Every superhero has an origin story. Murdered parents, destroyed home world, that sort of thing. Actually, come to think of it, DC’s (arguably) biggest heroes all have origins that relate to their parents. Batman’s parents died in front of him. Superman’s parents (also dead) sent him to earth to escape their doomed planet. Wonder Woman’s mother sent her to the world of men to return Steve Trevor and defend… justice, I think? She’s had a few origins by now. Anyways, because of all that, once Marvel arrived on the scene with their sci-fi infused heroes people went nuts. It seemed so fresh and new, a hip reinterpretation of things that stemmed directly from the Atomic Age and Cosmic Radiation.
But it wasn’t quite the radical departure that popular history would lead you to believe.
You see, well before the Xs and Fours, science fiction had already changed the face of super hero comics in a major way. The Flashes have always had both feet planted in comic book pseudoscience, bending what is known about chemical and biologic sciences to create a super heroic lineage that would, time and again, impact the entirety of DC’s publishing line.
If each Flash gained their powers from science, then it goes without saying that Jay Garrick was the first. January marked the seventy sixth anniversary of the worlds first Flash, who made his debut in “Flash Comics” #1. This ten cent comic contained one of the most bat shit crazy comics stories I’ve ever read. It would be the template for Barry Allen’s origin some fifteen years later, which ultimately served to kick off the Silver Age of comics.
Originally this was just going to be a review of Jay’s origin and first appearance. But after rereading the sheer lunacy that is this story, I decided to go deep. Presented now, for your Flash Appreciation Day pleasure, is a complete annotation of “Flash Comics” #1.
Here we go, the first ever Flash story! Written by the legendary Gardner Fox, with astounding art by Harry Lampert, this comic is solid gold.
Greatest intro of all time, right? This opening page would later make mention of The Flash being ‘known and feared,’ which I found weird. ‘Who fears The Flash? He’s always been such a nice fella!’ I thought to myself. Well, we’ll come back to this later.
For now we’ve got Jay pining over his college crush Joan. He asks her to accompany him to the Victory Dance, but is quickly shot down. It turns out that Joan prefers football players over football scrubs. What the hell is a football scrub? Well, as far as I can figure, the scrub is the person who washes the football team’s clothes. Which I guess is a thing? Anyways, Joan tells Jay that he’s just an old wash woman (ouch) and that she’s already going to the dance with the captain of the football team Bull Tyron. You see, unlike Jay, Bull puts his brains and brawn towards football. And she likes that.
Also, do colleges really have dances?
Jay decides that he’ll show Joan what’s what by being on the football team, which he immediately ruins. The coach even calls him ‘leadfoot,’ which is both insulting and prescient. After making a fool of himself, Jay wanders off to the lab where he’s apparently a superstar. It’s here that we get one of my favorite panels in the issue:
Besides declaring his need for a cigarette, theres nothing really wacky or weird happening here. What I love about this panel, and the page in its entirety, is that the line work feels really bold, and there are all these spot black areas to make the lighting look super odd. And then there’s the way it’s staged: the light overhead, the brakes and other science stuff, the color, it’s all just so good. Lampert really outdid himself here, it’s stupendous panel design.
But getting on, Jay needs a smoke! And when he smokes, he gets real casual. I mean, it’s just so relaxing that he can’t help but coolly lean back onto whatever happens to be behind him. And what is behind him? It’s hard water! Watch out!Continued below
Well, clumsy ol’ Jay went and knocked over all the glass thingamajigs that have the hard water in them. So what does this brilliant scientist do? Why, bend over to pick it all up, of course. And in doing so, he just so happens to breath in some noxious hard water fumes, which kicks off my absolutely favorite Flash tradition: made up science.
After spending an entire night passed out with these vapors, Jay is discovered and rushed to the hospital. It’s here that, in a glorious bit of Golden Age storytelling, Jay goes from death’s door to perfect health in all of two panels. How? Why, his young, healthy body, of course! No further explanation needed!
Time for an exposition dump! While Jay was sick they ran twenty tests on him (twenty!) and they all came back the same: he’s going to be fast now. Even that specialist from New York agrees! What were these amazing tests? How do you figure out that once someone wakes up from a coma they’ll be super fast. ‘The gas injects him like a vaccination,’ you say? Oh, ok.
This is where they start referring to Jay as a ‘freak of science,’ which is a term that I will always and forever love. If you can’t explain someone’s new found abilities then they are a freak and you will label them as such! Meanwhile, Freaky Jay sees Joan waiting for the bus, so he rushes to her with his new super speed. Something neither Jay nor Joan seem especially surprised by. Jay then volunteers to go get Joan’s library books, giving the librarian a heart attack in the process. She appears on panel, terrified and clutching her chest, and all Jay can do is demand that he stamp her book.
It’s here that Jay, books in hand, tells Joan that he guesses he just a freak of science. Then, in the same word balloon, asks Joan again if she would go to the dance with him. Joan agrees, but only on the condition that he uses his super speed to help the school’s football team win the big game.
Joan needs to check her priorities.
Jay just killed an elderly librarian so that you can have your books, and now you’re using him to fix the game? Who are you Joan? Do you have money on this game?
Of course Jay agrees but, since the coach saw him being terrible at sports a few pages ago, is confined to the bench. This makes for another great panel:
Is that man dead? Why isn’t he on a stretcher? Doesn’t matter to Jay! All he cares about is getting in the game for Joan. Turns out that the corpse was once Bull Tyron, Joan’s original date. Since he’s out of the game, Jay’s got to fill in. It’s here that we learn that ‘Leadfoot’ is not just the coach’s nickname for him, as people in the stands start shouting it at him and praying to heaven for someone to save them.
Well, Jay cheats his ass off and gets his date with Joan. I’m going to guess that it went pretty unremarkably, because this is immediately followed by two time jumps. One to college graduation, and another to Jay after living in New York for a while.
This is where we get our first glimpse of Jay in his Flash attire. After reading a newspaper article about racketeers, Jay decides to get involved, as The Flash! Now we get a tiny little panel of the dressed up speedster.
Wanna see more Flash action? Or any Flash action? Too bad!
After that itty bitty glimpse we got of The Flash last panel, we get nothing. No action, no crime thwarting, just some perplexed gangsters vowing to go straight, and a self-satisfied Jay folding his laundry.
If I could step back for a second, the panel with the gangsters is really weird/interesting. We’re seeing what’s happening moments after The Flash did his thing. They sort of hint at what happened, but we’re left to fill it in with our imagination.
After a job well done, Jay sets off to play some tennis… against himself! Get it? Because he’s so fast? Anyway, it’s at this moment that Joan reenters Jay’s life. She’s with an unidentified man who is flabbergasted over what Jay can do. Now, how is it that Jay Garrick can use super speed in front of a stadium full of people, and no one know who he is? How can this guy possibly be unaware that there’s a man with super speed in the world? It’d be headline news!Continued below
But there’s no time to ponder any of this, because danger is about to strike!
Someone’s trying to kill Joan! Moments after a shot is fired from a moving car, Jay springs to life, catching the bullet and saving the day. It seems that someone has kidnapped Joan’s father and are now coming after her. Jay says don’t sweat it and that he’ll swing by tonight to talk more about it.
Elsewhere, the dastardly cabal who snatched Joan’s daddy are having a casual conversation about everything they’ve done. It seems that they are after his Atomic Bombarder, and will go to any length necessary to get it. They also revel that the old man is being kept in a room of mirrors, which are stealing his mind! How does that work? Doesn’t matter!
So, since their prisoner won’t talk, they bad guys decide to go with an old standby: show your captive the dead body of their child! It seems that the triggerman from earlier, Duriel, was so confident in his shooting abilities that he didn’t even look back to see if the deed had actually been done. I guess all it usually takes is a single bullet from his trusty rifle.
In order to procure Joan’s dead body, Duriel decides to pose as an undertaker and go to Joan’s apartment. Now, why her body would have been relocated to her home instead of, say, the morgue is beyond me. But, I guess that’s why I’m not a super villain. As Duriel is walking up to the home, Jay just so happens to be arriving as well. Duriel asks Jay if he knows the dead girl, which seems like bad form for an undertaker, tipping his hand just enough for Jay to figure out who he is.
Knowing that this guy must be involved in the attempt on Joan’s life, jay springs into action! And by action, I mean watching him see that Joan is still alive and leave. Why did he let him leave? ‘I let him go because I wanted to hear what you have to say,’ he tells Joan. ‘He must be one of the Faultless Four!’ Joan exclaims.
More exposioiton! Joan explains that the Faultless Four wanted to buy her father’s secret bombarder, but he declined. So they reacted the way anyone would: with kidnapping! And with that, The Flash is on the job!
Cut to the apartment that the Faultless Four share, which is adorable. They’re roomies! In barges The Flash, immediately drawing gunfire from his foes! Once again, The Flash uses his speed to pluck the bullets from the air, which gives Gardner Fox the opportunity to introduce another Flash staple: the Flash Fact!
Flash Facts are little asides that writers, particularly in the Silver Age, would take to explain away something that The Flash had just done. Sometimes the science would be sound, like in explaining how propeller arm would work, but usually they were just as made up as whatever was happening in the stories. Even though this bit of text is not labeled a Flash Fact, it is certainly the first appearance of one.
Jay finds where Joan’s after is hidden and gives him a super speed piggy back ride to safety. It’s sort of hilarious to see this mustached, older gentleman riding around on Jay’s back. Just another absurdity in the life of The Flash, right?
With Joan and her father reunited, Jay sets off to end things once and for all!
After sneaking back into the Faultless Four’s apartment, Jay hears their plan. And it’s a doozy! In order to lure the cops away from Joan and her father, the Four will fly over Coney Island in a single propeller plane while indiscriminately firing a machine gun at beach goers. This will draw the polices attention, freeing them to do dastardly deeds elsewhere. Perfect.
All of this immaculate planning considered, how could they now account for The Flash? Oh well, surprise! The Flash is there!
The Flash, again, uses super speed to catch all of the bullets. With their plan foiled, Jay chases the Faultless Four back to their apartment.Continued below
After The Flash busts in, the subtly named Satan sneaks away, throwing a switch that electrified the room The Flash and his housemates were in. His gloating is cut short when The Flash appears before him, revealing that he left the others in the room to die without him. Thoroughly freaked out, Satan takes off in his brand new car. The Flash will have none of this and, after telling Satan that he’s about to die, pushes the car off of a cliff. The best part? Jay sped ahead, using his super speed to get to the bottom of the cliff in order to get a better view of the impact.
Afterward, Jay joins Joan for drinks. I’m assuming that they toasted her black heart and his willingness to end any life necessary in order to appease his lady love.
Smoking, violence, murder, selfish heroes, this comic has all of the hallmarks of an amazing Golden Age comic. There’s a lot of wackiness from this era, but Jay Garrick’s origin may be my favorite of them.
Happy Flash Appreciation Day, everybody!