Normal people who don’t give a shit about comic books might not know that there are actually two Flashes: one from the Golden Age, during World War II, and one from the Silver Age, which started around 1960. Actually, there are about a dozen Flashes, but to clarify this point would needlessly strengthen my contention that the Flash is a shitty superhero. So for the purposes of this writing, we will concentrate on these two Flashes.
The reason these two Flashes exist is because the character was created in 1940, and then retired after World War II in the wake of the Senator Kefauver hearings which resulted partially from Professor Fredric Wertham’s anti-superhero book Seduction of the Innocent. The character was revived in 1956 with a more modern look, essentially a red wetsuit with lightning bolts on it. Whatever Flash you’re talking about, the Golden Age Flash or the Silver Age Flash, they are both shitty. This essay will concentrate on the Golden Age Flash.
The Golden Age Flash sucks primarily because his origin is stupid. A college student named Jay Garrick is working in the chemistry lab late one night, when he pauses for a cigarette and inadvertently knocks over a bunch of glass vials and beakers which are part of an experiment to test the effects of heavy water. Here’s where the author’s lack of scientific knowledge comes into play: probably having read some article about runners who drink heavy water in order to boost their electrolyte and mineral content, the author decided that if your body was somehow infused with heavy water, why, you’d be the fastest man on earth! And with that erroneous bit of scientific mockery in place, Jay Garrick faints before the destroyed chemistry experiment and inhales heavy water fumes–yes, fumes from water–all night. This causes him to run at super speed.
Which, I should be clear, is a pretty kick-ass super power. I mean, running at close to the speed of light, that’s the stuff dreams are made of. It has all kinds of astrophysical implications, most of which will be dealt with and derided in my essay on the Silver Age Flash. I just want to make it clear that I don’t think having super speed is, itself, shitty.
So what does Jay Garrick decide to do with his new found power? Well, for one thing, he decides to cheat at football and win the affection of some co-ed he likes. However, Jay Garrick isn’t all selfish, he also chooses to use his super speed to fight crime, particularly crime which directly affects his girlfriend. To this end, he dons a superhero suit, a loose-fitting affair which was the style at the time. To disguise himself, he fucking puts on a civil defense helmet with wings. That’s all. His entire face is unobstructed and he fights crime in the same city in which he lives, yet we are expected to believe his identity is secret because he’s got a hubcap on his head. Never mind that upon discovering his ability, he ran around at super speed in front of everyone and their grandmothers. They must be amazed that there are two people with super speed in their city, and how remarkable it is that they look so much alike!
In a nutshell, that’s why the Golden Age Flash is shitty. He goes on to be one of the founders of the Justice Society of America, and fights several dozen colorful and villainous characters, but the Flash is still a shitty superhero. Not half as shitty, however, as the Flash who would take up the mantle a decade later.