by Robert Greenberger
When DC finally decided the time had come to produce thick black and white collections of older works, it needed an umbrella title. Since the mandate was that it was to feature the bigger and lesser names, a venerable title with a great deal of history behind it seemed a natural. As a result, Showcase Presents, launched back in 2005, became the welcome addition to DC’s collected editions mix. After all, it was Showcase that changed the very nature of our business back in 1956.
Jack Liebowitz and Irwin Donenfeld, two of the men who turned the fledgling publisher into a powerhouse beginning in 1937, must have been uncertain what audiences wanted in the mid-1950s. After all, comic books had been under a harsh attack by PTAs, Dr. Fredric Wertham, and the United States Congress. Rather than fight back, as William Gaines wanted, everyone else decided to placate the populace with the Comics Code Authority. While that meant the comics could be displayed on newsstands with pride, it also robbed publishers of the urge to stretch the boundaries.
Such might have been the thinking when the company approved the concept for a new ongoing series, Showcase. The series launched in spring 1956 with the DC editors all taking turns with new series concepts and letting the sales figures determine what might be continued. If not, the risk was limited to a single issue. Mort Weisinger, best known for his work on Superman, kicked things off with stories about firefighters, notably Fireman Farrell, followed by the prolific Robert Kanigher with issues 2 and 3, which spotlighted Kings of the Wild and Frogmen.
Sometime in late 1955, it was decided that one of the concepts to be attempted was the revival of a super-hero. By then, Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman were the only Golden Age heroes still headlining their own titles with Aquaman and Green Arrow headlining backup features. The quasi-superhero Martian Manhunter had debuted that year in Detective Comics and seemed to be doing well. No one can remember who suggested the Flash be the character to be tested, but it was clear that his last editor, Julie Schwartz, should be the one to try again. His genius, though, was keeping only the name and powers while changing everything for a new audience.
And with Showcase #4, a new chapter in the history of comics was written. For the first time ever, the initial 21 issues of this landmark series is being collected in the appropriately titled Showcase Presents Showcase. Some of these earliest stories have never been reprinted and some not reprinted since the 1960s which allows readers to look at some very fine work by artists Irv Novick, Russ Heath, Jerry Grandinetti, John Prentice, Ruben Moreira, and Sy Barry.
Of course, no one knew what would happen with issue #4 so work continued as Jack Schiff handled the following issue with Manhunters that offers up some fine Mort Meskin work. Issues 6 and 7 were the first back-to-back issues with a single concept, Jack Kirby’s Challengers of the Unknown. By then, the early numbers were coming back encouragingly enough and the Flash returned for issue #8.
From then on, Showcase was a vital launching pad and laboratory for action-oriented heroes in future settings, or super-hero revivals. Weisinger even tried spinning off Lois Lane in issues #9-10 after the sales success of Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen.
Interestingly, Schiff and Schwartz both wanted to try new space age heroes so were each granted three issues to try out Space Ranger and Adam Strange (billed as Adventures on Other Worlds) respectively. While both gained regular series berths in existing anthology titles, Strange was the standout character thanks to Gardner Fox’s inventive writing and the high-tech designs of Carmine Infantino and Murphy Anderson, even though it was Mike Sekowsky who first pencilled those adventures on Rann.
Flipping through this volume, you can watch the increasing sophistication of the storytelling with some of the most consistent slick art that typified the DC “house style” that was prevalent through the 1950s well into the 1960s.
Classic comic covers from the Grand Comics Database.