From equal parts news and rumours, it would seem Wally West’s days as The Flash are numbered. Barry Allen is coming back, and while a fair number of people are rejoicing, the rest of us Flash-fans are scratching our heads as to why. Why does Barry Allen need to come back? Why are people excited?
I get that for some he’s a childhood hero, but the last time Barry Allen was an active player in the DC Universe it was 1985… 23 years ago! If you’re trying to appeal to a modern audience, DC, resurrecting a character dead for the past 23 years isn’t helping. Since then his nephew, dear Wally, has taken up the mantle, and taken the Flash to a level that Barry never achieved. Where Wally learned about his powers, learned about the Speed Force , learned about his legacy, and grew as a person. Barry's Flash went around bopping themed costume villains on the noggin, mooning over Iris and otherwise being as dry as sawdust.
Like Obi-Wan Kenobi, when Barry was struck down during the first Crisis, he became much more powerful than he ever was before. He became the inspiration for Wally, and truly DC’s richest sense of legacy was born.
In 1986 when Wally took the mantle, he was still in many respects a kid. Though he had a few years of superheroing under his belt with both the Teen Titans and as Barry’s sidekick, when he became the Flash he was still immature, cocky, and easily distracted (mostly by women). At the same time, he had this huge legend to live up to, and the weight of it bore down upon him, hard. He didn’t immediately get respect of his elder superheroes – Green Lantern, Batman, Wonder Woman - just because he was wearing the costume, he would have to earn it. Sometimes that pressure was just too much. In the same respect, The Rogues Gallery didn’t really respect him either, and barely deemed him worthy of their opposition. Some of the Rogues even became his friends.
Wally was also one of the first major heroes to have a relaxed stance on his private identity. Although he never flaunted who he was, he didn’t really care too much if people knew who he was… afterall, the Rogues weren’t posing much of a threat. (Although Geoff Johns Brand New Day’d that in The Flash #200)
For a time Wally was extremely wealthy, but he squandered his riches (with the help of his overbearing mother and his Manhunter-cultist father). Going from sudden riches to sudden destitution pushed Wally into work-for-hire with the
Justice League Europe. There he befriended Uncle Barry’s best pal, Ralph Dibney, who didn’t treat him like an inferior version of the Flash, but instead taught him how it was okay to forge his own path, his own legend. I also think his time there, with two defiantly strong female personalities in Wonder Woman and Power Girl, he learned to respect women.
As Wally began to learn more and more about his powers, discovering and utilizing the Speed Force, he began to take what he could do more seriously, and he also began to exceed the limits of what Barry could do. Not only that, but he understood things more than Barry ever tried to (for a scientist he wasn’t very curious about his own powers). Wally found himself in love with Linda Park, and started to man-up for her. It also wasn’t long before he was roped with the responsibility of looking out for his cousin, Bart Allen, who no doubt reminded him of himself when younger, only capable of infinitely more trouble. His path was set, he was now a role model, and being a jackass was no longer his function.
Joining the powerhouse JLA pushed this even further. Wally was bumped up from the rookie position by Kyle Rayner, and he resented it. The rookie gets to make mistakes, the rookie gets leniency, the rookie looks up to everyone else. Wally was afraid to be on top at first, but the JLA made him one of the world’s greatest heroes, and for the first time he stepped out of Barry’s shadow, and he’s only put distance between them ever since..
But some people refuse to let go. Wally isn’t the Flash to them, he’ll always be Kid Flash. We need to ignore those people. Jay Garrick was the first flash from 1940 – 1955 (15 years). Barry became the Flash in 1956, and died in 1985 (29 years). Wally has been The Flash for nearly as long as Barry and he’s developed as a far better character for it.
Barry works best not as a character but as inspiration for Wally, as part of the Flash legend, as the hero who saved the world/universe (no matter how many times Wally saves the universe, Uncle Barry will always be the “bigger hero” who died saving the universe). Bringing Barry back negates all of that, and what’s more, it diminishes Wally West’s many accomplishments. With Barry back, Wally won’t have the spotlight. He’ll once again be in his uncle’s shadow, even though he knows far better how to use their powers. He’ll be Kid Flash again, if not in name or costume, than in spirit.
Dan Didio, Geoff Johns and Ethan Van Sciver have all said that they want to capitalize upon the “CSI craze” by bringing back Barry Allen, the forensic scientist. “Now is the time for this character,” Van Sciver said at a recent DC Nation panel, obviously not realizing CSI peaked in popularity about three years ago. And what, is Barry just gong to walk into a Central City police station say “I’m Barry Allen, I used to work here before I died and had a whole museum dedicated to me, can I have my job back?”
The current Flash storyline is called “This Was Your Life, Wally West”, and it appears that at the end of it, the title is going on hiatus so Geoff Johns can present a “Flash Rebirth” series (ala Green Lantern Rebirth). DC hasn’t been very kind to the Flash legacy of late (if only we could forget Bart Allen in The Flash: The Fastest Man Alive) and it’s true, they have broken it (the family setup for Wally isn’t necessarily a mis-step, but how it’s been handled hasn’t exactly been smooth). But instead of working to fix it, they’re diving back into the nostalgia pool.
If the end result of Final Crisis is to return each of the major DC characters to their “truest” representation, for the Flash that would be, in my opinion, Wally West (and as our recent poll shows, it would seem people agree with me).