Thursday, August 11, 2011
The Passion of Wally West
Wally West is my favorite superhero in the DCU. Jack Knight (Starman) is a very close second, but Wally existed before Jack and he existed long after Starman was over. In the last couple of years the powers-that-be at DC developed a everything-Silver-Age-is-best sentimentality that found, among other things, Barry Allen returning after being dead a very long time. Now DC has made steps to temper older characters with newer ones, especially in the new relaunch, but Wally West is still nowhere to be found.
There are many reasons (albeit bad ones) that DC might have decided to go backwards with The Flash. It could have been that having Wally married with super-powered kids became an obstacle for the writers on the book. Perhaps DC is looking to have an easier accessible Flash in the comics for a proposed film version of the character. Or maybe the problem is certain creators decided they liked the version they grew up with and brought back their favorite once they achieved a position of power in the company.
It doesn't matter why it happened. I can say without a doubt though that Barry's return to the DCU has not been met with any critical acclaim. The nicest way to put it is that his reception has been lukewarm at best. The problem is that Barry Allen is a cookie-cutter hero created during a bygone age. The only modern aspect to him is his job which now has creators trying for a CSI: Flash vibe to his stories. If I want CSI I'll turn on the television. I want to read about The Flash, and Barry Allen just doesn't cut it anymore. In fact, I'd argue that he was a better hero when he was dead, and his sacrifice to save the Universe made him an example for modern heroes (like Wally) to live up to. By taking away his sacrifice he doesn't measure up anymore.
I first started reading the Flash when William Messner-Loebs and Greg LaRocque were working on the book. Wally was a hotshot young hero. He was sometimes a bit irresponsible, always ready to flirt with the ladies, and was struggling in the shadow of his uncle Barry. Those were fun comics. Wally was still a hero, but had trouble finding his way. I could relate to that. Later, when Mark Waid came on-board to start what is without a doubt the greatest Flash run in history, he took Wally from a young man trying to live up to the mantle he wore and built him up into one of the premiere heroes in the DCU. He's was still the Wally West I first started reading about but he moved past living in Barry's shadow and embraced being a Flash for a new age. He grew up and accepted his own heroic destiny instead of riding his mentor's coattails. This is the very example of what being a legacy hero in the DCU is about.
When Barry returned in Final Crisis I knew there would be trouble. Then Geoff Johns delivered Flash Rebirth. I was hoping it would end with Barry sacrificing himself again to save the Flash Family of characters, possibly paving the way for a new Flash like John Fox, the Flash from the future. Instead we got a really weak story about Barry not being able to slow down and enjoy being you know, not dead. Johns managed to not only remove my favorite Flash from the limelight, but then retconned Waid's "Speed Force" concept that gave the speedsters in the DCU their powers into somehow all coming from Barry. In other words without Barry Allen there is no Speed Force.
When the last new Flash series debuted I was already not feeling it as a result. I still was hoping that maybe Johns would give me something to connect with and maybe I could eventually come to like Barry. He had twelve issues and he never wrote Barry with any other personality besides cookie-cutter hero. Ironically Johns himself had a very well received run on the Flash back when Wally was the main character. Crazy, huh?
Now Barry Allen is going to get another chance to win the hearts and minds of Flash fans like me who miss reading a Flash book we liked. Its been years and in my opinion DC dropped the ball. I know they are trying to make the characters seem "younger and hipper" (which I always find funny since it is exactly the description used by old people who are out of touch) and perhaps they thought Wally being married with a family could not work. Well if that was the case why not retcon Wally's marriage and kids? Barry's marriage (along with Superman's) is being retconned. They could have done it for Wally.
Even if Barry HAD TO BE the Flash is there really nothing DC could have done with Wally? We can find books for Arsenal and Red Hood but there is nothing for Wally West? Couldn't he be a character in Stormwatch? Couldn't he adopt a new identity or take over the name Quicksilver from Max Mercury? It's not ideal, but it's better than nothing.
Dan Didio has already said that Wally is not going to appear in the Flash. Whether that means he exists or not doesn't matter. The argument made during the last Flash series was they couldn't have Wally show up because they had to build up Barry in his own book. A year after that and they're starting over again and basically it's the same argument. I guess they cannot bring in Wally until fans like Barry better because that is what DC wants. Sadly, I don't think they're going to get it.
I'm all for change in comics. It can be good. But if you try something and it obviously doesn't work, why beat it into the ground? I wouldn't have loved Wally's history being retconned, but after Spidey's marriage and Superman's marriage disappeared I could have lived with it if he was Flash again.
Maybe DC should have let Wally make his sacrifice and die in a blaze of glory. It would have sucked but then maybe he could get the recognition he deserves. The recognition Barry had when he was dead. Now, Wally is MIA and Barry's too busy putting on his bow-tie.
Sometimes our favorite characters are taken not with a bang, but with a whimper, and that is why in those cases Comic Books Suck.