Hmm, I wonder how many newsstands displayed these books next to each other:

Flash Comics 6 Smash Comics 16 Crash Comics 5

An explanation: I recently stumbled across a mention of Smash Comics, a series from Quality Comics that ran more or less concurrently with the more familiar Flash Comics. Just for kicks, I searched the Grand Comics Database (which is where I got the cover images) for Crash Comics, and found Crash Comics Adventures, which ran for 5 issues in 1940 before spinning off a series on the original Cat-Man. So the three books would have been on sale at the same time!

I couldn’t find any other books with the same pattern in the title. The GCD does substring matches, and “ash comics” only brought up variations on these three series. Though it did remind me that DC resurrected the Smash Comics title for one chapter of the 1999 The Justice Society Returns! event.

The Worry Wart. One of the characters I encountered early in my exploration of Golden Age Flash stories was Ebenezer Jones, the Worry Wart. In fact, All-Flash #24 (1946) was one of those first two GA Flash books I bid on just to see if I could win. The story in that book referred to previous meetings. If it had been the Silver Age, it would have included a helpful editor’s note telling me “See issue #X,” instead of just a recap.

As I kept watching auctions and looking on sites like the Grand Comics Database, I identified at least two more appearances. I finally tracked down the last of the three in March, and was able to write up a bio of the character.

Who is the Worry Wart? In short, he was an ordinary man who had a case of anxiety so bad it was contagious.

Jones worries about dying in his sleep, and about not getting enough sleep. He gets fired from two jobs because his bosses and coworkers start worrying about every little thing when he’s around.

The Flash gives the Worry Wart his happiness pillsThere’s an odd subtext to the character’s stories, though. The reason he returns to Keystone City is that the Flash had previously set him up with a supply of “happiness pills,” which had run out. In Flash Comics #76 (1946), Ebenezer Jones deliberately overdoses on the happiness pills, causing a euphoric delirium just as contagious as his anxiety.

Looking back on this from 2007, it’s hard not to think of it in terms of the vast numbers of people today taking medications for depression or anxiety. Not to mention people who abuse prescription medications. Or just people who abuse drugs. There’s a disturbing drug-dealer vibe in that panel.

It gets better, though. In the Worry Wart’s first appearance, in All-Flash #15 (1944), the Flash makes him a serum to counteract his anxiety:

The Flash gives Jones a tonic to counteract his anxiety... and it really works.

Yes, that’s right. The Flash gives him a bottle, and he drinks his cares away. No subtext here!

[The Thinker]After almost 1½ years, my Golden-Age back-issue hunt finally netted a relatively cheap copy of All-Flash #12, the first appearance of the Flash villain, the Thinker. It’s an odd read, because the origin of the Thinker (a mob boss who plans his heists very meticulously) is interwoven with a slapstick story of the Three Dimwits.

All-Flash #12 (Fall 1943)The Thinker story is played more or less as a straight super-hero vs. organized crime story. I’d summarize it, but the Comics Archive has already written it up in their article on the Thinker. Now, imagine the first five paragraphs over there interwoven with a Three Stooges film and you’ll get the idea. The Dimwits end up buying a restaurant heavily in debt to the mob, and accidentally make salads out of an alien plant that make people turn invisible.

It’s incredibly silly, but it ties into the other half of the story: The original mob boss’ henchmen are caught robbing the Dimwits’ restaurant, so he calls in the Thinker to solve his problem before they can rat on him. And of course, once the Thinker takes over, he’s mighty interested in these salads that turn people invisible.

And yet, the feel is so completely different that it seems like two different stories.

The Three Dimwits

An unexpected discovery was a reference to the planet Karma, where the alien plant comes from. I’d seen two other references in other Golden-Age Flash stories, so it’s clearly part of the background mythos. This is one reason I’ve been looking for the source material. It’s relatively easy to find info on the leads, or the major villains, but the minor supporting characters who appear in three or four issues—Deuces Wilde, Evart Keenan, Dr. Flura, Ebenezer Jones—are mostly forgotten.

On a related note, while looking up the Thinker’s other appearances, I discovered that one of the non-Flash titles I’d been looking for, All-Star Comics #37, was reprinted in The Greatest Golden-Age Stories Ever Told—a book I already had. I felt bad that I hadn’t actually read the entire book, but that meant I could cross off two items from my wantlist instead of just one.

Cover: Flash Comics #90: Nine Empty UniformsSomething I’ve noticed as I read through various Golden-Age Flash Comics is a repeated subgenre in which the Flash plays an entire team. “Nine Empty Uniforms” (Flash Comics #90, 1947) is the first one I read, since it was reprinted in an 80-page Giant. The bad guys cause problems for a baseball team, so the Flash takes the place of every single player in the upcoming game.

flash-hockeyAs I’ve picked up comics from the 1940s, and the new Archive book, I’ve found more. In an untitled story from All-Flash Quarterly #1 (1941, reprinted in The Golden Age Flash Archive Volume 2), racketeers hassle a hockey team.The owner needs the money from the “Manley Cup” for an operation for his daughter, so when the racketeers force the players to sit the game out, the Flash steps in.

Flash Comics #39: stage rehearsal“Play of the Year” (Flash Comics #39, 1943) breaks with tradition a bit and instead of a sports team, the Flash replaces a troupe of actors. A rival producer tries to financially ruin one of Jay’s friends by preventing his play from opening, in this case faking a measles outbreak among the cast and putting them in quarantine. Once again, the Flash steps in and plays every single role, changing costumes and switching places faster than the eye can see.

The weird thing about these stories is that nowhere does anyone suggest that having a super-powered player—who isn’t even on your roster—just might be cheating. It goes all the way back to his first appearance in Flash Comics #1: Back in college, Jay Garrick was a football scrub. After the accident gave him super-speed, he convinced the coach to put him on the field so he could show off in front of his girlfriend, Joan.

Interestingly, later retellings of the Flash’s origin make it a point that he quit the team immediately afterward because staying would have given him an unfair advantage.

I’ve been writing a lot about the Golden-Age Flash lately. What with picking up the Comics Cavalcade Archives and discovering the imminent release of the second GA Flash Archives, I’ve gotten more interested in the era. Back when I was filling in my Silver-Age Flash collection (a process that took years!) I would occasionally look at the GA auctions on eBay, but figured they would be too expensive and never bid on any. Last week I decided to look again, picked an amount I’d be willing to spend, and bid on three auctions, figuring I’d be lucky if I won even one of them.

I won two.

So now I’m in the market for reader’s copies of Golden-Age Flash comics. There are a few in particular I’d like to pick up, though I suspect they’ll be the hardest to find in my budget. If you happen to have a reader’s copy of one of the following that you would be willing to sell at a two-digit price or trade for other comics, please let me know in the comments here. Continue reading