engineer is another exception (page 10). The ubiquity of suits helps unify the subplots. It also creates an atmosphere of "daily life".

Henry the butler does look good in his formal outfit, which is essentially white tie and tails (page 3). His well-cut tail coat has huge peaked lapels. It shows off Henry's build: he's one of the more muscular butlers in comics history.

Winky Turns Wrestler (1943). Writer: Gardner Fox. Art: Everette E. Hibbard. Winky becomes a professional wrestler, after his friends discover that he has an unbreakable grip when frightened. Zany comic tale.

Fox would go on to write many of the Strange Sports Stories in the 1960's. Some of them also dealt with ordinary people who became sports stars.

FOX CYCLE. There is a simple Fox cycle, dealing with Winky:

  1. Winky is scared by a wrestling opponent.
  2. In fear, Winky clinches the opponent in an unbreakable hold.
  3. The opponent looses the match, because he can't get out of the hold.
  4. Special procedures are used to get Winky to loosen the hold.
Winky goes through at least six cycles of this. Some instances are outside of a wrestling ring, so are missing Step 3. These can also have Winky battling a man who is not a "wrestling opponent".

THE DIMWITS. If you have trouble keeping the Three Dimwits straight, here is a clue: each has a different hair style. Winky has curly hair, Blinky has his straight hair combed down over his forehead and even his eyes, and Noddy is the bald guy with the hat and the high collar. The Dimwits bear more than a passing resemblance to the film comedians, the Three Stooges. I always loved the Stooges while growing up as a kid. However, I think that a little of the Dimwits can go a long way.

MALE BONDING. The world's champion wrestler Bronco Bill Boley is also a character. Today's pro wrestlers cultivate an outré image, but Bill is a clean-cut, handsome athlete, dressed in good clothes. The wrestler is socially sophisticated, and a friend of Jay. A party at the wrestler's home shows both Bill and Jay in white tie and tails (page 3). As is typical in Comic Cavalcade, all details of the two men's clothes are absolutely identical. Both Bill and Jay here wear double-breasted white vests with their evening clothes. Both look spiffy to the max. Jay always wears white tie and tails whenever he goes out for the evening. It is part of his characterization.

Bill wears his white wrestling tee shirt with trousers while working out, and a similar tee shirt with blue trunks in the ring (page 11). He looks clean cut and glamorous at all times.

Jay is shown laughing at the events, wearing a good blue suit (page 8). Later a handsome cop and the Flash laugh derisively at some crooks (page 10). The cop has a huge peaked cap, and epaulettes on his sharp blue uniform. We next see the well-built cop in silhouette, dragging away the crooks (page 11). His giant cap is once again conspicuous. The Flash is seen in silhouette near him. A tall phallic street sign is also in silhouette.

As in "Crime's Birthday Party", there is a perverse side to this material. While it was the bad guy that manipulated Officer Kelly in the earlier tale, here it is the hero Flash who takes an unfair advantage of Winky (pages 11, 12).

The SF Stories in Comic Cavalcade

The Plant that Challenged the World (1943). Writer: Gardner Fox. Art: Everette E. Hibbard. An intelligent carnivorous plant tries to take over the world.

EVIL PLANTS. This story seems broadly similar to Roger Corman's film The Little Shop of Horrors (1960) and to the carnivorous plant sequence "Pottsylvania Creeper" (1963) on the TV animated series The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show. Its plot is more distantly related to the intelligent, evil potato "Spud Dud" episode (1960) of the animated TV series Huckleberry Hound, and to John Wyndham's prose science fiction novel, Day of the Triffids (1951).

I have no idea if Fox originated this "killer plant" plot, or whether it echoes earlier stories, perhaps in science fiction pulp magazines. Fox's version is thorough, covering a wide rage of possibilities available in the plot. Like the later Little Shop of Horrors, it starts out small, and gradually escalates. Fox wrote other early tales about biology-based menaces: a gorilla running amok through New York City causing mass panic in the Speed Saunders tale "The Mystery of the Lost Ape" (Detective Comics #6, August 1937), a giant lizard stampeding a town in "The Giant Animals" (Flash Comics #9, September 1940). Such menace tales were part of his repertory, long before they became part of the monster movies of the 1950's.

Fox later had the Silver Age Atom facing plant-enabled robbers, in "Master of the Plant World" (Atom #1, June-July 1962). The two stories share some sf ideas in their details.

SCIENCE FICTION. This is the first of a series of science fiction stories Fox wrote for the Flash in Comic Cavalcade. Most Golden Age super-hero tales are essentially detective stories, while many Silver Age tales are sf oriented. These Golden Age Flash stories are more Silver Age like in being sf.

The stories tend to be full of rowdy comedy.

Their plots tend not to be as elegantly constructed as Fox's Silver Age work. Instead, they straightforwardly set forth Fox's sf ideas, without much concern with intricate plot construction or dovetailing. The stories emphasize content over form - they are driven by their science fiction content, not by formal ideas about plot construction.

Topsy Turvy Town (1944). Writer: Gardner Fox. Art: Everette E. Hibbard? Stan Aschmeier?. Bad guys spray an experimental gas into Suburban Village, an "impulse liberator" that causes its inhabitants to perform whimsical actions.

FOX CYCLE. The story contains an early, simple example of a Fox cycle:

  1. Person gets whiff of gas;
  2. Person starts acting on his child-like impulses;
  3. These actions have some consequences in the plot;
  4. Later, everyone recovers on their own.
As is often the case, Fox has many different protagonists take part in the cycle. Some are individual people; others are groups, such as the attendees at the bond rally at the country club.

MORAL. Fox portrays most of the people as being better human beings, after they start acting out their impulses. This is an optimistic view of human nature: Our hidden desires make us better persons. In many cases, it leads to an improvement in both their character and their lives.

VILLAINS. The names of villains Bunco and Dinky recall those of the Three Dimwits, Winky, Blinky and Noddy.

Shenanigans in Sherwood Forest (1945). Writer: Gardner Fox. Art: Martin Naydel. For a vacation, The Flash goes back in time and joins Robin Hood's Merry Men.

The Flash is just looking for a good rest and vacation in this tale. There is something comic about this: super-heroes are never supposed to get tired. Later, Fox's Silver Age Atom will frequently get tired, and fall asleep right on the job. The fans in the 1960's loved this aspect of their hero, judging by letter columns; it made the Atom more human and fallible. Several scenes show Flash thoroughly enjoying his vacation. These scenes are deeply gratifying, for some reason. They form an image of human happiness.

The Flash takes on a whole army, that of the rotten Sheriff of Nottingham. This recalls the earlier "Trouble in Kurtavia" (Flash #12, December 1940). This image is deeply satisfying. One would love to see some hero disabling all the armies of the world. The tale ends with the Sheriff's army permanently dispersed. This is similar to the ends of the Mystery in Space and Strange Adventures tales to come, in which the villains permanently give up their plans for conquest and war. Such finales are found in the tales written both by Fox and other writers.

This story is perhaps the best of the early sf Flash stories. Everything about it is nice. The humor is successful throughout. Flash uses double talk to get past guards. This recalls a humorous moment in Raoul Walsh's film, Desperate Journey (1942).

Painting the Town (1945). Writer: Gardner Fox. Art: Everette E. Hibbard. Winky, Blinky and Noddy develop a paint so heavy that it causes anything painted with it to sink towards the center of the Earth.

FOX CYCLE. The story consists of a repeated series of events. They form a simple Fox cycle:

  1. The Three Dimwits paint an object or building.
  2. Then try to cope with it as it sinks into the ground.
The events constitute a Fox cycle, a series of events that can recur again and again, with a different protagonist each time.

Fox provides plenty of variety in the different incidents, making the story have a "theme and variations" quality.

The Race Through Time (1947). Writer: Gardner Fox. Art: Everette E. Hibbard. The Flash chases a crook with super-speed through the past and future. The crook has identical powers as the Flash. This is an example of Fox's uses of "doubles" to construct his plots.

This story recalls H. G. Wells' seminal time travel classic, "The Time Machine" (1895). The future scenes combine two aspects that were restricted to separate periods and episodes in Wells. We see future humans, evolved into gentle, frail looking creatures, who live underground. Unlike in Wells, these future men have not lost their mental abilities or scientific skill. Instead, they have evolved into beings with huge brains. Also, we see a future period of Earth in which the Sun has grown cold, and in which the Earth can no longer support life. Fox, always deeply optimistic in his sf, also gives these sf situations a happy end, unlike the tragic ones in Wells' novella.

RADIO BEAM. The radio beam guided outer space transportation here anticipates the zeta-beam in Fox's Adam Strange tales to come.

ART. Hibbard's art makes the future humans look cute. This is part of the comic tone of the story. Like "Shenanigans in Sherwood Forest", this tale deals with people having fun.

LIAR'S CLUB. This is one of several Flash tales of this era, that have a framing sequence of Jay Garrick telling stories at the Liar's Club. The Liar's Club is a place where men go, and try to tell outrageous tall tales to each other. Whoever tells the wildest story wins a small prize or trophy. These wild adventures of the Flash are regarded by other members of the Club as deliberate whoppers.

Fox was not the first to use such a device. Charley Bowers' silent film comedy short, Now You Tell One (1926), has a Liar's Club framing sequence. The Liar's Club in the movie is just like those in Fox's stories. We see a bunch of well-dressed affable men, telling funny tall tales at their club. As in many Fox tales, there is a contest to see who can tell the biggest whopper. And the main tall tale in the story, told by Bowers, is a comic science fiction story, just like most of Fox's tales. It even involves plants, like some of Fox's sf comics tales. Bowers' story is full of vivid special effects, that are quite impressive even today.