THE FLASHMedium: Comic books
Published by: DC Comics
First Appeared: 1939
Creator: Gardner Fox
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The Flash sped onto the scene in the first issue of DC's Flash Comics, dated January, 1940 — but because then, as now, comic books tended to go on sale two or three
months in advance of their cover dates, it's safe to say he made his first appearance in 1939. He shared this anthology title with Hawkman, Johnny Thunder, and several other debuting stars.
He was an early jumper onto the superhero bandwagon — Superman himself had been around less than two years. And he became the progenitor of an entire genre of speedy superheroes, as, within months, his imitators started hitting the stands. They include The Whizzer, from the company that would later be known as Marvel; Quicksilver, from Quality Comics (not to be confused with the later Marvel character of that name — this one, now known as "Max Mercury", eventually became a supporting character in DC's Impulse); and DC's own Johnny Quick, a back-up series in More Fun and Adventure Comics from 1941-54. There was even a funny animal speedster — and The Terrific Whatzit actually wore a duplicate of The Flash's own costume.
The Flash had a straightforward superhero origin, written by Gardner Fox (Moon Girl) and drawn by Harry Lampert (The King). Jay Garrick, college student, had an accident in a chem lab, inhaled fumes that would undoubtedly be deadly anywhere but in a superhero comic book, and fell unconscious. When he was rescued, he found he'd gained the ability to move at blinding speed. He thereupon made himself a costume and embarked on a crime-fighting career as The Flash.
He was among DC's early hits, and a year later, in All Star Comics #3, became a charter member of The Justice Society of America. In 1942, he joined Green Lantern and Wonder Woman in headlining Comic Cavalcade, an extra-big comic reserved for extra-popular characters. When it came time to give him a comic of his own, there was a slight problem — the anthology he'd started in was already called Flash. The solution was to call his solo book All-Flash. That title ran from 1941-47.
The superhero trend eventually ran its course, and Flash Comics was retired with its 104th issue, dated Feb., 1949. By that time, All-Flash was long gone, and Comic Cavalcade had dropped the superheroes and begun featuring Nutsy Squirrel, The Fox & the Crow, and other funny animal characters. The Justice Society continued, but in 1951, it, too, disappeared.
In 1956, DC tried reviving the superhero genre, starting with The Flash. Editor Julius Schwartz took on the project with the stipulation that the character be re-built from the ground up. The new Flash also got his super speed in a chemical accident but, in a slight twist, was inspired to become a superhero by having read Flash Comics years earlier. Once he was established, superheroes began to regain their prominence in the comic book scene.
In 1961, writer Fox brought back the original, in a story called "Flash of Two Worlds", which is now considered a classic by superhero enthusiasts. He explained the fact that the original Flash was, in the context of the new version, merely a comic book character, by claiming the old stories had entered his subconscious in the form of vibrations from an alternate world, where the character's adventures were real.
This led to a wholesale revival of the Justice Society characters. Eventually, the two worlds were merged, to facilitate guest appearances in the modern characters' comics. Today, Jay Garrick is a patriarch among superheroes — aged, but still able to show those youngsters (who now include a third Flash) a thing or two about superheroing. And the way time flows in comic books, he'll probably be that way for a good while to come.