Although superhero comics have always been about dramatic, larger-than-life adventures, it seems that the modern comics scene has taken that to an absurd extreme. Weary from a constant stream of universe-warping disasters and mindblowing "nothing will ever be the same again" revelations, this "spectacle fatigue" has sent fans like me scrambling for the older comics in my collection. It's there that I find the antidote to today's overwrought epics in the refreshing subtlety and understatement of Silver Age comics.
The perfect example of this low-key approach is Flash #123 (1961), which featured the landmark story "Flash of Two Worlds". Considering the huge role alternate Earths would play in DC's future, this issue's quiet (almost nonchalant) introduction of the Alternate Earth concept was a masterpiece of understatement and restraint. Told today, there's no doubt the story would be stretched out to twelve issues and packed stem to stern with histrionic hand-wringing, intricate subplots, and reality-warping explosions.
But in 1961? One issue was enough...and in the spirit of that Silver Age brevity, I'll can the intro and join a confused Barry Allen, who's just unwittingly blazed a trail into the Multiverse (click on the panels for a larger view)...
The date on a local newspaper confirms that Flash is still in the present. However, that same edition of The Keystone City Herald suggests a fantastic possibility...a possibility Barry is compelled to investigate!
Now, here comes the understatement I was going on about in the intro. Think about the way a story like this might unfold in today's super-charged environment ("The Drama! The Shocks! The Angst!), compared to the sublime simplicity of someone nonchalantly answering the doorbell...
Barry continued to blow Jay Garrick's mind by recapping the elder Flash's origin, but let's back up to the first panel above. Comics trivia fans should grab a pencil and note that Jay Garrick's address is 5252 78th Street. Plus, how about that "5252" street number...as in DC's recent "52" series? Hey, and order me one of those funky triangular desks in the middle panel! Does IKEA have one of those?
Anyway, the surprises just kept coming from the mysterious Mr. Allen...like how he's the Flash of a completely different Earth...who happened to keep his costume in his ring!
Rest assured, Barry explained his Alternate Earth theory to Jay, as well as his own origin story. Ahh, but my favorite part of this historic meeting came next, as Barry dropped the bombshell that Jay was Barry's favorite comic book hero as a kid! Not only that, Barry offered some serious meta-commentary by mentioning 40's Flash Comics writer Gardner Fox (as well as writer of this very story!) and the actual year of the title's cancellation.
Inspired by Barry's surreal appearance in his home, Jay decided to come out of retirement to solve a series of crimes plaguing Keystone City...with an assist from his starstruck namesake. Capping off the low-key magic is that priceless (and somewhat poignant) final panel...two super-speedsters running side-by-side with a future of adventure, friendship, tragedy, and hope ahead of them.