Stories about heroes need villains and stories about superheroes need super-villains. But beyond simply being somebody to punch out, a memorable super-villain should stand in stark contrast to the superhero. If the public responds favourably to the hero/villain match-up, an arch-enemy or nemesis is born. Batman has the Joker. Superman has Lex Luthor. Spider-Man has the Green Goblin. Captain America has the Red Skull, and the list goes on.
The first iteration of the Flash, Jay Garrick, despite being a super-efficient crime-fighter never really earned the obsessive ire of a specific villain. Instead, his lineup of Golden Age villains was fluid, peppered throughout with Nazis and villainous speedsters.
Unlike his predecessor who went 11 years without a super-villain, the second incarnation of the Flash, Barry Allen, found his villainous counterpart in the second comic he appeared in. Showcase #8, cover date June 1957, introduced the dreaded Captain Cold, and, just like a bad cold, he stuck around. Recently featured in a DC Rebirth story, it’s been sixty years and he’s still causing problems in Central City.
The Frosty Origin of Captain Cold – Bad to the Bone
Although some super-villains have honest origins, only turning to crime once circumstances force their hands, Captain Cold was always a crook, just not a very good one. Captain Cold started out as a low-level crook named Len Snart.
Snart, presumably concerned that the Flash might apprehend him at some point, reads the newspaper hoping to find a way to defeat the scarlet speedster. In his search, Snart finds a story about a scientific magazine that recently wrote a comprehensive article on the Flash. Wasting no time, Snart breaks into the magazine offices and learns that a cyclotron could potentially interfere with the Flash’s abilities. Although his exact plan isn’t clear, Snart figures that he can somehow imbue a gun with the cyclotron’s power.
Snart makes a stealthy trip to the local cyclotron and, finding that he can’t control it after turning it on, gives up on his harebrained scheme. On his way out the door, though, Snart runs into the night watchman and, accidentally squeezing the trigger on his gun, flash freezes the unlucky rent-a-cop on the spot. Apparently the gun’s brief interaction with the cyclotron gave it freezing powers. If this sounds strange, you should keep in mind that the Golden Age Flash got his powers from hard water, so the level of scientific realism in Flash comics is historically low.
The Frosty Origin of Captain Cold – What’s in A Name?
After mulling over a few name options, all better than Len Snart, that include Mr. Arctic and Human Icicle, Snart eventually picks the alliterative Captain Cold. As a new reader of the Flash, I had assumed that the honorific “Captain” would relate to Captain Cold’s backstory but not so.
After settling on an appropriately goofy name, the good “Captain” experiments with liquid helium and finds that when it is used in combination with his gun it brings ambient temperature down to absolute zero. This extreme cold causes hallucinations in anyone exposed to it, giving Captain Cold the idea he thinks he needs to defeat the Flash.
The Frosty Origin of Captain Cold – What You Can See Can’t Hit You
Meeting the Flash on a frozen lake in the middle of July, Captain Cold fires his liquid helium at the scarlet speedster. The Flash battles illusion after seemingly deadly illusion until he realizes that everything he sees gives off extreme cold. Realizing that Captain Cold must be at work, the Flash passes through a mirage of giant spinning blades and creates an illusion of his own. Using his super speed to make it look as if there are hundreds of him, the Flash tricks Captain Cold and brings him to the police. Back in his laboratory, a nonchalant — some might even say “cool” — Barry Allen listens to his assistant Stan recount the tale of the Flash’s heroics as Barry warms his hands over a Bunsen burner.
The Frosty Origin of Captain Cold – Final Thoughts
Although Captain Cold eventually grew into his role as the Flash’s archenemy, his first appearance in Showcase #8‘s “The Coldest Man on Earth” is a bit clunky in places. It doesn’t make a lot of sense that a low-level crook is familiar enough with a cyclotron to know what it does and how to use it. Plus, Snart’s apparent familiarity with refrigeration and sub-zero temperatures is a bit of a non-sequitur for a run-of-the-mill mobster.
And even though the Flash’s hallucinations caused by exposure to absolute zero provided some interesting opportunities for Carmine Infantino to go wild with his art, the mirage sequence was pretty tame aside from a carousel of mystical creatures — during the illusion sequence the Flash is also waylaid by a ring of spinning saw blades and a bunch of escalators(?).
That said, based on the year it was published this isn’t a bad comic. Considering that contemporary stories include such inane subjects as “The 100 Batarangs of Batman” and “The Girl from Superman’s Past,” the Flash’s creative team certainly shouldn’t be singled out for being corny or providing a less than airtight backstory for its villain.