Wally West: The Flash and Legacy Identities

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…

17 thoughts on “Wally West: The Flash and Legacy Identities

  1. Sandor_Clegane

    Similarly, being the Captain of the Enterprise is a “what you do.” And pre-1987, nobody in their right mind was interested in seeing anyone other than James Kirk / William Shatner in that role. That changed with the advent of TNG.

    However, the key thing is – the original Trek is the source of the concept, and the starting point. Kirk, Spock, those colorful uniforms, etc. – that will always be the “center”, if you will. So we’re back to that now, and all the stuff outside the center (post-original series) has been mothballed. And it’s open for reinterpretion too at some point, but it’ll be fitted into the current paradigm, rather than simply continuing what came before.

    With the New 52, and the Flash as well, it’s the same exact thing.

    Reply
    1. Penny Dreadful

      Excellent point–which is why they should’ve mothballed Barry AND Wally, starting with Jay Garrick instead.

      Reply
      1. Sandor_Clegane

        Penny, sort of, but not really. Jay Garrick isn’t the primary archetype of the Flash-verse, and hasn’t starred in his own comic since the late 1940s. It’s the 1960s Flash book with Barry Allen that is the foundation. Everything from team-ups with GL, the red/yellow costume, being a Justice League member, having a sidekick named Kid Flash, villains ganged up as “rogues”, a doppleganger named Zoom, the reporter wife/girlfriend, time travel, etc.

        All that stuff came from the 1960s stories with Barry Allen. And that’s why most of that stuff was grafted onto Wally in the 1980s, because they wanted to keep it familiar – and successful. Wouldn’t have been without.

        In that sense, all those elements remain core to the Flash. There’ve been update attempts – costume adjustments, power changes, the legacy angle, etc. And those can work too, but they aren’t core to the concept by any stretch.

        Reply
        1. Kelson Post author

          Or maybe the core elements are: super-speed, the name “Flash,” time travel, scientist, wings on his head and boots, yellow lightning on a red background, a love interest who’s a partner rather than someone he has to lie to about his identity (the early Silver Age was an exception here), membership in the world’s primary super-team…things that date back to the 1940s and Jay Garrick.

          I always find it amusing when people talk about how important the “original” of something is and then proceed to talk about the remake as if it were the source material.

          Reply
          1. Sandor_Clegane

            But I didn’t say original. But cleary – the modern Flash series of the past 20 years owes ther lineage to those super-popular 50s/60s stories. Much of DC lore comes from that era. It is what it is.

            Otherwise why weren’t Wally and Bart modelled after Jay – his rogues, his history, his cast? For obvious reasons.

            The original is not always the primary iteration. James T Kirk was not the first Star Trek captain on TV. Sean Connery wasn’t the first actor to portray James Bond. But they were all so definitive, that they became the model for inspiration and comparison as well.

            Basically – primary versus original. Original is critically important…but nobody’s made a TV series, movie or animated series out of Jay Garrick. Or Alan Scott, for that matter. Important characters, but historically they serve as honored prototypes, rather than primary models to adhere to.

            And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.

            Reply
          2. TheFlash1990

            That’s a pretty loose definition – pretty sure police work also is a heavy part along with a red and gold suit…the secret identity, being late/on time….those are all things from Barry Allen.

            Reply
  2. Scott Timms

    Well put… thinking Wally stole the flash identity is an offensive and moronic opinion. Offensive because Wally honored Barry by taking it up post-crisis. He CERTAINLY didnt steal anything,
    Soooo…if you think Wally West stole his identity from Barry Allen then..YOU SIR ARE A MORON

    Reply
    1. Sandor_Clegane

      Let the Wally anger commence!

      But seriously – I’m not so sure people out there are rallying torches to the chant of “Wally West! Thief!” The author of this piece said they have seen similar notions suggested. That’s all.

      But yeah, obviously Wally isn’t a thief. He isn’t real. Neither is Barry. It’s a bit silly to imbue fictional characters with hateful motivations for what real-world creators decide with their fictional destinies.

      It’s exactly as childish as hating on Barry or Bart for coming in and replacing Wally. We’re all more mature than that. (Or should be.)

      Reply
  3. Steve

    Legacy doesn’t mean constant remixes of the original formula. Legacy means some things are retained and some things are added. The Speed Force, the love triangles, the simple visual image of lightning trailing a speedster, the idea of a Flash Family working in tandem on the same Earth, the notion of the Flash as an impulsive and mercurial character, the true love providing an anchor for a Flash in the Speed Force, the “legacy” aspect itself…all these are valuable contributions to the Flash franchise that come from Wally West and that Barry Allen now employs. All of these are also “who you are” traits stemming from Wally West that, since becoming part of the new 52 were passed on to Barry Allen (except for the legacy part). Which makes it a less smooth transition than appropriating “what you do” traits, like studying science, wearing a costume, or fighting the same bad guys. Especially when a new Wally appears, because now that “who you are” part has become a bit more diluted.

    Reply
  4. KoderKev

    I think, too, that what may be at work with DC’s reinstalling Barry is that the creation and appearance of Barry’s Flash is considered the beginning of the Silver Age. Restoring that legacy, so that he exists again in the DCU, may be part of their motivation. It seems silly to have a character that’s considered a major milestone in comics, but have to admit, “Yes, he is important, but not enough to continue being the Flash.”
    I love Wally, I really do. But to an older fan, like myself, I miss having him as Kid Flash, to play off of Barry. I always enjoyed their relationship, and loved that they were actually related as opposed to some kid sidekicks. I hope the new Wally gets to become Kid Flash again, and maybe, in another few years, something will happen to Barry, and Wally fans can cheer the mantle moving on again. Who knows?

    Reply
    1. TheFlash1990

      I really dig the Barry/Wally Flash/Kid Flash relationship/dynamic myself. Always preferred Wally as Kid Flash. Just feels right.

      I agree with you, except I hope nothing ever happens to Barry again that makes him not be The Flash anymore.

      Reply
  5. TheFlash1990

    Barry Allen is the one true Flash. “Nuff said. Wally did “steal” his identity, they should have given him his own a la Nightwing or Winter Soldier. (Maybe he’d have been around longer without the looming “threat” of the real guy ever returning to reclaim his, what with Wally being established with his own identity and all)

    Barry is the reimiagining/reinvention of Jay, NOT the continuation of him, sure, Jay’s the “original” guy to be called The Flash and have superspeed, but the original Flash as we know him and what would go on to be the defining character to the world at large? Nope. That distinction goes to Barry Allen. For it is Barry Allen who continued on with Wally and Bart, as their stories linked and referenced directly to Barry Allen, Jay is irrelevant in this sense, Barry Allen is the original, the greatest Flash.

    Reply
    1. TC

      You do realize that Wally was the flash for over twenty years when Barry was dead, there was ZERO threat from Barry, at the only threat existed in the minds of butt hurt Barry Allen fans. Yes Dick and Bucky had there own names and when Bruce died Dick took over the mantle of Batman, the same happened with Bucky when Steve died and when the serum wore off Sam took over. Also when Thor Odinson could no longer lift the hammer Jane could lift the hammer. I guess all of them are thieves. So I guess Jason, Tim, Stephanie, Carrie, Damian, and every other person that claimed the name Robin are thieves because they didn’t come up with their own name. Or America Chaves is a thief because Madeline Joyce was the original Ms America. How about Miles Morales because he took over the mantle of Spiderman when Peter Parker died.

      Reply
  6. TheFlash1990

    Wally has about as much connection the actual Flash identity as Dick Grayson does the Batman identity – Barry created The Flash identity and costume, just as Bruce created the Batman identity and costume – Bruce even helped name Robin I believe, just as Barry did with Wally/Kid Flash.

    Reply
    1. TC

      Barry didn’t create the Flash identity, Jay did since he was the first Flash and the only reason DC bothered to create Barry in the first place as a Flash 2.0. No, the Central City newspaper picked the name Kid Flash.

      Reply

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