Heroes In Crisis was an incredible book. It told an extremely important story, delivering a critical message to an audience probably not used to hearing it. It also kind of breaks the superhero formula.
The biggest split between DC and Marvel characters has always been what the characters are best at doing. Marvel has the street level folks, the people with regular problems who also have to deal with being superheroes. DC heroes have always been the icons, the Olympian gods shining a light and showing us what we can be if we strive hard enough.
The point where they converge, though, is on legacy characters. Laura Kinney, Miles Morales, or Bucky all face their regular person problems in the Marvel Universe, but they also face problems fitting into or adjusting the iconography and archetype they’re filling as Wolverine or Spider-Man or Captain America. The inverse is true for DC’s legacy heroes: Wally West can have regular person problems – self-doubt, family drama, being broke – while also fulfilling the epic archetype that the Flash is supposed to.
In fact, Wally West is probably the exemplar of the legacy character archetype. While nearly everyone in the Justice Society of America had some kind of descendant (in name, power set, family tie, or motif) in the Silver Age, almost all of those second generation characters were the definitive ones for the superhero universes built around them – as great as he is, nobody’s first thought when you say “The Atom” is Al Pratt. Wally West was introduced in 1960 by Carmine Infantino and John Broome to be a sidekick to DC’s ultimate legacy character, Barry Allen’s Flash. His primary role was to run around the DCU as part of team Flash, either with Barry or with his sidekick cohorts as a founding member of the Teen Titans. In 1986, after spending the previous couple of years with the speed force threatening to blow his heart out from exertion, he returned to full hero status for Crisis on Infinite Earths, and following Barry’s death, he took on the mantle of the Flash full time. He stayed the primary Flash until Barry was brought back to life in 2009.
So when this version of Wally was written out of continuity with the New 52, the fan outcry was predictable. Suddenly, the point of view character for the Justice League, the heart and soul of the DCU (according to one of the best episodes of, at that point, the most popular pop culture representation of the league – the Justice League animated series) didn’t exist. And the kicker: not only was the character functionally erased, but so was the legacy that was a defining motivation for Wally as a hero. Wally was able to transcend archetype because of his position as the legacy Flash: his struggle to live up to the greatness of the people who had his job before him was unique to him when he first got the job, and relatable in a way that “basically Hermes on Olympus, but he’s also always late” can’t be.
Heroes In Crisis told a story with a very regular person problem: it was all about surviving trauma. And it was really good! It was a masterful blending of the two styles – using icons to model behavior or tackle a problem for the audience. I think it worked in a lot of the same ways that the Young Justice episode about Harper Row’s abusive family did. Wally West has had his entire life ripped from him – a wife, kids, an entire world that he was torn out of. He went to get help, had a setback, hurt people he cared about and then compounded the error out of shame. HiC blended that down-to-earth problem with the big mythical path-illumination that DC’s heroes are so extremely good at.
It also left Wally in a rough spot. He sorta killed a bunch of people, and even though it was an accident, it’s not the kind of thing that can be handwaved away. But with every problem comes opportunity: Scott Lobdell and Brett Booth start putting Wally’s life back together (and setting him up for a big event in 2020, looks like) in Flash Forward.
Here’s the official synopsis from DC…
“His name is Wally West—and he was the Fastest Man Alive. That is, until the Multiverse was rewritten without him or his family in it. Wally returned and tried to make it work, but the damage was done. Spinning out of the events of Heroes in Crisis, follow the man who called himself Flash on an adventure to find redemption in a cosmos that has fought so hard to destroy him.”
We’ve got an exclusive first look at the book for you here. Check it out!
And if you want any more information on what’s coming next for Wally or a deeper dive into why he’s provably the best Flash, stick with Den of Geek!