Friday, June 19, 2009

A Tale of Two Flashes

Going through my old posts, I realized that I neglected to talk about some of my earliest custom action figures. Although they lack some of the attention to detail that I brought to my later customs, I'm still pretty happy with them and thought it might be fun to share them. The Flash seems to be the best place to start since he was the first super hero to cross over from the Golden Age of Comics to the Silver Age in a completely new incarnation. Also, I just so happen to have created custom versions of each character.

Like many people born in the 60s, my first exposure to The Flash came not from the comics but from the Aquaman TV show where The Flash was featured in solo back-up stories as well as in The Justice League of America adventures. The Flash was the first "unitasker" hero I had ever seen. Unlike Superman who could do anything, or Batman who had no superpowers and relied mainly on his belt full of gadgets and gizmos, The Flash could do one thing well which was run like crazy. As a result, all his adventures were tailored to showcase his particular talent. The budding writer in me was fascinated by the contrived nature of these stories. I would think, "Boy, it's a good thing he doesn't have to lift up a train or set something on fire with laser vision. He just has to run across the country in time to defuse a bomb."

A few years later, I was able to read about The Flash's origin in the reprint comic title Secret Origins #1. In the story, police scientist Barry Allen leaves some jars of chemicals near an open window during a thunderstorm (why the window is open during a storm is not explained). Lightning jumps through the window, strikes the apparently conductive chemicals, and the resulting mixture splashes all over Barry Allen. Soon he discovers that he can move at super fast speed like a comic book character he remembered from his youth, the one we now refer to as Golden Age Flash. Since he already works for the police, Allen decides to become a new version of his comic book hero, fashioning a bright red costume for himself and fighting crime as The Flash.

I loved that story, not only because of the great Carmine Infantino artwork, but because the origin referenced an earlier DC creation. Barry Allen was inspired by a comic character who actually existed years earlier. This was the first time I learned of Golden Age Flash, but I was soon able to read his early stories thanks to DC's habit at the time of filling the back pages of its comics with Golden Age stories. Of course, this Flash was a completely different character. In this version, college student Jay Garrick has a lab accident (like Barry Allen) and he inhales fumes that make him super fast. Immediately, he puts together a costume modeled after the Greek god Hermes and starts fighting crime. His motivation for fighting crime is less clear than Allen's, but the stories were still a lot of fun.

As I grew older and became a full-fledged comic book geek, I learned that the creation of two versions of The Flash led to a major change in the DC universe. In 1961, The Flash #123 featured a story where the old and new Flash meet. It seems Golden Age Flash was not merely a comic book character, but a flesh and blood hero on an alternate world known as Earth 2. In fact, all the Golden Age super heroes lived there including older versions of Superman and Batman. This opened up a long series of cross over stories featuring the old and new characters.

Jumping ahead to the 12st century, I found myself increasingly fascinated with the idea of creating 12" custom action figures based on the super heroes I loved as a kid. More specifically, I was inspired by the old Captain Action line where you could dress Captain Action up in various super hero costumes. Unfortunately, the short run of the toy line prevented Ideal from creating certain super hero costumes that were no brainers, like The Flash and Green Lantern. I decided to create a Flash costume when I found a great Flash mask on eBay, created by Dale Van Slyke. I then purchased a red unitard from the Dr. Mego Web site. I have to admit that, although Dr. Mego makes great Mego parts, the unitard was of really poor quality. However, I liked that it was slightly baggy the way Carmine Infantino used to draw The Flash's costume, so I made some repairs and used it. I made the yellow lightning bolts around the elbows with electrical tape, and for the chest emblem, I took an emblem from the Internet, photoshopped it to size, and printed it on sticker paper. Once cut out and applied to the chest, the unitard was complete.

Since The Flash's boots had tread, I used a pair of army boots that I painted yellow. My original figure also wore red gloves which I bought from Classic Plastick, but I didn't like the way the mask fit on the figure, so I used a beefier action figure with a bigger head. Problem was, the gloves didn't fit his beefy hands, so I just painted his hands red. The yellow belt came from a uniform set sold by a Captain Action fan known as Rauty. His red unitard was better than the Dr. Mego one, but I used his for a different custom project.

The Golden Age Flash figure was created later when I got it into my head to make my own version of the Justice Society of America. I discussed the creation of this figure in an earlier post. Unlike my Silver Age Flash, which was originally devised to be a costume I could put on a Captain Action figure, the Golden Age figure was devised as a stand alone custom. After awhile, I liked the idea of just having figures on display that were meant to be solely one thing rather than making costume sets that could work on different action figures. That's why I chose a figure from ERTL's Fisherman set. I thought the headsculpt closely resembled Golden Age Flash's face.

After creating a Silver Age Flash action figure, my next logical project had to be the other super hero who got a Silver Age makeover: Green Lantern. A look at Silver Age and Golden Age Green Lantern next time!

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