Last Friday, Brian Cunningham, the editor of the DCnU Flash book posted the following on The Source: "The Flash is a single man. He’s a bachelor who has never been married." This is the first major change in the Flash history I've heard about, and it explained to me just HOW the folks at DC planned to disappear my favorite Flash (of the five Flashes who've existed in continuity since the late 1980's/early 1990's). That favorite is Wally West.
Barry Allen, the Silver Age Flash who will be the focus of this rebooted book, used to be married to crusading reporter and time traveler Iris Allen. Iris West-Allen, to be exact -- aka, Wally West's aunt, and the person who ushered Wally into his first meeting with the Flash, and who is in some part responsible for his receiving the power of super-speed in the first place.
(Technically, Barry's the one who ensured Wally stood next to a weird batch of chemicals that likewise electrified him when they were doused with lightning -- thus giving him super-speed. But that's such a ridiculous origin, I don't really want to go into it.)
By making Iris a supporting player in Barry's book (now she's a crusading blogger, so she's hip with the times), the DC editors are essentially making sure Wally and Barry never meet. This is about the cleverest way I can think of for DC to resolve having no more than one Flash running at top-speed at one time (apparently having five million Batmans is okay, but having two Flashes crowds the buyers' market.).
This change reminds me what a family-based book Wally's Flash has always been; it always showcased a gaggle of heroes growing up underneath each others' wings. Furthermore, every Flash in any book is related to one another: uncle, nephew, grandson, son and daughter, etc. What makes The Flash a strong hero is his family and friends, and seeing Barry without his wife will give a whole new slant to a legacy book that's been running on family fumes for the last twenty years or more. Now the emphasis will be on a loner, and not a paragon of a family man.
Brian Cunningham continues his thoughts on this change by saying: "... I make no apologies for opening up a traditional storytelling avenue with our hero’s romantic life, something that’s been shut closed for a very long time now. This is no indictment of marriage. I’m a married man and wouldn’t trade it for anything. But in the realm of fiction, I feel strongly that this change to Barry opens up fresh, new creative directions and exciting new storylines."
He further points out that Barry's romantic life needs to be freshened up for 2011. This reasoning reminds me of what's going on in Superman's love triangle with Lois Lane. Like Lois, Barry will start his book with a new significant other. (And my feelings about this change and DC's general attitude toward marriage and divorce can be found in other blog posts.) What really makes me sad about downsizing Iris is that it effectively takes Wally West out of the picture (as well as makes Iris a girl Friday, instead of an agent in her own story). My favorite Flash grew from being an inexperienced, scared, often whiny blowhard after Barry's death, to the most creative, honest and human hero I can think of. As a reader, I was able to relate to his ego and fears, as well as his desire to make good on the legacy laid before him by a fallen comrade. True, all these factors contributed to many fans hating him when he first debuted in Flash #1 waaaay back in 1987, but I've always found him fascinating. Because he had personality flaws to work on, because he had doubts but squelched them to do what was right, because he made mistakes and tried desperately to correct them. Because he struggled to become the kind of adult his Uncle Barry would be proud of. Who hasn't had these types of growing pains?
And watching a character grow to fulfill the promise that lay inside them all along ... well, I can't think of a more satisfying or American journey. And I'm sad I won't be seeing Wally grow into old age with his wife and kids. But in honor of his memory, I'm posting a list of my all-time favorite Wally West moments, from the twenty-four years of his run as a character. Because I'll still have those stories, even though he's been taken out of the DC Universe (for now, maybe forever). And I think you ought to share in the memories, too. They're fun, they're heartfelt, and they show what comics writers can do when they allow their heroes to touch the ground and build a life, as well as run around and be rad. So without further ado, I present ...
*THE BEST WALLY WEST MOMENTS OF THE LAST 24 YEARS, IN NO PARTICULAR ORDER*
The first ever Wally Flash comic took the titular hero in a whole new direction. After Barry's death, Wally moved to New York City and took up the mantle of The Flash (having been known as Kid Flash previously). Celebrating his twentieth birthday with the Teen Titans takes up the majority of the first part of this issue, but things really get going when Wally's charged with the task of running a heart across the country in order for doctors to complete a transplant on time. He does the job with gusto, then demands health insurance in exchange for his good deed, claiming Barry died a pauper and it's only right that he find a way to protect himself, however selfish he looks to others. Jaws drop, and he skulks away towards a flight home, paid for by the hospital.
So already we have an unlikeable protagonist, a man who defies all expectations by covering his own back while wearing a costume. Wally callously ignores the looks he gets at the hospital, but the impact of these judgements (and a run-in with immortal villain Vandal Savage) haven't faded away by issue's end, which leads me to "Fave Moments 1 and 2!"
1) Wally's describing Barry's debts via narration as he runs to his plane. Wally reminds himself that Barry taught him he had to treat his powers as a precious gift, but that he died with no money and left the Justice League to pay for his funeral. "He left me his costumes," Wally points out. "And a picture of what a hero should be." It's the emptiness of both those items, costumes and a picture, that drew me to Wally immediately. How hard it is to take the right action when all you have are totems and not the actual man to guide you. In moments like this, Wally's immaturity belies his loss and self-doubt.
2) Now comfortably ensconced on the plane, Wally looks up from the crossword he's completing to see terrorists attempting to take over the flight. "I don't think about it," his narration states. "I can't think about it," referring to both his previous Barry wallowing and the guy having a heart seizure in the seat next to him. He zips out of his seat and lunges at a man with a gun.
"Speed, properly focused, becomes power," he claims as he punches the guy once. Then he punches the guy twenty-five more times at super-speed, feels his knuckles break, and hits him twelve more times. Geez, Wally, subdue that dude much? Here we see Wally for what he is -- a man so burdened by the loss of his uncle, that fear drives him to be callous and angry, in the guise of protecting himself and others. It's a trait we see develop in his actions and relationships over the course of writer Mike Baron's run, and it marks this guy as a hero to both dislike and pity. Control is key, Wally thinks he has it, but he couldn't be more wrong about that as he sleeps with another man's wife, gets hopped up on a speed drug, and has to learn how to live with his overbearing, insufferable mother.
After a year or so of stories, Mike Baron stepped down as writer of The Flash, and William Messner-Loebs joined the title. He stayed on the book for four years and was an extremely popular scribe. He went a long way towards turning Baron's grittier, jerkier version of Wally into the heroic Flash he's considered today. Along the way, he had Flash tackle the issue of AIDS, homelessness, and the wealth gap in 1980's America. For me, this stuff wasn't always a good fit for a speedster, but lightening Wally up from his grief led to a gain in fan support, and the development of a solid supporting cast of scientists, villains, girlfriends, and a guy who had a black hole inside him. The goofier moments and Wally's gentler, more amiable made this run fun to read, and nothing symbolizes that better than Flash #19, in which he crashes a party thrown by Barry's old Rogues Gallery with his sometime-lady -- hot but dumb model Connie.
3) Looking for a way to impress her with NYC nightlife, Wally escorts Connie to a party of low lives and half-reformed psychopaths with such ridiculous names as Captain Cold, Mirror Master, and Rainbow Raider (who's colorblind but throws color at you, I guess?). As the party reaches its paranoid climax, Rainbow Raider and Weather Wizard get into a skirmish over a body mike the Wizard's wearing (in order to record and sell their story to the National Snoop).
The result of this betrayal? A rainstorm inside the posh hotel where the event's taking place! In a hilarious set of panels, the Wizard runs from the room and everyone gets drenched. Captain Cold asks Wally what he's going to do about it, and Wally asks what he should catch the man for, "Raining without a permit?" Besides, he points out, no one really wants the Wizard to come back. With that, the party returns to normal, and the hobnobbing continues.
That Wally has good priorities when it comes right down to it. I wouldn't leave the party, either.
4) While being held by super-slow villain The Turtle, Wally is forced into a deprivation chamber; there, he hallucinates his worst fears. Chief among them is disappointing Barry. Beaten down by his ghostly mentor's insults and judgements about his performance as The Flash, Wally finally retaliates, unleashing the thinly veiled resentment he's had for the man since issue 1. He lunges at Barry. "You pretended to love me," he screams as they wrestle with one another in matching Flash costumes. "Then you left! You died! You betrayed me! I'm a monster, but so are you!" Wally begins to choke Barry. "I'll kill you!"
Up till now, Wally has never expressed the extreme sense of betrayal he felt as the result of Barry's noble sacrifice (he basically saved the entire universe in 1985, dying in the process). Messner-Loebs had lightened Wally's anguish considerably by this point in his run, but here we see it scream to the forefront, in an Oedpial explosion that leads to Wally killing Barry, claiming his rightful place as The Flash, and realizing nothing he's being seeing or doing is real, all in the space of two pages. Barry's often a peaceful guide to Wally in later issues, but it's here, in Wally's struggle to best his mentor, that we see how deeply ambivalent Wally is about the shadow of expectations and grief that lay over him. Only by confronting those feelings can he become a true hero to others, something Mark Waid picks up on during his run on the title. But I'll get to that in a bit.
5) Nobody Dies: This might be the craziest "done-in-one" story in Flash history. At this point in Messner-Loebs' run, Wally is working for the federal government, catching baddies who run out on paying their taxes. In this issue, Wally first impressively saves someone from falling out a window. Later, when the plane he's aboard is sabotaged, he realizes that the stewardess he'd been chatting up has been sucked out into the open air. What can he do? He's not Superman, but he had a nice conversation with this lady, and he wants to do what he can.
SO HE JUMPS OUT OF THE PLANE.
Just to sum up, Flash can't fly. At all. In a priceless splash page, you see his tiny frame rocket out of the damaged plane, and his narration opines, "This is so stupid."
Miraculously, he finds the stewardess, she feeds him some peanuts to help his super-metabolism, and he's magically able to motor them down to the ground by winding his legs around a lot. (I think?) It all sounds ridiculously dumb when I type it. But on the page, it is chock-a-block with the tension of someone attempting the impossible and succeeding.
Because that's what The Flash specializes in -- the impossible. And this is the first time Wally realizes that. It's why the audacious plane splash page is moment number five.
And now we come to the Mark Waid era of The Flash. Waid has said that he IS Wally, and it'd be a hard thing to argue. He moved this character far from the ridiculous/hard-hitting stories crafted by previous writers; he made the character's journey into adulthood and hero-dom somehow achingly personal. Waid's use of the Flash mantle as a stand-in for the quest each man and woman goes through in order to fulfill their amazing potential -- well, that gets at what the heart of Wally West is to me, and justifies why comics are our modern mythology. But I digress.
7) Waid is a romantic at heart, and he pairs Wally with epic love Linda Park in issue 72. He and this TV news reporter had a love/hate relationship when Messner-Loebs first introduced her, but Waid takes their attraction to new levels early in his run, by having Linda ask for once and all if she and Wally are more than friends. She's leaving for Midway City for a new job, and if he wants to keep her in Keystone (where he's relocated to pal around with the first Flash, Jay Garrick), he needs to make a move.
After almost being encased in gold, he does. Once he's defeated Dr. Alchemy, he races her train to keep her close to him. In a series of amazing Greg LaRoque panels, we watch as Wally races the train in the same amount of time it takes Linda's purse to fall from the baggage loft onto her seat. And just when you think he won't reach Linda before she arrives at her destination, he catches the purse. He's fast enough to deflect Linda's protestations that he showed up at the last minute, and kisses her. Then he picks her up, as well as her baggage, and runs off the train. To which she asks, what'll I tell the folks in Midway City? To which he replies, "Tell them the truth. Tell them you got carried away."
Mushy? Yup. Corny? You betcha. And yet, somehow perfect for these two people, as Wally strides towards being an adult by promising a serious commitment.
In an incredible move, Waid and company brought Barry Allen back to life in 1993, to usurp Wally's place as the Flash. My friend Nick found this to be Silver Age garbage, but I'd argue Geoff Johns' run on the Barry Allen Flash suffers because he puts things back as they were, just so he can re-write the comics he loved as a kid (You probably wouldn't think this unless you'd read the entirety of Wally's run as The Flash, which lamely enough, I have). There's nothing wrong with the Silver Age revamp in theory, but I don't want to go along for that nostalgia ride, especially when Waid does a great job of having Wally face his fears here. Is Waid always the most adventurous storyteller? Not always. But he kills when it comes to generating strong character arcs, and it is in The Return of Barry Allen that Wally lets go of comparing himself to Barry, who's gone insane and may not be who he says he is.
8) Wally's struggle culminates in one of the best splash pages of LaRoque's run on the character. Barry's just trounced Jay Garrick at a construction site, and Wally (who's been pitying himself at home while watching the destruction on TV) arrives too late, picking up the unconscious Jay's helmet and staring into the distance. Knowing now who Barry REALLY is, and knowing he's the only one who can stop him, Wally narrates, "I wasn't fast enough. But those days are over. My name is Wally West. I'm the Flash. And now that I know the secret of Barry Allen, I'm going to bring him down ... or die trying."
In most circumstances, this would be waaay melodramatic, but Wally's simple assertion of his identity shows that he's ready to take this fight to the next level, and take on the responsibility of doing hard things as a hero. And that makes for an exciting conclusion to a mature and forward-thinking story!
After having Wally finally, truly step out from under Barry's shadow, Waid had Wally accept one of the hardest things about being a hero: You can't be everywhere at once.
9) In this issue, Wally uses the Speed Formula (some weird arithmetic that will increase his velocity) to effectively freeze time. One of his swifter friends, Max Mercury, points out just why using this trick is a terrible idea. Max and Wally walk around Keystone City, and Max shows Flash all the people he can't help in the same frozen second, people trapped in fires and crashed cars, etc. Wally didn't know about these people when he froze time to avoid a helicopter disaster, but he can't prioritize everyone. All he can do is help where he can; all he can do is make a choice, or he'll be immobilized in time forever, just like he is now.
In several solid, workman-like panels, artist Mike Wieringo shows Wally heading back to the helicopter, and -- during this frozen time -- stopping its crash, all the while narrating, "There are always choices to be made. ... In the end, all I can do is find the courage to keep choosing ... and make those choices count." Then he whispers, "Go."
And time starts again. Because Wally has to move forward in his life, just as the world does.
In Terminal Velocity, Wally dies to save Linda Park (and the whole universe) from eco-terrorists intent on using the world's resources to destroy the planet. In comics land, Wally goes to heaven by running so fast, he stops a laser beam from hitting his lady. But his link to this heaven, the Speed Force (a name Waid always hated), is also what gives him super-speed. And it's love for Linda that allows him to re-materialize his atoms and return to a long, loving life with her.
10) Basically, Wally dies in issue 99 and this issue opens with Linda losing it, picking up a gun, and kicking some serious eco-terrorist ass, alongside Wally's bereft superhero and non-superhero friends. But a ghost-like Wally returns to amp up the speed, heal a broken Jesse Quick, and take down the villainous Kobra. Then he vanishes in an explosion.
And Linda loses it again, running from friends pleading with her to accept Flash's death. But who does she runs smack-dab into, other than Wally?! They kiss, and she exclaims, "I knew! I knew you were back! But what ... How did ...?" To which Wally replies, "Took you long enough to get over here."
Typical. And perfect. Wally goes to heaven, comes back because his love for Linda won't let him dissolve yet, and it ain't no thang.
Part two, or Wally's next ten greatest moments according to me, will be coming up real soon.
Till then, fellow speedster lovers!
*SARAH ZOOMS OFF!*
Flash #1: Jackson Guice, Artist; Larry Mahlstedt & Carl Gafford, Colorist; Steve Haynie, Inker.
Flash #19: Karl Kesel, Writer; Ed Hannigan, Artist; Michele Wolfman, Inker; Larry Mahlstedt, Colorist.
Flash #34: William Messner-Loebs, Writer; Greg LaRocque, Penciller; Larry Mahlstedt, Inker; Glen Whitmore, Colorist; Tim Harkins, Letterer.
Flash #54: Greg LaRocque, Penciller; Jose Marzan, Jr., Inker; Glen Whitemore, Colorist; Tim Harkins, Letterer.
Flash #72, #77: Greg LaRocque, Penciller; Matt Hollingsworth, Colorist; Roy Richardson, Inker; Tim Harkins, Letterer.
Flash #91: Mike Wieringo, Penciller; Gina Going, Inker; Jose Marzan, Jr., Letterer; Gaspar Saladino, Colorist.
Flash #100: Carlos Pacheco, Penciller; Jose Marzan, Jr., Inker; Tim McGraw, Colorist.
DCAU Flash: Bruce Timm.