To be honest, I’ve been dreading this arc. Between the title, “This Was Your Life, Wally West,” the promotional descriptions, and the timing, it clearly seems that DC is setting it up as a last Wally West story — whether it literally is, or whether it’s simply the last story in his solo book. The last time that happened, we got “Finish Line,” which was…underwhelming at best.
Fortunately, this issue proved to actually be good. Writer Alan Burnett has a good feel for the characters, and portrays Wally as a competent hero. He holds his own against Amanda Waller. The Justice League has no qualms about sending him on a case solo. When he encounters obstacles that prevent him from using his normal tactics, he immediately finds a way to work around it.
Importantly for continuing readers, the story doesn’t feel disconnected from the previous runs. Story elements continue seamlessly from “Fast Money,” following up on choices and actions both at the personal level and at the heroic. And while the tone is more serious — possibly the closest to Geoff Johns since he left the book — it’s not a major departure.
Similarly, while Paco Díaz’ art is more realistic than Freddie Williams II’s more cartoony style, it’s clear that he’s working from the same character designs, so the change in style doesn’t jar the way that, say, the change from Scott Kolins to Alberto Dose between “Blitz” and “Ignition” did. (Although that was a deliberate artistic choice, so perhaps it’s not the best example.) I particularly like the fact that the Flash’s costume has some texture to it: the belt, in some panels, actually looks like a belt and not just a different color in the fabric.
The family dynamic is well-balanced with the super-heroics. Readers who dislike seeing Iris and Jai will be happy to see a lot more solo action from the Flash. Those who do like them will be pleased to see that their new, not-about-to-die status is actually explored rather than simply taken for granted.
This is probably the best first issue from a creative team that The Flash has had in years. It’s certainly better than the first issues of “Finish Line” or “Lightning in a Bottle.” I still have reservations about where the story may be going, particularly since we’ve got a major change coming in a few months, but I suppose we’ll see.
Now, on to specifics. Thar be spoilers ahead….
The Flash is facing two main threats here: The as-yet unidentified villain using genetically engineered bees*, and his own powers turning against him. The bees seem to refer back to Justice League of America #20, in which he and Wonder Woman faced off against Queen Bee, and in fact she is referenced in this issue. (Solicitations for upcoming issues suggest that she is, in fact, the villain behind the “bug man.”)
The more compelling threat is the deadly super-speed. This brings back an element from the Wolfman/Pérez era The New Teen Titans — Wally’s powers were killing him, forcing him into retirement** — and ties it into the story of Iris and Jai’s rapid aging condition. One of the things I didn’t like about last month’s resolution to that problem was that it was too tidy: they got everything they wanted, but there was no price. Now we see that there were consequences.
Given the way the “speed kills” aspect of the speed force was portrayed in #243, it also ties in the Black Flash and Bart Allen’s fear that using his own powers would kill him, which kept him out of action during 52.
Speaking of the twins’ condition, the book picks up on an idea that I’ve seen discussed by fans over the last month: The main reason Wally and Linda let them run around as super-heroes so young was that they probably wouldn’t have long to live. Now that they can have a normal lifespan, their parents don’t want them to take too many chances with it. This makes perfect sense, and accounts in part for the shift in the storytelling balance I mentioned earlier. Of course, kids being kids, chances are that in the future they’ll be sneaking out, having adventures on their own. If they get the chance.
That brings me to the main concern I have about this arc: given the timing, I’m afraid its purpose will be to tear Wally down so that Flash: Rebirth can turn him into something else, like “The Flash who can only run 770 MPH” or “The guy who used to be Flash but went all grim-and-gritty when he lost his family.” I was mostly able to set those concerns aside while reading it, but it’s hard to keep them from creeping in while thinking about it afterward.
*And let me tell you, after finding bees inside my apartment, they don’t seem quite as silly as they did in Amazons Attack.
**Mostly, Marv Wolfman wanted to avoid the logistical problems of writing a team with a speedster, so he came up with a reason for Wally to leave the team. He was cured during Crisis on Infinite Earths, making it possible to promote him to Flash. Mark Waid later retconned the illness into appearing only a few months into his Kid Flash career (see “Born to Run”), but of course that first time he was able to break through it.