In the interest of making way for several more DCnU roundtables between my friend Ed and myself, I am going to lickety-split finish up my love letter to Wally West, by counting down my other ten favorite moments in his run as The Flash.
Currently, these moments are not ranked in any particular way. I mean, I'm presenting them in chronological order (though I have a major soft spot for Flash jumping out of a plane), to represent Wally's maturation over time -- from jerky whiner to family man in a few short lightning bursts.
* THE TOP 20 WALLY WEST MOMENTS IN THE LAST 24 YEARS, PART DEUX*
Not everything is hunky-dory for our hero after he returns from heaven to defend Keystone and make time with his lady love. In fact, she kinda can't cope with the fact he actually choose her over Speed Force heaven. Certainly it's a lot of pressure to put on a relationship. How could one person live up to a dream deferred? Wally thinks it's no biggie, Linda thinks he's not seeing the forest for the trees. What if he becomes so powerful, she can't even relate to him?
11) So, in one of the most interesting allelgorical moments of Mark Waid's run, Wally -- having just realized he can share his powers with others, thanks to his return trip from Speed Vahalla --takes Linda jogging with him at 100 miles per hour. He shares part of his world with her in a way he was never able to before, while realizing that giving her the chance to live the way he does won't solve all their problems. He's only taking things one step at a time, putting in the work everyone needs to put in for their relationship to last. Linda acknowledges this, and they're off and running, a look of excitement and shock on her face. It's a beautiful moment in a complex relationship that deservedly ended in marriage and kids.
While struggling to train an impulsive protege and keep the Flash family (The Quicks, Jay Garrick, and beaten up Max Mercury) from being shredded by speed ninjas, Wally also has to contend with the psychotic cult leader, Savitar, a man anxious to kill all speedsters and lay claim to the mysterious Speed Force that serves double duty as heaven and power source for fast folk. In the "Dead Heat" storyline, Wally separates himself from his team in an effort to find a way to stop the maniac.
12) A surprise visit from a time-traveling descendent (this happens more and more as Waid's run examines the nature of time on both a universal and human scale, i.e., proving there's never enough time, while simultaneously pointing out you can always make time for the adventures you really want to have) gives Wally the answer. He can't outrun the villain, but he can give him what he wants: eternity with the force he's hording. Wally'll run Savitar into the Speed Force, where he'll be dissolved into a billion particles of light, and no longer be a threat to friends and family. In a fluid splash page, Wally stretches out his powers and gives Savitar speed enough to reach the force. "I'll drive," Wally says with determination while Savitar cackles with insane laughter in the background.
It's an incredibly cool-looking shot, but what I love most about it is the difference in temperament displayed by our hero and the villain. Savitar spends most of his time killing his followers, in order to steal their powers and chase Flashes some more. Wally does everything he can to save his fellow heroes, and is clear-eyed enough to sacrifice his life for their comfort. Savitar, on the other hand, is blind to his fate, living on only as infinitesima bits, scattered across heaven. In this arc, Wally becomes the self-sacrificing hero his uncle was, taking the step from superhero to experienced leader in a single run towards oblivion.
Brushing against the Speed Force sometimes sends you hurtling through time. Don't ask me how this works. As Waid expanded the powers gifted to Wally by the Speed Force, he also provided a handy deus ex machina that pushed Wally into different eras -- different eras he had to run through to reach his present life and love Linda Park (instant story tension, that!).
After killing Savitar, Wally gets thrown several millenia into the future, and his race back to Linda proves fraught. But not as fraught as what he returns to. A frozen popsicle of a girlfriend and a new Ice Age looming over Keystone. Man, wearing those yellow boots can be rough on a guy!
13) Wally's response to this crisis is one of his most bad-ass moments. It involves a crazy-good bluff on the villain Polaris. Putting the purple-suited menace in a headlock, Wall points him at the glacier engulfing the city -- a glacier Polaris helped created. "So, now that I have your attention ... let's review your choices," Flash says. One: Polaris can change the course of the water and ice before it crushes him; Two: Wally can leave him to get crushed by a frozen tsunami (which he'll do, since Linda's been hurt and he owes Polaris nothing.) "Choose! NOW!" Wally shouts, as Polaris uses his magnetic laser beams to push the flow back into the river.
Pretty gutsy move from a desperate guy. But at the same time, you gotta admire a man who gives a bad person the opportunity to do the right thing.
Once things in Keystone calm down, of course all hell breaks loose elsewhere! At some point, a sun-eater devours the sun, and the whole world is left to freeze to death, all while Linda's still recovering from being recently iced herself.
In a spin-off of the Final Night saga, Wally stops city looters and does what he can to keep from panicking about the near-certain death facing humanity. When Linda gets the chance to report about the possibility that the superheroes' last ditch plan may actually incinerate the Earth, Wally demands she not say anything, for fear of driving people into even deeper despair. She argues that people always need to be prepared for the worst, since it allows them to say goodbye. At this, Wally of course runs into the night to avoid bidding farewell to his girlfriend.
14) But eventually, he ends up at a hospital waiting room, where tons of stranded people are watching Linda report the risk associated with saving the sun. And he listens to her comfort the viewers, telling them to have faith in their heroes, even when the night looks blackest. "So long as their confidence shines," she says, "they will not let us down." A little girl reaches up and takes Wally's hand, and tears shimmer in his eyes. "Find the hope to let strength flourish," Linda finishes.
It's her confidence in Wally that prompts him to say goodbye to her by issue's end, to tell her loves her "till the end of time," but that he has a job to do in the long night ahead of him regardless of his fears. He reaches this point not because he's powerful, but because people like Linda inspire him to keep moving forward. Of everything Mark Waid has to say about what heroes represent to him, this tiny thing may be most important: Our heroes are the people we believe in, but their belief in us is as important; without it, heroes can't succeed. It's a two-way street, in which everyone becomes a hero. Even that little girl who took Flash's hand.
15) So I've already pointed out how crazy I think it is that Peter Parker and Mary Jane sold their love to the devil. But I gotta say, it's a gimmick The Flash got right. After both Wally and Linda give their love to DC's Satan (aka, Neron), they expect his released hell hounds and dead Barry Allen Rogues to stop running amok. Suffice it to say, they're let down. O. Henry-like bargains don't tickle Neron's fancy.
So what stops him from taking over the world? Wally and Linda's love for one another. That's right, folks. Their love is corrupting the devil. He's even starting to give food and water to the demons he's been starving since the fall of Rome! He desperately crawls up to Earth to return their hideous kindness, but in an amazing set of panels, Wally and Linda look at one another, then look at Neron, and refuse to take their love back.
Heartbroken over their lost passion or not, Wally and Linda both understand something bigger than them is going on, vis a vis the world succumbing to a hellacious frenzy. So they bargain; they'll only ease Neron's suffering and take their love IF he returns everything to the way it was; no exceptions. He does, and they continue living their happily ever after.
If anything, these panels of Wally/Linda's shared thoughts demonstrate how alike in cleverness and brazenness the two are, and how deep their trust runs when it comes to atoning for mistakes and taking a chance on one another.
Waid needed a break from his long run on The Flash going into 1998, so he prepped hip young kids Grant Morrison and Mark Millar to keep Wally hitting new speeds in his absence. My favorite of their story arcs is The Human Race, in which Morrison takes Waid's examination of human potential, and multiples it by a bajillion, making the whole human race fight for their survival alongside their champion marathoner, Wally West.
16) Chosen to run a race imposed on Earth by inter-dimensional couch potato space gamblers, Wally struggles while running against a being from a radio frequency world (and this is one of Morrison's less wacky plots!). Exhausted after days of running across planets and through pocket universes, Wally collapses in a pink desert. The headset he wears while running connects him to Linda, and she gives him the pep talk of a lifetime. Did Planet Earth ask the other Flashes to run this race? Did they ask Superman? NO! They voted for Wally West--
Wally struggles ...
--Because he's The Flash! He's the fastest man alive!
Wally finally stands up.
"And then some, baby," he says to himself as he begins to run. "And then some."
Getting up and keeping going, even when you're at your limits ... well, that's just what the Flash is all about.
In a waaaaaaaay complicated (some might argue too complicated) series of events, Wally finds himself racing across time with the other Flashes, to save each successive Flash generation from being butchered by Barry Allen's identical twin brother, who's crazy and out to kill the legacy of the Flash, aka, everyone and everything Wally cherishes.
At the conclusion of this adventure, Wally finds all his colleagues have gone down in battle, and he alone must change the past to save everyone. Except he can't. Time and again, he tries to undo the damage that's been done, but he fails. Finally, he realizes that the greatest lesson Barry ever taught him was to put his faith in his future, in his ability to shape tomorrow -- "by living up to the standards" Barry had set. In fact, "by living beyond them."
17) He races back to the present, grabs the evil twin and shoves him up to high speed, aiming to dissolve them both in the Speed Force. A sacrifice (once again) worth making, born out of loyalty to the people he cares about. Everything Wally does boils down to the final words he shares with Barry's twin: "I stop now, you're after Barry like a shot! You hated him! But I loved him! And do you know what that means? That means I WIN!"
And KRA-koom! The villain dissolves into eternity, the day is saved, and Wally dies an honorable death (for like the millionth time). But there's no sense grieving, because Wally has fulfilled his destiny -- to surpass the legacy of the other Flashes, to do the title proud, and to succeed based not on guts or glory, but in the gift of proving total, unselfish love.
Of course, he comes back from this fate, too. But it doesn't make the end of Waid's big run on the character any less interesting ...
So The Flash finally got married in issue 159, after Morrison and Millar laid the groundwork and Waid ruined one version of a wedding. Flash mostly gets this second ceremony together because he's worried he'll turn into a creepy alternate universe version of himself. And Linda's not having any of that. So, she objects to her own wedding, when the minister asks if anyone has any words to share, "or forever may you hold your peace."
18) Wally protests that fear of turning into alterna-Flash is only one of the reasons he rushed the marriage, and in a stunning bit of business on writer Waid and long-time editor Brian Augustyn's part, he makes up his own vows on the spot, telling Linda he can't wait to find out what they can learn from each other for the rest of their lives. This, of course, melts her worries, and the two are hitched on the spot -- proof positive that no problem is insurmountable if your love is epic and you know how to communicate.
From the looks of the letters column at the back of each comic during Alberto Dose's run, many were not fans of his artwork. I actually found it delicate, if overly inked, and appropriate to Geoff Johns' noirish tale of everyone forgetting (including our hero), then remembering that Wally West is the Flash.
Johns took the reins from Waid and a series of guest writers, and while I don't think he gets Wally as much as his predecessor did, he built up a Detroit-like Keystone, and gave Wally a dogged Midwesternness that served him well in tight jams. I highly disagree with Johns' handling of Barry's return in light of Wally's maturation since 1987 (he's downplayed all of Wally's achievements, and made Barry create the Speed Force, just to give the guy a way to be greater than the other runners), and I definitely disagree with DC's need to erase Wally from their timeline (if that's indeed what they're doing). But every once in a while during his too-Rogues heavy run, Johns found an elegant moment for Wally.
19) This one occurs after Linda's endured a tragic miscarriage, brought on by the villain Zoom, a time-displaced sociopath hell-bent on making Wally a better hero through heartbreak. Linda was going to have twins, but now she's not. And in response to that accident, Wally talked with God's vengeful spirit, aka The Spectre, and forced everyone on Earth to forget he was Flash, including himself and Linda. After a while, he figures out who he is, but he can't tell Linda, because she's still reeling from the loss of their children.
She's sitting at their local diner, eating with Wally and talking about quitting medical school (a noble pursuit for her, while Wally's stuck fixing cars, despite his smarts at science -- seriously, GJ?), and he wonders why. She admits it's because people look at her funny when they talk about birth trauma; it's raining outside and it looks cloudy in her eyes, too. He stands, walks over to her, picks her up and holds her. And then we see the rain freeze in drops. Wally literally vibrates both their molecules in a hug to make the seconds stretch out so he can hold her longer. It is a subtle and stunning change of art. Then he lets go and tells her that they'll survive, that nothing is her fault, that her living is more than enough for him. She agrees it's fine for her, too.
The strength of their relationship shines through in its small moments. Seriously, I can think of no other comic where a husband's comfort is showcased as a heroic moment.
Like I said, I'm not nuts about how Barry Allen was made the center of every speedster's, and everyONE's universe in Flashpoint, during his reintegration as the prominent hero-runner at DC. And I think Flash: Rebirth is a largely wasted opportunity to bring new fans to the Flash books; GJ does almost nothing to explain any of the subjects he's borrowing from various writers, including the Speed Force, and he can't stop Barry Allen from being boring as paint.
But there is one way Johns succeeds. It's in a moment of extreme Wally fan service, but it also serves as a nice closer to over twenty years of stories about a young man looking up to, surpassing, and then redeeming his mentor through heroic actions and building a family of his own.
20) And so we come to our final moment with Wally West. By the time Flash: Rebirth rolled around, Wally had kids, the twins who were restored to him through a twist in time, and he had taken a confident place at the head of the Flash family table. So when Barry returns from death, he has to step up and help his mentor readjust to society and find a purpose in being alive again.
There's a bunch of malarkey about Professor Zoom, the Reverse-Flash, creating a negative Speed Force (is that hell?), and none of it makes much sense. But things get serious when Zoom runs back through time to kill Barry's wife and Wally's aunt, Iris. Understandably, Barry freaks out and barrels ahead without conserving his energy, burning out, sure he'll lose the only woman he's ever loved. Then Wally appears in the timestream, running hard and grasping his uncle by the arm, saying, "I've got you."
"I've got you." He sure does. Wally may have had to carry the mantle of the Flash only to return it to Barry Allen, but his run deserved all the praise it got. Wally strapped himself in for a wild ride and never gave up; even when facing insurmountable odds, he was always able to quip a joke and think up a solution to the problem facing him, all while learning from his mistakes and honoring those who came before.
That's some hero.
I hope he returns someday.
We should be so lucky.
Flash #102: Oscar Jiminez, Artist; Jose Marzan, Jr., Inker; Tim McGraw, Colorist; Gaspar Saladino, Letterer.
Flash #111: Greg LaRocque, Penciller; Jose Marzan, Jr., Inker; Tim McGraw, Colorist; Gaspar Saladino, Letterer.
Flash #117, #137: Steve Lightle, Penciller; John Nyberg, Inker; Tim McGraw, Colorist; Gaspar Saladino, Letterer.
Flash #119, #129: Mike Wieringo, Penciller; Jose Marzan, Jr., Inker; Tim McGraw, Colorist; Gaspar Saladino, Letterer.
Flash #150: Steve Lightle, Penciller; Vince Russell, Inker; Tim McGraw, Colorist; Gaspar Saladino, Letterer.
Flash #159: Paul Pelletier, Penciller; Jose Marzan, Jr., Inker; Tim McGraw, Colorist; Gaspar Saladino, Letterer.
Flash #205: Alberto Dose, Penciller/Inker; James Sinclair, Colorist; Comicraft, Letterer.
Flash: Rebirth: Geoff Johns, Writer; Ethan Van Sciver, Artist; Brian Miller, Colorist; Rob Leigh, Letterer.