Back Issue Bin Review: Flash v2
|October 20, 2014||Posted by Jess under Back Issue Bin Review, Comics|
Flash v2 is the post-Crisis series starring Wally West, the third Flash. It ran (ha!) for 247 issues, from 1987 to 2008, with a short detour towards the end into the Bart Allen-starring Flash: The Fastest Man Alive (which I’ll also cover in this post). There are a few distinct eras of the series, mostly defined by some very impressive runs (ha again!), so here they are in brief. This doesn’t cover every writer and is unforgivably scanty on artists but I started rereading these issues like a year and a half ago so, uh, sorry about that.
- Writer Mike Baron and artist Jackson Guice picked up where Crisis on Infinite Earths left off, with Wally taking up the mantle of the Flash after Barry Allen’s death. Their Wally is far from the shining beacon of superheroic goodliness that Barry was: not only are his powers severely downgraded, he’s a womanizing, whiny, immature jerk. It’s the Modern Age, baby!
- After about a year William Messner-Loebs took over for a sadly underrated 50+ issue run that really fleshed out Wally’s supporting cast, boosted his powers up to a more exciting level, and took him from a completely unlikeable whiner to…um, a reasonably likeable whiner. No, seriously, Wally is a mess of flaws and that’s a huge part of what makes him a successful character. These comics are fantastic and hit a really fun, sitcom-esque vibe, especially with elements like Wally’s nagging (but awesome) mother and his bickering and eventual grudging friendship with his future wife Linda Park. Messner-Loebs also had former villain Pied Piper come out of the closet, beating Marvel’s Northstar by a year and making Piper technically the first out gay hero in comics (Northstar is generally recognized as the first gay superhero because Piper has wandered all over the villain/hero/antihero map over the course of his career).
- Messner-Loebs was followed by Mark Waid’s rightfully legendary run of nearly 100 issues. Waid focused on building up the Flash legacy: inventing the Speed Force, bringing in other speedsters like Jay Garrick, Max Mercury, Johnny and Jesse Quick, and introducing my beloved Bart Allen (co-created by notable Flash artist Mike Wieringo). Wally finally came into his own during this run, moving out from under Barry’s shadow and, you know, growing the hell up.
- Annnd here’s where things kind of fell apart for Wally, with about 60 issues from Geoff Johns that put Wally through the wringer: a painful miscarriage for Linda, everyone (including Wally) forgetting his secret identity, reformed rogues going evil again, dark secrets from Barry’s past, lots of gore. Sigh.
- Soon after Johns left the book (like, two issues), Wally disappeared into the Speed Force with his family and the book was canceled and replaced by Flash: The Fastest Man Alive, starting a suddenly-aged-from-16-to-21 Bart Allen. After a bumpy start this book was just starting to find its feet (so many running puns) when Bart was killed off and the book was canceled, clearing the way for…
- …the return of Wally West, now with young, superpowered twins! Picking up the numbering of the Flash series it ran for a couple more years, starting strong by bringing Waid back on for an arc but then dissolving into creative roulette and editorial meddling. And then Barry Allen came back and that was that.
Now, to get my biases out of the way: Wally West is my Flash. He’s not my favorite speedster, and he’s nowhere close to my list of Very Favorite Characters in general; in fact, I want to smack him a lot of the time. But he’s been the Flash for the vast majority of my life, and was certainly firmly established as the One and Only by the time I started reading comics. Waid’s work on Flash and Impulse was one of my earliest, most formative introductions into loving the DCU. Though I’ve enjoyed some Barry comics (usually the ones written by Waid) and I like him on the current show, I’m a Wally girl through and through, and I’m eternally bitter about Barry’s return. In fact, I find Johns’s run so grim and depressing that I put these comics down for like a year before making myself finish them.
And look, I’m not going to wax rhapsodic about the Waid run on Flash because plenty of ink has already been spilled on that topic, and all of it fully justified. I’m not going to break any new ground by talking about how fun it is, or how delightful Wally’s blossoming relationship with Linda or the dynamics of the extended Flash family are, or how brilliantly it weds Silver Age nostalgia with a very modern, forward-looking perspective. Suffice to say these are some of the best comics ever and leave it at that. (And hey, the whole thing’s on Comixology, so don’t take my word for it!)
But what struck me as I read these comics, at least up until the Johns era, was how in a way it’s kind of a perfect foil for Hal Jordan’s original series – or at least, how I read Hal’s series.
On the surface, these comics have a lot of similarities. They both star classic Silver Age white male heroes – shining members of DC’s solid B list. They both came out of major revamps of the DCU – Hal’s, the more subtle and gradual shift from the Golden Age to the Silver Age, and Wally’s, the Crisis – and lasted about 20 years, which lets you see not just a character’s development, but a lot of cultural and comic book history and trends pass by. Hal and Wally are both even canonically Republicans.
I’ve talked before about how Hal’s series can be read as reflecting white male anxieties during the 60s-80s over their loss of centrality and power and the rising influence of non-mainstream voices. Hal at the beginning of his series has literally every kind of privilege a person can have, but his very first setback ever is – horror of horrors! – his girlfriend getting a promotion, and it continues with terrible things like minorities being financially successful, liberals pointing out his selfishness, working class types making good, and women gaining increasing financial and physical power. Meanwhile, Hal’s happiness, social status, and earning power are gradually eroded, and the massive, supportive community he’s a part of – the Corps – is shattered by the end of the series.
Conversely, Wally’s series, which begins right around the time Hal’s ends, depicts a young man – crucially, one a generation after Hal – who starts at rock bottom and, as he grows past his own selfishness, prejudice, and privilege, becomes a happier, more stable human being. Wally in the early 80s can’t be in a room with Red Star because ARGLE BLARGLE COMMUNISTS; in 1987 he can’t look at a woman without leering. But as the 90s wear on, he confronts each of his prejudices, is schooled on them, and becomes a better person for it. The issue where Piper comes out to him is a particularly good example of this: he starts of regurgitating thoughtless rumors (is the Joker gay? a problematic allegation, to be sure), panics when he finds out that Piper is gay, and ends the issue firmly on Piper’s side, openly declaring his trust in his friend. There’s also his often-overlooked other best friend, Chunk, who is African-American, a scientific genius, and a reformed villain who Wally once attacked, then helped to rehabilitate. Chunk goes on to make a fortune thanks to his special powers, and Wally’s never anything but happy for him – unlike Hal, who is profoundly, textually uncomfortable with both Tom Kalmaku and John Stewart’s successes.
Similarly, Wally goes from high-speed harassment of Power Girl to, well, learning to treat women like people. His relationships with Tina McGee and Connie Noleski are disasters in their own ways, but he’s at least faithful to both of them and not cruel – and he learns both how to be friends with his exes, and that if you treat a woman badly she won’t kiss you anymore. And Linda! Linda has no time for Wally when she meets him because he is an obnoxious manchild (actually he is a Porcupine Man, but that’s tangential); if he wants to be with her, he must treat her with respect, articulate his feelings, and behave with a modicum of responsibility. Even his arc with his mother is one of learning that, hey! Moms are people!
And, unlike Hal, he goes from having no community – he’s just lost Barry, the only other speedster in his universe for most of his life – to building one: Jay Garrick, Max Mercury, Jesse Quick, Bart Allen. (And pour one out for Johnny Quick.) He loses the Titans, having moved up a weight class – but he gains the Justice League, first the goofy European branch and then Morrison’s lauded pantheon.
Now, I’m not trying to suggest that women, minorities of any kind, disenfranchised groups, etc., exist to further the emotional maturation of white dudes. No. Gross. But this is Wally’s story, and the supporting characters exist to, well, support it. (Not that they don’t have their own lives, story arcs, and character growth, particularly Linda and Piper.)
It’s more that Hal looked around, saw women and minorities, and went, “Ahh! Scary! Less stuff for me!” And Wally looked around and went, “Hey, cool, people to be friends with.” Both learn to see the world as it is – not just a reflection of themselves – but one is deeply troubled by what he sees, and the other embraces it. And I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Wally ends, if not his series than at least Waid’s run, much happier than when he started. If nothing else, it’s a optimistic suggestion that each successful generation is more accepting of diversity than the last.
Of course, immediately after that we immediately went to Misery Town (Piper goes evil again! Linda goes through a fridgey miscarriage! Chunk and Tina and Mary are written out in favor of stupid Hunter Zolomon and his painfully meta shenanigans!), but I tend to ignore everything after Waid left the book.
Anyway, that’s Wally’s (and Bart’s) run as the Flash! It was a good one. Well done, fleetfeet. Well done.