Jay Garrick was the first Flash of the DC Universe. Debuting (appropriately enough) in the pages of Flash Comics #1 in 1939, he was a founding member of the first superhero team in history with the Justice Society of America, proved so popular he earned a solo book (with the quaintly 1940s title of All-Flash), and ran laps around every other speedster in comics until 1951 when he and most other superheroes not named Superman, Batman, or Wonder Woman were quietly put out to pasture in favor of romance, horror, crime, and war titles. Jay was replaced by the sleeker, more jet-age friendly Barry Allen in 1956, and in an era where kids were still expected to outgrow the comics of their youth, it seemed that Jay was destined to become a forgotten relic of comics history.
But you can’t keep a character with Jay’s jaunty, Mercury-helmeted flair down, and by 1961 the character returned for regular team-ups with Barry. The explanation for his absence became the lynchpin of the entire concept behind DC’s famed multiverse. You can make the argument that 1985’s Crisis on Infinite Earths by Marv Wolfman and George Perez, still the greatest superhero crossover of all time, and its recent wildly successful TV adaptation, only exist because of Jay Garrick. Over the next 50 years, Jay became something of a superheroic elder statesman, offering fatherly advice to speedsters like Barry Allen, Wally West, and Bart Allen in the pages of The Flash, while mentoring other young heroes in the pages of JSA.
But the original version of Jay was removed from continuity at the start of DC’s New 52 era in 2011, and it seemed that DC Comics was ready to sweep Jay and his Justice Society of America compatriots under the rug in favor of adventures focusing primarily on Barry Allen and the Justice League. But just as surely as Krypton’s red sun will rise in the morning (wait, no…that’s a terrible and inappropriate comparison), DC continuity will always evolve, and after 2016’s Rebirth restored the legacy of the Flash family, long an essential part of the Flash mythos, it seemed inevitable that Jay Garrick would return.
But it took another full year before Jay finally showed up in The Flash by Joshua Williamson and Howard Porter. Jay’s return took place in The Button, a tale which saw Batman and Barry Allen picking up the threads of Rebirth that would eventually lead to Geoff Johns and Gary Frank’s Doomsday Clock. Jay only made the briefest of appearances, emerging from the Speed Force to the confusion of a Barry Allen who didn’t yet remember a character who once meant so much to him (and readers). Since then, the Justice Society made their triumphant return thanks to the events of Doomsday Clock, and Barry spent some time with Jay and the JSA thanks to “The Justice-Doom War” story in the pages of Justice League.
And now we’re about to get our first Jay Garrick solo adventure in over a decade, as part of The Flash #750, an 80-page giant anniversary celebration that will celebrate the history of the Scarlet Speedster and lay the groundwork for what’s to come. We spoke with writer Joshua Williamson, who has been steering the adventures of the Flash and friends for nearly four years, about what it was like to finally spend some quality time with the Flash who started it all.
Den of Geek: How did you envision Jay’s voice? You’ve written the entire Flash family, so how do you make Jay’s voice distinct within that?
Joshua Williamson: It’s interesting with Jay because I’m writing a different version of him. Because the version of Jay that I’ve always heard in my head was always Geoff Johns’ version from his Flash run or from JSA. That’s always the one that I’ve heard as this sort of elder statesman who was wise and kind of saw the world with a different perspective. He was, I don’t want to say slowing down, but he just had kind of this older … wiser point of view on things than Wally did. He wasn’t quite like Barry, because Barry was always calm and measured. Barry’s always sort of suffering and kind of tragic because of the things that happened in his past and always kind of lost in his head, whereas Jay’s not like that. Jay is not lost in his head. I think Jay kind of tells it like it is. I think he’s a little more of a straight arrow.
So one thing I thought about was how this version of Jay that I’m writing is not the “learned” version of Jay. It is not the one that went through all this crazy stuff and now is at the other end of it and is kind of a little more seasoned. This is the Jay that has only been the Flash for a little bit. But even if you go back and you read those old classic stories, he still even then was a little more measured. There was a little bit of a humor to him, a little bit of a smirk. It was a little different. So I really approached it from all of that. I kind of put all of that into a pot and just kind of started stirring them in my head. The hard thing was making sure he didn’t sound like Barry. I don’t want him to just be another Barry.
There is a line of dialogue in there that makes me feel like he does share a certain hopeful worldview with Barry.
Yeah, I think that’s a Flash thing. It’s important to the Flash family and I wanted to make sure that was still there. That is still a part of it. And Barry was influenced by Jay. We did that thing and in The Flash: Year One we showed Barry reading those old Jay comics. I wanted to maintain the idea that Barry’s first encounter with Jay was reading those old comics. So a lot of what Barry got going into being the Flash he got from Jay and I wanted to keep that, and one of those things was that idea of maintaining hope during dark times.
That hopeful theme, and the fact it takes place in the early 1940s, makes this feel like a kind of sequel to the story that Scott Snyder and Bryan Hitch did in Wonder Woman #750. So is this supposed to kind of be the next chapter of that in a way?
I wouldn’t say the next chapter, but I would definitely say it’s in the same vein. It’s supposed to honor that story and show these things are happening and this story is moving forward. I think it’s another sign of a bigger story that we’re telling in the DC Universe that you’re going to start seeing more and more.
There’s other stories inside The Flash #750 aside from this one that kind of move a couple of things forward that you’ll see in the spring and then the summer leading into the fall. So I would say it’s not like it’s a sequel, but it is another piece of that puzzle that we’re building.
There was a moment in a recent issue of Justice League where Barry is in the 1940s with the JSA, and he tells Jay he feels like they’ve already met, but Jay doesn’t feel that way, since their first meeting hasn’t happened for Jay yet. There’s obviously coordination with you, Scott Snyder, and other DC writers. I feel like that’s happening with these JSA stories. How were these kind of divided up between everybody?
I mean, I actually wrote this Jay story before the Wonder Woman story was written. And Scott and I talk fairly frequently throughout the week and throughout the day, we bounce back and forth and kind of get on the phone or get on chat so we can talk to each other. I mean we just talked to each other. It’s that easy. We talk to each other and we discuss what we’re going to do and he knew I was going to be doing this story and then I thought he was going to be doing that story and there was a little bit of an “Oh, okay, can we connect these?” We make sure it’s all part of the thing.
Scott’s always really liked Wonder Woman and he’s always wanting to do a story with Wonder Woman in this specific area. So I think it was perfect for him. I always wanted to bring Jay in and do a hopeful story with Jay. This one Jay story you’re getting is eight pages in an 80 page book. And it’s funny…once you read all 80 pages, these eight pages are going to take on a whole new meaning for you. You’re going to look at certain things and be like “Oh, that’s what this was about.” It’ll actually start to build.
There’s a lot in those eight pages though. I was actually amazed at how much info you get into this and I feel like some of that is just because David Marquez’s art is just so clear and beautiful.
It’s so beautiful. [David] and Alejandro [Sanchez], they had never worked with each other before they started working with each other on Batman/Superman and they just clicked immediately. And it’s on fire. They worked so well together. I’m hoping they work together from now on like this. Because you look at those pages, it’s awesome. I mean that’s probably the coolest two page spread of Jay Garrick that exists is that first spread the two of them did.
Yeah! Did you suggest putting them on this story when you were conceiving it? How did that come about?
David was wrapping up Batman/Superman and he’s going to be working on some other stuff at DC. But him and I are good friends and we were talking to each other a lot, and I had been talking to him about maybe doing something Flash related, even if it’s just covers, just to keep working with him because I like him a lot. And then we knew we were doing this story and we were looking at the room we had and I was like “oh hey, there’s eight pages here.”
So yeah, before I wrote one word, I knew David was drawing the story and that definitely impacted sort of what I was thinking with it. And I think that Batman/Superman is a bit of a darker story. And so with this it was nice to kind of give David something that was a little more hopeful and bright and a little more positive. But that was all going into my head as I wrote it. Once I knew David was drawing it, then I started writing it just with him in mind.
Talk about the little tweaks that have been made to Jay’s costume, which I think are even more apparent here since we’re just seeing them so big and clear for the first time. Did you have any input on that and is there now a full blown Jay Garrick DC style guide about how this character looks across the books?
That design is almost three years old now. Jim Lee and Jason Fabok worked on that costume maybe about three years ago because we knew that Jay was going to be in The Button. So that was just the costume design they came up with during that time period, and I was in those conversations. But generally you let Jim Lee be Jim Lee, right? You let that guy go cut loose and he was working with Jason, who’s also a great designer and a great artist. So a lot of times when you’re working with those artists, you just kind of take a step back and watch and see what they come up with. I like this new design. I like all the little touches that come with it and I’m glad that we got to continue using it because we only got to see it once in The Button in one issue for a few pages. So it was cool we got to bring it back for this story.
We don’t really associate Jay with having the kind of rich rogues gallery that Barry has or even that Wally has. And here we get that one panel with Ragdoll, the Fiddler, the Shade, the Thinker, and Rival all together. So how much of that did you talk about with David? Have you started sketching out in your head the weirdness of the Keystone villains or the culture that they might have compared to the Central City Rogues?
No, I didn’t really get that deep into them. I mean I like those villains and I think they speak to that specific time period and they were great for Jay. My rule for that one panel, and I talked to David about this, was make sure they look deadly. Make sure they look cool. Make sure they look like they’re a threat. I wanted to make sure we showed that in that moment. The most important thing to that was to show a little piece of his world.
I didn’t want to get too deep into what his villains were like just yet. I really like Jay’s villains and I think there’s something really interesting to them. But right now I’m just not in a position to flesh it out as much as I would want to, but I wanted to make sure I showed them.
Why did you settle on the Thinker as the one to showcase?
Once I looked at all these villains, I looked at the visual of the Thinker. I actually really like Thinker and I’ve never used him in the book since I’ve been working on it. I went back and looked at some other stories and every time I kept coming back around to Thinker and it made sense. Because it really came down to being either him or the Fiddler. And I like Ragdoll a lot, but I just kept going back and forth with them. I just liked his visual and I liked his story and I like his character and I thought this is the best character for this moment in time to show what Jay’s going through.
What kind of research did you do for Jay? How far back did you go?
I knew the Flash pretty well even before I got the job. I could have these conversations with people and we can get deep into stuff and I can cite issue numbers. But admittedly Jay, I was a little less knowledgeable about compared to everybody else. Wally, Barry, and Bart, I knew those characters really well. I would say the pre-Crisis Jay I was not as familiar with as post-Crisis Jay. I knew post-Crisis Jay pretty well. So when I got the job on The Flash more than four years ago, I started reading up on these things. The thing was that I wasn’t able to write much of Jay, so I didn’t always go back as deep. I would go to little things here and there. I was looking for stuff, especially little stuff with some of the villains.
I would say about maybe two years ago, I started reading more and more Jay books and being fascinated. When I was a kid I had this book, it’s called The Great Comic Book Heroes by Jules Feiffer. It’s this collection. It’s a hardcover that came out in the 1950s that has the origin of a bunch of heroes. There’s some Marvel, some DC, but Will Eisner’s The Spirit is also in there. It’s this really weird collection of things that are pre-Silver Age. It’s like right on the cusp of the Silver Age. And in there was Jay Garrick’s origin story [From Flash Comics #1 in 1940] and that was my first encounter with Jay even as a little kid. I knew who the Flash was. But my first real story I read with any Flash was probably the Jay one. I’ve always been fascinated by his origin in that first issue. So whenever I go back, I always go back to that first issue, because everything you need to know about a lot of these characters you can get from the first issues of the books.
I kept reading that first issue and figuring out more and more about Jay from that, and then gradually read a few things here and there. I’ve almost read all of them at this point. I just don’t know as much about him as some of the other Flashes. I mean he was on the book for over a hundred issues. He was the Flash! In preparation for the story I made sure I read that first one again because we’re kind of building out this new sort of mythology with him a little bit. As you can kind of see I’m trying to make sure I honor the character. I always come back around to that. I make sure I honor the character and what has happened and never negate or go against something, just add new levels to it. So that was really my priority was going back and just seeing those key things with his character and how I can make it so I can honor that and just continue to add the Flash mythology.
The Flash #750 arrives on March 4.