Jay Garrick, the original Flash, has been racing through comic books for more than 70 years. Debuting in 1940’s Flash Comics #1, he gave the medium something new, a superhero whose power was simply “speed! Supersonic speed! Undreamed of speed!” Jay’s hat was modeled on the one worn by Hermes, showing the Flash was a god of speed for a modern age.
Running in Jay’s Golden Age wake came DC’s Johnny Quick, Quality’s Quicksilver and Timely’s Whizzer and Hurricane. Later eras gave us Barry Allen and Wally West as new Flashes, not to mention other speedsters including Impulse, Xs, Jesse Quick, Pietro Maximoff, and Speed. Jay crossed the finish line before any of them.
Appropriately, Jay’s current role on the CW’s Flash series is that of a veteran speedster (John Wesley Shipp) who provides occasional mentoring and support for young Barry Allen. What follows are 16 facts about Jay’s life and times. It’s okay not to speed through it.
16. Jay Garrick Got Super Speed From Smoking
But cigarettes still cause cancer, so don’t try this at home.
The opening story in Flash Comics #1 introduced readers to Jay as a college football player (hopeless) and a science student (awesome). Working late into the night on his big project — studying the gases generated by hard water — Jay decided to pep himself up with a smoke break. Leaning against the lab table, he accidentally knocked his experiment onto the floor, inhaled the hard-water fumes, and passed out. He woke up a week later as the fastest man alive. A doctor explained that hard water naturally speeds up reflexes, Jay’s just sped up more than most.
Um, no. Hard water’s just water with a high mineral content. It doesn’t take advanced research to analyze it, and breathing hard water vapors is less likely to speed you up than a few cups of coffee. Even by Golden Age standards, it’s not a great origin — but once Jay had his speed, who cared? A later retcon would explain the vapor triggered his metagene, the strand of DNA that turns freak accidents into secret origins.
15. The First Thing Jay Did With His Speed Was Become A Football Star
After Jay’s dream girl, Joan Williams, kept refusing to date him, Jay accused her of rejecting him just because he was a football scrub. Joan replied it was character that mattered — Jay could be a star, but he didn’t make the effort. When Joan learned about Jay’s new speed, she promised him a date if he helped win the big game.
The coach had no intention of taking “Leadfoot” Garrick off the bench, but eventually, he ran out of players. Jay won the game single-handedly and finally got his date. He admitted years later that he and Joan had both been immature, but hey, they were still kids. After graduating and moving to Keystone City, Jay soon turned his powers to public-spirited purposes as the Flash. While he and Joan parted company for a while after graduation, they got back together, stayed together, and eventually married. They’ve remained one of comics’ happiest couples ever since.
14. People Can’t See Jay’s Face Even Though He Doesn’t Sport A Mask
When Jay first became fast, he made no attempt to hide his powers. His doctors knew about them, both football teams knew about them, and in Flash Comics #3, everyone knows his identity. But secret identities and superheroes go hand in hand, so before long, Jay being the Flash was a secret to everyone but Joan. Even Jay’s science professor, who later became a costumed criminal, didn’t put it together.
It might be hard to imagine Flash’s identity ever being secret with his face on display, but Jay’s powers included more than running fast. Writers eventually established that Jay maintained a constant, super-fast vibration, even when standing still. While his face looks normal to readers, that’s not how it appears to other comic book characters. Someone could look right at him, and all they’d see is a blur. The second Flash, Barry Allen, used a similar trick in Flash #218 to hide his identity when he was unmasked.
13. Barry Allen Grew Up Reading About Jay Garrick In Comic Books
Barry Allen, the second Flash, was a ginormous comics nerd. The first time readers saw Barry, he was reading about Jay in Flash Comics #13 — something unusual in an age when comics were strictly kids stuff. A few moments later, a lightning bolt struck the lab and toppled a rack of chemicals onto Barry. When he discovered the accident had charged him with super-speed, he assumed the name of his favorite superhero, the Flash.
When DC finally brought back Jay in Flash #123, the explanation was that Barry and Jay existed on parallel worlds, later named Earth-One and Earth-Two. The Earth-One Gardner Fox (the name of the real-world Flash Comics writer) was psychically plugged into Earth-Two. What he thought were his own stories were actually events from Jay’s life. A later Flash story established that writers in the “real” world — Earth-Prime in DC’s multiverse — got their ideas the same way.
12. Jay Helped Stop Germany From Defeating England In WW II
Flash was a founding member of the Justice Society of America, comics’ first super team. When the JSA debuted in 1940’s All-Star Comics #3, it was an already established group, no origin provided. Almost forty years later, when DC decided to reprint the JSA’s origin, it was realized that nobody had ever written one. In DC Special #29, that finally changed.
In 1940, President Roosevelt learned Germany was about to invade England. Roosevelt knew the American people wouldn’t support going to war in Europe, so he turned to America’s “masked mystery men” as they were known. Flash, Green Lantern, and Batman were among the heroes tasked with stopping Hitler’s Operation Sea Lion. The mission rapidly became way more complicated, requiring more heroes to step in. It culminated with the mystery men fighting to stop not only the invasion but a squadron of Valkyries carrying a doomsday bomb from attacking Washington DC. After the threats to both England and the US were squelched, the heroes decided to stay together as a team, and a legend was born.
11. The Flash’s Deadliest Enemy Was A Lawyer
No, Clifford “the Thinker” Devoe (the smoker in the image above) never tried to sue the Flash. His career as a rising star in Keystone City’s DA’s office was over before Flash came along. After mobster Hunk Norvock’s dirty tactics ruined Devoe’s supposedly airtight case against him, Devoe threw in the towel. Figuring the good guys couldn’t win, he convinced Norvock to put him on retainer: if the mob boss had an insoluble problem, the brainy attorney would think of a way out.
Eventually, Devoe eliminated his employer and took over the mob. All that remained to secure his power was to take out Keystone’s new hero, the Flash. Devoe thought that would be easy — after all, the Scarlet Speedster couldn’t possibly be as fast as people claimed, could he?
After getting out of jail, the Thinker came back for several more battles with Jay, in addition to battling the JSA as part of the Injustice Society. In the Silver Age, he used a “thinking cap” to give himself psionic powers, making him a tougher foe. Old age eventually sent Devoe to his grave, but his fine mind survived as a computer intelligence, thinking up new ways to give Keystone City and Wally West’s Flash some grief.
10. After The Golden Age Ended, Jay Retired For A Decade
These days, it seems almost unthinkable for a superhero to quit unless they’re physically incapacitated or dead. But at the end of the Golden Age, Jay and his fellow JSA-ers hung up their hats, married, and settled into everyday lives. Jay’s final adventure was the Justice Society’s final case (1951’s All-Star Comics #57), after which he and Joan tied the knot.
Retiring explained why Earth-One’s Gardner Fox stopped writing Flash stories — there were no adventures to tune his brain to (in the real world, low sales did the Flash in — nice to think he was more successful on Earth-One). It might also reflect that Gardner Fox’s generation saw millions of American soldiers come home from WWII and return to civilian life; why not have the JSA do the same?
Years later, writer Paul Levitz decided that wasn’t a good enough reason for the team to quit. In Adventure Comics #466, readers learned the Justice Society had been caught up in the anti-communist witch hunts of the 1950s. A congressional committee demanded the JSA reveal their identities to prove there were patriotic Americans behind those masks. Instead, the Flash and the other heroes retired with their secrets intact.
9. The Story That Brought Jay Back Was Written In Response To An Artist’s Challenge
For Silver Age Flash editor Julius Schwartz, the seed for a good story was a good cover: come up with a striking cover image, then shape a story to fit it.
Flash artist Carmine Infantino has told interviewers he liked to torment Schwartz by drawing cover images Julie and his writers (Fox, John Broome) couldn’t possibly turn into a story. One of which was a cover with Barry-Flash and Jay-Flash both rushing to save a man. “I created the cover with the two Flashes figuring there was no way he could create a story around that.” After all, how could they use Jay if he was a comic book character and Barry was the Flash?
To Infantino’s surprise, no sooner had he returned home than Schwartz called to say he and Fox had figured it out, though not easily. The second S2 episode of CW’s Flash pays tribute to the story, both by reusing the title, “Flash of Two Worlds,” and by replicating the cover scene pictured above.
8. A One-Shot Enemy Of Jay Garrick Later Became So Popular He Got His Own Comic
When the Shade appeared in Flash Comics #35, he was a typical gimmick villain using a darkness generator for crime. Nothing special, but in comics, “nothing special” can sometimes grow into something remarkable.
When Jay and Barry team up for the first time in #123, they fought the Shade as well as Jay’s chief villains, the Thinker and the Fiddler. The master of darkness returned in #151, having accessed a dark dimension that gave him much greater powers than before. He was more usable, but still not exactly an A-lister.
That came with James Robinson’s Starman series years later. Robinson had the Shade hanging his (literal) black hat in Opal City, where Starman lived, but never committing crimes there (you don’t crap where you eat). He was now an immortal dating back to Victorian times, more powerful than ever before but also elegant and dignified. Over time, the Shade became an anti-hero more than a villain, as well as an ally of Jack Knight’s Starman. With a hundred years of adventures behind him, Robinson saw potential and spun off the Shade into two limited series.
7. Villains Placed Jay, Joan And Their City In A Coma For Years
In the 1980s, DC erased its original multiverse in favor of a single universe. The erasure was retroactive, so Barry and Jay, like everyone on Earth-One and Earth-Two, had always lived on the same Earth. That made Flash #123 impossible, so how exactly did the two Flashes meet? It would seem a relatively simple fix, but Grant Morrison made it more complicated (as he often does).
In Secret Origins #50, neither Barry nor anyone else remembered Keystone City existed until he accidentally vibrated into it. He discovered the Fiddler, Thinker, and Shade had shifted Keystone into another dimension, leaving everyone in town comatose or sleepwalking. Barry revived Jay, and together, they set things right.
The story states that the villains captured the city years earlier, and it looks as if Jay and Joan stayed in a hypnotic trance the whole time. How did the Garricks even survive? What happened when the city’s food or other supplies ran out? Morrison didn’t offer any answers.
6. Barry’s Brother On The First Flash TV Show Was Named For Jay Garrick
In the CW’s Flash, Shipp plays Jay Garrick, and also played Barry’s father, who was killed off back in season 2. In the 1990 CBS Flash series, he starred as Barry Allen himself. The show only lasted one season and didn’t give viewers a Jay Garrick, but it did acknowledge him in the first episode.
Allen family patriarch Henry (M. Emmet Walsh) was a retired cop with two sons, Jay Allen (Tim Thomerson, best known for Trancers) and Barry. Both worked for the Central City PD, but Henry was very clear that in his eyes, Jay was the real cop; Barry was just a nerd playing around in a lab.
Jay didn’t even survive to the end of the premiere. His former partner Pike, a crooked cop turned outlaw, has returned to Central City as leader of the Dark Riders bike gang. Years earlier, Jay turned Pike in to Internal Affairs years, so one of Pike’s goals was to execute Jay in payback. After Jay’s death, Barry became the Flash to bring Pike to justice. In a nice touch, when Flash told Pike “You killed my brother!” the biker sneered that he’d killed many men’s brothers — could Barry be more specific?
5. Jay Ages Much Slower Than Normal People
DC and Marvel have been fudging the ages of most of their heroes for years. That doesn’t work with Jay and other Golden Age characters that have been established as crimefighters as far back as the 1940s. By the 1980s, it was obvious that the JSA members must be pushing sixty, which made their heroics harder to swallow.
In All-Star Squadron Annual #3, Roy Thomas found a solution. When time master Ian Karkull attempted to alter America’s future with a string of assassinations, the JSA stepped in and stopped his squad of killers. At the climax, the temporal energy Karkull had been drawing on showered down on the JSA and their loved ones (Joan, Lois Lane, Hawkgirl, etc.). As a result, time and age have much less effect on them than normal people. That lets Jay keep busting heads and taking names like younger generations of speedsters.
As for Karkull’s master plan, the JSA couldn’t figure it out. How could he alter the future by killing people such as B-movie actor Ronald Reagan? Or PT boat Commander John F. Kennedy? It was a long time before they knew.
4. The Three Stooges Were Flash’s Sidekicks
Comic relief sidekicks were a Golden Age staple. Green Lantern had cab driver Doiby Dickles, Wildcat had PI Stretch Skinner, and even Plastic Man, a comical character himself, had petty crook Woozy Winks. Jay Garrick? He had the Three Stooges.
Okay, not officially, but the Stooges were the obvious inspiration for the “Three Dimwits,” as Winky Moylan, Blinky Boylan, and Noddy Toylan became known. The Dimwits had never succeeded at anything, so in All-Flash #5, they decided to give crime a shot. Jay realized they were far more moronic than villainous, so he set them back on the right path. He might have been better off sending them to jail. Their harebrained schemes invariably caused him trouble, whether they were opening up a gateway into fairyland or becoming professional wrestlers. Apparently, the Stooges’ peculiar appeal worked in comics too: the Dimwits clocked more than 50 appearances before the end of the Golden Age, including several solo adventures.
3. Jay Debuted In Flash Comics…But It Wasn’t A Flash Comic Book
Superheroes in the Golden Age didn’t usually get their own comics. Nobody knew what would sell, so it was safer to stick heroes in anthologies. That way if they weren’t popular, the publisher could swap them out for someone who was. Superman and Batman started out in Action Comics and Detective Comics respectively, then graduated into Superman and Batman based on high sales.
So it was with the Golden Age Flash. When he started, he shared Flash Comics with multiple other characters, most notably the Golden Age Hawkman, another A-lister of the era. In its long run, the series also featured other mystery men (the King, the Whip), comic relief (Johnny Thunder), and two-fisted adventurers (Cliff Cornwall).
Within a year of his debut, Jay did get his own book, the quarterly All-Flash. He also appeared in Comics Cavalcade, Big All-American Comic Book, and in the first two issues of All-Star Comics before it became the JSA’s book.
2. The Flash Became So Popular That The Justice Society Dropped Him
Flash’s popularity brought him his own comic book, but it also got him retired from the Justice Society.
In the 1940s, the JSA series was seen as a good way to promote second-stringers who didn’t have their own books. When the Justice Society began its adventures in 1940, that included Flash and Green Lantern, along with Dr. Fate, the Spectre, the Sandman, the Atom, Hawkman, and Hourman.
A year and a half later, Flash had his own book, so the JSA relegated him to “honorary status” in All-Star #6. He made a couple of cameo appearances after that, but he didn’t play a major role in an adventure until #25. The All-Star Companion suggests internal DC politics led to Starman and Spectre getting yanked from the team, so bringing Flash and Green Lantern — another “honorary” member with his own book — back into action helped fill out the roster. Flash continued with the team until the collapse of the superhero boom turned All-Star Comics into All-Star Western. It ran for ten years under that name, which was good for DC’s bottom line, but disappointing for JSA fans who were suddenly stuck with cowboys.
1. Flash Revealed His Identity To The World Because Of A Writer’s Error
In the mid-seventies, the JSA finally got its own series again. DC revived All-Star Comics, starting the numbering from right after the JSA departed and ignoring the western years. In one of the early issues, after Flash narrowly survives a battle with Vulcan, the Son of Fire, Joan rushes up and leaps into his arms, calling him by his first name. In front of dozens of people. Which wasn’t at all in character for someone as savvy to secret identity games as Joan.
There was no deep meaning to what happened: Gerry Conway, the writer of the issue, had simply slipped up in writing as if Jay’s identity were public. So a couple of years later, DC retroactively decided it was. In DC Special #11, Jay, Wally, and Barry join forces against Gorilla Grodd. Jay’s section of the story emphasizes that he’d decided a while back to dispense with maintaining two identities. Joan didn’t give anything away, because everyone already knew. It fit perfectly with a guy who has always been one of the most grounded of his generation’s superheroes.
Do you know of any other fast facts (sorry) about the original Flash, Jay Garrick? Let us know in the comments.