A Tribute to the of

Did you know that "The Fastest Man Alive" was first known as "The Fastest Thing on Earth?"  Did you further know that The Flash, who shares both those descriptors, at least in the Golden Age, shared his first appearance in 1940 with Hawkman, Hawkgirl and Johnny Thunder?  All these along with The Whip and Cliff Cornwall first showed up in Flash Comics #1 from January of 1940, meaning our crimson comet, in all his forms and despite a hiatus between 1951 and 1955 is celebrating his 65th birthday this year and since we've devoted some of our space this year to saluting the 70th anniversary of DC Comics, it's time to delve into the origin of the original version of The Flash.

The story comes to us courtesy of the immortal Gardner Fox and Harry Lampert. Cover art penciled and inked by Sheldon Moldoff. (Alex Ross executed a stunning recreation for the 27th edition of The Overstreet Comic Book Price Guide published in 1997.) Editorial supervision by M. C. Gaines and Sheldon Mayer.  Let's see what this untitled debut looks like.

The text on the first page sets the stage:  "Faster than the streak of the lightning in the sky…  Swifter than the speed of the light itself…  Fleeter than the rapidity of the winged Mercury…  His speed is the dismay of scientists, the joy of the oppressed—and the open mouthed wonder of the multitudes!!"

We now join Jay Garrick, "…an unknown student at Midwestern University," where he's hailing a young woman on the street named Joan.  He inquires about their date and the blonde informs him that he's a scrub on the football team and so their social future is in dire straits.  She says that a man of his build and brains could be a star if he'd only put his mind to football.  She then walks off.  Determined to prove himself, Jay tries to apply his talents more fully on the field, but still can't seem to pull it off.  Back in the lab, however, Jay's true genius shines.  He is currently into his fourth year of studying the gases emanating from "hard water" and is burning the midnight oil to separate the elements.  Finally at 3:30 in the morning, he takes a smoke break (tsk, tsk…) and inadvertently leans into the glass receptacles, causing them to shatter onto the laboratory floor.  He attempts to clean them up, but is soon overcome by the fumes emanating from the broken containers and isn't found until the next morning by Professor Hughes.  He is taken to the hospital, where he hovers between life and death for weeks until finally reviving.

In another part of the hospital, a physician is discussing some tests with Professor Hughes.  Their data indicates that Jay's exposure to "hard water" will result in his ability to walk, talk and think swifter than thought itself and that he'll be able to outrace a bullet.  The predictions soon come true as he spots the lovely Joan and races down to see her, seemingly appearing from thin air.  She convinces him to play in the state football game, hanging the promise of the dance over his head and he finds himself warming the bench until one of his teammates is injured.  He's soon blowing by the opposing team and putting points all over the board.  Between signals he even runs into the bleachers to speak with Joan.  His incredible speed is a confirmed fact.

Soon it's cap and gown time and the graduate accepts a position as an assistant professor at Coleman University in New York.  He soon notes that there are crimes going on that may require his help.  In the next panel we see the uniform that we first glimpsed on the splash page (and of course the cover) along with this text:  "That night, the gangsters are visited by a figure clad in the wings of Mercury…a human bolt of lightning…The Flash!"

Later, we see Jay at Coleman University, engaging in a one-man game of tennis.  A man and woman approach and the man is aghast at the spectacle, while the blonde-haired woman, Joan Williams, recognizes her old classmate Jay.  After getting his attention, Joan explains to Garrick that her father has been kidnapped, and she is seeking his assistance.  In the next fateful moment, a black sedan pulls up and opens fire on Joan, but the fleet-footed Flash, in civvies, averts the drive-by shooting by catching the bullet in mid-air.

We now switch scenes to another part of town where a trio of evil men is conspiring.  The driver of the car enters and announces that Joan Williams is dead.  A bald, goateed man announces that he, Sieur Satan (really!) predicts that Joan's father will divulge the secret base of the atomic bombardier.  Another man, Serge Orloff, offers further leverage through his surgical skills to revive Joan if her father will crack.  The third henchman, Duriel, proceeds to where Mr. Williams is being held.  It's a room completely composed of mirrors, designed to drive the incarcerated mad.  Williams refuses to share any information, despite his daughter's fate.  Returning to the room, the men continue to plot as the value of the atomic bombardier to foreign nations would equate to a million dollars per country.  I imagine in 1940 that was a much more formidable sum.  The man who had originally announced Joan's death has an idea.  He'll use his day job as an undertaker to bring Joan's body here and use it to force her father's sharing of his information.  That night the dark figure shows up at the Williams residence and runs into Jay Garrick, asking him if he knows of the dead girl.  Garrick responds with Joan's name and the man confirms that she is the one, that she'd had an accident earlier today.  Jay finds this remarkably suspicious, but at that moment, Joan arrives, causing the man to depart quickly.  When Jay fills her in, she says he must be one of the Faultless Four.  "Three months ago, Daddy received a card signed "The Faultless Four" asking for his secret bombardier…he wouldn't tell them the elements…so they kidnapped him…they have great power…all of them are brilliant scientists!!"  Jay announces that it looks like work for the Flash and promptly disappears.

We rejoin our hero in uniform and racing along the street in search of the undertaker's sedan.  He soon spots it as it pulls into an apartment courtyard.  Inside the apartment, the undertaker announces that Joan Williams still lives and he cannot understand it as he's never missed before.  Sieur Satan demands that he try again, but the Flash then appears and advises against it.  Duriel draws a pistol and fires it at the Crimson Comet, who plucks it out of the air.  Time for some more text from our author:  "How does the Flash stop a bullet in flight without suffering injury to himself?  Explanation:  His process of thought and action due to his inhalation of the hard-water gases have been so quickened that he has the speed of light itself!  As a result, he can easily match the speed of a bullet…when two bodies travel along together at equal speed, even though they meet, there is absolutely no friction—and therefore no injury!"  The Flash then disappears from the room and the agitated kidnappers try to locate him before he gets to their prisoner.  Jay has been searching at super speed and soon spots a trapdoor.  Sure enough, the door leads to the mirrored prison and Major Williams is extracted.  Garrick has the old man hang onto his neck while he races away to safety, too fast to be seen by the naked eye.  Soon a joyous reunion occurs at the Williams home when Flash delivers him into the arms of his daughter.  Not resting on his laurels, though, the Fastest Thing on Earth hurries back to the enclave of the Faultless Four to try and hear their plans.  He soon learns that they've schemed a plot for Coney Island Beach the next day that will enable them to create a diversion, allowing the recapture of Williams and his daughter.  Jay decides to lie in wait and use their plan to put them away for good.

The next day a single prop airplane flies over the crowded beach and begins firing rounds from a machine gun.  Jay swiftly removes his civilian clothes and springs into action as The Flash.  He again uses his tremendous speed to pluck each round harmlessly from the air.  The pilot realizes his plan is futile and flies off.  Garrick is next seen maneuvering between traffic at high speed until he arrives at the Williams home to make sure they're safe.  He then swiftly makes his way back to the hideout of the Faultless Four.  He arrives to confront them, while Sieur Satan slips out a side door and throws a switch, causing his three partners in crime and the Flash to be electrocuted.  To his surprise and dismay he turns to see the Crimson Comet standing safely beside him.  Satan makes a mad dash for his car and tries to escape behind the power of its motor, but our hero runs alongside and announces that he, too, shall die, even as his partners, Duriel, Orloff and Smythe have.  The criminal cannot take the strain and crashes through the guardrail, plummeting to the ground many feet below and his doom.

In the final two panels, Jay is a guest at the Williams home where the Major is raving about the Flash and how wonderful he is while asking Joan if she knows him.  She serves Jay a drink and winks as they clink their glasses together and seal their secret pact.

This classic tale was published originally not under the banner of DC Comics, but their sister organization, All-American Comics.  The two companies merged in 1944, but up to that point shared distribution and promoted one another's titles, so the line of demarcation was minimal at best.  One little bit of trivia I wanted to share was that the origin of Hawkman, who I mentioned also made his debut in this issue, came about, according to his creator, when Gardner Fox was stuck for ideas one day (as hard as that might be to believe given his prolific contributions to the genre for decades) when a bird flew by his window, inspiring him to create a bird-based hero.  I couldn't help but think of a bat flying into an open window, inspiring a brooding Bruce Wayne to base his alter ego on that flying creature.  The art for this story was a bit primitive, of course and the storyline somewhat simplistic.  I was a little surprised that Jay was so open with his abilities, too, when so many of his contemporary heroes kept their uniformed identities a very guarded secret.  Still, great things were to come from this debut of the Flash.

Much like his partner in the Justice League, Green Lantern, The Flash has been several men behind the name, beginning, of course, with Jay Garrick, then as Barry Allen in our beloved Silver Age and finally, when Marv Wolfman decided to kill Barry off, as Wally West, Barry's nephew and the erstwhile Kid Flash.  No matter who you put into the uniform, however, the Flash, like so many of Gardner Fox's creations, has legs (pun intended) and has endured the test of time.  Happy Anniversary, Scarlet Speedster!  May you have many more to come.

Our next edition of the Silver Age sage will be available at a PC near you in about two weeks.  As always, the webmaster and I thank you for your interest, patronage and feedback, which can always be submitted to professor_the@hotmail.com.  Drop a line anytime and until then…

Long live the Silver Age!

© 2000-2005 by B.D.S.

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