When DC first announced their Showcase line of phonebook-style reprints, this title was the one I was most looking forward to. Nevermind the fact that it wasn't announced in the first wave. Or second or third. I knew that it was going to come out eventually, and when it did, I would possess it.
I first became a fan of the Flash as a little kid. I distinctly remember receiving the Super Powers Flash toy from my parents, although I do not really remember why. I don't think it was a birthday or Christmas. I think it may have been one of those treasured moments of childhood when your parents gave you something just cuz, and you had no idea why, but your gratitude typically was boundless. Anyways, from there I was always happy to see him pop up (rarely though it was) on Super Friends, and then made it appointment viewing to watch his short-lived TV show. Of course, as it seems to be true for a lot of characters I enjoyed as a kid, I never thought to, you know, go and buy his comic book until I was in high school. And of course, by that time, Wally West had taken over the mantle of the Fastest Man Alive. Still, I became a Flash Fan (Flashite? Flashhead? Flasher?!), and read up on the history of the Scarlet Speedster and his colorful cast; the Flash legacy quickly usurped Big Blue as my favorite corner of the DCU.
Which leads me back here. Starting out with the final adventure of the original Flash in Flash Comics #104, we jump directly into the world of Barry Allen, world's slowest boyfriend, dedicated and brilliant police scientist, and soon-to-be super-quick superhero. This being the Silver Age (that is, the creation thereof), things start out quickly enough -- no sooner does Barry gain his amazing powers than is he out stopping the superslow bank robber Turtle Man, or the exiled ciminal from the future Mazdan. And things pretty much keep to that pace for the balance of the volume.
Straight-faced without being earnest, these early Flash stories are great examples of what was going on at DC in the late 50s which brought about the revitalization of the entire Superhero genre. Peppered with gloriously dubious science, this was a re-imagining of the way a costumed crime fighter would work, with some natural principle or another being held responsible for his amazing feats. How did Flash's uniform work? By expanding in contact with the air, similar to a Navy life raft when it touches the water! Why can Flash run through walls? The same way that at sufficient speed, a strand of hay can pass through a concrete block! It was the modern age of Two-Fisted Science! at it's very best.
Springing from the fertile imagination of writers Bob Kanigher and John Broome, and primary artist Carmine Infantino, we get to see the creation of what would become the Rogues Gallery, including Captain Cold, Mirror Master, Mr. Element/Dr. Alchemy, Gorilla Grodd, Weather Wizard, and the Trickster, not to mention Iris West, Kid Flash, Elongated Man, and Gorilla City. The stories move quickly (as is appropriate), and typically throw in a few twists and turns along the way as Flash has to outthink his enemies rather than just pummel them at super-speed.
One advantage of this volume over the similarly-timed Showcase Presents: Aquaman v.1 is the handling of Kid Flash. In the Aquaman volume, once introduced, Aqualad is a near constant at the Sea King's side. Kid Flash, however, generally adventures on his own, giving him a chance to shine and show himself to be a competent hero in his own right, and not just a doomsaying sidekick. The other main difference between them is that Flash was a featured star; the longer stories afford for more depth and more complex plots, making them more memorable.
Obviously this collection is not for everyone. Readers who don't like the Silver Age will find these tales dull and one-dimensional, in addition to somewhat inane. And if questionable science offends you, then give it a wide berth (similarly, don't even think about the Showcase Presents: The Atom). But DC fans, I think, enjoy reading the foundations of one of the modern pillars of the universe. And with Barry primed to make a comeback of some sort in Final Crisis, now seems as good a time as any to relive his past exploits.