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Harry Donenfeld was the CEO of National Allied Publications, which was best known for publishing the ever exciting adventures of Superman in Action Comics, as well as the CEO of Detective Comics, which published… well, you don’t need to be Batman to solve that mystery. Overall, he was happy with the way things were going, but Harry was worried about one thing - he feared that his partner, Jack Liebowitz, would leave National Allied and form his own rival company. There was nothing aside from a paycheck that was keeping Jack with National Allied, and Jack was a smart guy. An accountant by trade, Jack knew how much money there was in the comics biz as long as you could get yourself a Superman.
Lucky for Harry, Max Gaines, the man who had invented the American comic book in 1933, was looking for someone to help him start a new comic company. Max had been making a living reprinting newspaper comic strips into comic book form called Famous Funnies for Dell Publishing, but now he wanted to be the boss, and he wanted to publish original material. Max and Harry met, and Harry agreed to fund Max’s plan as long as he took on Jack as a partner. Max agreed and All-American Publications was born.
They published their first book in April of 1939, All-American Comics. It was a mix of new material and reprints, and it was a success from day one. All-American followed up with a second book in January 1940, and with this book, they would create their first huge hit. The comic introduced three characters who, at the time, were very popular. For two of them, their popularity has waned over the years. Johnny Thunder, a teen who controlled a genie named Yz, though he often went by Thunderbolt based on his look. Johnny Thunder never had his own title, but he certainly has fans. Johnny Thunders, of the New York Dolls, took his name from the character.
The second best known character introduced in this comic from January 1940 was Hawkman. Hawkman started off as Carter Hall, the reincarnated Egyptian prince Khufu who, with the gravity defying Nth Metal, crafted a belt and wings that would let him fly. In the '80s, this would all be tossed aside and Carter Hall would become Katar Hol, a Thanagarian from the planet Thangar. On Tnagar, their police dress like Hawkman. Later still, both origins would be combined with a Thanagarian ship being found in Egypt by Khufu and a few others. They also find the Nth Metal and Khufu dies and is reincarnated multiple times. But Hawkman isn’t the focus of this article, so enough on him.
The main story in this comic from January 1940, the guy who got the cover as well as the same name as the comic was Jay Garrick, the first Flash. The comic, by the way, was Flash Comics. Jay Garrick’s origin would be very different from the other popular superheroes of the time. He wasn’t an alien who came to Earth. His parents weren’t murdered. He wasn’t given a genie when he was a baby. He also showed up a month before Fawcett Comics super star Captain Marvel, so Jay had the lightning symbol first.
In his origin, as was told in Flash Comics #1, nerdy Jay Garrick was a college student who wanted to be popular, but according to Joan Williams (the woman he loved) he was just a “scrub,” an “old washwoman.” Jay was part of the school football team, but he wasn't very good, hence Joan not liking him. Where Jay really excelled was in the science lab. It was in his lab that Jay was working on an experiment with hard water chemicals when, late one night, Jay decided to take a smoke break and, while smoking in the lab, accidentally knocked over his hard water vials, smashing them against the ground.
Jay began to clean up his mess, but passed out, inhaling the hard water fumes all night long. When Jay woke up, he was in the hospital. He felt great, but the doctors insisted he stay for a few days. “Nuts to that,” thought Jay! When he saw Joan waiting for the bus out his hospital room window, Jay ran down to see her, and he ran fast. Now, as far as I know, this makes Jay Garrick the only superhero whose origin involves cigarettes. The guy would not have become a legend if not for the mild, refreshing taste of Chesterfield Cigarettes. How no tobacco company picked up on this and used Flash in their ads, I’ll never know. Come on, cancer merchants, hook them kids!
With his newfound superspeed, Jay did exactly what we would all do - he used it to impress Joan. Jay didn’t hide his power; he happily showed it off on the football field. Jay would hike the ball, throw it to himself, score a touchdown, then run into the seats where Joan was to hit on her. Everyone saw this. Everyone knew this guy had superpowers.
And Joan ate it up. Suddenly Jay Garrick was no washwoman! Joan and Jay began dating, and their dates consisted of Jay playing tennis against himself while Joan and her dad watched. It doesn’t sound like that great of a date to me, but then again, I’ve never watched a person play tennis against himself.
Shortly after graduation, Jay decides to become a superhero and creates his costume: a petasus similar to the one worn by the Greek god Hermes, a red sweatshirt with a lightning bolt across the chest, blue sweatpants (that originally had lightning bolts running down the sides), and red boots with gold wings matching the ones on his helmet. Jay’s first real enemy was a group called The Faultless Four led by a man named Sieur Satan. The Faultless Four were trying to find out about a secret nuclear base that Joan’s dad knew of, so they planned to kill Joan to get Mr. Williams to talk. Flash saved the day, and with it he became one of the most popular superheroes of the 1940s.
How popular? He starred in Flash Comics, then was given his own title, All-Flash Quarterly, which proved so popular that it went from quarterly to bi-monthly. Along with two titles named after himself, Jay was regularly showing up in All-Star Comics and Comic Cavalcade, as well. To give you an idea of how popular Flash was, he was showing up in more comics than Superman.
Jay also has the honor of being the first chairman for the first superhero team ever, the Justice Society of America. Jay’s petasus, lightning bolt shirt and sweatpants were everywhere in comics. The man was big, but he was still unique. As it became more and more common for superheroes to have sidekicks, Flash got his own. In fact, he got three of them: Winky, Blinky and Noddy Toylan - commonly referred to as The Three Dimwits.
The Three Dimwits first showed up as bumbling goons in All-Flash #5 working for a crooked stable owner. After Flash beat their boss, the brothers decided to clean up their act and go straight. Their attempts at going straight often lead to trouble, with Flash coming to bail them out. The good natured brothers, who proudly exclaimed that they had a combined IQ of 150, were clearly rip-offs of the Three Stooges. They would appear on and off in All-Flash and Flash Comics from 1942 to 1947, when Jay’s popularity started to wane. In 1947, All-Flash was cancelled. Flash Comics followed two years later with issue 104. Jay Garrick lasted longer than most of the first wave of superheroes, but he wasn’t fast enough to outrace the ramifications of Fredric Wertham’s terrible book, Seduction of the Innocent.
It seemed Jay Garrick and Joan Williams were to be lost to the ages until comics legend Julius Schwartz decided to try and bring the superhero back. He contacted his friend Gardner Fox looking for ideas and Gardner suggested that Julius bring back his own creation*, Flash. Julius did this in Showcase #4, but he replaced Jay Garrick with Barry Allen. Still Schwartz and writer Robert Kanigher wanted to pay respect to what had come before, so they showed Barry reading an issue of Flash Comics in his first appearance. When Barry decides to become a superhero, he names himself after the comic book Flash that he was reading about. The new Flash, commonly called Silver-Age Flash, took off. DC Comics decided to give Barry his own title, and figured it was best to just pick up where the previous book ended, so Barry’s first issue was Flash #105.
Gardner Fox, still writing at DC at the time, went to Julius with an idea. He wanted to re-introduce Jay to the comics. His plan was, to put it mildly, genius. How genius? This idea was, at the time, considered science nonsense, but today is thought to be very possible. Gardner would write a story in which, by vibrating his molecules at a different speed than usual, Barry Allen would travel to an alternate Earth, and here he would meet Jay Garrick. Jay had retired from being the Flash and was married to Joan. He was living a happy life, but some of his old enemies were looking to cause trouble. Jay and Barry took care of the baddies and Jay, finding himself loving the action, came out of retirement. The comic, Flash #123 was titled Flash of Two Worlds! and it would change comics forever. Gardner Fox had given birth to the Multiverse**.
From this, all the Golden Age characters could return, the explanation being that they were living in an alternate reality. The Golden Age Earth, Jay’s Earth, would be known as Earth 2, which kind of seems like a dick move, since that Earth was around first, but whatever. Barry’s Earth was Earth 1.
Time and again, the Flashes would get together, sometimes to solve a mystery, sometimes to have dinner. The Justice Society of America started teaming up with the Justice League of America once a year. Soon we met Earth 3***, which was the home of the Crime Syndicate of America - a world where the superheroes we loved were all evil. Then more Earths would come into play, including Earth Prime, which is where you and I live! We’re officially part of the DC Universe! YAY! The multiverse was a huge part of DC Comics from 1961 until 1985, when the mini-series Crisis on Infinite Earths would lead to the destruction of all but five Earths, which were combined into one Earth, restarting DC’s continuity. Earth Prime was not one of the Earths to survive. We’re officially dead in the DC Universe! Yay?
After Crisis, Jay was set up as the first Flash, who appeared during World War II and was a member of the JSA. DC didn’t want to retroactively kill off the Golden Age heroes, but the idea of them still running around in the '80s when they all started off in the '40s seemed too far-fetched for the company, so they did a one shot comic in 1986 titled The Last Days of the Justice Society of America.
In the story, the Justice Society ends up trapped in a Ragnarok-like limbo forever fighting Surtur. Of course, this is comics, so the JSA got out. They came back in the DC mini-series Zero Hour and were magically de-aged back to their 30s. Jay and the gang set up a new JSA base in New York and dedicated their time to training the next generation of heroes.
Post Crisis Jay’s powers were set to a point where he could just break the speed of sound, and even that was a strain. One thing that Jay had over the other speedsters (of which there are many) is that he had a photographic memory. Jay claimed to have read every book ever written and sure as hell seemed to know a lot.
Jay and Joan lived a long happy life together. When Joan was diagnosed with acute leukemia, the Garricks moved to Denver to take part in an experimental treatment. It worked, and Joan was cured. She and Jay returned to their home town of Keystone City.
In case you were wondering about them, in Flash volume 2 #161, it was revealed that the Three Dimwits stumbled into a shitload of money and retired to the Caribbean. At some point they must have lost their fortune though; in Justice League: Cry for Justice #2, Winky, Blinky and Nod were killed by an unknown assailant while working as night watchmen at the Flash Museum. Rest in peace, you goofy bastards.
Then, as all these articles tend to go, DC started everything over again with Flashpoint and the New 52. In this reboot, Jay was back to living on Earth 2. He and Joan didn’t work out - Joan left Jay shortly after they graduated. It was the day Joan left Jay that Jay was visited by a dying Mercury (the Roman god of speed) and granted his powers. Jay became Flash. He even got a terrible new costume.
On this Earth 2 (the comic where all this happened was also called Earth 2) Superman, Wonder Woman and Batman are killed in a war with Darkseid. New heroes, the Justice Society heroes, come around to fill the gap. Then Darkseid returns and, as far as I understand it, the Earth is destroyed. The comic was cancelled, but there is a new series called Earth 2: Society that I haven’t read. My understanding is that the planet Telos from the mini-series Convergence was terraformed into a new Earth for the survivors of the second Darkseid War.
What I, personally, love about the character of Jay Garrick is that he is the real start of DC’s legacy format. Jay Garrick was my grandfather’s Flash (though I’m not sure my gramps read Flash. I highly doubt it). Barry was my dad’s Flash. Wally West (whom we’ll get to soon) was my Flash. DC did this with a lot of characters over the years. Green Lantern. Star Man. At one point, before Crisis, DC had ongoing stories on Earth 2 where that Earth’s Superman was older and their Batman had become mayor of Gotham and retired from fighting crime. I love the idea that DC was willing to let these characters, in some form, age. It really set DC apart from Marvel. Sadly, they did away with all that in the '80s then again just a few years ago. I mean, I get it, you need to hook in new readers, but I don’t really know if restarting everything is the best way to do it. When I started reading comics, the first Jay Garrick story I read was in the trade paperback The Greatest Flash Stories Ever Told which I bought because I was obsessed with the then-current Flash (Wally) and wanted to learn about the legacy of the name. Jay’s reason for becoming a superhero was so strange to me, having grown up on Spider-Man and other characters who were born from tragedy. Here was a guy who literally became a superhero because he was bored after graduating college. This was such a simplistic reason to become a hero, but one I felt I could connect with in some way. After all, my parents weren’t murdered. My uncle wasn’t shot by a burglar I could have stopped. I wasn’t born on a distant planet. I didn’t grow up on an island of Amazon women. Jay Garrick was, as all the Flashes since him have been, a blue collar guy living a rather normal life when he isn’t running around saving the world.
Jay was, in a way, the father of the superheroes in the DC universe post-Crisis. He was the statesman. Along with Ted Grant (Wildcat) and Alan Scott (the first Green Lantern), he was one of the heroes the other heroes looked up to.
But what do I know? I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t be able to keep a comic company going for 80 years.
On the show, Jay Garrick is just being introduced. What we know so far is that Jay is from Earth-2, and he’s lost his powers. This TV version of Earth-2 appears to be different from the comics version. As far as I know, there was no “War of the Americas” in the comics version of Earth-2, but this could be a New 52 reference that went over my head (unlike the reference to Ira West****! And Superman’s rocket in the Earth-2 S.T.A.R. Labs!).
Overall, I like the look of this Jay Garrick - a little more military than the comic version, but overall it works. I’d get rid of the gloves, though. Oh, and why on Earth-2 they don’t have his lightning bolt filled in is beyond me. Sometimes I wonder if the costume designer for The Flash and Arrow is afraid to have costumes with more than one color.
Quick aside - is Flash killing people on the show now? It seemed to me like Sand Demon died when Flash hit him with the lightning. Atom Smasher was killed last week. I’m REALLY not a fan of Flash killing people. This is very not un-Flash behavior.
In the list of Flashes (4 to over 400 depending on how specific you want to get), Jay is my second favorite, after Wally West. Besides being the one who started it all, what I love about the character of Jay is how he was treated during the Wally West years. Jay was, at that point, semi-retired from superheroics, but would show up from time to time to help out. Mainly, he ran Garrick Labs, spent time with his wife, and read. When he did pop in, Jay was the rock of the Flash family. This aspect of Jay was carried over into JSA. Jay was the guy everyone trusted, the hero everyone knew they could go to for help. If, before his return from the dead, Barry was the patron saint of superheroes, Jay was the caring grandfather.
Next week, Captain Cold returns, so we’ll probably be covering him and his family. See you then!
*Jay Garrick was created by Gardner Fox and Harry Lampert. Gardner Fox is one of the most prolific comic book writers - it is believed that he wrote over 4000 comics stories. He also created Batman’s utility belt, batarang and batcopter. Lampert started his career at Fleischer Studios, working on Betty Boop and Popeye cartoons. He only drew five Flash stories. It was another 50 years before Lampert learned that his character had any historical significance.
**While I can’t find anything that suggests Gardner Fox knew of Everett’s Many Worlds Theory when he came up with the idea of multiple Earths for DC Comics, I like to think he did if only so I can connect my favorite comic character with my favorite band (Hugh Everett’s son is Mark Oliver Everett - the singer/songwriter for the band Eels).
***Other interesting things about Earth 3: Christopher Columbus was an American who discovered Europe. Abraham Lincoln was an actor who killed President John Wilkes Booth. Lex Luthor was a good guy. The evil Earth 3 version of Flash was called Johnny Quick, which I always thought was Gardner Fox’s way of saying “fuck you” to Mort Weisinger who created the original Johnny Quick - a superhero who had not just super speed, but could fly, too.
****See the previous entry FLASH Facts: Team Flash, for more info on Ira West.