Despite what DC Comics would lead you to believe, they were publishing superhero comics before 2011. As a matter of fact, the Flash franchise dates back over 15 years prior to Barry Allen being struck by lightning in in 1956’s Showcase #4. Before Barry Allen and Wally West, there was another speedster called the Flash, and his name was Jay Garrick.
First appearing in 1940’s Flash Comics #1, Garrick was the creation of collaborators Gardner Fox and Harry Lampert. What made Jay stand apart from his fellow superheroes, specifically those at National Comics, was his science-based origins. Superman was an alien. Hawkman and Green Lantern (Alan Scott) had mystical origins, as did Wonder Woman. However, Jay gained his powers from a science experiment gone wrong, resulting in one of the earliest “Marvel-style” origins.
Though his tenure as the Flash was brief, it was bright. From 1940 to 1949, Jay Garrick headlined two titles (Flash Comics and All Flash) and was a founding member of the Justice Society of America. Alas, Garrick would fade away with many of the Golden Age characters. However, when it came time to revive the heroes of the past, it wasn’t the original Green Lantern or Sandman that would make a Silver Age splash. It was Jay, in the seminal The Flash #123.
What makes Jay’s appearance in “The Flash of Two Worlds” significant that it not only establishes the concept of the Multiverse, but it also brings the concept of legacy to DC Comics. Dimension-hopping aside, Barry Allen idolized Jay Garrick as a child, ultimately becoming a speedster and assuming the mantle of the Flash. The success of this one issue would mean more Multiverse shenanigans for DC Comics. Jay paved the way for other Golden Age characters, living on what became known as “Earth Two”, to cross over with their mainline counterparts. The an annual event in Justice League of America would see the JLA team up with the JSA to thwart an impending threat – a crisis.
And all throughout this era, Jay would continue to assist and mentor Barry until the latter would meet his end, along with the Multiverse, in Crisis on Infinite Earths. However, Jay would survive the crisis, retooled as a hero from the past that would serve as a mentor to the other speedsters of DC lore, specifically Wally West. In fact, as much as Mark Waid did in building Wally West and Bart Allen, he also did a tremendous service to Jay Garrick, giving him a prominent role in nearly every major story arc from his run. Beyond that, Jay would also serve as a core character in the acclaimed JSA and Justice Society of America titles written by Geoff Johns, David Goyer, and James Robinson.
Though he in recent years has spent life as part of an ensemble, the few times Jay has operated alone have been standouts. One issue, written by Grant Morrison and Mark Millar, sees Jay suit up to help a former foe who is suffering of a terminal illness. The Flash (Vol.2) #161 by Pat McGreal and Paul Pelletier recounts a crime-busting adventure during Jay’s honeymoon. An early arc in JSA All Stars saw Jay take on his nemesis The Rival, a speedster credited as the first Reverse Flash.
For over 75 years, Jay Garrick has served as a hero in the DC Universe, a significant part of that carrying an AARP card. As an elder statesman of the this world, he has developed and mentored characters that would go on to be legends. That alone makes him great. But that fact that he himself puts himself on the line again and again is an inspiration for all. He is a reminder that it is never too late for greatness, and that make him a legend as well.