It’s going to be a long time (if ever) before I track down the entire Golden Age run of the Flash, but I’ve finally tracked down the last item on a list I’ve been trying to complete for four years.
For the longest time I just assumed Golden Age comics would cost too much to collect. Then in late 2005 I picked a maximum, bid on several auctions on eBay (not expecting to win), and actually won two of them. They weren’t in good condition, but one of them was complete, and all I wanted to do was be able to read the stories.
So I took the appearance lists for those Golden Age villains who had survived into the Silver Age and beyond — villains who had returned like the Fiddler and the Thinker, or who had been re-imagined like Star Sapphire, the Turtle or the Thorn — removed anything that I had as a reprint, and made a list of books to track down.
The first year I had pretty good success, and bought a bunch of other Golden Age books. I read them, indexed character appearances, and discovered forgotten recurring characters like the Worry Wart, Deuces Wilde, the Eel and the Keystone City Liars Club. After a while, though, the supply of (relatively) cheap, reader’s-grade copies on eBay dried up. Cons didn’t help because, as near as I can tell, most Golden Age collectors do it for the history. They’re looking for the books that are in the best condition possible, so that’s what dealers bring with them.
Pursuing the Shade
The one book I most wanted from the beginning proved to be the hardest to find: Flash Comics #33, the first appearance of the Shade. After four years, I finally found it. Last month a falling-apart copy showed up on eBay starting at $50, in a lot with two other books in much better condition. I figured it would quickly move beyond my price range, and didn’t even bother bidding — but I did put a watch on it. The day it closed, eBay sent me a reminder. Amazingly, it was only up to $55, so I put in a bid. Even more amazingly, it only went up to $56. To my astonishment, when I checked my email the next morning, there hadn’t been any more bids. I’d won!
It’s a strange feeling — a mix of astonishment and exhilaration — to finally track down something I’d sought for so long. I wrote up most of this post that day, but held off publishing it, just in case something went wrong.
It took a while, but the book arrived today.
It smelled musty. The edges of the cover were flaking. The front and back cover were held together with tape, and stuck to the rest of the book only because there was a hole in the cover, letting the tape stick to the spine. The pages were faded from their original white to a dull brown, but some of the ink remained bright.
In short, it was pretty much what I expected, as far as condition goes.
As for the story, I wasn’t really sure what to expect. Unlike the Fiddler or the Thinker, the Shade only made that one appearance during the Golden Age. And of course the modern, Starman-based interpretation is much darker (no pun intended) than anything DC would have published in the pages of Flash Comics.
Commanding the Night
What I found was a fairly standard comedic Golden-Age Flash tale in which the original Scarlet Speedster battles a gang of crooks. Their leader dresses all in black and calls himself the Shade, but hasn’t quite developed into a full super-villain yet. Instead of a device in his cane which projects darkness (like the Silver Age version), or magical powers that produce and manipulate darkness (like the modern version), he has an air conditioner-sized device which his gang uses to suck the light out of an area (using a bit of cringe-worthy pseudoscience that deserves its own post).
Actually reading it was kind of disappointing. I suppose doing so removed the air of mystery around the Shade’s origins. And let’s face it, given the prevailing style of the book, especially early in the decade, there is no possible way it could have lived up to what the Shade has since become.
At the same time, it’s fascinating to look back at how the character has changed from his one-off appearance in 1942, to his reappearance in 1961, to his re-imagining in the 1990s.