The Flash fall finale is set to air this evening and with it we’ll be introduced to a new character named Wally West. However, this Wally West isn’t the one long time fans of the comic books know and love. In fact, this Wally West is going to be mirrored off of a controversial new take on the character which first appeared in DC Comics’ New 52 The Flash #30. While this version of Wally will work perfectly for the show for reasons explained below, the original character has been around the comic books since 1959 appearing first as Kid Flash and later, after the Crisis on Infinite Earths, as the inheritor of Barry Allan’s mantle.
Unlike the histories of Vandal Savage and Hawkman this installment of “Who Is …?” will be split into two histories. The very brief history of the Wally West that will be appearing on the show this evening and that of the original Wally West. Of course, I’ll be including some key books that every collector worth their salt should have in their long boxes.
Who Is Wally West?
The CW/New 52 Wally West
This version of Wally West is only about a year a half old having first appeared in the New 52’s Flash #30 in June 2014. He made another appearance in the next month’s Flash Annual #3, and would be featured in the company’s Flash: Five Years Later #1 in September of the same year. Unlike the original Wally West the New 52’s version is of mixed African-American origin and the son of a previously unknown brother to Iris West. In the comic book Wally has had a tough upbringing. Iris’s brother, Rudolph West, abandoned his son and wife a long time ago. West’s mother perished during the 2013-2014 Forever Evil event when the Crime Syndicate from Earth-3 invaded Prime Earth (Earth-1). When we meet Wally in the New 52 universe he’s struggling as an orphan and going down the wrong road.
I have no prior knowledge of the origin of the CW’s Wally West a part from the fact that he is going to portrayed by actor Keiynan Lonsdale. Wally is set to show up on Joe and Iris West’s doorstep in tonight’s program but given the look on Joe’s face from the promotional photo’s released yesterday it’s fair to say that this Wally will be a unknown son of his. Given the rocky relationship between Joe and his wife that ran through the early fall season this isn’t a stretch. I don’t think we’ve been introduced to any brothers or sisters of Joe’s but that could be another route the show could explore tonight. Either way look for the CW Wally West to take his queues the current, New 52 version of the character.
The original Wally West
The original Wally West that at least two generations of comic book collectors have known and grown up with was first introduced in 1959 in Flash #110, Vol. 1. He was a nephew of Barry Allan and got his powers the same way Barry did; by getting struck with a bolt of lightening and taking a chemical bath in Barry’s laboratory. You’ll be forgiven for rolling your eyes, it isn’t exactly an original formula, but nevertheless lightening struck twice and Wally West, the Kid Flash, was born.
Wally emerged as the Flash’s sidekick around the time that DC was creating a bunch of different sidekicks for it’s main heroes in an effort to appeal to younger readers. Green Arrow’s sidekick Speedy, Aquaman’s sidekick Aqualad, Wonder Woman’s sidekick Donna Troy all emerged around the same time; but of all the sidekicks only Wally West grew up to take a place as an equal among the pantheon of DC mightiest heroes and a founding member of the JLA. He found his place first among the Teen Titans in the mid-1980’s made popular by Marv Wolfman and Georges Perez. During his time on the Titans Wally and his teammates confronted threats from Deathstroke the Terminator, the evil demon Trigon, as well as the likes of Dr. Light. Wally earned his stripes as one of the groups leading voices, but Wolfman and Perez made him earn that honor in their stories which were rich in super heroics and complex character development.
To be honest, the entire run of The New Teen Titans belongs in every collector’s long boxes. There are some very important books in this series from a historical perspective. It was in The New Teen Titans that characters such as Deathstroke, Cyborg, Raven, and Starfire made their first appearances. Wally West, as Kid Flash, became a hero with his own identity and misgivings, and learned how to be a part of a team. Wolfman and Perez never really gave Wally West a true arc onto himself but through the course of forty issues the Kid Flash – like the rest of the team – matures and becomes a complex character. It’s this series, more then any of his previous adventures, that catapults young West into becoming a fan favorite and the obvious choice to inherit the mantle of the Flash after Barry Allan’s demise.
The first time Wally dons the Flash costume is found in the twelfth and final issue of Crisis on Infinite Earths. In a bittersweet moment Wally acknowledges the legacy and sacrifice made by Barry Allan and begins his mission to honor his uncle’s legacy by carrying on the mantle of the Flash. This aspect of Wally’s character is a defining theme that will follow his heroics for the next twenty years. Different writers through the modern era would give it varying degrees of importance but it never left him completely. For the collector looking to own the book where Wally takes his first step as the Flash, Crisis on Infinite Earths #12 is a must have.
Off all of DC Comic’s characters the Flash is almost unique in that he enjoyed a book that remained in continuous publication between 1987 and 2006, as well as very low writer turn over. For whatever reason when a writer signed on to The Flash they remained on the book for a very long time. As such Wally’s character development can be read as one continuous arc from The Flash #1 (Vol. 2, June 1987) to The Flash #232(Vol. 2, March 2006). That being said there are really three authors who by sheer length of tenure shaped the character of Wally West and molded him into a true super hero: William Messner-Loebs, Mark Waid, and Geoff Johns.
Collectors looking to bulk out their Wally West Flash catalogs should consider the following books as must haves:
The New Teen Titans #1-4
Wolfman and Perez bring the new Teen Titans together in this four part team building arc. Wally is reluctant to join until the mysterious Raven visits him and implores him to take up membership. Although Raven’s motivations for getting the team together are eventually revealed to be self-serving Kid Flash and the rest of the young Titans form a nearly unbreakable family bond through the entire forty issue series.
The Flash #50, Vol. 2, May 1991
Since first donning Barry Allan’s costume in Crisis on Infinite Earths #12 Wally never changed up the duds. In issue fifty Wally finally makes some tweaks to
the costume making it his own. The changes aren’t drastic by any stretch. The lightening bolt belt was tweaked a bit so that rather then forming a continuous horizontal band around his waist the bolt’s two ends now touch at a single point in the center of his waist. I know, I know, it’s revolutionary right? No, of course not, but it made the costume his own and established Wally’s ownership of the Flash mantle for the first time. The suit’s design wouldn’t be changed for another twenty four years until the Jim Lee restyled costume now worn by Barry Allan in the rebooted New 52 universe.
The Flash #62-65, Vol. 2, May 1992-June 1992
When Mark Waid took over writing duties for The Flash he started his run with a re-telling of Wally West’s origin story. In a sense this became the unofficial “Year One” story for Wally. Year One tales were done for a limited number of characters that were ready for retcons and reboots. It’s a great series to have as it gets you caught up on all the important history of the character before jumping right into Waid’s run.
The Flash #0, The Flash #95-101, Vol. 2, October 1994-May 1995
‘Terminal Velocity’ is one of the more action packed arcs and one of Waid’s top three story arcs in my opinion. It doesn’t hold up all that well today though. Some of things Waid has characters like Linda Park do are really silly and there are some lame plot devices employed to boost B (maybe C) list villain King Kobra and his Kobra organization into an outfit that could defeat the Flash, destroy Keystone City, and take over the world. Those caveats in place “Terminal Velocity” is still an excellent story arc to put in your long boxes. After seeing a future in which the Flash passes into the Speed Force without saving Linda and his city from the evil King Cobra the Flash gathers all of the speedsters – Jay Garrick, Impulse, Jesse Quick, and Max Mercury – to assist him in taking down Kobra. There is a lot of character development for those speedsters during this series (another reason why it’s worth the real estate in your long boxes). We learn the origin of Max Mercury and we also see Impulse start down the road Wally walked as he transitioned from annoying brat into a true hero. We also see Wally and Linda’s relationship tested under extreme measures and the power of their love to overcome whatever Kobra and the Speed Force can send their way. Complete with a foil embossed one hundredth issue anniversary edition this story arc really is a fun read if a bit dated.
The Flash #197-200, Vol. 2, June 2003-September 2003
Geoff Johns’ best arc (in my opinion) on The Flash saw the introduction of Zoom, a character now immortalized on the CW’s “The Flash”. This four issue arc
would be one of the most destructive and transformative events in Wally’s super hero career. His friend Hunter Zoloman becomes the villain Zoom in an accident trying to go back in time to erase a traumatic and life altering event from happening. Although he failed in his attempt he was granted super speed, or more accurately, he was pushed into the future by a minute allowing Zoom to travel back and forth through time thus giving him the appearance of having super speed. (That may or may not be a spoiler for the show as they haven’t actually revealed yet how Zoom can be so much faster then Barry). His wife Linda is attacked and loses their unborn children. Finally, Barry Allan and Hal Jordan visit Wally at the conclusion of the story arc. Hal Jordan acting as the Spectre helps to erase memory of Wally identity – a fact that had been public knowledge – and in doing so raises the ire of Batman in later issues. This arc with it’s mind wiping repercussions acts as one of the first threads leading into what would become a major issue that super heroes and villains across the DCU would be forced to confront in 2004’s Identity Crisis.
In conclusion ….
There you have it, everything you need to get caught up on who Wally West is … both of them. There are a lot of great Wally West stories out there, too many to list and mine isn’t exhaustive by any stretch. Feel free to list favorite Wally West tales in the comments!