The Planet of Sport and The Rival Flash!

I’ve been reading the Flash 75th Anniversary book, which contains four solo Jay Garrick Flash stories from the 1940s. Nice!

 AllFlash31The Planet of Sport – Bread and circuses for the alien masses. Jay Garrick and Joan Williams are escorting a pair of (unnamed) Olympic champions around the Keystone City zoo, when the four of them are teleported to an alien planet named Strobos. Jaxo, the leader, is trying to keep himself in power by finding people to fight his champions in the arena. He was only after the two athletes, so both Jay and Joan were in the wrong place at the wrong time. But that’s not a problem, because Jay puts on his Flash outfit and saves both men. The wrestler was fighting an ape-like creature, while the fencer was fighting a four-armed alien swordsman (did George Lucas steal the idea of General Grevious and his four arms from this?). Jaxo is able to see the Flash move using special glasses, and there’s a nice panel demonstrating Flash’s speed with about 12 images of him all around the alien. While not too innovative as a depiction of speed these days, that’s not something we saw much of from artist E. E. Hibbard in the early days. Speaking of which, he was drawing the Flash in 1940, and was still doing so in 1947, so that’s a pretty good run for an artist on the same character, then or now.
Flash ends up in a race with Jaxo, who sets numerous traps along the course, as well as racing mounted while Jay is on foot. The prize is Joan’s life. Flash overcomes the traps, but falls into the final one even as he wins the race, and Jaxo promises to leave him on display while the others die in the arena. Jay pulls a very Barry Allen-like move to escape a glass cell and defeats Jaxo and release the prisoners. The Strobos aliens agree to send them all home.

Overall: It’s amusing that the two Olympians don’t even get names. They only exist as a plot device to get the Flash to the alien planet so he can be put through his paces. It’s a fun little action adventure story of the kind so common in the 40s. And it’s a nice touch to give Jaxo some solid motivation for his villainy.

Rival1The Rival Flash! – Jay Garrick’s last solo outing as the Flash introduces the first “reverse” Flash in the form of the Rival, a super-fast villain who wears a darker version of the Flash costume and a mask. The story begins by retelling how Jay got his speed in the first place, back when he was a college student, and then reveals that Joan mentioned that to one of her college friends. This becomes an issue when criminals show up moving as fast as the Flash and kidnap Professor Clariss, a former teacher at Jay and Joan’s old college, who has been living in Europe but had just arrived for a visit in America.

When Flash goes after the crooks, they’re able to capture him since they’re as fast as he is and outnumber him. He’s taken to the Rival, who mocks him and then is able to take away his speed by having reverse engineered the original formula. Jay figures out that the Rival must have a supply of the hard water somewhere in order to have duplicated his speed, and he’s able to find it and restore himself. He takes on the crooks again while they’re in the midst of robbing a bank, where he learns that the Rival was only able to gain temporary super speed and had to readminister the formula from time to time, due to his imperfect understanding of the process. With only two suspects, it’s no surprise when the Rival turns out to be Dr. Clariss. He’s questioned about the identity of the Flash, and he supposes that someone had beaten him to the hard water that granted speed by sneaking into the lab after Garrick was taken to the hospital. Jay breathes a sigh of relief that his secret id is still safe.

Clariss would make a return appearance in the pages of JSA while Geoff Johns was writing that book. According to that story, he had regained his speed months later and ended up in a battle with Jay and trapped in the Speed Force, which really messed with his sanity. He also turns up in an alternate reality storyline during Wally West’s Flash series as the abusive husband to Joan Williams, who married him after Jay was killed in WW2. Clariss is considerably older than both Jay and Joan in his original appearance, so I don’t know how that would work, but regardless… Captain Cold kills him in that alternate reality.

Overall: with so much of the 1940s Flash unavailable to read, I can’t say for certain that this is the first time he ever faced opponents as fast as himself. But it’s definitely the first “evil Flash” storyline, many years before Eobard Thawne would first appear. As a “whodunnit” it’s not much of a mystery, though there’s no real reason to suspect Clariss over Joan’s old classmater until the final reveal. And revisiting Jay’s origin in his final issue makes a nice bookend to his series, bringing it back to where it began, though that is inadvertent. There are five unpublished Flash stories that have survived which would have appeared in future issues had the series continued.

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