Sunday, February 5, 2012

Crisis on Multiple Earths: The Team-Ups Vol.1 review

 Now here’s a volume that seemed tailor made for me; it has Silver Age Flash, the first Silver Age appearances of Alan Scott, Solomon Grundy and Dr. Fate. It also has the Starman/Black Canary team up from Brave and the Bold that I’ve wanted to read for the longest time. In terms of historical interest, it also features the introduction of the Earth 2-concept and the debut of the Psycho Pirate (well, the one that fans remember, that is). Sadly, these stories aren’t as much fun as I’d hoped. Still, you could do much worse.
 The Flash of Two Worlds” from Flash #123: While it is a bit depressing for the first story in a collection to be the best, there’s very little to complain about here. This is a ‘classic” story that still remains a good read, and a prime example of why I love Silver Age Flash so much. Barry Allen decides to perform as the Flash at a children’s charity concert run by Iris West (who is refreshingly in a non-nagging mood), and while doing the “Indian rope trick” ends up vibrating himself into another dimension. Yeah, it’s silly, but can you think of a more unique way for dimension-hopping? Barry quickly realizes that the world he is in is different, and a number of clues lead him to suspect that he’s reached the world of Jay Garrick, the Flash from 1940’s comic books! Apparently, vibrational attunement caused people in Barry’s world to see glimpses of Jay Garrick’s earth in dreams. After Barry meets up with Jay (who takes to Barry surprisingly well, for a complete stranger who shows up at his doorstep and announces that he knows his secret identity), they’re off to battle three villains: The Thinker, Fiddler and Shade.
 This is no great work of literature, but it’s a damn fun super hero adventure. Jay Garrick and his wife Joan Williams are a little bit too unrealistically friendly, but they come off as likeable characters that had their happy ending a long time ago and now just want to enjoy life. It’s that attitude that helps the story hold up, and keeps it from being a typical comic book team-up where the heroes fight and then become friends. Gardner Fox must have wanted readers unfamiliar with Jay Garrick to find him as “cool” as possible. I’m sure older readers who remembered Jay got misty-eyed reading this story.
 Another thing I like about this story is that even the villains are likeable; Thinker, Fiddler and Shade don’t bicker and backstab each other; they seem like old friends who just want to have a good time the only way they know how, which is committing crimes, terrorizing a city, and tormenting the Flash. They look out for one another, and genuinely seem concerned when they realize that one of their own has to fight two Flashes alone and unaided. It’s refreshing to see villains who are this amiable, but who are also presented as actual menaces. I would have loved to have seen a series depicting these three as loveable gentleman thieves, always outwitting the bumbling police or going through a comedy of errors as their schemes come undone.
 Also, you have to love a story filled with little self-conscious moments like these that don’t devolve into outright parody:
 This is one story that deserves all the hype and reprintings that it has been given. 5/5.
 Double Danger on Earth” from Flash #129: A comet collides with the sun and gives off deadly radiation on Jay’s Earth, so he decides to go to Barry Allen’s earth for help. Meanwhile, Barry has to fight Captain Cold & the Trickster. Neither of these plots are very well intertwined, although there is some suspense thanks to the ever-present threat of the radiation on Jay’s world. The high point of this story (besides Infantino’s art) is seeing a reference to Captain Cold’s cold mirages. 2/5.
Vengeance of the Immortal Villain” from Flash #137: Barry Allen’s world is plagued by strange lights in the sky that sap the power from all electronic devices. For reasons too convoluted to explain, he decides to seek out Jay’s help on Earth-2. Vandal Savage turns out to be behind the lights, and has decided to seek revenge on the entire Justice Society after his defeat in All-Star #37. Never mind that he was hardly the main menace in that story, or the fact that he was originally a Green Lantern villain, but somehow this involves Jay Garrick being the last target, as if he was a personal foe. It’s also never really clear why the lights are appearing in Barry’s world. Despite the title, not much is made of Savage’s immortality, and he comes off as a generic mad scientist villain. There’s also a bit where he causes Jay and Barry to fight that abruptly stops for no reason, it’s never explained if they had been affected at all and the effect wore off, or if they were just bluffing. If it was just a bluff, the fight between Jay and Barry goes on a bit too long and gets too intense. Again, this story’s saving grace is some damn good Infantino art, but it flows better than the previous story.
 Also, another obscure reference is made to an early Flash story; Barry mentions The Black Cat, a French supervillain whom he fought and defeated in 2 pages back in Showcase #13, as if it were some epic battle. 3/5.
 Invader from the Dark Dimension” from Flash #151: A bunch of shadowy animals like a giant bear and a giant mosquito start wreaking havoc, and the culprit turns out to be The Shade, who has been robbing on Barry’s world while having pretended to reform on Jay’s world. The shadow beings make for effective foes, but really aren’t all that impressive too look at, nor is much use of their “shadow” properties made. Did Gardner Fox even know how shadows work? You’d think the guy who made cool villains out of Ian Karkull and Shadow-Thief would be more creative when using shadows in a story featuring the freaking Shade. That said, the bit where Shade brings 8-balls, India ink, and a suit of armor to life to rob for him is quite amusing. This story is also notable for being the first time Shade was depicted as a snide wisecracker, which James Robinson would later exploit in Starman. 2.5/5.
 Solomon Grundy goes on a Rampage” from Showcase #55: This is a hard comic for me to review objectively, as it not only was one of the first I ever read, but also got me hooked on Solomon Grundy, and thus the reason this blog isn’t titled “Fiddle Faddle about Comics” featuring Fiddler, or “Class with Professor Crane” featuring Scarecrow. That said, the choice of heroes to feature in this team-up, Doctor Fate and Hourman, is a bizarre, random one, and the story itself just feels passionless.
 Because the comic code forbade walking corpses, Grundy here is depicted as some sort of inexplicable natural phenomenon, possibly created by sun beating down on swamp matter, or possibly as a result of radioactive pollution. Gardner Fox never explains how Grundy got his name, or what he is composed of, which becomes particularly funny, since this story harkens back to the original in comparing Grundy to a scarecrow, and showing him to partially be made of wood (this leads to a truly odd moment). Also, now all he can say pretty much is “Kill”, it gets monotonous after a few pages. That said, this Grundy isn’t too bad otherwise, while no longer a corpse-like, Mr. Hyde-faced monster, he still has the huge, awful teeth that made him so frightening in the 40s.
 Doctor Fate (thankfully back to his original costume and still living in the tower) and Hourman are as bland as it is possible for protagonists to be. Since Hourman keeps his pills that power him up for an hour around at all times, there’s no suspense in using him, and Fate’s powers come off as surprisingly ineffective. There’s no rhyme or reason as to why they in particular are teamed up, and they have little to no sense of camaraderie. It really makes the warm friendship between Jay Garrick and Barry Allen, simple and free of friction as it is, work. The funniest thing about this story is that Alan Scott features prominently in it, and he really should have been the focus instead of Fate and Hourman.
 That said, this story does feature the infamously creepy moment where Alan Scott becomes a Grundy. On a lighter note, it also has this goofy-ass moment:
 Still, I can’t bring myself to hate this comic, the Murphy Anderson art is beautifully atmospheric and creepy, and the threat of Grundy gives some scenes a really tense feel. 3/5.
 Perils of the Psycho-Pirate” from Showcase #56: This one is a bit better than the previous Fate/Hourman team-up, since there’s some friction between the heroes. Kent Nelson and Inza find several ancient masks that depict emotions while on an archeological dig, and these get stolen by a criminal who is the successor to JSA villain the Psycho Pirate. Apparently the masks can control emotion, but it’s never explained how this works exactly. Fate and Hourman still have no chemistry together. That said, Murphy Anderson has fun depicting the expressions on the faces of the mask’s victims. It looks particularly funny when even Doctor Fate’s mask is making facial expressions.
 The high point of this story though, isn’t really the story itself, but realizing that Gardner Fox must have re-read his old Doctor Fate stories (the original, Lovecraftian ones) and then the shitty “half-helmet” stories he later did. You can just see him slapping himself and saying “What the hell was wrong with me?? I struck gold, then I threw it all away!”.  He depicts Kent Nelson as an archeologist, which he clearly realizes would have made a far better occupation for the character than a medical doctor. He also has a brief cameo by most of Doctor Fate’s old villains, as illusions created by Psycho Pirate. Murphy Anderson really did his homework here; I can recognize all of them. 3/5.
Secret Origin of the Guardians” from Green Lantern #40: Alan Scott and Doiby Dickles decide to investigate a meteor, and this somehow causes Alan’s power ring to develop control over wood (for those not in the know; wood was Alan Scott’s kryptonite). Alan decides to go visit Hal Jordan and tell him of this news, but soon discovers that the newfound power has worn off. Through one of the most ridiculously convoluted pieces of exposition I’ve ever seen, this is all revealed to be the result of a scheme by an alien named Krona, who is to the Guardians what Sinestro is to the Green Lantern corps. Apparently, because Krona is obsessed with discovering the secrets of the universe, this pisses the universe off and causes natural disasters to follow Krona wherever he goes, so Hal and Alan must stop him. Krona undergoes a mind transference with Alan, and psychically influences the Guardians into expelling Hal from the corps, and a fight ensues between the two heroes.
 Still with me? This panel pretty much sums this whole mind-screwing nonsense up:
 This story has everything but the kitchen sink, but not in a fun way. Krona is a Designated Villain if there ever was one, and like I’ve said, is a bit too similar to Sinestro, although I have to wonder if Krona’s origin here inspired the movie’s depiction of Parallax.
 This story also has a notorious goof: Hal refers to Alan Scott as the Green Lantern of Earth One. Oh well, I always felt it should have been called Earth One anyway, since all of the characters in it are the original 40s versions.
 Also, on the topic of Alan Scott, I love how, even though he had been sparsely used since the 40s, he still comes off here as a more rounded character than Hal Jordan. 2.5/5.
 Mastermind of Menaces” from Brave and the Bold #61: Ah, a good story at last. While the choice of teaming up Starman and Black Canary is an even odder one than Fate and Hourman, it works because there’s a real chemistry here, including some tension, as Black Canary comes under suspicion of working for the villain (a reminder of her past as a villainess). Larry Lance, Black Canary’s boyfriend, is also along for comedy relief. This story is fairly slight, but enjoyable. It’s also nice to see Starman’s old foe The Mist back, even though his scheme is pretty ridiculous (hypnotic flowers) and he’s not drawn anywhere as unnervingly as he was in the 40s. Also, fans of James Robinson’s Starman need to take note: It would later be retconned that Ted Knight had an affair with Black Canary. Based on their interactions here, there’s plenty of evidence to support that. 3.5/5.
The Hour Hourman died!” from The Spectre #7: Why, oh why didn’t they reprint the Spectre/Wildcat team-up from this title? This story isn’t a team up at all. That said, it’s a wonderfully intense story where Hourman actually gets killed, but because of the effect of his pills, is kept around in a state of pseudo-life, where he is now dependent on his pills to live. Finally, a story where the whole concept of an “Hourman” (which should be an inherently exciting premise) finally pays off. I guess this story could be considered a Spectre team-up in the sense that it’s about a guy killed by a criminal who returns as a not quite alive-not quite dead being, but that’s really stretching it. Still, pretty good, and it adds a dark streak to a volume otherwise composed of straight-up hero fare. 4/5.
 And that’s that. I give the collection as a whole a 3.5/5. I’ve read better, but I’ve certainly read worse.


  1. Is there any interest at DC for reprinting the Bronze Age Jay/Bary Flash teamups? I remember most of them were bland, but they may be worth looking at again.

  2. Sorry, I wouldn't know. So far most of DC's TPBs reprinting the Earth One/Earth Two crossovers have focused on the League/Society team-ups. I'm surprised, since some of those Flash crossovers are what inspired a lot of later writers takes on Ragdoll and The Shade.