The Power of the Flash Legacy

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.

In an era in which Wonder Woman was eliminated from history, reimagined, and re-introduced as a new character, the entire history of the Flash from Earth-Two and Earth-One remained standing. The only stories that had no place in the new, post-Crisis universe were those that specifically involved dimension travel. Even then, it wasn’t long before the classic “Flash of Two Worlds” was re-imagined with Jay Garrick and Barry Allen teaming up in the same world.

Not only were each era’s stories preserved, but more importantly, there was never a sense that any of the characters was inferior to the others. Barry Allen’s stories respected Jay Garrick. Wally West’s stories always respected Barry Allen. Any time a newer Flash was shown as being “better” than a previous Flash, it was in the way that today’s record-breaking athlete is “better” than yesterday’s: Barry Allen discovering ways to travel across dimensions or through time didn’t diminish Jay Garrick’s accomplishments in his prime. Wally West discovering the speed force and new ways to manipulate it didn’t diminish Barry Allen’s achievements in his prime. And none of Wally’s accomplishments precluded the next Flash from one day surpassing him.

Because “The Flash” had become a mantle to be passed from one generation to the next, it was possible to start fresh without wiping out what had gone before.

Breakdown

This run of luck ended in 2006, when DC bungled the transition from Wally West to Bart Allen.

I still believe that Bart as the Flash could have worked if they’d done things a little bit differently. If they’d just…

  • Put writers on the book who knew how to write for comic books, instead of a team that knew TV, but was learning comics on the job. (They were getting better issue by issue, but it wasn’t fast enough.)
  • Told the first story in half the time, instead of taking 6 issues to go from mopey emo-Bart to the new status quo.
  • Told us where Wally was right off the bat instead of dragging it out for six months, then revealing that he was in an alternate universe that had been created during Infinite Crisis and probably destroyed by the end of the event.
  • Focused on the strengths of Bart Allen as a character, instead of trying to shoehorn him into a mold that he didn’t fit.

Marc Guggenheim was brought onboard 9 issues in with an assignment to do two things: (1) Build up Bart Allen as a hero that people will miss. (2) Kill him. He succeeded at both. Imagine what could have happened if DC hadn’t given him the second goal!

In any case, it didn’t catch on, and the fans rebelled. I’ve been involved in online Flash fandom since 1996, spent some time on Usenet in its waning years, got into forums and mailing lists around 2000, and no matter how much people loved or hated Wally or Barry, hated the concept of the speed force, etc., the boards never felt as hostile as they became when 2006 rolled around. Angry posters at Comic Bloc, a place looked down on by other boards as a moderator-enforced shiny-happy utopia, actually drove the Flash creative team offline. In my opinion, the Flash forums have never really recovered.

Shifting Into Reverse

So DC stopped moving forward, and started moving backward.

They killed Bart, angering his fans and leaving a bitter taste in everyone’s mouths. They brought Wally back, but altered the premise of the book such that he shared the spotlight with his children. (Again, I think that Iris and Jai could have worked out just fine if they’d been handled differently, perhaps as supporting cast rather than co-stars.) Worse, they made it clear, over and over again, that Bart just couldn’t cut it as the Flash.

And when that failed to recapture the shrinking audience, DC brought back Barry Allen as the Flash, and Bart Allen as Kid Flash, and they made damn sure you knew that Bart should never, ever have been the Flash, and Barry Allen was not only the best Flash who had ever been, but the best Flash who will ever be, so why bother with this Wally West guy?

There was a glimmer of hope: In Flash: Rebirth and The Flash: Secret Files, they set up potential stories with not just Barry Allen and the Rogues, but Wally West, Iris West II as Impulse, Jai West depowered and resentful, Bart Allen and Max Mercury. They even announced a Kid Flash series and backup Flash stories featuring Wally West, and when those didn’t pan out, a Speed Force team book.

Then they abandoned everything except the Reverse Flash’s time-traveling machinations and the way they led into Flashpoint…and decided it was time to revamp the universe again. And this time, the Flash would not be spared.

The legacy had been dismantled.

To be continued in Part 2: The Value of a Clean Slate.

Cover images via the Grand Comics Database.

17 thoughts on “The Power of the Flash Legacy

  1. Lia

    Man, I missed all the 2006 fighting at Comicbloc (before my time). Maybe that was for the best.

    Flash fans have definitely not had the continuity wiping like Superman and Wonder Woman as you mentioned, though I’m still cranky about the Henry Allen/Top story being erased due to the Rebirth retcon about Barry’s parents. But with the reboot next month it doesn’t matter anymore, I guess :\

    Reply
    1. Kelson Post author

      Yeah, that bothered me a lot too – and I’m nowhere near the fan of the Top that you are. I think part of it for me was that it was the first time DC started flat-out erasing Flash stories since the dust had settled from COIE. (Even changing Wally’s childhood from Norman Rockwell to Dysfunction Junction isn’t likely to have wiped out any Kid Flash stories involving his parents, just altered the tenor of them.) And that the same writer had relied so heavily on that story just a few years before.

      Reply
      1. Lia

        Of course, it also changed everything leading up to Rogue War and all those stories in-between, so I was hoping Johns would at least explain the new continuity. But no go.

        And darnit, that was one of my favourite stories.

        Reply
  2. Phantom Stranger

    If you have seen the latest promotional picture for the new Superman film, the costume is identical to the new one in the reboot. It is becoming apparent to me the reboot is either the blueprint for the upcoming media adaptations of DC characters, or is the cart following the corporate horse.

    For whatever reason, the powers-that-be decided Wally’s presence would confuse mainstream viewers. The Flash will definitely be one of next DC properties to get his own movie, so everything must proceed from that. I am surprised they just didn’t de-age him and make him Kid Flash again instead of wiping him out.

    Reply
  3. Jason West

    I just looked over the image for Cavill Superman & the costume looks just like the normal comics costume. It looks literally nothing like the redesign. It’s fabric & normal & boring just like Superman has always been…:P

    Great post Kelson. Can’t wait for Part Two…

    Reply
  4. married guy

    Mate, you SO hit the nail on the head!!
    Thank You for posting my thoughts far more eloquently than I could ever hope to!!

    And you’re right. It was a dark time on the ComicBloc. Bilson & DeMeo did not deserve the venom & bile they received.

    Reply
  5. Perplexio

    A few things that I’m confused about with the re-launch…

    Barry & Iris are no longer married.
    Bart Allen is still Kid Flash.

    Is Bart still the grandson of Barry & Iris? Or is Iris’s maternity being ret-conned out too? Is Bart going to be written as a Marty McFly-esque character trying to ensure that his grandparents get together somehow to ensure his existence?

    Also Dan Didio said there’s no “trap door” in place in case this complete relaunch fails miserably… what does he call Professor Zoom?

    In resurrecting Prof. Zoom in addition to Barry and giving him the power to alter/change history they have the perfect trap-door for anything that doesn’t work. If something doesn’t work they can simply have Prof. Zoom go back in time and change something from the past that would set in place a chain reaction that would change the status quo back to it’s pre-Flashpoint state.

    Reply
    1. Lia

      My feeling is that Professor Zoom is going to die or be taken out of the picture somehow at the end of Flashpoint.

      But even if he is hale and hearty, obviously it’s in DiDio’s best promotional interests to downplay him and the trapdoor he represents 😉

      Reply
    2. Penny Dreadful

      I think it’s safe to say that there is indeed a trapdoor in place. They did something like that for “Heroes Reborn,” remember?

      Reply
    1. Savitar

      Absolutely agree with that. They invalidated the entire reason for Wally being the Flash by bringing Barry back.

      You also summed up rather well my thoughts on how important the idea of legacy and family has become to the Flash. Chris, I think, mentions this as well: no, it may not be as simple as every family member having the same ring, but along with bloodlines, the Speed Force united all speedsters into one Family, brought Johnny and Jesse Quick into the fold, made them family, so when Johnny died, it mattered, it stung emotionally.

      But I also believe Flash has been lucky because for the longest time, he was probably a second-tier character.

      You have Superman.
      You have Batman.
      You have Wonder Woman.

      THEN you have the others, Flash, GL, Aquaman, etc. The weight of iconic importance wasn’t really on the Flash’s shoulders. (Sagging sales was one of the reasons why Barry was killed off to begin with, right?)

      Thus, stable creative teams were afforded time to create and build this new mythos around a fresh character such as Wally West.

      But Johns’ intentions of lofting Flash unto the foundations of the DCU might have been the final blow. Because apparently, by lifting him up, they let Wally fall.

      Reply
      1. Penny Dreadful

        Barry was diminished because he’s been reintroduced so poorly and has been written as a personality-challenged cipher. DC seems to have no idea what they’re doing with any of these characters. And it’s safe to say that the DCNu Kid Flash won’t be like the Bart Allen fans loved.

        When Wally fell, Barry fell with him…as did the rest of the Flash family.

        Reply
  6. Kyer

    What really kills me is that Bart is still in the picture despite Barry’s supposedly being ‘unique’. This is not a cry *against* Bart being there, it’s one of Wally and Jay *not* being there. How can Bart still be related to Barry if Barry and Iris stopped dating? Is he supposed to be Barry’s bastard son born out of wedlock? If so, how did he get his superspeed since Bart is a teen and Barry’s only been Flash for five years? (Maybe a bit longer since I’m sure he was fast a bit before he decided to done the scarlet jigsaw puzzle.)

    Instead of simplifying Flash they’ve made it even more confusing plus snarked off a hefty part of Flash fans….i.e. everyone who was not just a Barry fan.

    Am so tired of good fandoms being mangled by self-serving ‘owners’ who inherited another’s hard work. Maybe its best to only follow characters that are creator owned and hope he creator has the wisdom to ‘end’ their own creation appropriately rather than to risk it being handed over to some egotistical slob. (No apology for that last. He’s NOT a nice guy for what he’s unnecessarily done to Wally, Donna, and Oracle fans.)

    Reply
    1. Lee H

      Dan DiDio made a creative decision that you don’t agree with, therefore he is an egotistical slob and cannot possibly be a nice guy?

      Can we not just discuss the merits (and lack thereof) of the stories and creative decisions themselves, without throwing around baseless insults at strangers?

      Reply
  7. Angel

    Interesting notion just popped into my head while reading this and thinking of how speedsters are capable of time/dimensional travel. If I were working at DC, if I were ya know a good writer I’d take advantage of all these mixed emotions that they’ve stirred up in fans. I’d bring back Wally in the new 52 as a villian..

    It’d duplicate the real life scenario fans are facing. Wally returns from a dimension where he took on the mantle, surpassed Barry only for Barry to return and take it back and subsequently ruin Wally’s life by forcing him into a secondary position(Maybe making him return to Kid Flash knowing he has the same power as Barry) He could be Barry’s greatest enemy upon return to this new 52, to wrap it up they take their battle into the speed force where Barry&Wally tap into it, then showing them what has happened in the previous take of the universe. Wally realizes what he could’ve been, as well as Barry who apologizes. Then the next flash story, perhaps Wally’s promised back up deals with him coping and turning into an equally great flash once again.

    But thats just me..

    Reply
  8. Realitätsprüfung

    The notion of the Flash concept amounting to the “legacy” buzzword is a bit off. It was certainly the theme of the 90s comics starring Wally West. Prior to that? No. Geez, for most of the concept’s existence Jay and Barry lived in separate realities.

    The legacy thing was added to give a character arc to Wally – to create fan acceptance. And it worked. But it was a layer added to give his character an arc.

    Put simply, “legacy” is important to the story of Wally West, the Kid Flash who became the Flash. It isn’t important othwerise.

    Another salient point Nobody’s going to want to re-tell that legacy arc again, whether with Wally or a new sidekick; it’s already been done, and well.

    Basically, legacy has run its course as a themetic element.

    Reply

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