I’m a bit of late bloomer, comic book-wise. While most fans have a dead spot in their comic reading, around their mid to late teens, that period of my life marked my true emergence as a comic fan. I liked superheroes pretty early, but my real embrace of their 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 first as a deceased idol of West’s, second as the hero of CRISIS ON INFINITE EARTHS, 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,” preceded my comic reading by two or three years.

Wally West
Image courtesy of DC Entertainment.

The Definitive Flash

So Wally was it for me, and I loved that. He had an uncle who’s footsteps he was following in, who died saving the universe, one of the few true sacrificial heroes in an industry full of resurrections. Wally was the ideal sidekick graduating into a hero that none of his other contemporaries could ever fulfill because they studied under heroes that would never step down. Think Wonder Girl for Wonder Woman or Robin for Batman. Some had become too sullied in their time as a sidekick to take on the title. Green Arrow’s ward Speedy, who was a recovering addict and had a child with a supervillain.

By the time I caught up with him — please forgive the pun — West had already left behind his early days as Flash that was marked by slower speeds and womanizing. He had truly become the Fastest Man Alive and embraced his relationship with Linda Park so wholeheartedly that she was literally his anchor to the present when the Speed Force tried to pull him away or consume him entirely.

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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 wise for his age, who very much wanted to live up to the legacy he felt his uncle was laying down for him, I was all in. Flash wasn’t just a guy who could run fast; he was a beacon of hope. Wally made it to adulthood and actually became better in the process, and if he could do it with supervillains around every corner, a teenager from Newington, Connecticut could surely do the same.

The Return of Barry Allen

Then Allen started to creep back into the pages. First, it was the three times he visited West from the future during Geoff Johns’ run on the character. It seemed odd, but it was just a visit, right? There was only 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 to leave the pantheon of characters that stay dead like Uncle Ben, the Waynes, and… probably some others.

Image courtesy of DC Entertainment.

Then 2009 arrived. DC was already in the midst of a big rollback. GREEN LANTERN: REBIRTH brought back the “greatest Green Lantern ever” Hal Jordan, sidelining the Green Lantern of the past ten 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.

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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 Allen’s mom had never been murdered and now you cannot write the character 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 has been good to very good from issue to issue. So the relaunch absolutely did right by him.

Wally, though? Less so.

Wally West
Image courtesy of DC Entertainment.

A New Wally West

First, there was the Wally West introduced in FLASH ANNUAL #3. This biracial character resembled Wally only in name and attraction to the Flash legacy. Nonetheless, I was excited. He wasn’t “my” Wally, per se, but adding diversity to 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 on, reintroduce the old, white Wally West.

Less than two years later, wouldn’t you know it, there’s another guy named Wally running around. So we have two Wally Wests. One of them is Kid Flash, one is Flash, but neither of them is the top dog nor do they really walk, talk, or act like “my” Wally. It’s an embarrassment in so many ways.

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On some level, I get it. I embraced Kyle Rayner and scoffed at the H.E.A.T. entitled fan brigade who sent death threats to writer Ron Marz for years about the “slighting” of Hal. 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. Plus, the West duo is just… odd. Neither speaks to me the way 90s Wally did, but the bigger question is why two Wallys at all?

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 both and undermine both? It just boggles my mind.

Accept No Substitute

If I’m honest, fully and ultimately, 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, and his appearances. 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. Time moves forward, comic books change, and well, you either adapt or find a new hobby.

Image courtesy of DC Entertainment.

So I keep doing my best to adapt. I accept Barry Allen as the Flash and, while I still don’t connect with him as a character, I do like his book for the sharp writing and some outstanding art.

Also, I accept the new Kid Flash Wally West. And, I shake my head at the cowardly “bringing back a white Wally too” move because, man, even if I’m old and out of touch, that’s some bush league stuff right there.

If we’re going to move forward, let’s move forward. I accept this and, over time, it gets easier, and I stop worrying about if the DCU conforms to the one I discovered at fourteen in a cramped comic book store.

Still, now and then, I miss Wally. I don’t think that’s ever going to change.

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