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By Eric S Brown
When the average American thinks of the Flash, they usually think of Barry Allen because in many ways he is the definitive version of the character. Barry has been referenced throughout pop culture in everything from films like “Catch Me if You Can” to a legion of DC cartoons and even had his own live action TV show on CBS in the early 1990s. The typical modern comic fan however is more likely to name the Flash as Wally West because he is the current Flash active in the DCU. The legacy of the Flash however actually began with Jay Garrick in the early 1940s when Flash Comics # 1 landed on newsstands across the country. It wasn’t published by DC but rather All American Publications, one of the three companies which would merge together to form DC Comics as we know it today. Characters like Superman and Batman had already been around for a few years and the genre was booming. Jay Garrick, and the character of the Flash, was created by writer Gardner Fox and artist Harry Lampert in an effort to capitalize on the popularity of superheroes at that time. The Flash was perhaps the very first single powered hero in comics. His only power being that of super speed. The character developed a huge following and quickly grew popular enough to support not only his own title (All Flash Comics) but was also the regular feature of Comics Cavalcade as well. Unlike Superman and Batman, The Flash had no secret identity that needed protecting when he was created. It was widely known in the world of DC that Jay Garrick was “the fastest man alive.” Jay was a college student studying physics who was involved in a lab accident. By breathing hard water vapors, he was gifted with the ability to move at the speed of light. He decided to use this power to fight crime and donned a red shirt sporting a bight yellow lightning bolt on its front and a winged helmet similar to that of the Greek God Hermes to become known as the Flash. The winged helmet had belonged to Jay’s father and had been passed down to him after his father’s death. Jay wore the helmet to honor the sacrifices his dad made in world war I. Thus, the first speedster ever in comics was born. In later years, DC would claim that the lab accident didn’t really give Jay his powers but merely activated a latent gene he carried making him a true meta-human. The Flash fought crime in the streets of New York originally before later moving to Keystone City. He battled gangs and mobsters, struggling to make the streets safe for the average citizen. During these early adventures, he also battled super powered foes such as the Changeling. The Changeling was a small time crook named Eric Razar who was electrocuted during a prison break. As the electricity rippled through his flesh he didn’t die instead his genetic make up was somehow altered giving him the ability to shape shift into various animals. Eric Razar has no relation to the green skinned Changeling who would become part of the Doom Patrol and later the New Teen Titans but he did serve as one of Jay’s most reoccurring enemies for the entire run of All Flash Comics. Jay’s most powerful foe was Dr. Edward Clariss. Clariss was a scientist who recreated the formula which gave Jay his speed. Clariss used the formula on himself and gave Jay the toughest throw downs of his career. As All Flash Comics’s run came to an end, Clariss faced off with Jay and ran so fast he was consumed by the “speed force”. The speed force is the source of the later Flashes’ powers and is a mass of energy beyond the understanding of modern science which operates outside of the normal laws of physics.
Clariss would spend fifty years trapped with the energy being eaten alive by it only to reemerge more powerful than ever in modern comics. In issues sixteen and seventeen of the 1987 J.S.A. series, he returns as part of the new Injustice Society seeking vengeance on Jay driven completely insane by his years of imprisonment. Clariss’ speed rivals that of the later Flash enemies, Professor Zoom and Zolomon Hunter, in these issues and the only way Jan can defeat him is to absorb some of Clariss’ own speed to use against him. The conflict ends with Clariss once again pushing himself too far and his physical form is destroyed by the speed force but this time instead of his being merging with it his consciousness is lost to the winds. Since that epic battle, Clariss has only made one further appearance to date but his essence lives on at large in the DCU. Many view Clariss as the prototype which paved the way for the Flash legacy of villains known as the Reverse Flash. This mantle has been worn by Professor Zoom and Zolomon Hunter (The new Zoom) but the very first true Reverse Flash appeared in the form of a robot version of Jay Garrick who terrorized the city until Barry Allen was able to shut the robot down and destroy it. During the original All Flash and Comic Cavalcade runs of the character, The Flash would also make many allies. Often he would team up with the likes of Black Canary, Dr. Fate, Wonder Woman, and others the most important of which was Alan Scott, the original Green Lantern. The two would become fast and extremely close friends who together would help form the Justice Society of America (DC’s first team of heroes) as founding members of the organization. Jay would become the J.S.A.’s first chairman as well taking on a leadership role the super hero community that he retains on a different level even today. Eventually DC would change its mind and decide to give Jay Garrick a secret identity in attempt to add more depth to the character of the Flash. Though he never wore a mask DC explained that Garrick concealed his face by vibrating it constantly at hyper speeds which made it impossible to photograph and extremely difficult to see. This secret Identity would not last long and by the 1978 Flash Spectactular issue he would reveal who he was to the world again. All Flash Comics ended its run in 1949 with its 104th issue during the post war decline of the super genre in comics but the Flash himself continued to active in the DCU until he along with the entire J.S.A. were forced into retirement by a branch of the government called “The House of Un-American Ideas”. This organization implemented a sort of law that all heroes operating in the U.S. had to make their real life names known to the government so that it could keep track of them. The J.S.A. disbanded in protest rather than challenge the power of the White House or put their loved ones at risk by going public. In one of the J.S.A.’s final battles, the team faced off against a being of immense power by the name of Ian Karkull. This battle trapped the team in a sort of mystical limbo where for decades they fought the same battle over and over again until they were finally freed. This conflict imbued the members of the J.S.A. with a residual energy which has kept them young despite the passage of time. Even today, Jay Garrick remains in the shape of that equal to a fifty year old man even though he is actually much closer to one hundred years old. The Flash was the only member of the J.S.A. to stay active and didn’t
fully retire after the House of Un-American Ideas shut them down. Though he spent many years off and on working as scientist Jay also donned his uniform on numerous occasions when he felt the world needed him. Many of these adventures set in the 1950s are still un-chronicled but DC history does say that The Shade, an immortal, sometimes hero, sometimes villain of the DCU, worked with Jay on at least one case during this period and that later in 1961, Jay does meet Barry Allen, the second person to wear the mantle of the Flash, for the first time. Jay and his wife, Joan, would never have children of their own but in more recent years, the couple would assume guardianship over Bart Allen, the fourth Flash, who was stuck in our time after traveling to it from the 30th century. The couple would in essence become Bart’s foster parents and come to view him as their own son. In the current world of the DCU, the J.S.A. has reformed as one of DC’s three main teams of heroes. They serve as an example for the younger teams which have followed after them and even the Justice League of America itself defers to their guidance and views them as an inspiration. Jay himself has become the father figure to almost the entire new generation of heroes we see in DC comics today. Even people like Nightwing and Red Arrow who have strong family ties to other active heroes view Jay as part of their family. Though he does not currently wear the true mantle of the Flash as it is known today, Jay Garrick is the only one of those who have “rode the lightning” to have retained a constant appearance in the titles of DC Comics in one form or another since the time of his creation. For a brief period in the wake of DC’s recent Infinite Crisis miniseries, he was also once again the company’s only speedster as all the other Flashes and the speed force itself was lost in a climatic battle with a villain known as Superman Prime. The Legion of Superheroes have since traveled back to our era and repaired the speed force. As of the time of this article, the DC universe has three Flashes existing in its universe. Jay is the slowest of these but retains his place in the Justice Society and remains a hero to be reckoned with. Jay Garrick’s legacy is a long one full of rich characters and fast paced adventures. No one can dispute his importance to the Flash mythos but in the eyes of the American public and comic fans alike he been eclipsed by those would come after him. Stayed tuned next month as we take a look at the life and times of arguably the greatest Flash, Barry Allen. In the months that follow, we also be exploring the adventures of Wally West (the Kid Flash who grew up) and Bart Allen (aka Impulse). But don’t think we’re stopping with the Flash himself, we also plan to take an in depth look at not only the legacy of Professor Zoom but also that of Captain Cold and his band of Rogues!
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