The Flash debuted as the cover feature in the first issues of Flash Comics, but he was only one of five new characters in that book. His popularity lead to him getting his own comic, but as Flash Comics already existed, he wound up with the awkwardly titled All-Flash as his solo book.
Jay Garrick was a college student working on a hard water experiment. He was not the most diligent student, he took a smoke break and unwittingly knocked some of the chemical apparatus over. The fumes overpowered him, and he passed out, waking in a hospital bed. Jay discovered that he had gained a speeded-up nervous system as a result of the accident, and in the first issue saves his girlfriend Joan and her father, a retired army major, from Sieur Satan and the Faultless Four.
Jay wore a red shirt with a lightning bolt on it, blue pants, and winged shoes and a winged helmet, making him look like a modern version of Mercury (or the FTD florist).
The series was written by Gardner Fox, and the stories are fairly serious and straightforward, but the art by E.E. Hibbard was critical to the success of the series, adding an almost slapstick feel to it. There are so many panels of characters with stunned and disbelieving expressions as Flash runs around chaotically.
Aside from running quickly, the Flash can spin so fast he becomes effectively invisible. Somehow this does not create a breeze, as he stands right next to people while spinning, and they have no idea he is there. His speed is never clocked precisely, but in issue 9 he runs 2000 miles in 3 hours. In issue 24 he gets captured and chained up, but rubs his chains together with such speed that the metal melts.
Joan Williams appears in every story, his girlfriend and confidant, aware of his identity from the beginning. Neither she nor Jay really get developed much though. We never see her father again after the first issue, and never learn anything about Jay’s life before the accident. Jay graduates from university, and gets a job at Chemical Research Incorporated, but we never see him at work, or anyone else from the laboratory. Joan gets a job as Defense Coordination Secretary in Flash 25, investigating gangland influence in the munitions industry, but only for that one story.
In All-Flash 5 he gets sidekicks, in a way. Winky, Blinky and Noddy are three somewhat shady wanna-be inventors, who accidentally create things that work: a personality-switching ray in All-Flash 6’s “The Ray That Changed Men’s Souls,” and an invisibility vitamin in All-Flash 12’s “Tumble In to Trouble.” Blinky hypnotizes himself into gaining super-strength in All-Flash 13’s “The Muscleman, the Djinn, and the Flash.” Most of their appearances, as you may have guessed, were in the pages of All-Flash. Unlike the Superman and Batman solo books, All-Flash tended to run full-length stories, rather than having four shorter ones, and Winky, Blinky and Noddy helped expand the stories out to their desired length.
The gambler Deuces Wilde would also become a minor supporting character in the Flash series, again appearing in All-Flash, issues 10 and 14. Deuces Wilde is the only positive portrayal of a gambler I have come across in 1940s stories so far.
The Justice Society of America make an appearance in the first issue of All-Flash, rewarding him with his own book, as Johnny Thunder excitedly points out that he will be taking the Flash’s spot on the team. The rule at this time was that Justice Society members had to move to honourary membership when they got their own series, but Green Lantern, Hawkman, Dr. Fate, the Sandman, the Spectre, the Atom and Hourman all rejoice at the Flash’s success.
Four of the Flash’s major villains also debut in this era.
The Monocle appears in All-Flash 1, a criminal with upper-class pretensions, he has his men steal jewels that he uses in his “garden of gems.” He does have the wit to use a strobe light against the Flash, making it easier for his goons to see the hero, though it doesn’t help much overall. The Monocle does not return until the 1980s.
The Shade debuts in Flash Comics 33’s “The Man Who Commanded the Night.” He wears all black, with a top hat and black glasses, though in this story he has long white hair. He had created a machine that spreads darkness throughout the city, a blackness that absorbs all light, but arms his men with special guns that shoot a reflective dust so they can see.
Rag Doll is a circus contortionist who turns to crime in Flash Comics 36, “The Tale of the Treasure Hunt.” As with the Shade, there is no hint of the character development that would come later, these are just simple, straightforward bad guys.
The Thinker makes two appearances in the era, and even has his true name, Clifford DeVoe, revealed at the end of his first story, All-Flash 12’s “Tumble in to Trouble.” In this story he has spent ten years working out crimes in elaborate detail, accounting for all possible scenarios, at least until the Flash shows up and messes up his schemes.
He returns in All-Flash 14’s “The Man Who Unleashed the Past,” which is easily my favourite story from this era. It opens with Winky, Blinky and Noddy at the offices of DC Comics, discovering that All-Flash 14 has not been finished, and taking over the writing and drawing of the series. The Thinker cons them into believing they have created a machine that pulls creatures from the past into the present, but that’s inconsequential compared to characters escaping situation by breaking panel boundaries, Winky,Blinky and Noddy asking Gardner Fox and E.E. Hibbard for help in catching the Thinker, and editor Sheldon Mayer freaking out over where the story is going. Doiby Dickles almost helps them fight the bad guys until Green Lantern pops in points out that they are in the wrong comic.
Those who know the Barry Allen Flash may see some foreshadowing here of the use of editor Julius Schwartz in stories from the 60s and 70s, and there are a number of elements that would return in much later stories – alternate dimensional versions of the Flash and his friends and foes, as well as time travel, but none of it is dealt with very seriously. Jay Garrick always has a big smile and a cheerful insouciance when fighting crime.
The Flash continues in the Late Golden Age
A few of the Flash’s major foes appeared in this early part of his run. The Monocle, The Shade, Rag Doll
Flash: Flash Comics 1 – 55 (Jan 40 – July 44)
All-Star Comics 1 – 2 (Summer – Fall 40)
All-Flash 1 – 15 (Summer 41 – Summer 44)
Comic Cavalcade 1 – 7 (Winter 42 – Summer 44)