Last week, we covered the superhero career of Wally West through his teen years. We watched a boy attain his life’s dream at 10. We saw it go to his head, and we saw his dream fall apart as his powers slowly killed him, his aunt was murdered and his mentor was jailed before sacrificing himself to save all of existence. If you didn’t read it, I suggest you do before reading this piece, just to catch up.
This week, we’ll take a look at Wally’s adult career. At one point, I will link you to a previous piece about Wally’s wife, Linda Park. I don’t think you’ll need to read that piece in order to really understand why Wally is the greatest superhero character ever created, but it’ll help. His relationship with Linda is as important as his relationship to Barry Allen.
As Flash, Wally did okay at first. He was a little too cocky, and the death of Barry put some bad ideas in his head. Barry died penniless, his funeral costs were covered by the JLA, and Wally feared that the same would happen to him. When asked to deliver a heart across the country in order to save a life, Wally wouldn’t do it unless he was given free medical insurance in return. Not really the hero Barry had taught him to be.
Wally also had to deal with constant hunger. His speed was no longer aging him, but it did take a toll on him. If Wally didn’t keep his blood sugar levels up, he would pass out. This meant almost constant eating for him, a rather expensive issue to deal with. Lucky for Wally, the New York State Lottery would take care of this problem for him.
On his 20th birthday, Wally West won the lottery. He went from barely being able to cover rent for an apartment in Brooklyn (which, in 1987, was not the cool place to be) to being a multimillionaire. Things were looking up for Wally, and he no longer saw a need to hide his being the Flash from the world, so he revealed his identity to everyone. This was a decision Wally would really come to regret later in life.
Since getting hit with that beam during the Crisis, Wally was no longer in danger of dying if he used his powers, but he also wasn’t as fast as he used to be. Wally struggled to get past the speed of sound, and from time to time, he would just lose his speed altogether. Wally’s therapist would later suggest that these were mental blocks - that Wally was worried his becoming Flash would lead to Barry’s legacy being tarnished. Adding to his problems, as we touched on previously, Vandal Savage would inject Wally with the superspeed drug known as Velocity 9, which would make Wally’s powers even more wonky. That wouldn’t last too long, though; during an alien invasion, in the DC series Invasion!, Wally would be one of the heroes to lose his powers when a race called the Dominators released a “gene bomb” on Earth. Also, Wally would lose all his money, thanks to a mixture of poor spending habits and some terrible work by his accountant. Wally West was homeless and powerless.
Wally was forced to move into a small apartment with his mom. At 21 years of age, he was washed up, a failure in every way. Wally West was done being a hero.
Then his friend Tina McGee came up with a plan - if they could recreate the accident that first gave Wally his powers, maybe he could get them back. Using the diary of Barry Allen, Tina was able to find out what chemicals were originally there when Wally was hit by lightning and, with some tech from S.T.A.R. Labs, she could set up an electrified chemical shower for Wally. With nothing left to lose, Wally went for it.
The good news was that Wally got his powers back. The bad news was that when he first got them back, Wally couldn’t control them.
Wally would create a path of destruction from New York to New Mexico. Already owning the government a ton in taxes, Wally now had way too many lawsuits for anyone to handle. Luckily, with the kind of luck that only happens in comics, no one died from his run.
With his speed back, and with a serious need for cash, Wally joined the Justice League, which at this time was funded by the United Nations and came with a paycheck. It wasn’t enough money for him to be able to move out of his mom’s apartment, but it was something. Wally focused on being a hero and stopped screwing around so much, both with his powers and with women. Wally had been something of a womanizer, but he finally entered a long term relationship with Connie Noleski, a model with dreams of being the next Christie Brinkley. Wally’s superhero antics would often cause problems between him and Connie. She also felt out of place in Wally’s world of superheroes, a problem they wouldn’t be able to get past. In the end, Wally and Connie broke up. Connie married Wally’s friend Chunk, which Wally was cool with, since he would find true love with Linda.
But we need to back up a bit! We’re skipping over a very important moment for Wally, maybe the most important moment - the first time he died! Wally would seem to die a lot in the coming years, but only once was it a for-real death. Vandal Savage was dying, aging because of the Velocity-9 he was injected with, and all he wanted was a chance to finally kill Wally West. So Savage kidnapped all of Wally’s friends and family and forced Wally to face him one on one.
Savage set up a platform that would temporarily take away Wally’s powers. For as long as Wally was on it, he was a normal human, but the moment he stepped off of the platform, he would get his speed back. What Wally had to do was get off the platform before Savage could shoot him. If Wally cheated, all his friends would die. This was it, the moment for Wally to show everyone that he was as good as Barry.
Wally West was dead, shot through the heart by Vandal Savage.
Obviously this didn’t stick. You may remember way way way back in the piece about Linda where we discussed a baddie called Kilg%re who gave Wally a “gift”? It was time for that gift to come into play.
Kilg%re has hidden itself within Wally (which, by the way, was like 10 issues before this happened, so major props to William Messner-Loebs for plotting this out so far in advance). When Wally’s heart quit beating, Kilg%re went to work to bring him back from the dead. All fixed up, Kilg%re left Wally, and the Earth. Wally went to S.T.A.R. Labs to get some help from Tina. Along with a full checkup, Wally got something else, a new costume.
I love that costume. A great mix of the classic Carmine Infantino Flash costume with modern updates by artist Greg LaRocque.
So, Wally goes off after Savage to save his friends. He wins, beats the crap out of Savage before the Immortal Man/Girl shows up to take Savage away to answer for his crimes.
Now, to keep this from being a 50 page article, I’m going to bullet point the important/interesting moments of the next 20 or so issues of the Wally West Flash run. If I don’t, this piece will be 200 pages long.
- Wally becomes an IRS agent chasing down supervillians or aliens/monsters that owe taxes in order to work off his own back taxes.
- Wally’s best friend, Piper, comes out as gay. Wally, being awesome, is cool with it.
- Wally inherits a fortune from a former villain of the first Flash, Jay Garrick, the Icicle. He uses the money to start the Barry Allen Foundation, which helps people whose lives are negatively affected by superhero activity after Piper introduces Wally to an underground city of people whose lives were ruined by the Invasion
- Wally and Linda start dating
Then a miracle happened. On Christmas Day, while enjoying a meal with Jay and Joan Garrick, there is a knock at the door. Wally opens it to find himself face to face with Barry Allen.
Wally had finally gotten over his self-confidence issues, and here comes Barry Allen to bring them all back. I mean, sure, Wally was happy to have his idol back, but still… why was he back?
Barry picks up being Flash, and Wally isn’t really sure where he fits in. Things get even more complicated when Barry leaves Wally in a deathtrap.
Turns out, it isn’t Barry, it is Eobard Thawne, the Reverse Flash, acting as Barry. It takes Wally and a team of speedsters to take Eobard out. It is maybe the best Flash story ever told. I strongly suggest you head over to Comixology and buy the issues (Flash volume 2, issues 73-79) or at least read up on it here. Wally learns a lot about himself during this period, including how to really harness his power. Wally reaches new speeds, and would continue to push his limits. He would push them so far that Wally West would turn into a being of light before being pulled into the Speed Force.
As we covered in the Linda entry, Wally was forced to go beyond the speed of light to save not only Linda, but all of Central City from Kobra. Going this fast, faster than anyone ever had, pulled Wally into the Speed Force. When he came out, he was changed. Wally could do things no Flash had ever done, including controlling the speed of others. Wally had become one with the Speed Force, and he felt great about it.
Someone who didn’t like that very much was a dude called Savitar. I don’t want to say too much on Savitar because he would be a GREAT baddie for the show and I hope they use him, but we’ll touch on the basics. Savitar was one of the first people to ever touch the Speed Force, and he wanted it all for himself. When the Cult of Savitar pulled him out of the Speed Force, Savitar set about killing everyone who was connected to the power. It took the combined might of Wally, Jay, Impulse, XS, Johnny Quick, Jesse Quick and Max Mercury (so many of these people I hope I get to write entries for!) to stop Savitar, but not without a cost. Johnny Quick entered the Speed Force, but was not strong enough to come back out. He was lost forever.
In defeating Savitar, Wally was sent into the future, though everyone thought he was dead. As he tried to get back home, Wally met Barry’s children, the Tornado Twins, and had a fun little adventure with them. It was nice. Still, Linda was waiting for him, so Wally came home.
Aside from the usual superhero annoyances, things were pretty good for Wally. He was in love, he had good friends, and he had really found himself as a hero. Obviously, this doesn’t make for exciting comics, so that would all fall apart in time. A new Reverse Flash, Hunter Zolomon (read more on him here) believed that Wally wasn’t trying hard enough, not doing enough as a hero, so he would modernize the guy by giving him a personal tragedy. In one of the most tragic moments in comics, Zoom snapped his fingers, creating a sonic boom. The force of the sonic boom caused Linda to have a miscarriage.
Losing his children was too much for Wally. His choice when he was 20 to let the world know that he was Flash had led to this moment, this horrible pain put onto Linda. He couldn’t deal with it. Wally turned to the Spectre to erase his identity from the minds of everyone on Earth. Spectre did this, but in true Spectre fashion, he also erased it from Wally’s memory. With a flash of light, Wally West went from being Flash to being a mechanic for the Central City police.
Lucky for Wally, this was during a period in DC Comics when Batman was seemingly all-knowing. How all-knowing was Batman? He realized that he had forgotten some information, namely who the Flash was. So Batman did what Batman does: he started doing detective stuff and figured out that Wally was Flash. Batman went and reminded Wally that he had superspeed and Wally was all “Oh wow, I forgot” then he went back to being Flash. Personally, I hated this. Batman shouldn’t be that powerful, but whatever.
With his memory back, Wally returned to being Flash. He and Linda worked out their feelings about what happened, and they moved on. Then Eobard Thawne came a-calling. Thawne broke Zolomon out of stasis and together they started really causing problems for Wally. Good thing for Wally, Barry Allen showed up to help out! The real Barry this time! Yay!
With Barry’s help, Wally was able to take down Team Zoom, battling the baddies through time. During the battle, Wally got a chance to Sam Beckett some things, and put right what once went wrong. He was able to stop Zolomon from causing Linda’s miscarriage. Wally and Linda suddenly found themselves to be the parents of twins, Iris and Jai West.
Wally was happy again. He had his family, he was Flash, and the world was good. Then the skies went red, and anyone who knows anything about the DC universe knows that when the skies go red, a Flash will die. It happened in Crisis on Infinite Earths, it happened (not really but whatever) in Zero Hour, and now it was happening in Infinite Crisis. As an evil Superboy went about destroying the Teen Titans, all the speedsters came together to stop him by trapping him in the Speed Force. Wally was pulled into the Speed Force, with Linda and the twins joining him. The family West was gone forever.
Then they came back. And it was really interesting, seeing Wally fighting evil alongside his wife and kids. We didn’t get to see much of it though, because Barry Allen came back, and the Wests were pushed to the side..
Then Flashpoint happened and Wally West was erased from history.
The New 52 started and a few years in, we were introduced to a new Wally West, one who drove the comic book sections of the internet crazy for a bit. This new Wally West was… BLACK!?!?!?!!?! OMG HE IS RUINED FOREVER!!!!!!!
To be honest, Wally West was kind of ruined forever. Not because he’s black now - the reason I feel like he’s ruined is because what made Wally so special was gone. This new Wally West was introduced as hating Flash. His parents were gone and Iris had taken him in, but he was a “rebel,” spray painting anti-Flash stuff and all that. This was, in my opinion, the worst thing they could do with the character.
What made Wally West so great was that he was us, with our dreams fulfilled. When you’re a kid and you read comics, you dream of being Spider-Man or Superman or Flash. You imagine how great that would be to be out there saving lives and fighting bad guys. Wally West got to be that. He dreamed of fighting alongside Flash, and that dream became reality. He was a hero, a great hero, because he had been so lucky to be given so much and he used what he was given to help others. Yes, he was a little bit of a prick in his late teens and early twenties, but who isn’t? He battled his own insecurities, as well as endless amounts of baddies, to stand out as one of the really great characters in comics. Wally West was us, the kid who loved superheroes.
Perhaps the new Wally West is us too. If you look at the reactions people had to DC’s New 52, you’ll see it is a lot of hate. It was clear DC didn’t really have a plan other than making everything real grim, and readers weren’t feeling it. Maybe this new Wally was a response to that - he didn’t like it either. He didn’t like this new take on Flash, with the murdered mom and tragic origin, because that took away what made Flash stand out from the crowd. What made Flash so damn cool in the first place.
Maybe I’m too close to it in some ways. Like I said, Wally West is my favorite fictional character, and part of the reason for it is because I can kind of relate to him. I mean, I don’t have super speed or anything (I’m a terrible runner in reality), but because I can understand feeling stuck in the shadow of another person. Any younger sibling kind of ends up feeling that, having to compete in some way with the older sibling. For me, that older sibling is the main man of Birth.Movies.Death, Devin.
If you follow Devin’s writing here, or on Twitter, or listen to his podcast, The Canon, you’ll no doubt notice that Devin is a strong personality. We went to the same schools, with me four years behind him, and more than once I had teachers wonder why I wasn’t more like my older brother. Our family wondered about this from time to time as well. This really hit me during my freshman year of high school - a school where Devin was something akin to a god as far as I could tell. Everyone knew him, and everyone expected me to be like him. It was during that year of trying to be like Devin that I first started reading Flash (issue 52 was the first one I picked up, which is funny considering how important that number has become in DC history). I saw Wally struggling to live up to the legacy of Barry Allen and, while Devin had never saved the universe, I kind of understood where Wally was coming from. We both were trying to be someone else to please others, and we both had to learn to be ourselves. I’m thankful that I found Wally sitting on the shelves of Little Nemo’s Comic Shop in Forest Hills, Queens. I honestly have no idea who I would be without him.