It was 45 years ago this month that DC published this weird one-shot story that I've come to call "Crisis on Infinite Earths done in one and no one had to die," Showcase #100. Gathering just about every character to have appeared in the previous 99 issues, co-writer Paul Levitz and artist Joe Staton and I concocted a fun romp through time and space that, er...showcased some unexpected heroes. Showcase, as you'll read below, is a favorite title of mine, ever since I was a young fan searching the back issue bins to complete my collection. (Which I eventually did.)
When DC put The Essential Showcase: 1956-1959 on its collected editions schedule in 1992, I walked into editor Rick Taylor's office and informed him I would be writing the introduction to the forthcoming volume. Recognizing the determination in my eyes, Rick gave me the assignment, which I wrote in August of 1992.
There's No Cases Like Showcases
The temptation here is to get very serious. As a writer handed the assignment to write an introduction to one of these serious collections of serious historic value, it’s all too easy to get carried away by the perceived importance of the assignment.
But this serious book collects various issues of Showcase, a comic book I’m less serious about than completely and utterly nostalgic. Showcase was, is, and will always be my favorite all time comic book title. Well beyond the fact that it was the blanket title which showcased, if you will, some of the more important and innovative creations of the 1950s and 1960s, it was a comic that possessed a certain magic, especially to the kid I was in the mid-1960s when I discovered the title.
At its best, Showcase was a brilliant, tend setting comic. At its worst, it was at least interesting and slightly off kilter. At its height, Showcase strung out (and spun out) such creations as the Flash, Challengers of the Unknown, Adam Strange, Green Lantern, The Atom, and Metal Men. At its depth, it offered up reprints of old war, humor, or spy reprints.
When it was cranking, Showcase was home to such innovations as The Teen Titans, The Creeper, Hawk & Dove, Bat Lash, and Nightmaster. When it was coasting, readers would have to deal with the likes of 1960-ish Dobie Gillis reprints retouched to create Windy & Willy, a late-1960s stab at hippie culture hipness, or The Inferior Five, a comics insider’s go at inside-comics satire, or The Maniaks, a combination of humor and rock and roll, produced by middle-aged creators probably more comfortable with Rachmaninov than rock.
Showcase delivered in cycles, peaks and valleys depending, the reader must assume, on the level of interest expressed on the editorial side, or by the amount of money the company bean counters allowed editorial to spend (new material is expensive; reprints aren’t). But fans never knew for sure because the comic book industry was much more a mystery and closed shop to readers in the days of Showcase.
There was hardly any fan press back then, and what little that did exist was in no position to question the whys and wherefores of what was published. This was long before corporate ownership, public stock offerings, high concept marketing gimmicks, comic book artists hawking blue jeans in TV commercials, and articles in USA Today, Barrons, and The New York Times. Back then, comic books were 10¢ or 12¢ entertainments, to be read, sometimes saved (by the odd geek), but most often discarded (usually by mothers cleaning their kids’ rooms). Coverage back then consisted of a few mimeographed newsletters produced by a very small core of fans happy just to know what was coming a few weeks before the wire bound bundles of comics hit the curb in front of their local candy store.
Showcase, I think, exemplified the coming era in comics, the 1960s, a decade in which everything comics readers and fans had come to expect would change. It was as new, different, and entirely experimental in nature and concept as the decade that was to follow: a comic featuring a new character every issue or two (or three).
The reader never knew what would come next, something decidedly different for 1956, a time when the comic book industry was barely hanging on by its fingertips, the victim of television’s growing popularity and a government induced paranoia on the part of parents (parents who, I might add, probably grew up reading comics themselves in the industry heyday of the World War II years with few, if any, adverse effects). Readers wanted, needed consistency. The publishers tried desperately to deliver. Pick up an issue of Superman or Action Comics and you got Superman. Buy an issue of Batman or Detective Comics and there was Batman, month in, month out. If you bought World’s Finest Comics, both heroes were present, in action together. But pick up Showcase and you got...
See, comic books were a very different animal in those days. Super-heroes—except for Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, and a few miscellaneous back-up characters like Aquaman and Green Arrow—had pretty much lost out in the sales popularity contest to genre comics: funny animals were hot, as were Westerns, so-called “true” crime, romance, and horror comics. But the best of the horror genre, William Gaines’ EC Comics, as well as hordes of lesser (and decidedly inferior) imitators, had been trampled under the heel of adverse publicity (including Dr. Fredric Wertham’s questionable study of the link between comics and juvenile delinquency, Seduction of the Innocent, and a disastrous Congressional hearing on the same subject), and what was left was pretty much tapioca pudding, bland and uneven in quality and taste. Funny animals were for kids. Westerns were guys in rawhide who rode horses, almost costumed heroes...but nowhere near close enough to the real thing. And romance titles, well, they were for girls and comics were for the most part bought and read by boys who wouldn’t be caught dead with an issue of Young Love rolled up in the back pocket of their jeans.
Dozens of smaller publishers produced hundreds of titles, staying in business only long enough to rack up huge debts to creators, printers, and distributors before closing their doors...only to reopen again a few weeks or months later under new corporate banners. Timely Comics had tried reviving their super-hero line in the early 1950s, an experiment that didn’t last long and ended in their changing their name to Atlas and producing about a dozen war and horror titles that came and went as fast as sales reports came in.
Even at DC Comics, the towering leader of the industry during that beleaguered decade, superheroes were in the minority. War and “mystery” (watered down horror stories that eschewed the supernatural for endings involving aliens and elaborate hoaxes), TV personality titles and humor, science fiction and romance, ruled. Frankly, anything would have been a welcome relief to the tedium of the day when Superman was pitted against gangsters in suits and Batman fought aliens and science fiction menaces.
Into that sorry state of comics affairs came Showcase.
As I said, the tendency to get serious in these introductions is overwhelming, and for the historical context of Showcase, I guess it’s inevitable. But there’s history and then there’s memory, the two distinctly different. When I first discovered Showcase, I didn’t know anything about its history or the history of comics. I was too young and all I knew was that this comic was cool.
The first issue of Showcase I bought was #53, featured “G.I. Joe.” I assumed when I picked it up off the stands that it was somehow linked to the 12”-inch Hasbro soldier doll (we didn’t call dolls for boys “action figures” in those days; either we were more secure in our pre-pubescent masculinity, or we just didn’t know any better) that I played with. It was, sort of, through some sort of licensing deal, but it was really a repackaging of previously published war stories featuring military figures in various settings on the land and in the sea and the air. Showcase #54 also starred “G.I. Joe,” but there was no "G.I. Joe" #55 appearing on my candy store comics rack (Harry’s Luncheonette on the corner of Avenue B and Remsen Avenue in Brooklyn). Nor was there any way to find out why, since the concept of dedicated comic book shops staffed by people who cared about comics beyond the couple of cents each, they made on an issue sold was still better than a decade in the future. It took me several months to realize that “G.I. Joe” was actually Showcase, and that Showcase was a blanket title starring different features every few issues.
A few years later, when I was older and able to make it to the few used bookstores around New York that carried old comics and attend comic book conventions, I started adding to my collection of Showcase. I was a comic book fan and collector by then and if I was going to collect Showcase, I was going to get them all. From #1 (“Fire Fighters,” March-April, 1956) all the way through to #93 (“Manhunter 2070,” September, 1970, the last issue of the run at that point in time).
The acquisition of the entire run of Showcase was no mean feat, even in the early 1970s, when comic book collecting was still a hobby for the dedicated few and not an investment for money grubbing speculators. Because for all its low points, Showcase featured a wealth of highs. While the first three issues featured “Fire Fighters,” “Kings of the Wild,” and “The Frogmen,” (picking up on then popular genre themes...or at least safe) Showcase #4 took off with the character that singlehandedly launched the rebirth of the super-hero in comics: The Flash.
The Flash was a reworking of the 1940s hero of the same name, taking a character (or at least its name) that had ceased publication several years before and making it brand new.
Julius Schwartz was the editor of that story, and he remembered its creation in a 1989 interview. “The principle behind Showcase was simple. In those days, all magazines were sold on the newsstands, and it took several months before you found out whether a magazine was a success or not. If it was a failure, you’d lose a lot of money. So, the idea was to try new features in Showcase, wait five or six months to see how it was doing, and if it sold well, we could put it out again in its own title.
“And that of course is the background behind The Flash feature that appeared in Showcase #4. The subject was brought up in an editorial meeting, where it was suggested that we ought to bring back The Flash. Someone protested that Flash had appeared six or seven years ago. I brought up the fact that our readers then had maybe a four-year range, so to speak. They started buying comics when they were, say, eight, and stopped buying them by the age of 12 or 13. Since Flash Comics had ceased publication in 1949 and this was 1956, there were seven years between the titles, so hardly anyone who was then buying comics remembered The Flash. So, Irwin Donnenfeld, who was running DC at the time, said it sounded like a good idea and wanted to know who was going to edit it. And everyone looked at me because I had been the last editor of Flash Comics, so I was given the job of doing it.
“Fortunately, I did not continue The Flash the way it left off in issue #104, back in 1949. I decided just to keep the name of The Flash, the Fastest Man on Earth. Everything else would be different, the origin, the secret identity, and so on. I asked Robert Kanigher to write the series and during the plotting of the story, someone suggested, either me or Kanigher, the fact that once the character realizes he has the super-speed and wants to give himself a name, he remembers as a kid reading a comic book called Flash, so he decides to call himself The Flash. At that point I conceived of the idea that there really was a Flash, which lead to the Earth-One/Earth-Two concept that we introduced in “The Flash of Two Worlds” in The Flash #123 (from 1961 and reprinted in The Greatest Team-up Stories Ever Told). Actually, it was conceived during that first plotting session with Bob Kanigher.”
“Showcase #4 was a sales success, so we planned another appearance in Showcase #8 and then two more after that and then we put out the Flash in its own title.”
And the Silver Age of Comics was born!
There it was: virtually everything that I (and those of my generation) was going to find exciting and different in comic books in the mid- to late-1960s was set up in that one comic!
But The Flash was only the first of the many successes to follow in Showcase, many of them the brainchildren of editor Schwartz and his talented stable of creators. The list is long and impressive: The Challengers of the Unknown, Lois Lane, Space Ranger, Adam Strange, Rip Hunter-- Time Master, Green Lantern, Sea Devils, Aquaman, The Atom, The Metal Men, Tommy Tomorrow, Cave Carson, Enemy Ace, The Teen Titans, The Spectre, The Inferior Five, Binky, The Creeper, Anthro, Hawk and Dove, Bat Lash, Angel and The Ape, The Phantom Stranger, and Firehair...and these are just the characters that received their own titles or series following their appearances in Showcase.
There were other features of interest that never went beyond Showcase, including Dr. Fate and Hourman, Jonny Double, Dolphin, Nightmaster, and Manhunter 2070.
And there were those that were just plain goofy, including B’wana Beast (acknowledged as perhaps one of the worst comic book features of all time), The Maniaks, Windy and Willy, and Jason’s Quest.
The original run of 93 issues of Showcase showcased 43 different features, 26 of which went on to gain titles or series of their own.
It was the creative linchpin of the Silver Age of Comics, the reworking of the Golden Age heroes The Flash, Green Lantern, and The Atom growing out of it.
It served a similar purpose in the late 1960s, with The Teen Titans, The Spectre, The Creeper, Angel and The Ape, Bat Lash, and The Phantom Stranger coming out of its pages.
And yet, it didn’t end with Showcase #93 in 1970. The title’s history resumed in 1977, and that was where this dedicated Showcase fan got his shot to become a part of that history.
Showcase resumed publication in the summer of 1977, its first three issue run featuring The New Doom Patrol, a revival of the innovative 1960s super-hero group created by Arnold Drake, Bob Haney, and Bruno Premiani. Paul Levitz was the editor of this particular run of the book, and I was the writer he chose to write the inaugural story arc. I like to believe that part of Paul’s selection process was based on the stories I wanted to tell, but as a writer of only about two years’ experience, I think it may have been less that than (a) Paul’s shared desire to revive The Doom Patrol, and (b) his knowledge that I was a long time, hardcore fan of the title who would have done just about anything to get my name in an issue of Showcase.
As a fellow fan turned professional writer, I think Paul felt the same as I did, since his work turned up in the second three issue sequence of Showcase, starring Power Girl.
Then Paul and I got together to share the byline for the next, 100th issue of Showcasse, a gala 38-page special story that featured almost every character to have appeared in the previous 99 issues. The creative team-up was only fitting, seeing as Paul and I went back a long way, even longer than my obsession with collecting the title. I also like to think that the story we told, one that involved the collapse of time—a gimmick that enabled us to bring the heroes of various historic eras together for one story— presaged by almost a decade the tale told in Crisis on Infinite Earths. For all its age, Showcase was still up to the task of getting the jump on coming trends. (Joe Staton was the penciller on Showcase #100, as well as the previous six issues starring The New Doom Patrol and Power Girl, giving him the longest consecutive run of any artist on the title.)
Showcase didn’t have long to run after that. Hawkman and Adam Strange shared the next three issues of the title, and O.S.S. Spies at War starred in #104, the final issue of the book, from September 1978.
After that, in spite of the planned Deadman (#105), The Creeper (#106) and World of Krypton (#107 - 109), Showcase was cancelled once again, the scheduled material to eventually appear elsewhere (Deadman and The Creeper in anthology titles; The World of Krypton as DC’s first miniseries...I wrote that one as well, hoping for some sort of record on Showcase). The “showcase” sobriquet appeared again, a few years later, attached to the anthology title New Talent Showcase, and yet again even more recently on another anthology book.
But sticking the name Showcase on the cover doesn’t make just any comic Showcase. That right is reserved for one and only one comic book.
You’re about to read a volume of stories that will show you why: Fireman Farrell, The Flash, Challengers of the Unknown, Lois Lane, and Adam Strange. Art by Rueben Moriera, Carmine Infantino and Joe Kubert, Jack Kirby, Wally Wood, Bruno Premiani, Al Plastino, and Mike Sekowsky and Joe Giella.
Of course, some of the art credits are judgment calls, made by old time readers and fans on staff at DC who, because of a lack of records from the 1950s, are left to guess at the identities of some of the creators. For instance, while there’s no doubt that Jack Kirby penciled the Challengers of the Unknown story in Showcase #11, no one has ever before credited Bruno Premiani with the inking, yet to the eyes of all four of the fans consulted on the topic, there was total agreement. Likewise, the second Lois Lane story from Showcase #9 shows the artistic handiwork of Al Plastino, but those same four fans who looked at the story were startled to see definite signs of the work of Rueben Moriera in the mix. Like Premiani on the Challengers, Moriera was never credited with work on Lois Lane stories, but there’s little doubt of his involvement on this story. In many ways, the editors of these reprint volumes of early stories have to be archeologists, digging through the few available records and piecing together that which wasn’t recorded by using what little evidence we have at hand. And, like archeologists, sometimes we’re forced to take educated guesses that turn out to be wrong.
But as far as I’m concerned, comics had seldom been so good as the stories reprinted in this volume. The only time they would get any better was in subsequent runs of Showcase, some of the best comic book of the 1950s, ‘60s, and ‘70s.