Friday, October 9, 2015

Crash Flash Course on "Who is Jay Garrick" -- Ironically, the Fastest Blog I've Ever Written!

I'm a longtime Flash Fanatic, a Speed Force Enthusiast since I first laid eyes on a four-color panel of the Flash over forty years ago. So naturally, I've got cartoon hearts for eyes when it comes to the current TV series: THE FLASH. In an era of comic book movies with dimmed color palettes and an overload of morose brooding -- it's a show that remembers that DC Comics was also about fun and wonder. It may not be the best series on TV, but it's certainly the one I look most forward to seeing week after week -- as well as chatting about with an equally colorful cast of characters on a podcast I co-host.

I saw someone wondering about "who was Jay Garrick" on a Facebook page, and as I was typing up a rather wordy response -- I realized this deserved to be a blog rather than a post. Now, I'm not gonna get too crazily technical or get bogged down in confusing minutia (hopefully), because this is meant for the non-comic book geeky who wanna know a little something about Jay Garrick — and to explain that, one has to give a crash course on the history of DC Comics as a whole. 

In terms of comic book history (or any other kind), Jay Garrick is the original Flash, created way back in 1940. A college kid who got his speed powers from inhaling "hard water vapors" [what, being hit by a bolt of lightning and splashed with chemicals is MORE believable?], Jay Garrick had his own solo adventures as he whizzed around Keystone City as well as being a founding member in the first “super-team” of all comics — the legendary Justice Society of America. But those Golden Age All-Star adventures ended by 1951, and it seemed as though the world would never see characters like the Flash again…

…until 1956, when DC Comics decided to reinvent the superhero genre once again (for the years in-between, the only superheroes still around were Superman, Batman & Wonder Woman). The first character they recreated was — the Flash, only this time he was police scientist Barry Allen living in Central City. Dressed in a far sleeker (and aerodynamic) outfit, he was the first of the new Silver Age of heroes in comic books.

A few years later, after DC had created all-new versions of characters such as Green Lantern, Hawkman and the Atom as well as a brand new super-team for this generation (of course, it was the Justice League of America), longtime readers were wondering whatever happened to those beloved heroes from the 40s. So a plan was hatched to give both the older fans and the new blood a thrill by finding a way to bring back those early incarnations. 

But how could they explain this? This being the age of science fiction, fantasy and wonder — DC hit upon the idea that the Golden Age characters from the 40s…were actually on a parallel Earth. They named it Earth-2 (although technically, many have long joked it SHOULD have been Earth-1), where all those slightly older heroes and villains still existed. DC also retroactively drew a line in the sand for their existing trinity of heroes (Batman, Superman & Wonder Woman) — indicating that up to a certain point, the universes in those ongoing books had “changed” (for example, now you were suddenly following the adventures of the Earth-1 Batman with the yellow oval around his bat-symbol as opposed to the original Earth-2 Batman sans oval in the previous issue).

The first re-introduction to any of these characters came in The Flash. In fact, I believe they even hit upon the idea that the heroes from yesteryear had seeped into the consciousness of Earth-1 and had actually appeared in comic books there — so one of Barry Allen’s inspirations to be the Flash — was the old Flash stories he read as a child. Anyway, in the classic tale “Flash of Two Worlds” — Jay Garrick bridges the gap between the two worlds (it’s really not important how this happens — though it would occur time and time again afterwards), and Barry got to meet Jay. After that, the two Flashes would occasionally pop up on each other’s worlds, and every year, members of the JSA would meet up with the JLA in a much beloved annual event (the titles of many of those stories invariably used the word “Crisis”).

After Earth-2, another parallel world was discovered that only featured villainous semi-dopplegangers (it also turned out the one hero was a man named Alexander Luthor) — so that planet was named Earth-3. And every time DC Comics got the rights to a new selection of characters from a former competitor (such as Charleston Comics or Fawcett Comics) — they’d just add another Earth to the mix…as well as any other weird or alternate reality — implying there were dozens, maybe hundreds of parallel Earths. 

This went on for about 25 years, until one of the biggest events in comic book history hit the stands: the Crisis on Infinite Earths — where DC essentially said “OK, that’s enough of that” and wiped out almost all the Earths and a number of characters as well. This Crisis is the one that headline kept teasing viewers about in Season 1 of The Flash. Let’s just say…the Flash played a major part in it.

Of course, DC’s way of fixing things only caused more problems, and they’ve been trying to undo this ever since. I won’t bore you with the insane number of events and changes that have taken place over the past 30 years — beyond saying they’ve went and reestablished a multiverse all over again. Much like most killed-off characters on comic books, nothing ever stays dead or destroyed forever. Fun fact — at one point, both Barry Allen and Oliver Queen were dead — and later brought back. 

Now I hear there’s been a new younger Jay Garrick in the past few years (which I prefer to ignore), but I’m 99.9% certain the Jay we’re going to be seeing on the show is a version of the one who was wearing that helmet for over 70 years. He’s the first Flash, the Golden Age Flash, the Earth-2 Flash. Whether he was in a kid's comic book or the hero he met and fought alongside, Jay Garrick was both an inspiration and a mentor to Barry Allen. Easily one of the most beloved characters of his era, every Flash fan hooted and hollered when we saw his "Mercury by way of the first World War" helmet spinning out of that wormhole last season — and we hope this TV version of Jay can carry the mantle of the Crimson Comet with panache and pride.