I am a bit of late bloomer, comic book-wise. While most fans have a dead spot in their comic collecting/following/reading, their mid to late teens, that period of my life marked my true emergence as a comic fan. I liked super heroes as early as three or four but my real embrace of their four-color origins was later than your average fan.
Thus, I came of age, comics-wise, in the mid-90s. And therefore, unequivocally, “my” Flash is Wally West. I missed Barry Allen entirely. He existed to me as a deceased idol of West’s first, the hero of CRISIS ON INFINITE EARTHS second, and, occasionally, a figure in dusty back issues of some period in the infinite “time before Tim read comics.” Even Mark Waid Greg La Rocque, Sal Velluto, and Roy Richardson’s “Return of Barry Allen,”—spoiler: that’s not Ubu Barry!—preceded my comic reading by two or three years.
So Wally was it for me and I loved that. He had an uncle who’s footsteps he was following in, an uncle who died saving the universe, one of the few true sacrificial heroes in an industry full of resurrections. Wally was the ideal of a sidekick graduating to become a hero that none of his other contemporaries could ever fulfill because they sidekicked for heroes that would never step down—think Wonder Girl for Wonder Woman or Robin for Batman—or had become too sullied in their time as sidekick to take on the mantel—Green Arrow’s ward Speedy who was a recovering addict and had a child with a super villain.
By the time I caught up with him—please forgive that horrible accidental pun—West had left behind his early days as Flash that were marked by slower speeds and womanizing and had truly become the Fastest Man Alive and embraced his relationship with Linda Park so wholeheartedly that she literally was his anchor to the present when the Speed Force would try and pull him away or consume him entirely.
He was the kid that became an adult and while still respecting his predecessor, proved himself more than worthy of the name “Flash.” As a fourteen year old a little too old for his age who very much wanted to live up to the legacy he felt his father was laying down for him, I was all in. He was not just a guy who could run fast, he was hope. Wally made it to adulthood and actually became better in the process and if he could do it with super villains around every corner, a teenager from Newington, Connecticut—home of the world’s smallest natural waterfall!—could surely do the same.
Then Allen started to creep back into the pages. First it was the three times he would visit West from the future during Geoff Johns’ run on the character. It seemed odd, but it was just a visit, right? And there was just going to be three of them. Barry was still dead “in reality” and Wally was still the Flash, full stop. No need to worry that Allen was about leave the pantheon of characters that stay dead like Uncle Ben, the Waynes, and…some others.
Then 2009 arrived. DC was already in the midst of a big rollback. GREEN LANTERN: REBIRTH brought back the “greatest Green Lantern ever, don’t you know, and did you hear he’s a fighter pilot too?!” Hal Jordan, sidelining the Green Lantern of the past 15 or so years Kyle Rayner. Newer incarnations of characters like Firestorm or The Atom were backgrounded, ignored, or killed. Then they did the unthinkable. They brought back Barry. And they made him, not Wally, the #1 Flash.
For a time, the two awkwardly shared the stage with Wally becoming a dad and Barry re-adapting to, well, living and getting a tweaked origin involving his mom’s apparent murder. That’s right, until ’09 you Allen’s mom had never been murdered and now you cannot write the character on the page or for the screen without making damn sure you remind everyone early and often that Barry Allen’s. Mom. Got. Murdered!
Then the New 52 arrived and finished the job. Barry Allen was the Flash and there was no Wally West to be seen. Now to give credit where credit is due, post-New 52 Allen is INFINITELY better than pre and the FLASH title since then, through DCYou, and now in the Rebirth era has been good to very good issue to issue. So the relaunch absolutely did right by him. Wally, though? Less so.
First there was the Wally West introduced in FLASH ANNUAL #3 post-new 52. This biracial Wally resembled Wally only in name and attraction to the Flash legacy. Nonetheless, I was excited. He was not “my” Wally, per se, but introducing diversity into comics is never a bad thing. However, my one caveat was that they had to do right by him and, at no point from then word, reintroduce the old, white Wally West.
Less than two years later, wouldn’t you know it, there’s one guy Wally with the red hair.
So we have two Wally Wests, one of them is Kid Flash, one is Flash, but neither of them is the top dog and neither of them really walk, talk or act like “my” Wally. It is an embarrassment of disappointments.
On some level, I get it. I embraced Kyle Rayner and scoffed at the H.E.A.T. entitled fan brigade who raged for years about the “slighting” of Hal and sent death threats to writer Ron Marz. It is only fair a new generation of readers get their own Flash. Except Kyle and Wally were steps forward, they were new or they were evolutions of established characters. Barry Allen is neither of those. And the West duo is just…odd. Both don’t speak to me the way then 90s/00’s Wally did but the bigger problem is why two Wallys? Why not let the first introduced Wally, the biracial one, stand on his own, become the Wally of now? Or alternately, why not bring back the Wally West we knew and loved, not just some white guy with the same name and introduce a biracial Kid Flash with a name all his own. Why do all—except have him resemble the previous Wally—and undermine both? It just boggles my mind.
If I’m honest though, fully and completely, the biggest problem for me is this: I just miss him. I miss the character I recognized, that I related to, that I got hope from. I miss the reliability of enjoying him, his book, his appearances. And, I think, part of me feels time slipping away, in dribs and drabs and seeing characters I love do the same makes me feel a little old, a little out of touch, a little without control. Time moves forward, comic books change, and well, you either adapt or find a new hobby.
So I keep doing my best to adapt. I accept Barry Allen is the Flash and while I still don’t connect with him as a character, I do like his book for the strong writing and some very good art. I accept Kid Flash Wally West but shake my head at the cowardly “bringing back a white Wally too” move because, man, even if I am old and out of touch, that’s some bush league stuff right there. If we are going to move forward, let’s really move forward, damn it. I accept it and, over time, it gets easier and I stop worrying about if the comics world conforms to the one I discovered at 14 in the center of town in a cramped comic book store. Still, now and then, I miss Wally. And I don’t think that’s ever going to change.