Where’s Wally West? C2E2, Dan Didio, and the Illusion of Change

First off, sorry for the lack of updates last week. Sometimes, life gets too busy to blog.

There’s been a lot of talk about Wally West since C2E2 panels brought up the usual non-answers, and a Bleeding Cool reporter accidentally asked Dan Didio about Wally.

He explained that fans had grown up with Wally West, seen him get married and have children and with the de-aging of Barry Allen, it would cheat those fans who grew to love Wally to de-age him as well.

As a justification, it’s a bit disingenuous. “We shouldn’t do to Wally what we did to Barry” kind of suggests that maybe they shouldn’t have done it to Barry either. And while there’s something to “We’re making your favorite character go away because we know you wouldn’t like what we do with him,” it seems like it would rank right up there with “I don’t want to ruin our friendship by dating you” on phrases that people like to hear.

At Boston Comic Con, Francis Manapul mentioned a rejected a Wally cameo that he tried to put into an early issue of the New 52 Flash.

He doesn’t say how Wally would have appeared, and frankly, that’s a problem in itself. A few months ago when I met Brian Buccellato at a signing, he pointed out that having Barry Allen young and Bart Allen as Kid Flash kind of squeezes out Wally: Wally should be somewhere between Barry and Bart. But if Barry never died, and Bart’s already Kid Flash, where does that leave Wally?

There’s just no room for Wally West in the DCnU.

I kind of suspect that’s by design: A lot of Didio’s statements line up with that first panel of Comic Critics up above (though I’m sure he did watch Justice League Unlimited – and note the reference to the same nostalgia cycle I talked about recently), and he’s often talked about how Barry Allen is “more iconic” and otherwise superior to Wally West. I’ve long thought, cynically, that “more iconic” means “the version I grew up with,” but as I mull over the words reported by Bleeding Cool, I think it means something else.

Isn’t It Iconic?

I think what Didio (and by extension DC Comics) means by “iconic” is something you can use as a foundation, or a framework, for just about any story you want, for as long as you want. Wally West wasn’t iconic in this sense, because he was fleshed out as a real, dynamic character, whose journey was central to who he was. We didn’t just grow up with Wally West; he grew up with us.

The story of Barry Allen has always been simple: Police scientist gets hit by lightning and becomes a super-speed hero.

The story of Wally West, however, has been the story of a boy who gets his greatest wish — to become just like his hero — and then has to struggle with living up to that responsibility. It’s a story with a beginning (Wally as sidekick), a middle (Wally struggles to live up to his uncle’s legacy), and, if not an end per se, a conclusion (Wally becomes a mature adult, a seasoned hero, and a family man).

Rewind Barry Allen’s life? No problem. Rewind Wally West’s life? You destroy what made him most interesting to many of his fans.

Don’t Ever Change

It comes down to the classic question of change vs. the illusion of change. You can keep telling stories about a guy with super-speed forever. But at some point, stories about a guy with super-speed who grows into his destiny have to become stories about something else.

Did you notice that Star Trek got a reboot while Star Wars got prequels? A starship with a mission to explore is a framework. A farm boy leaves home, becomes a knight and helps overthrow an oppressive Empire is a story. You can start over with tales of Kirk, Spock and company. You can tell side stories (like Clone Wars) in any universe. But there’s not much point in retelling how Luke Skywalker left Tatooine and joined the Rebellion.

A little closer to home perhaps: look at how DC has approached the DC Universe and Watchmen over the past year.

I’m sure DC Entertainment would like to go as long as possible without rebooting their universe again, and the only way to do that is to set up frameworks, not decade-long stories. Stories that long introduce change, and as those changes keep piling up, you eventually get to the point that the stories and characters no longer fit what the series used to be.

At that point you have a few options:

  1. Bring in new characters so that you can keep going.
  2. Change the dynamic so that it fits the way the characters have changed.
  3. Rewind the changes in some way.
  4. Let the story end and move on to something new.

Stick with frameworks, and you can keep going in a holding pattern for as long as the audience is interested. Start on long-term character-development, and even if you can tell better stories, your days are numbered.

Countdown to Inevitable Crisis

Wally West made a huge impression on a generation of readers, both by representing real change (Barry’s death and Wally’s solo career lasted two decades) and by showing real character development himself over that time. That’s why, as Francis Manapul remarked in Boston, “once you introduce Wally the audience is then going to be waiting for him to become the Flash.” That takes a timeless world and starts the clock ticking toward the day when DC will have to make one of those decisions.

And I suspect the last thing DC wants to do is retool one of their major properties again.

24 thoughts on “Where’s Wally West? C2E2, Dan Didio, and the Illusion of Change

  1. Isaiah J. Campbell

    Couldn’t agree more with your assessment of the philosophy behind Wally’s absence. It would seem we’re returning to a day when comics are less literary and more commercial. (And that’s a pretty broad statement, but I think it’s true) Publishers wouldn’t jump onto Miller’s interpretation of Batman anymore, and forget killing Superman or paralyzing Barbara Gordon. I think it speaks to the revolving door of writers/artists and the over-emphasis on the bottom line. But what do I know?

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  2. ***Dave

    Excellent point — and maybe part of why both “Action” and “Justice League” have, in extraordinarily short order, shifted into a status quo. “Action” has abandoned the Clark as young man in jeans and a t-shirt — now he’s Kal-El in Kryptonian armor, la-la-la, very much like his 5-years-later in “Superman” and “JL”. “JL” in turn has changed from “heroes meet and have to decide if they are going to get along together” to “hey, we’ve had bunch of zany adventures now that have made us friends, even if they all took place way off-stage.” And all of that, both in 7-8 issues.

    It’s a framework. Change and growth imply change and growth in the future. Turn the JL into a stable team by auctorial fiat, and you can tell JL stories forever (see the Silver Age JLA).

    Re: Isaiah’s comments — I think I can see a “Death of Superman” story in the New52, but only if things went back to the status quo after (which, aside from some added characters, they did in the Old DCU). Barbara Gordon as a cripple, though? Not only do I not see that happening, they’ve made it clear that they’d just as soon make it not have happened (Gail Simone’s efforts notwithstanding).

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    1. Kelson Post author

      I’d read early on that Justice League was going to jump forward to the present time, but I hadn’t realized Action Comics had left behind…well…the only thing that had me remotely interested in the book. [Edit: not the costume, but the premise]. I guess I can pick up the first trade and leave it at that, though.

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  3. Jim Barg

    I got into Flash comics in my early 20s, and what made me stick around was that overall arc, mostly free from the crossover BS. (Well, that and the cheap back issues.) It’s not a surprise in retrospect that my interest faded around the time that Wally was being marginalized within the DCU.

    Tossing that aside to restart Barry is so… comics.

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  4. lightspeed

    Some fans want Wally to return with all his character development intact but (as mentioned above) the age gap between Bart and Barry isn’t that big, so if Wally’s gonna return he’s probably gonna be younger.
    And even if they put him on another earth, with his family, it might be a while before we see him as DC wants to establish earth 1 and 2 first. But it’s getting real annoying having to listen to all these stupid excuses.

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  5. Mike W.

    Well my feelings of this not withstanding. Everyone who has read my comments on the Wally standpoint and dismissal like it happened know where I stand on the subject. I don’t think they have entirely wrote Wally out of the equation entirely.

    Last I checked in the new Flash series isn’t Barry Allen a Forensic Police Scientist? That would have to make him at least in his late twenties and early thirties. Taken into account that most college grads finish their senior year when they are 22 to 23? And graduates with a BS in Forensic Criminology? And even if you want to taken into account that Barry graduate early say at 21? Fine. So then he decides to do what?

    What did he do the next year? Did he join the Police Force right away? That would still take another stint in Police Academy. So we are then talking about roughly another half year to a year? So he’s still 23 at that point.

    So then he runs into one his favorite professors on the street or standing in line at Starbucks? And his professor asks him what he’s doing? Barry responds, “Oh I am finishing up Police Academy?” His prof. would respond with an, “Oh I would have thought you were going to go on and get your Master’s?”

    Barry then decides to get his MS in Forensic Criminology etc. and goes back to school at night while working in the lab during the day. That will take a couple of years. There is no rushing through that process I don’t care what anyone says. You can get through your classes in a year. The Master’s Thesis process takes another year. So now he is what 24 or 25 tops?

    And the Flash has been operating in CC for the last five or so years. That has given the new DCnU plenty of time to have had a second Billion to 1 odds shot at writing in Wally West along the way. Where has Wally been this whole time… the University of Metropolis getting his own BS and MS in Forensic Science or Criminology or something along those lines. The window is there. Besides who is gonna oogle Powergirl’s goodies when she comes in from Earth-2?

    And any DC Universe with a Dick Grayson who is old enough to be Nightwing has room in it to have a Wally West who is old enough to be another Flash.

    Does DiDio and company not think that the fans of the comic and the characters don’t have a clue? That’s the insulting part to me.

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  6. Kyer

    I think you have it pegged: They have the Flash they grew up with and are afraid to have Wally’s big toe get into a tiny panel shot lest people start screaming for Wally as The Flash.

    And some will scream for that.

    So why don’t they ignore those screams and make Wally a speedster who isn’t THE Flash but has a different name and maybe a different mentor but who was also unsure of himself at first (different reasons?) In other words have the whole mentality that made up Wally only make the instigator of his mind set someone who wasn’t Barry. Maybe a firefighter father who died while saving a family or something while youngish Wally was forced to watch it on TV.

    So many darn possibilities and all of them denied?!

    But I think it all comes down to:

    They are terribly afraid that if Wally’s big toe shows up for even one tiny panel some people will want him back as The Flash. Like they wouldn’t be able to say no to that or something.

    Anyway, I’m tired and I’m not buying any comic books right now other than some older Avengers and a limited serving of that as well (for close to the same reasons as I’m doing with DC.

    I’m fed up with ‘iconics’ and ‘frameworks’.

    Not fed up with Speed Force or Wally West though. Going to continue with those. 🙂

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  7. Lia

    Spot on, as usual. DC is just kind of exhausting these days. I understand why they’re doing it, but it’s not the direction I personally want them to be going in, so maybe they and I should part ways.

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  8. Rob S.

    Great post, Kelson. I’m definitely one of those people who want to lose as little as possible of Wally’s development, so as much as I miss him, I’m seeing virtue in patience at the moment.

    (Strangely enough, I’m perfectly happy to roll Back Barry’s development. Character growth was different in the Barry days — for years he barely got any, and then, once Iris died, changes came fast and furious for him. I’m much happier reading about a less-experienced Barry than a Barry who was a widower and then killed the man who was going to murder his second-wife-to-be who was put on trial for murder and eventually got his first wife back. Oh, and got a facelift in the process.)

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  9. Kyer

    You know, if they really wanted things to stay static (which to me is a nice word for ‘stagnant’) then shouldn’t Jay have been retro’d as the One True Flash?

    Also, if it hadn’t been for Wally’s existence and growth would we ever have seen a Bart Allen?

    Will there only ever be a switching out of associate friends, girlfriends, and enemies for Barry? He can’t marry because that would only allow for the change of a divorce or becoming a widower…both benchmarks of change.

    I’m also now more curious than ever about the reason DC pulled The Flash back in 1985. Why did they make such drastic changes as Iris’s death in the first place? I think that’s kind of relevant because if it wasn’t the economy then was it from writer boredom? (Read: stagnation?)

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    1. ***Dave

      The answer, @mugginss: Geoff Johns and Grant Morrison. Johns was one of the DCnU architects. Morrison had his own little Batkingdom already committed to and is a big enough name not to have too many direct changes (Batgirls aside) force on him.

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      1. Mike W.

        The Bat-Family of titles and the Green Lantern events (The Corps Wars etc.) were stated to all stay in continuity. That is the only reason they made it through the DCnU with their recent events intact.

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      2. Kyer

        I also remember reading that while some books were being cancelled due to underperforming (Static, Mr. Terrific, etc) some other books that were doing just as poorly in sales were not on the cancellation list…I think it was someone whose name started with a ‘D’…oh, if only I can recall the name…)

        Reply
        1. Kelson Post author

          If you mean Didio, his book was OMAC, and it’s been canceled along with the other under-performers. Captain Atom (JT Krul & Freddie Williams II) is the only one that’s doing as badly as those six but hasn’t been canceled, though the next few books up the list aren’t doing that much better.

          DC Comics month-to-month sales: Feb 2012 at The Beat

          Reply
  10. Brian Fowler

    The “no time for Wally” argument always falls apart at the “time for 4 Robins” or “time for Dick to have been Robin and become Nightwing” or “time for Roy to have been Speedy and become Arsenal” point. Simply put, Wally is roughly the same age as Dick who is roughly the same age as Roy who is roughly the same age as Wally.

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  12. Jesse

    I think this is very astute and again points to DC’s misguided strategy to get new readers. We saw from their poll results that this has failed (the readers of the new 52 are the same ol’ audience.) I think they see continuity and change as a burden, rather than one of serialized comics’ best attributes, when used well. When I started reading comics, it was the rich and intricate history that pulled me in and encouraged me to buy back issues.

    If the New 52 fails to get a lot of new readers, and it alienates old ones (not all of them, but some – such as me, who cut back his DC buying by 90%), I expect it to fail spectacularly, eventually. Say, 2-3 years. Then they’ll reboot again, each time driving their readership downward.

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  13. Frank Zieglar

    I’m going to assume that Bart is still from the future otherwise how does Barry have a grandkid?

    If there is time travel then the ages really don’t matter. Bart could be here before Wally bevame Kid Flash [which would be weird] or Wally could be in a different era – Legion maybe. He is powered and out-of-time and Barry doesn’t even know him… yet.

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