April 28, 2014

Wally West: The Flash and Legacy Identities

Category: Opinion — By

This is something that’s been percolating in my head for a while, and I thought I should post it before the Wally West conversation becomes totally dominated by this week’s Flash Annual. This isn’t about the New 52 version, but about the two decades in which Wally West was DC’s primary Flash, and how that relates to Barry Allen and the “ownership” of the Flash identity. I’ve seen it suggested that legacy characters like the post-Crisis Wally West are like stalkers or identity thieves. It’s probably no surprise that I don’t see it that way.

What’s in a Name?

The way I see it, there are two kinds of super-hero identities:

  • Who you are.
  • What you do.

Nice Suit!For Bruce Wayne, Batman is who he is. It’s the way he deals with his childhood tragedy. While Dick Grayson as Batman is interesting, he has less of a personal connection to the mantle than Bruce does.

Green Lantern is what Hal Jordan does. For Jay Garrick (at least when he’s younger) and Barry Allen, the Flash is less who they are and more what they do. Bart Allen? Impulse is who he is (pre-Flashpoint, anyway), and Kid Flash is what he does. (If you think about it, “Kid X” almost invariably implies a “What you do” identity, because kids grow up.) Arguably, being the Flash is more a part of Wally’s personality than it is of Barry’s, which is built more around his scientific outlook.

“What you do” identities can be passed along a lot more easily than “who you are” identities. They’re careers, businesses that can bring on a partner and move on to a successor. That’s why we’ve got four-plus in-continuity Robins (DC even referred to the Robin identity as an “intern program,” which fits perfectly)…but Batman successors in the present day (i.e. not Beyond) always hand the cowl back to Bruce within a year or so.

Succession

My take: Wally West didn’t steal his uncle’s identity. He inherited the family business.

Imagine the Flash Detective Agency, with Barry Allen as sole proprietor. He brings on his nephew Wally West as an assistant, shows him the ropes, takes him on as partner, and when Allen meets his untimely end, West steps up to keep the agency going. He takes over any open cases that Barry was working, sees a lot of the same clients, inherits a cell phone full of contacts (some of whom will talk to him, some of whom won’t)…and also inherits a lot of the enemies that the Flash Detective Agency has made over the years. Like anyone taking over an existing business, he’ll do some things the same and others differently. He’ll lose some old clients and win over new ones. He’ll make new enemies. And eventually he’ll make the business his own.

This is a bit more literal for Jesse Quick, who inherits QuickStart Enterprises from her father as well as taking on a variation of his superhero identity.

Or to take a non-comic book example, it’s easy to imagine that Veronica Mars will one day take over her father’s detective agency for good. That won’t make the agency any less the real Mars Detective Agency, nor will it make her accomplishments any less valid. The same goes for Wally West as Keystone/Central’s resident super-speedster.

Of course, the chances are rather slim that Keith Mars will come back after 20 years, take back the business, put Veronica on receptionist duty and then rewrite company history without her presence…

August 4, 2011

The Power of the Flash Legacy

Category: Flash History, Opinion — By

Once there were 3 Flashes...Then there were 2...Then there was 1...Finally...there was NONE!

I understand DC’s decision to pick a single Flash. They want to make a fresh start (sort of — more about that in part 2). They don’t want incoming readers to be intimidated by 70 years of history. And they want a world in which super-heroes have only been around for a few years. But there’s value in the legacy concept, and I’d argue that it’s helped The Flash and its readership.

Crisis Management

We Flash fans have been extremely lucky. From 1940 to 2005 we’ve had three great versions of the character. We’ve had solid, long-running creative teams. Gardner Fox wrote most of the Golden Age and half the Silver Age. John Broome wrote the rest of it, with Robert Kanigher straddling the two eras. Cary Bates authored the entire Bronze Age, and I’d wager that nearly everyone reading this has experienced the incredible Flash runs by Mark Waid and Geoff Johns in the 1990s and early 2000s. We’ve had amazing artists like Joe Kubert, Carmine Infantino, and Mike Wieringo, and more recently Francis Manapul.

And unlike fans of Superman or Wonder Woman, we’ve never had to deal with DC outright erasing the stories we know and love. Because Barry Allen and Jay Garrick were different characters, DC was able to build a shared history in Crisis on Infinite Earths, and because they had promoted Wally West to the lead spot, they could start at the beginning of a hero’s (solo) career, again without wiping out what had gone before. Read the rest of this entry »

September 16, 2010

Geoff Johns’ New Flash Villains

Category: Flash History — By

In his post on re-using old characters, David Brothers mentions that in 6 years writing the Avengers, Brian Michael Bendis created only one new villain. That started me thinking about Geoff Johns’ original run on The Flash (2000–2005). Johns created a wealth of new enemies for the Flash during the first part of his run, particularly in Iron Heights, but I couldn’t think of any from later.

It turns out, that’s because there basically aren’t any.

This run can easily be divided into two main pieces: Flash #164–200, from Wonderland to Blitz, and then Flash #201–225, from Ignition through Rogue War. The dividing line: the moment when the Spectre erases everyone’s memory of Wally West’s and Barry Allen’s identities as the Flash.

Here’s a list of the new villains who were introduced before that moment:

Ten entirely new enemies, and two new versions of old villains. Not bad for a roughly 50-issue run!

Now, here’s a list of new villains introduced after that moment:

Just one legacy villain, in the very first story, and he died at the end. OK, maybe you can count the Rainbow Raiders, but they never made more than a single cameo appearance in the book.

As much as I love Geoff Johns’ writing on the classic Rogues, I’ve got to admit I miss seeing new villains. The Renegades sort of count, but I’m definitely looking forward to the new villain Francis Manapul mentioned will debut in the second story arc on the new series.

August 29, 2010

Speed Reading: Boomerang, Barry & Iris, Bart, Sonic & More

Category: Round-Ups — By

Some linkblogging for the weekend.

Flash

Other speedsters

Other comics

May 19, 2010

Surprising Flash Fact: Wally West has More Experience than Barry Allen

Category: Flash History — By

I had an odd thought while reading The Flash #2* last week. Francis Manapul draws Barry and Iris in a way that makes them look fairly young, and I remembered someone’s remark that the cowl on Wally West’s new costume makes him look older than Barry, even though Wally used to be Barry’s younger sidekick.

Then it hit me: No, Wally isn’t older than Barry Allen (even with time travel) but when you factor in his earlier Kid Flash career, he actually has more experience than Barry at this point!

No, Really!

Wally West became Kid Flash very early in Barry Allen’s Flash career — only six issues into his solo series! Flash vol.1 started with #105, picking up from where the Golden Age Flash Comics left off, and Wally was struck by lightning in Flash #110, back in 1959. He didn’t retire as Kid Flash until very late in Barry’s career, in New Teen Titans #39 — just one year before Barry vanished in 1985.**

So Wally West has been running around for most of Barry’s career plus his own!

Team Player

During his JLA run, Grant Morrison is one of the few writers I can remember really building on the fact that the original Titans grew up as super-heroes. I don’t recall it being a plot point, but Morrison mentioned it in an interview, or possibly one of the Secret Files books, and it clearly factored into his characterization of Wally West. He might not have been as old as Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman, but he’d been working with a team longer than they had, and he was a consummate professional.

Wally wasn’t the rookie on the team by any stretch. That honor went to Green Lantern Kyle Rayner.

Of course, neither Wally nor Barry can hold a candle to Jay Garrick, who has been speeding since 1940!

*Yes, I do still plan on reviewing it. It was just a busy week, and for some reason, it’s been hard to sit down and write it.

**These are of course the real-world publishing dates. The fictional DC Universe would use a vague “X years ago” timeline that always seems to change, but usually compresses everything from the dawn of the Silver Age onward into a 10-15–year period.

May 7, 2010

Speed Reading: Flash Deaths, Sightings, Pricing and More

Category: Round-Ups — By

Some linkblogging from the past couple of weeks:

Flashy Links

Newsarama interviews Francis Manapul on his work on The Flash.

Comics Bulletin presents the Top 10 Flash Deaths in order of how long they lasted.

A reader at Silver Age Comics discovers that Flash Comics #13 is different on Earth-One.

You’ve probably read about the thief who took Free Comic Book Day a bit too literally and tried to steal a $150 X-Men Omnibus…and was foiled by Spider-Man, two Jedi, and the Flash.

Speaking of FCBD, Chris Samnee has posted a FCBD sketch gallery featuring both Flash and Quicksilver.

Super Heroes

Comics Worth Reading’s Johanna Draper Carlson has some ideas for how to make super-hero comics interesting again

4thLetter’s David Brothers encourages you to focus on the stories, not the canon. Don’t buy something you don’t like just because it’s “important,” and don’t pass up other good stuff because it’s not.

Comics Alliance has a thought-provoking article on the racial implications of running legacies backward.

Grumpy Old Fan ponders the role of secret identities in DC comics from the Silver Age through the present.

Once Upon a Geek also reviews the DC Fandex guide (my review went up on Monday).

Comics in General

Westfield Comics’ KC Carlson explains how to meet artists without being talked about afterward, and offers suggestions for convention behavior.

LIFE has a photo gallery of people reading classic comic books from the Golden Age through the 1980s, including a boy reading Flash Comics in 1949. Nitpick: By 1949, the feature wasn’t about a “college student” with super-speed. Jay Garrick graduated during his origin story. (Link via Xian)

Collected Editions considers an increasingly common problem: the trade you want is out of print.

Multiversity Comics analyzes the impact of the shift from $2.99 comics to $3.99.