Flash-back: Jay Garrick

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In the first part of  a series looking back at the legacies of all the characters to bear the name of The Flash BF focuses on the Golden Age version of the hero and the life and times of Jay Garrick.

Created for All-American Publications (later part of DC Comics) by Gardner Fox and Harry Lambert, the Flash first appeared in the appropriately titled Flash Comics #1 (January 1940). Sharing the anthology title with characters that included Hawkman, Johnny Thunder and The Whip, the Flash was unique in his "specialized" superpower – speed.

Granted his amazing abilities through the accidental inhalation of hard water vapors, college student Jay Garrick was initially at a loss with what to due with his future. Eventually landing a teaching/research position, Garrick was inspired by other "mystery-men" to adopt a crime-fighting alter-ego. As with many of the Golden Age DC Comics heroes, The Flash was quickly retroactively relocated from New York City to a fictional metropolis (Keystone City in Kansas).

Although the Flash never resonated on the same level as Superman, Batman or Captain Marvel, the feature certainly proved popular enough to be expanded. He became part of comic history thanks to his inclusion in All-Star Comics (summer 1940), an anthology title that featured characters from All-American Publications and National Comics. By the second issue, the title adopted a gimmick to bookend the short solo adventures of the heroes, as the characters gathered to share their adventures. This format began with the third issue of All-Star Comics (winter 1940), introducing the world’s first super hero team, the Justice Society of America.

Making a name for himself

Using this title as a "try-out" book of sorts, Flash (along with other heroes who were "promoted" to their own titles) was removed from the active roster in All-Star Comics #6 (August/September 1941), although he did return later during the title’s run (All-Star Comics #24, Spring 1945) where he remained until the title wrapped in 1951 (All-Star Comics #57). Additionally, the Flash also headlined All Flash Quarterly (32 issues, Summer 1941 to January 1948) and Comic Cavalcade (which he shared with Green Lantern and Wonder Woman for the first 29 issues, Winter 1942-November 1948).

During his run, The Flash gathered an eclectic cast of characters including Joan Williams (later, Joan Garrick) and "The Three Dimwits" (Winky Moylan, Blinky Boylan and Noddy Toylan). More significantly, The Flash generated a wealthy cast of rogues – The Shade (Flash Comics #33, September 1942), Rag Doll (Flash Comics #36, December 1942), The Thinker (All-Flash #12, Fall 1943), The Fiddler (All-Flash #32, December/January 1947/48) amd The Rival (Flash Comics #104, February 1949). Although Jay Garrick’s rogues never gained the widespread recognition that those of Superman and Batman did, many would prove to be seeds for stories created in the Silver, Bronze and Modern age of comics.


Partnership with the other Speedster

Following the cancellation of the Flash’s books (The Flash with #104 in 1949 and All-Star Comics with the Justice Society in 1951), Garrick disappeared from publishing history for several years. He returned to the fold in September 1961, as the guest star in a revived Flash comic series (issue #123). Partnering with a successor, Barry Allen, "Flash of Two Worlds" introduced a plot device that would become a hallmark of DC Comics – The DC Multiverse. Written, appropriately enough by Gardner Fox, the tale finds a happily retired and married Garrick encountering a younger Flash, claiming to be from a parallel universe.

The two Flashes team up to battle the Fiddler, Shade and Thinker in an adventure that prompts Garrick to resume his crime fighting career. Over the next several years, Garrick and the Justice Society would frequently team-up with the new Flash and his allies in the Justice League, making crossovers between "Earth-2" (Garrick’s world) and "Earth-1" as simple as dashing across the street.

While many of Garrick’s super-heroic adventures played out in the pages of Justice League of America throughout the 1960s and ‘70s, quite a few of the details of his chronological life were filled in retroactively; All-Star Squadron Annual #3 (1984) explained the secret behind the retarded aging of the Justice Society members; in Adventure Comics #466 (November/December 1979) Jay and the Justice Society retire when confronted by an analogue for the House of Un-American Activities Committee; JSA #25 (August 2001) revealed the existence of an ill-fated infant son adopted by Jay and Joan; The Shade #3 (June 1997) demonstrated how a renewed friendly rivalry with the titular villain rekindled Jay’s love of adventuring; and Garrick’s super-hero identity was revealed to the world in the pages of DC Special Series #11 (1978).


Jay's Life in Crisis

Depending on one’s point of view, Jay Garrick’s story either became simplified or complicated by the events of Crisis on Infinite Earths (a 12-issue maxi-series running April 1985 to March 1986). In the 25 years since the Flashes of two worlds met, an increasing number of "Earths" had popped up in the Multiverse. With dozens of character variants cross-pollinating the DC "Multiverse", the company took upon itself to streamline their continuity. By the end of the series, most of the "infinite earths" had been destroyed, and the remaining ones merged into a new, singular timeline – the Post-Crisis Earth (the majority of the characters, including Jay, had no recollection of the alterations to their histories).

In the newly re-written history, Jay Garrick and the Justice Society were considered to be the first generation of super-heroes, directly paving the way for their successors. The gap between parallel Earths was reduced to a generational gap. To further clear the page, the Justice Society characters were given a final adventure the one-shot special, The Last Days of the Justice Society (1986). In it, the Flash and his allies faced Ragnarok, the fall of the Norse Gods, and to save reality, disappeared into limbo forever.

Forever turned out to be six years, as The Flash and the Justice Society returned to the modern day in the 1992 four-issue series, Armageddon: Inferno. Thanks to their time in limbo, and the events from All-Star Squadron Annual #3, Jay Garrick, chronologically about 80, appeared as a man in his late forties or early fifties. Plans for the Golden Age Flash’s triumphant return never quite materialized however – a new Justice Society of America series (August 1992) was quickly cancelled (with issue #10, May 1993), leaving the character to pop up occasionally in the pages of Justice League of America, Justice League Europe and in The Flash (mentoring Wally West the third man to bear the title). Mercifully, Jay was spared the anti-climactic and fatal destiny of many of his team mates in the pages of Zero Hour (5 issues, 1994). With the deaths of many of his allies, Jay retired once again, handing the sole ownership of name "The Flash" to his successor.


New life in the Modern JSA

Although Jay continued to appear occasionally in the pages of The Flash (a book that came to embrace the generational nature of the name), it wasn’t until August 1999 that the character found a regular home in a title. The high-profile launch of JSA, a modern day successor to the original Justice Society of America featured many of the second and third generation heroes, along with a handful of originals.

In the pages of this book, Jay took on both an active super-hero role, as well as serving as a mentor towards the later generation of heroes. Garrick was present to the conclusion of the series (#87, September 2006) as well as in the follow-up title (Justice Society of America, February 2007 to present). Also worth mentioning, were Jay and Joan’s roles in the later issues of Impulse (#s 84-89, 2002), in which he and Joan bring the young super-speedster, Impulse, into their home.

Despite the longevity of the character, Jay Garrick has made very few appearances in mainstream media. Only recently did he appear briefly in an episode of Batman: The Brave and the Bold (season 1, episode 15).

Back on the printed page, Jay Garrick’s story continues to unfold in the pages of The Flash: Rebirth.

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  • Eric Lindberg

    Eric Lindberg May 5, 2009 at 2:55am

    Nice overview. I loves me some Jay Garrick. People debate who is the better Flash, Barry or Wally. It's Jay all the way for me. He's gotta be the most amiable, likable guy in the DCU.

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