I’ve just picked up a reprint anthology of the Flash comics from the Golden Age (1940s).
As DC afficionados know, Barry Allen wasn’t the first man to be called “The Flash”. That moniker was first bestowed on Jay Garrick, a mild-mannered college student who was lousy at football until he accidentally inhaled some distilled fumes from “hard water”.
When I first read this on the page, I couldn’t help but guffaw. Hard water?! You mean, the city water with mineral impurities that people install water softeners in their houses to fix? The scientist in the comic book claimed that “hard water makes a person act much quicker than ordinarily,” which made me wonder whether “hard water” was slang for water laced with amphetamines or something.
But it did get me to wondering. This was 1940, after all. Was there some news, or perhaps propaganda, that had come out in the late 1930s that linked hard water with improved reflexes? Was there a specific reason why the comic book writers chose hard water instead of, say, Mystery Chemical Z or a glow-in-the-dark X-ray machine?
Or, maybe they just thought ‘Hard Water’ sounded suitibly fantastic for a superheroic origin.
Remember, the other major speedster of the time got his speed by reciting the formula ‘3X2(9YZ)4A’, so Flash’s ‘Hard Water’ isn’t too out there, relatively speaking - it’s at least vague enough to not be quite so instantly obvious.
And a third speedster at the time (The Whizzer) got his powers from a transfusion of mongoose blood. Not radioactive mongoose blood or magical mongoose blood, mind you. Just any old mongoose blood will do.
No, it was hard water. Remember, it was the “fumes” that caused the change, not the water itself.
But this was in the 40s. No one cared about scientific plausibility when it came to creating superheros (and how is “heavy water” any more plausable as an origin than “hard water”? As a matter of fact, what exactly is scientifically plausible about any super-powered hero?). Plastic Man fell into a vat of acid, for instance.
True – and to some extent, that’s still true today.
What I’m wondering about is if they specifically chose “hard water” because, perhaps, hard water was a new thing that was in the news a lot in those days. Had water softeners just been invented or something?
Because heavy water is related to processing Nuclear Material, and Nuclear Material/Radioactivity can make animal grow gigantic sizes or give people super powers(being bitten by a radioactive animal can give you super powers).