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Flash-Forward: Wally West

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Coming out of the events of Crisis on Infinite Earths, the character of the Flash was left in an interesting situation.  As discussed previously, the man who carried the role for the past two decades was dead, while one of the epilogue teasers proclaimed his junior partner, Wally West (Kid Flash) as his successor.  Additionally, the “clean slate” coming out of Crisis was being handled in very different ways by DC editorial – while books like Superman and Batman essentially received hard re-starts, the new Flash series continued directly out of events that were no longer in continuity…except they were…sort of.  This was what writer Mike Baron was left to deal with.

The NEW Fastest Man AliveBaron, at this point best known for his work on independent titles Badger and Nexus, used this opportunity to present a Flash that was as different as possible from reliable old Barry Allen.  First off, Wally West’s powers were diminished from that of his predecessor.  At the time of Crisis, Wally had been suffering from a malady that was actually causing his superspeed to kill him.  Now cured, Wally had powers again, but only could move as fast as the speed of sound.  Along this line, Baron introduced “realistic” ground-rules for the powers – it took an incredible amount of energy to move at sonic speeds, so Wally needed to consume vast quantities of food to maintain his energy.

Wally West also proved to be a very different type of hero from Barry.  A young man (Wally is celebrating his 20th birthday in The Flash #1, June 1987), the new Flash was far more impatient and “moral.”  Winning a small lottery fortune early in the title, Wally was a playboy character of sorts, often looking out for his own interests.  Even his first major romantic entanglement was a contrast – a married nutritionist named Tina McGee.  Although Baron’s run was relatively short (14 issues and 1 Annual), in an historical context, the groundwork he laid for Wally’s ongoing evolution plays a significant role.

William Messner-Loebs picked up the title with Wally having just lost his fortune and a mission to start building back up the character the Flash had turned into.  Messner-Loebs approached this on two fronts.  Firstly, in the context of the Flash legacy, the Rogues gallery of villains began showing up in the book again (most notably with The Flash #19, December 1988, and with a reformed Pied Piper), and Wally moved from New York City to Keystone City (home of Jay Garrick).

In terms of Wally’s own growth, the introduction of TV journalist Linda Park (Flash #28, July 1989) played a significant role.  Initially a foil to Wally (crusading for the hero to be accountable for the property damages caused during his battles with villains), the two quickly became allies, partnering on several cases.  Under Messner-Loebs, Wally also began taking a greater responsibility for his role, working to regain his “lost” speed (what proved to be psychological, rather than physical block) and even adopting his own version on the Flash costume (Flash #50, May 1991).  During a confrontation with Vandal Savage in the same issue, Wally finally realizes he feelings that he would never as good or better than Barry Allen have been holding back his powers.  By the conclusion of the issue, Messner-Loebs had established Wally as a worthy successor to Barry Allen. 

           


When William Messner-Loebs moved on to other challenges (Flash #61, April 1992), Mark Waid was shot out of the blocks as the next writer on the Flash.  Following an arc that re-examined Wally’s days as Kid Flash (Flash #62-65, May-June 1992), Waid continued cultivating many of the seeds laid by Messner-Loebs.  By the end of his first year on the title, Wally and Linda were officially “a couple,” their relationship being the cornerstone of many of Waid’s future tales.

 
The other dangling thread was Wally’s relationship to Barry Allen.  Flash #s 73-79 (February-August 1993) brought Barry Allen back to the DC Universe and face-to-face with Wally.  In actuallity, “Barry” turned out to be Professor Zoom, the Reverse-Flash.  A familiar rival to long-time Flash fans, from Zoom’s point-of-view this arc was his origin tale.  Having travelled from the future to meet his idol, Zoom arrived too late, Allen already being dead and Wally having “usurped” the role.  Further shocked by learning that he was destined to become his heroes greatest rival, Zoom’s mind snapped, becoming convinced that he himself was Allen, back from the dead.  Ultimately, Wally discovered the truth, tricking Zoom into resuming his pre-destined role.  With this, Waid cemented Wally as THE Flash.


The Return of Barry Allen” also provided Waid an opportunity to reintroduce many characters that figured into the Flash legacy.  The culmination of this occurred in Flash #s 92-94 (July-September 1994), with the return of Iris Allen – and her grandson, Bart.  Bart’s superspeed was killing him, and Iris returned to the past, hoping that Wally’s own practical experience with his powers would help save him.  Many fans expected Bart to be the new Kid Flash, but Waid planned a curve, in that while Wally was able to help save him, the young speedster ultimately needed more direction than Wally could provide.  Dubbed “Impulse,” Bart remains an important character to both Wally and the Flash legacy.

 
Waid also connected all three Flashes – all super-speedsters, in fact – with the introduction of  the Speed Force (Flash #95-100, November 1994-April 1995).  An extradimensional energy field that powers all super-speedsters, the Speed Force also serves as a Valhalla of sorts, for those who breach terminal velocity.  Further cementing his role as the Flash, Wally became the first and (at that time) only person to return from the Speed Force, drawn back by his love for Linda (Flash #100, April 1995).

                 


Following a brief arc that re-established many of the classic Rogues, Waid stepped away from the book for a one year hiatus.  During this time (Flash #s 130-141, October 1997-September 1998), Grant Morrison and Mark Millar were hand-picked as writers to maintain the title.  Most significant during this time was the introduction of The Black Flash, the embodiment of death for those with super-speed.  During this arc (Flash #s 138-141, June-September 1998), The Black Flash arrived to claim Wally, but instead took Linda.  At the conclusion of the arc, Wally actually managed to outrace death, reclaiming Linda, but left with the dire reminder that the Black Flash waits for all speedsters at the end of the race.


Waid and editor Brian Augustyn returned with issue Flash #142 (October 1998), for the wedding of Wally and Linda.  Setting up the next two years of stories, classic Rogue Abra Kadabra interrupted the wedding, kidnapping Linda and erasing her memory from existence.  Following a time-spanning adventure against Cobalt Blue (the evil twin of Barry Allen, Flash #s 143 -150, December 1998-July 1999), Wally again disappeared into the Speed Force, this time having no Linda to draw him back.  For a period of time, Waid and Augustyn replaced Wally West with….himself.  Initially disguising his identity ot readers, a mysterious new “dark” Flash took the reigns of the title from #s 150-159 (July 1999-April 2000).  Revealed to be Walter West from an alternate timeline where Linda died, this reflection of our own Flash ultimately paved the way for both Wally and Linda to return.  Walter left our timeline, and at last, Wally and Linda were wed (Flash #159, April 2000).


With close to 20 years of working on the Flash between them, Waid and Augustyn chose to step off the stage, having brought the evolution of Wally seemingly full circle.  Up-and-coming writer Geoff Johns was brought aboard for a 6-issue arc (#s 164-169, September 2000-February 2001), which led to him taking the title on an on-going basis.  Feeling that the scribes prior to him had defined who “The Flash” was, Johns focused on developing Wally as a man, and through this his city, allies and foes.  Johns breathed new life into classic Rogues such as Weather Wizard, Trickster and Captain Cold, as well as introducing a new wave of Rogues with the likes of Blacksmith, Murmer and Girder (all from Flash: Iron Heights, 2001).  The most significant addition came in the form of Hunter Zoloman (first appearing in Flash: Secret Files #3, November 2001). 

 
A slightly mentally scarred police profiler, Zoloman became a close ally of Wally West until he was crippled by Grodd (Flash #193, February 2003).  Despondent at the climax of his tragic life (as well as Wally’s refusal to travel through time to prevent his accident), Zoloman activated the famed cosmic treadmill.  A subsequent accident with the device shifted Zoloman onto a faster timeline, giving him abilities akin to superspeed.  Becoming the new Reverse-Flash, Zoom (Flash #197, June 1993), Zoloman took it upon himself to drive Wally to become an even greater hero – by forcing him to face tragedy.  In a heinous attack, Zoom caused Linda to miscarry, setting off a chain of events that resulted in the public knowledge of Wally’s dual identity to be forgotten by the world (Flash #s 198-200, July-September 2003).  During an epic rematch between Zoom and Wally (Flash #223-225, August-October 2005, with a war between the other Rogues and appearances by a time-lost Barry Allen and original Professor Zoom), Zoloman tried to force Wally into a timeloop, watching the accident that cost Linda so much, over and over.  Instead, Wally’s victory over Zoom had the side effect of altering time, preventing the attack on Linda.  In the present day, Linda immediately gave birth to twins – Jai and Iris West.

           


At this point, several legacies came to a conclusion; Johns ended his run with issue #225, moving to pen the Crisis on Infinite Earths sequel, Infinite Crisis.  In the fourth issue (March 2006), Wally, Linda, Jai and Iris all willingly launched themselves into the Speed Force, in a united effort to stop the villain of the piece.  The Flash series, under the hands of fill-in writers then concluded with #230 (March 2006).


Despite what seems like an appropriate “full circle” conclusion to Wally West’s saga, he and his family returned during a cross-over between Justice League of America and Justice Society of America (specifically in Justice League of America #10, August 2007).  His story has continued since then, first with All-Flash #1 (2007), and then under the guiding hand of Mark Waid in the Flash (which resumed with #231, October 2007).  Waid quietly left the book after six issues, which then continued under various hands until ending again with issue #247 (February 2009).

 
At this point, Wally, along with Barry Allen and all the other men to bear the name “Flash” simultaneously exist in the pages of Flash: Rebirth.  The story, again by Geoff Johns, is ongoing, but even with his guiding hand, many are skeptical.  The beloved character’s tale came to a satisfactory conclusion in 2006, but has been re-started and struggled to find its footing since then.  What does the future hold for Wally West?  Or should Rebirth be his final race?

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Comments

  • NinjaGeorgie

    NinjaGeorgie Jun 19, 2009 at 9:32am

    Wow. Cool reserach.

  • Andy Oliver

    Andy Oliver Jun 23, 2009 at 2:44pm

    I do wonder what role Wally will play in the post-Rebirth Flash mythos.

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