First and foremost, how are you? I’ve missed you fellow Flashers, and am so excited to see you all again! It’s been ages, hasn’t it? They need to just make The Flash a year-round show, right? I was going crazy waiting for the new season to begin! Thankfully, our long Flashless nightmare has come to a close and we’re back with a banger of an episode. I loved it! Anywho, I’ll leave the review to Meredith (you all better be reading Meredith’s reviews!); I’m here to drop some science on you all. Some sweet comic book science.
Let’s talk Rival…
As we’ve discussed previously, while Barry Allen is the best known Flash, Jay Garrick was the first speedster to wear the lightning. In the Golden Age of comics, Jay was real popular, appearing regularly in four separate comics. Still, as with most superheroes after World War II, Jay’s popularity faded. In the early months of 1949, Jay’s own book, Flash Comics was cancelled with issue 104. As an extra punch to the gut, Jay didn’t even get the cover, that honor went to Hawkman. Jay had become the backup story in his own comic. Sad emoji.
To end the series, writer John Broome did what most comic book writers did in those days, he wrote a normal story. To read Flash Comics 104, you could easily not realize that there would be no 105.
This final Jay Garrick story, in what is kind of odd, introduced a villain who seems tailor made to be an archnemesis, Dr. Edward Clariss, better known as Rival.
Dr. Clariss, a chem teacher at Midwestern University came across the hard water experiment that gave Jay Garrick his powers. Dr. Clariss was pretty sure he could recreate the exact formula that created Flash (I wonder if the notes included the need for a cigarette break) and he shared his theory with his peers at the university. His peers, being big old jerkwads, laughed at him. They made so much fun of Dr. Clariss that poor old Eddie took off for Europe so he could work without being goofed on.
Dr. Clariss wasn’t able to recreate the exact formula that gave Jay his powers (you need to get yourself a pack of Chesterfields, Eddie!) but he did manage to give himself superspeed for a few hours at a time. Armed with temporary superspeed, Dr. Clariss returned to keystone city and hired a bunch of thugs. Clariss created a slightly darker version of Flash’s costume for himself, gave his thugs superspeed, and started a crimewave with the intent of bringing Flash out. Dr. Edward Clariss had one specific goal - to prove that he was the one true threat to Flash. Flash’s only true… Rival.
Outnumbered, Flash is captured by Rival’s speed-goons and brought back to the evil lair. Rival gases Flash with a chemical that will slow him down not just physically, but mentally as well. With the job done, the speed-goons want what goons always want, to get paid, so Rival and his gang head off to rob a bank.
As Rival and his boys terrorize Keystone, Flash tries to fight off the effects of the gas. When he finally does, he gets to doing what heroes always do, beating the ever loving shit out of the bad guys. In this case, Flash uses the door of a bank vault to knock out the speed-goons and then beats the crap out of Rival with his bare fists.
End of story. End of Flash Comics.
Not the end of Jay though. And not the end of Rival.
Through some fun retconning, the story of Rival continued! Jay faced off against his most dangerous foe once more in the past - during the fight, Rival hits a speed beyond any Jay ever could. Rival goes so fast that he gets sucked into the Speed Force. Fifty years later, Rival is pulled out of the Speed Force by Johnny Sorrow, a real jerk of a guy who decided to create a new Injustice Society. Because Rival’s speed wasn’t permanent, when the gas ran out, the Speed Force began to eat away at away at his flesh and his sanity while giving him true speed powers.
To let Jay know he was back, Rival went on a murder spree, killing random people across the country. Rival, being a real freak now, killed people in a specific fashion - if you marked off each murder on a map of the US, it would spell his name. Now, if you know how evil versions of Flash work (read about them here!) you know that these guys all follow a similar plan - kill the Flash’s love. Rival planned out his final kill to finish off the map name thing - Joan Garrick.
What a dick.
Jay caught up with Rival and they duked it out again. In order to save Joan, Jay absorbed Rival’s speed, leaving Dr. Clariss powerless and bodiless - Clariss became a being of energy, unable to interact with material things. Well, almost unable.
The pure energy Rival figured out that he could posses people by entering their bodies. First, he took over Joan Garrick’s doctor. Being a real asshole, Rival used his cover as the doctor to make Joan think she had cancer. After who knows how many unnecessary chemotherapy sessions, the Garricks figured out something was up. The jig being up, Rival cut out of Joan’s doctor and headed into someone who could cause real problems for the Flash family, Max Mercury, the zen master of speed.
Rival, hiding within Max Mercury, made life a living hell for the Flash family before jumping into a time sphere and vanishing to parts unknown.
That was the last time Rival showed up in the comics, some fourteen years ago. It may seem like a long time, but don’t forget, the last time he disappeared, it was fifty years before he popped back up. These evil Flashes have a tendency to show up when you least expect them.
John Broome and Carmine Infantino, the guys who created Rival, also created Reverse Flash. I can’t help but think that the creation of Eobard Thawne was a direct nod to Edward Clariss. Broome was one hell of an inventive writer, and I can easily see him having come up with lots of ideas for Rival when he first created the character, only to have no place to use them until DC brought Flash back a decade later. Whatever the case, Rival is the start of a grand Flash tradition - evil speedsters with a direct connection to the Flash of the moment. So many classic Flash stories came out of what almost ended up being the final Flash comic.