There are some big changes on the horizon at DC Comics, many of which have fans wondering if this brave new world will even remotely resemble the one they fell in love with. DC is even taking a look back at its rich history with the line of Retroactive books, beginning this week.
While some current stories will continue on and adapt with the changes, most will be re-cast in the light of the new universe. There’s no denying the magnitude of many of the updates and revamps due this fall. However, anyone concerned about the future is best served to learn from the past.
From his first appearance in 1956, Barry Allen sported a distinct crew-cut. It, along with the now even-more-dated bow-tie, defined the character’s look and “regular-guy” personality to the point that it has become the default look for any stories set prior to Crisis on Infinite Earths. However, in 1970, DC Comics decided to do away with all vestiges of the heretofore unwavering ‘do. In its place, a golden mane of modern manhood crested atop Barry’s visage.
DC didn’t throw out the baby with the bathwater. They gradually introduced the daring new cut during the amazing four-issue run by the incredible Gil Kane.
In Flash #194, the last issue featuring artwork by Ross Andru and Mike Esposito, Barry is seen sporting the standard crew-cut (although, in some scenes, it is combined with mutton-chops). In Flash #195, Kane’s first issue, a distinct shagginess begins to emerge.
Though the hair is still quite short, Barry is shown parting it on the left side for the first time. In the second story of that issue, “I Open My Mouth…But I Can’t Scream,” Barry finds himself aboard a roller-coaster, his hair noticeably longer with the wind factor.
Kane’s next issue was #197, the cover of which defines the “In-Between Stage” of Barry Allen’s hair. Arguably the greatest comic book artist of all-time, Kane appears to add some additional length to the locks in “The Four-Star Super Hero”. Barry’s wife Iris, who had taken an assignment as a theater critic in this tale, gives her husband’s “hair-comb” low marks as he shaves. This would be the only on-panel attention given Barry’s hair during what we’ll call “The Growth Period”. Kane (along with inker Vince Colletta) would add further texture and shape to Barry’s hair in issues #198 and 199, but those subtle changes would pale in comparison to what fans would face in the monumental issue #200.
Featuring a cover by Carmine Infantino (who was already referred to as “The Great Master” by fans in the letter columns of the day) and Murphy Anderson, fans expected Flash #200 to feature the same classic team on interior art. Many were pleasantly surprised to see renowned Batman artist Irv Novick on pencils, with Anderson on inks.
Many more were blown away by Mr. Allen’s tsunami of coiffure.
Amazingly, there were still zero on-panel references (even by Iris) to Barry’s huge hairstyle change. It was as if the crew-cut never existed! Fans used to reading about a Flash who sported a crew-cut must have found it difficult to see his conservative looks morphed before their eyes, without explanation. Then, issue #203 hit stands…
There are two major revelations in Flash #203, “The Flash’s Wife is a Two-Timer!”. The first is that Iris West Allen is actually from the far future. So what. The second is that, according to Barry’s memory, the crew-cut simply never was. Scenes from Barry and Iris’ wedding in Flash #165 (note: see how high and tight that cut is on the cover?) clearly show Barry Allen wearing his hair long, defying comic book collections across America. Longtime readers’ long-term memories were set aside in order to capture a new, more follically liberal audience.
One eagle-eyed fan makes favorable note of this on the letter’s page of #203. He also references a negative letter supposedly printed in issue #199, but I checked and no such letter exists. A coverup? You be the judge:
“In the lettercol of #199, one reader states that his hair is getting longer. He states this as a complaint, but I state it as a compliment. This is 1970, not 1948; I think Barry’s hair should be longer. Crewcuts are out for a man of his age. Besides, his head looks weird in a crewcut. Keep Barry’s hair long!”
–Dan Jordan, Griffith IN
…fast-forward to Flash #345, February 1985, where Barry Allen’s appearance changed yet again. All things considered, long-hair Barry was around one year “longer” than his crew-counterpart, and was featured in 50 or so more issues of the Flash title.
When Barry “died” in Crisis, fans assumed it was with the face revealed in Flash #345. However, subsequent stories chronicled Barry’s return to his original face, and the crew-cut, prior to his death. Upon his reappearance in Final Crisis and Flash: Rebirth, Barry was 100% crew and ready for the 21st Century.
So if you’re worried about your favorite DC characters heading into the reboot, just think about the time they changed Barry Allen’s hair. Accounting for continuity-inflation, that’s pretty much the 1970s equivalent of what is going on.