DC Comics is looking to make 2014 a year that counts for their swiftest hero, the Flash. A TV series is on the launch pad at the CW, and a new creative team is lined up for the character’s monthly comic book adventures. However, buried in the middle of an extensive piece over at USA Today outlining DC’s plans is a tidbit about the impending return of one Wallace Randolph West (a.k.a. the once and former Flash, who wore the trademark red-and-gold togs from 1986 until 2009 and is very much the Flash of record for a substantial number of folks who came of age during that nearly quarter-century span).
Wally, who began his comic career as Kid Flash – sidekick to Silver Age (and current) Flash Barry Allen – in 1959, holds a fairly unique place in comic book history, as he was the first sidekick to live up to the implicit promise of his role and actually assume his mentor’s heroic identity. When Barry was killed off (after several years of slumping sales) during DC’s big continuity-reshuffling miniseries Crisis on Infinite Earths, Wally assumed the role, and his struggle to live up to (and eventually surpass) his hallowed teacher was one of the great long-term sagas of the post-Crisis DC Universe.
Helped along by the game efforts of writers like William Messner-Loebs, Mark Waid, and Geoff Johns, Wally moved from being merely the Not-Barry Flash, keeping the seat warm until his mentor returned, to truly owning the role for himself (even transcending his medium and appearing as a regular on the still-popular Justice League animated show). Over those twenty-three years, we watched Wally grow from a cocksure ladies’ man to a happily-married father of twins. In addition, Wally also became the most prominent example of how DC’s “legacy hero” model could work, with certain heroic roles passing from character to character.
From my end, I grew up right alongside Wally and went through my own version of the phases of grief when DC honchos made the decision, back in ’08, to bring Barry back to the land of the living. My initial concern was that there was no way this would happen without permanently backburnering Wally in favor of his returned predecessor, effectively negating the progression he’d achieved in the process. And while folks like Dan Didio and Geoff Johns assured fans this wouldn’t be the case, the scant appearances Wally made on-panel following 2009’s The Flash: Rebirth miniseries – which put Barry back in the driver’s seat of the franchise – pretty much bore out those concerns.
After the time-tripping, continuity-shifting shenanigans of 2011’s Flashpoint left us with Barry Allen as the One True Flash (with even Golden Age Flash Jay Garrick’s history falling prey to the dreaded reset), it seemed certain that not only was Wally-as-the-Flash finished, so was Wally in general! And I was actually okay with that; Wally enjoyed a great run (and so did I right alongside him), but that run had come to a graceful close, one that preserved all the mileage he’d accumulated along the way. Thus, while I love the character dearly, I’m not particularly enthused by the news that he’s due for a return in DC’s New 52. So much of what made the character unique, his history, his experiences, simply can’t exist anymore, so the Wally we get would likely be vastly different from the Wally we want. Maybe it’s for the best if we let the panel below (from 2009’s Flash #247) remain our parting memory of him: