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Who Created The Silver Age Flash?
An Oral History in the Words of Robert Kanigher, Carmine Infantino, Joe Kubert, Julius Schwartz-and Robin Snyder
Compiled and Edited by Roy Thomas
From Alter Ego Vol. 3 #10
EDITOR'S NOTE: Forget those interesting speculations concerning Captain Comet, Captain Flash, and The Manhunter from Mars. The Silver Age of Comics was born in July of 1956 when Showcase #4 went on sale, featuring two tales of a new/revived Flash written respectively by Robert Kanigher and John Broome, penciled by Carmine Infantino, inked by Joe Kubert, and edited by Julius Schwartz, technically under the direction of Whitney Ellsworth. Over the past decade, several of the above creators, beginning with Robert Kanigher, have gone on the record in Robin Snyder's excellent monthly publication and "oral history" History of the Comics (now simply The Comics) concerning their memories of the origins of the Barry Allen Flash.
With the permission of all concerned, we have assembled those statements, plus a smattering of comments from other sources, to form a connected narrative. (We haven't sought quotations by the late John Broome, as he was not involved in The Flash's origin story.) It will come as no great surprise to any knowledgeable student of comic art-or of human nature-that in several key instances there are substantial disagreements between the parties involved. Our purpose is not to weigh in on the side of one creator or another in any disputed area-we are admirers of each of them-but merely to gather these statements in one place and let the reader make up his/her own mind... hopefully remembering that a fan, as readily as a pro, can be wrong. But first, let's read what Robin Snyder had to say about the subject. It was his magazine, after all:
In my investigation of this puzzle, some have suggested the lack of creator credits is because the contemporary character is an updated and revised character. Yet the updated and revised Perry Mason movies are credited to the originator, Earle Stanley Gardner. In 1990 Batman bears little resemblance to the 1939 character created by Bill Finger and Bob Kane, yet Kane rates a byline. (Why Finger's name is omitted is for the publisher to answer.) The current version of Superman is nearly unrecognizable when placed beside the original, yet Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster are still credited with his creation. And so forth.
The question of who created The Flash has been addressed. By Julie Schwartz, Robert Kanigher, and Carmine Infantino. In the beginning, Schwartz said, in The Flash #161, May 1966: "...Robert Kanigher (originator of The Flash in its Showcase tryout)..."
A few years later, in The Comic Artist #1, May 1969, Infantino said, "Schwartz became editor, Kanigher-writer, and I, etc..."
In 1975 Infantino said, "Julie called me in... We were going to re-do The Flash. Kanigher would write it. I would do the pencils, and Joe Kubert would ink it." [The Amazing World of DC Comics, Vol. 2, No. 8, Sept.-Oct. 1975.]
In The Comics Journal #85, Oct. 1983, Kanigher said, "I created the modern Flash. I wrote about him. I sat with him and listened to his hopes and despairs and dreams. He has my genes."
In 1986, in Ron Goulart's Great History of Comic Books, Schwartz is quoted as saying: "I worked out a story with Bob Kanigher-new costume, new secret identity, new origin."
And in the History of the DC Universe, 1988, [Schwartz] had this to say: "The only thing he had in common with his predecessor was his speed. I wanted originality-and that became my watchword for everything I did: Be Original. I gave Barry (The Flash) Allen a new origin and an interesting cast of characters. The result was a runaway hit..."
So. What have we learned? That Schwartz, Kanigher, Infantino, and Kubert worked on that first story; that Kanigher said he created the character; that Infantino said Schwartz was the editor, Kanigher the writer, and himself the penciler, and Kubert the inker; that Schwartz first said that Kanigher was the originator of The Flash and then that he "worked out" a story with Kanigher, and finally that he gave the hero "a new origin and interesting cast of characters."
And Schwartz was the editor. Does that make him the creator? If so, how? Kanigher was the writer. Did he bring the character into being? How? Infantino was the pencil artist. Did he originate The Flash or his costume or design his look based on the work of another? Kubert inked Infantino's drawings. Is the inker a prime cause in the act of creation or a corollary?
Finally, is The Flash the same character as the one first written and drawn by Gardner Fox and Harry Lampert in Flash Comics #1, 1940? Or an updated version? Or completely different but bearing the same name?
Let's find out. And, hopefully, finally recognize the creator of The Flash.
[From History of the Comics, Vol. 1, #4, April 1990:]
One day, Mr. Schwartz asked me to write a new origin for The Flash. Gardner Fox had originated The Flash. He was, and in my mind would always be, the creator of The Flash. I merely reinvented The Flash. I wrote a completely finished script in every single detail, which he [Schwartz] gave to Carmine Infantino to draw. I am credited with creating the modern Flash. Flash Two. Never. I'm not like the scavengers of today who make up new origins for my Rex the Wonder Dog, my Ragman, my Black Canary, my Enemy Ace, etc. The minion is still is session.
Flash forward: With the revision going on now turning genuine creatorship into entangled spaghetti to include people whose head is an empty balloon as far as creativity is concerned, I glanced at a copy of the first Flash 2, which was published as a re-invention. With a slight difference. Now I had as collaborators: Mr. Infantino, penciler; and Mr. Schwartz, editor, etc., etc., etc.
[From History of the Comics, Vol. 1, #6, August 27, 1990:]
[Gardner] Fox was a creator. A seminal figure. He created The Flash, etc. I invented Flash 2, the modern Flash. A world of difference.
[Writing as "Cinfa" in History of the Comics, Vol. 1, No. 13, Dec. 1990:]
Super-heroes had died off and we were stabbing at anything that might sell: romance, western, sci-fi...
On one day I was delivering my work, Julie told me we were going to try The Flash. He said it was decided at an editorial meeting. He gave me a script by Kanigher. (I know Kanigher had a lot of input. It was in his style.)
I was told to design a costume. I chose a stark bland one with lightning bolt accents. (Those belts would help in creating the speed effects for the character.) I always kept him slim, like a runner; wiry, too. Others bulked him up. Different strokes for different...
The cover idea for the first issue was Kanigher's-this I do remember.
As the strip progressed, Julie kept after me to come up with something different. The multi-figure action sequences helped create the illusion of speed, and I later added the device of gesturing hands for decoration.
Why Kanigher didn't continue on the strip, I don't know. I don't recall when Gardner came aboard.
Lastly, Kanigher had a way with his scripts to make me stretch and grow. Thank you, Bobby.
[From History of the Comics, Vol. 2, #4, April 1991, as excerpted there by Robin Snyder from the various sources noted:]
The Flash was revitalized in Showcase in 1956. I went up to the office one day and Julie Schwartz said to me, "We want to try super-heroes again..." I thought they were dead and gone after they had fallen out of favor a few years earlier, but DC wanted to give them another shot, starting with a revamping of The Flash... I just went home and did the job from Bob Kanigher's script and that was it. ("People at Work," Direct Currents, ©1990 DC Comics.)
And so we [Frank Giacoia and I] began our careers at National Periodicals [in the 1940s] and, more important, our working relationship with the genius of Shelly Mayer.
During this period, he also fostered the careers of Joe Kubert and Alex Toth. This brilliant man molded, encouraged, indulged, and drew a talent from us that we never knew existed. I began with secondary features like "Johnny Thunder" (the one with the Magic Thunderbolt) and "The Ghost Patrol," and graduated to one of the top bananas, the original "Flash."
In early 1956, during one of my weekly visits to Julie's office-one he shared with writer-editor Bob Kanigher-I was informed that during one of their editorial meetings a decision was made to try super-heroes once again...
The Flash was the character selected to begin the revival, and I was offered the art assignment. The Flash seemed like an old friend; I was elated.
Bob Kanigher had developed a new version of the old Flash, and I was told to design a new character, a new costume, and sundry villains. Joe Kubert was to be the inker, and Julie, of course, would be the editor.
I enjoyed the challenge of designing new approaches to the unusual visual sequences demanded for The Flash by the wonderful writing of Robert Kanigher, Gardner Fox, and John Broome. (from the "Foreword" to The Greatest Flash Stories Ever Told, ©1991 DC Comics.)
[From History of the Comics, Vol. 1, No. 13, Dec. 1999:]
I must admit that my memory is quite hazy as to dates, issue numbers, etc., so please allow me some flexibility in terms of time.
The first time I did the "Flash" character (pencil & inks) was around the time I also did "Hawkman." I also did a number of covers (featuring both Hawkman and The Flash) to go with the stories I illustrated. That, I believe, was the late '40s.
I'm not certain who the writer was-it may have been Gardner Fox.
The editor was Shelly Mayer. That was before these characters (and others) became part of the DC entourage, when M.C. Gaines sold his publications to DC. In the exchange that took place, it's my understanding that Shelly was offered the job of editor-in-chief, along with a munificent salary, both of which he gave up. Why? Because he wanted to draw-to be a cartoonist-just like the Scribbly character he created years before.
Carmine Infantino and Frank Giacoia (penciler and inker) were also doing "The Flash," along with several other regular strips (the names of which don't come to mind at the moment). I really don't know who (or how many) shared the writing chores during that time.
My next (and last) involvement with "The Flash" was when I was asked to ink Carmine's pencils for Showcase #4. I had worked with Carmine before (on Jesse James and other features for different publishers) and we worked well together. His layouts, designs, and storytelling abilities were (and still are) the best. And we had a good understanding between the two of us: He was responsible for the pencils but, once they left his hands, it became my sole responsibility. So both of us felt quite free and uninhibited about the work and working together.
Julie Schwartz was the editor-to my knowledge-and we (the artists) never discussed story and/or plot with the writer or editor. Plot and story were totally in the bailiwick of an editor and writer.
[From History of the Comics, Vol. 2, #7, July 1991, "The Flushing of Flash":]
Gardner Fox created The Flash, the fastest man in the world, in Flash Comics #1, 1940. No illustrator (penciler), inker, letterer, colorist, or editor whispered to him in the mysterious, labyrinthine maze of his brain what path he was to follow; like all creators, he did it alone. This was the Jay Garrick-Flash of the Golden Age.
I arrived at DC by a meandering route, never having read comics (although I found The Golden Ass by Apuleus very comical; as were Gargantua and Pantagruel by Rabelais, Swift's Gulliver's Travels, the pornographic "Tiller the Toiler" and "Jiggs and Maggie" (furtively sold in Times Square in soiled little mini-comics by soiled little men), Fanny Hill, Villon's Ballad to Fat Margot (written when he was in jail)... but comics? No. Sue me. I was uneducated.
Although Fox, Bill Finger, John Broome, etc., were reliable writers at DC in 1956, Julius Schwartz asked me to write a new origin for a new Flash. It was easy...
I hadn't read or seen any of Fox's "Flash." I wrote a handful in the 1940s, illustrated by Joe Kubert, Lee Elias, and others. Just wrote them.
Come 1956 and all I needed to know about the new assignment was that he was the fastest man alive. I left the rest to my inner self. What name to give the new Flash? I was too impatient to waste time to think up one. You really can get hung up on the simplest things. My task was to bring him alive. What could be more natural than to call him Flash, and pretend that he was inspired by an old comic? And Jay Garrick was changed into Barry Allen, who was the new Flash.
The Flash's ring was sheer plagiarism. When I was a pre-teen or almost a teenager, I used to sit on the steps of a tenement house at Washington Ave. and about 179th Street, with a rabbi's son, who was an aspiring pulp writer. He told me about a character running in a pulp. Called the Crimson Clown, I believe. When he wanted to switch from his civvies, he pressed a spring on a ring on his finger. The clown costume erupted out and expanded to life-size. So, many years later, I stole that gimmick. You can't sue me. The statute of limitations has run out.
How to give Barry his super-powers? I used comics' hallucinatory idea of reality. I made him a police scientist, since I had worked for the P.A.L. for several years, and blew him up in a chemical explosion. In real life he would have been scraped off the walls. In comics, his atomic structure was rearranged. And he became the fastest man in the world. Naturally, he was always late in civilian life, exasperating his girl friend. He had to have a girl friend, didn't he? He had to be late, didn't he?
I have been asked why I wrote so few "Flash" stories. Irv Novick and I live near each other. We met half way between our houses. He gave me his artwork. I brought it to Schwartz. To save time for Schwartz having to wait for Novick to bring it in. Whenever I asked Schwartz how things were-instead of thanking me for the favor-he crudely answered: "Don't bother me. I'm too busy."
One day I was plotting with Dorothy Woolfolk. Schwartz burst in. "Where's Novick's artwork?" "Novick is your problem," I said quietly. He rushed out. By the next day I learned I had touched a nerve some-where. Because he had called Cary Bates and given The Flash to him.
[Excerpted from the RK article "The Showcase Solution" in _The Comics, Vol. 9, #4, April 1998:]
For years Julie Schwartz has been thumbholing people, telling them that he created 'Mystery of the Human Thunderbolt' featuring the new Flash which appeared in Showcase #4. In one article he managed to describe that cosmic event and how he did it without reference to the names of the writer or artist.
He impressed [Gerard] Jones and [Will] Jacobs to the extent that in The Comic Book Heroes, 2nd edition, Prime, 1997, they report, "Schwartz gave the new Flash's 'origin' story to Robert Kanigher."
In that same volume Schwartz recalls, "Someone, some unknown inspirational genius, suggested we bring back the Flash."
In The Flash Archives, Vol. 1, 1996, Paul Kupperberg, in his Foreword, quotes Julie: "Someone suggested, and I really don't know who it was, that we should bring back the Flash." Jack Schiff, in an early issue of The Comics, claimed credit for the creation of Showcase. With little mention of how he accomplished that feat.
No Phyllis Reed, no George Kashdan, was present at an ordinary editorial conference. Whit Ellsworth may have helmed it. (Irwin Donenfeld has gotten some mileage for himself as Editor-in-chief. His editorial activities are pure fiction.) Present at that first meeting and many thereafter were Jack Schiff, Mort Weisinger, Murray Boltinoff, Julius Schwartz, possibly Larry Nadle, and RK. The latter said, "How about showcasing a brand new character every month? The readers will grow wild not knowing what to expect. There are five editors here. Five into 12 months is 2+. All each has to do is come up with only two characters per year. It will be easy. Sooner or later one or more is bound to hit and we'll have new books. A showcase. The title is already there."
Mort, the man with the Midas touch, edited the fizzled "Fireman Farrell." RK created, wrote, and edited "Kings of the Wild." No movement. The follow-up was "The Frogmen"... again created, written, and edited by RK. Movement upward.
Back to the editorial conference Schwartz mentioned. Ellsworth, maybe. Mort, Jack, Murray, perhaps Larry, Julie, and RK. Pick out the one Julie won't name who came up with the idea for "The Flash."
The story changed from there, reaching ridiculous proportions, until resolved in the pages of The Comics (July 1991) in RK's "The Flushing of Flash."
But, in the years since, there has been some confusion, once again, as to who did what. And by 1995, in DC Comics: Sixty Years of the World's Favorite Comic Book Heroes by Les Daniels, Julie suddenly remembered who created The Flash, "...no question, but we plotted to a certain extent."
So Schwartz did handle Showcase #4. That is: RK produced the finished script (as per "The Flushing of Flash") and designed the legendary cover (according to Carmine Infantino in "Infantino," an interview in The Comics Journal, Nov. 1996: "Bob handed me the script, and even laid out the first cover. He did a rough drawing of it; I'll never forget it. Then he sat with me and asked, 'If there's anything in the script that you don't quite understand, ask me.' And we went over it quite a bit."
So Carmine drew the first story and designed the unique costume, bringing to life the character which, it is said, heralded a fresh direction for comics.
Several other "Flash" stories came and went by the same writer and artist.
"The Frogmen" resurfaced as "Sea Devils," solidly drawn by Russ Heath, created, written, and edited by RK.
Living in his own world, with a full editorial and social schedule, his eyes were on a different horizon. He barely noticed the issues of Showcase as they came...
[From The Flash Archives, Vol. 1, 1996, quoted in Paul Kupperberg's introduction as statements made by Julius Schwartz in 1996-paraphrased here by Alter Ego's editor with a few direct quotes from material ©2001 DC Comics:]
Julie Schwartz, speaking of what Paul Kupperberg calls "that fateful editorial conference" in 1955 (is he 100% certain it was '55, and not early '56?), is quoted as saying: "So there we were, sitting around at our monthly meeting. Irwin Donenfeld was in charge," as they sat trying to decide new feature to introduce in Showcase #4. "Someone suggested, and I really don't know who it was, that maybe we should bring back the Flash. Someone else objected, saying that the Flash had failed once. Why bring back a character that had failed?"
At this point, Schwartz says, someone observed that it had been approximately five years since Flash Comics had been cancelled with #104: There was "an entirely new audience out there, because it was generally accepted back then that kids only read comics for maybe, tops, five years." So, to see if the Fastest Man Alive had anything to say to a new generation of readers, "Donenfeld thought we should go with Flash... I had been the last editor of the original Flash, so everybody looked at me."
When he learned that the deadline was very short, Schwartz says, "I immediately went back to my office, which I shared with fellow editor Robert Kanigher, and said let's get to work." He knew he could depend upon Kanigher to deliver the script in a couple of days, at most.
Schwartz says he insisted that "the new Flash would have no relation to the original except the name. Everything else would be different. Everything... including and above all, his origin." Since lightning is "the fastest thing that we know of," he says "we decided to tie the super-speed origin in with lightning," and so the chemical lab accident was born, as was the police scientist identity.
"By the way," JS says, "the name of the new Flash's secret identity, Barry Allen, came from two show-business personalities I was very fond of in those days"... radio talk-show host Barry Gray and humorist Steve Allen.
Since a cover was needed even before the stories were drawn, Schwartz says, he called Carmine Infantino into the office and "Carmine came up with the idea, the now-famous cover of Flash speeding through frames of film," as well as the design of the new Flash's costume. "Without question, Carmine really was the artist best suited to pencil the revival. His skill at drawing speedlines gave the impression that Flash was really moving!"
No one seems to know how Joe Kubert, who rarely worked for editor Schwartz, became the inker of Showcase #4. He may simply have been in the right place at the right time, Schwartz conjectures.
John Broome, whom Schwartz has often called "my best friend, as well as one of my favorite writers to work with," was added to the initial issue-team of Kanigher, Infantino, and Kubert, doing the second story in the two-tale issue.
After Kupperberg asks, no doubt rhetorically, if Showcase #4 was "part of some brilliant scheme to revive the comic book marketplace's interest in super-heroes," to which Julie Schwartz replies:
"Absolutely not! We had no idea we'd ever bring back super-heroes. We had moved on to other concepts-the Westerns, funny animals, romance, along with celebrated movie and television characters. We did Jackie Gleason, Bob Hope, Martin & Lewis, Pat Boone, Dobie Gillis."
And, beginning in 1956-The Flash!
[NOTE: All quotations from Robin Snyder's History of the Comics/ The Comics are ©2001 by the person who made the statement. Julius Schwartz' comments quoted by Paul Kupperberg are ©2001 DC Comics.]
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