Since the New 52 — DC’s vast reshuffling of its sizable deck — fans have had many questions. Who is Pandora? What’s with all the collars? Is Wonder Woman wearing pants now or what? And just “Why?” in general. But there’s been one big question standing out in the minds of Flash fans in particular: Where on Earth is Wally West? The former sidekick who went from Kid Flash to The Flash upon the death of his mentor Barry Allen, only to see Barry return and make Wally a bit redundant, was last seen meeting a grisly fate in the alternate timeline tale Flashpoint, and has yet to make an appearance since the reboot. I’m here to ask a different question: Why does he need to?
Do not misunderstand me: I am a huge Flash fan. For those of you who did not just skip angrily to the comments, allow me to make my case. Since I was very, very young I have recognised that moving very, very fast is very, very cool. Watching the world go by outside a moving car or train, I used to do that thing where you imagine a man running alongside, dodging obstacles. When I got into mainstream comics, the power I wanted most from Superman was his speed. As I delved deeper into the world of superheroes, I found The Flash, and someone who revelled in that coolness.
I fell in love with the Geoff Johns and Scott Kolins run with Wally as the Scarlet Speedster. To me, that run is the Flash. I have every trade of it. I have every trade that Mark Waid, Grant Morrison and Mark Millar wrote with Wally as the Flash too. And yes, I have many trades of Barry’s time in the yellow boots too, but to me, whenever someone mentions the Flash I will always think of Wally as drawn by Scott Kolins. He might be my favourite superhero of all time. (Behind Batman, of course, let’s not go nuts.)
So I’m not just having a go at people who won’t stop complaining online and at conventions. I was a little upset at his vanishing, too, when the New 52 titles were all announced. I’m right there with you.
But here’s the thing… Wally’s not exactly a new character. He’s been around since 1959. He’s only three years younger than Barry, his uncle and mentor. He’s gone through a lot of character development in that time. Let’s take a look at Wally’s history…
One of my favourite things about him is that, unlike nearly all other superheroes, Wally’s parents weren’t exactly inspirational. They weren’t bad people. In fact, they were the type of people you don’t see much of in fiction at all: They were ordinary people. They weren’t full of sage wisdom or inspirational advice. They favoured realistic expectations over encouraging Wally to reach for the stars and suffer failure later in life. Perhaps because of this, Wally did something we can all relate to: He turned to superheroes.
Idolising the Flash, young Wally was awestruck to discover that his Aunt Iris was dating the guy! As if that wasn’t enough, mere seconds after meeting Barry for the first time, the exact same circumstances that created the Flash happened to Wally, granting him super-speed as well. It’s the type of insane coincidence that could only have happened in a Silver Age comic book. But happen it did, and Wally became the Flash’s sidekick, Kid Flash!
Tragically, in 1986, Wally would become the first-ever sidekick to get promoted when Barry died saving the universe during Crisis on Infinite Earths. He stepped into the Flash’s well-worn boots, but they just didn’t fit him right. He became arrogant, brash, and a little sleazy too. The Flash legacy wore heavily on him, and it showed. But eventually, he cleaned up his act and became a hero and role model his uncle would be proud of. He eventually settled down and got married, and even ended up with kids. Then Barry came back and sometime after that… well, you’re all caught up now.
As you can see, Wally’s been pretty well fleshed out. But what about Barry? “Dying” in 1986, he skipped over the post-Watchmen realism that crept into superhero comics. He didn’t get the depth and rounding-out that most others got. Until Geoff Johns brought him back, anyway.
While we’ve already seen Wally’s journey from idealistic kid, to foolhardy young man, to responsible icon, to devoted husband, to the father he wishes he had, Barry is a relatively blank slate. Where now can Wally’s character progress to? His race is run. For Barry, the horizon’s the limit.
I’m not saying don’t bring Wally back. I’m just saying don’t do it without a reason. The Flash legacy has always been a relay race. It’s just that it sometimes goes backwards.