Bumped to see if there's any interest in part two or maybe even part three
Hi, folks. A long while back, bluebottle (one of the early beta testers) expressed interest in the comic-book history of Wally West as The Flash. I said I'd get right on it. Here, a couple of months later, is the first part of the article, much longer than anticipated. I'll supply more as time permits.
Though I once wrote for and edited a small, respected comics fanzine, this is the first piece of extended writing I've done in ten years. A bit of charity on the readers' parts is requested. I've used short paragraphs so the thing is more readable. Corrections and suggestions are welcome. Remember the motto of the Zone -- no hate, just debate.Wally West: The Fastest Man Alive!
Spoilers for 20+ years of Flash-related material abound.Part One: Acceleration
Who is Wally West? Let’s start at the beginning, and then skip a lot of inconvenient stuff.
Barry Allen, the second Flash, debuted in DC’s Showcase
4 in 1956. A brilliant but slow-moving Central City “police scientist,” he stood one night before a neatly organized cabinet of chemicals when a lightning bolt struck, electrifying the chemicals as they spilled over him. For reasons known only in comic books, this endowed him with amazing speed. He could move so quickly that the rest of the world seemed to freeze; catch bullets, run up walls and across water, and vibrate his individual molecules so that he could pass through solid objects without damage.Showcase
4 also introduced Iris West, Barry’s girlfriend and a reporter for Picture News. Her job took her into all sorts of dangerous circumstances, prompting Barry to exercise his new found abilities.
(It was put forth in Secret Origins Annual
2 ((1988)) that Barry was involved in a time loop. At the moment his body disintegrated during The Crisis on Infinite Earths]
it was transformed into a sentient energy, related to tachyons, that traveled back to the moment of Barry’s lab accident, where Barry was offered the choice of gaining speed and living a short life or remaining as he was and letting Iris die in a hostage situation. How much of this is valid in the post Zero Hour
timeline is unknown. How much will survive Infinite Crisis
is hard to know.)
Barry graduated to his own title in 1959; his first issue was 105, continuing the numbering of the Golden Age series Flash Comics
, canceled in 1949. In 110, Iris West’s nephew, Wally, came to visit. Wally was the president (and sole member) of the Blue Valley, Nebraska, Flash fan club, and was thrilled to be visiting his favorite aunt and the home of the Flash.
He was less than thrilled to be handed off to Iris’s poky boyfriend when Iris headed to work. Barry, however, told Wally the Flash sometimes stopped at his apartment and was waiting in the next room. As Wally opened the door, Barry whizzed by and changed into uniform. (They’re not costumes, damn it. When filming the 1950s Superman
TV series, everyone on set was required to refer to the long johns as Superman’s uniform.) The two talked as Flash demonstrated his powers, poor Barry forgotten as he supposedly waited in the other room.
Finally, Wally asked how the man in red became the Flash. Flash described the chemical accident as he and Wally examined the small laboratory Flash kept at Barry’s apartment, to use in emergencies. Wally was enthralled. He stood before a neatly organized cabinet of chemicals.
A lightning bolt crashed through the window, destroying the cabinet and soaking Wally in electrified chemicals. He quickly demonstrated most of Barry’s abilities. Barry took the kid under his wing; they made a kid-sized version of Barry’s Flash uniform and, at summer's end, sent the boy home. In Blue Valley, Wally saved the day in a few small-town, 1950s sorts of crises, such as rounding up escaped zoo animals.
(Wally’s origin has been embellished to include the idea that Barry was no longer completely human and affected his surroundings in unknown fashion. This was used to explain the phenomenal coincidence of Barry’s and Wally’s origins and Wally’s periodic slowdowns, especially when he was not in regular contact with Barry. Another, less fanciful explanation was put forth in number 78 of Wally's title.)
As Wally grew, distinguishing Flash from Kid became difficult as they rushed across the pages. The answer was a new uniform for Wally. In 1963’s Flash
135, an alien mind-over-matter device transformed Wally’s Flash-clone suit into the sleeker, hair-revealing togs he’d wear for the next 22 years.
A year later, in The Brave & The Bold
54, Wally joined Robin and Aqualad for an adventure. In 1965 Wonder Girl joined them to form the Teen Titans. The Titans got their own title soon after, which had two runs between 1966 and 1978. From 1980 to 1984 the title was revived as New Teen Titans
By the mid-1980s Wally was no longer a happy teen sidekick. He became disenchanted with crime fighting when he learned the empath Raven had manipulated his emotions in order to get Wally to join the New Titans. His aunt Iris was murdered by Professor Zoom, the Reverse Flash. Barry Allen later killed Zoom to protect another woman. Also, Wally’s speed was killing him. He’d been slowing down sporadically for a while, and now his health deteriorated each time he used his abilities.
Nonetheless, Wally was shamed back into harness for Crisis on Infinite Earths
, the 1985-1986 DC miniseries that slimmed down DC’s reality from multiverse to universe. Barry Allen died stopping the villain's antimatter cannon, either beginning or continuing the time loop mentioned earlier. Time paradoxes make my head hurt. Wally West was struck by a blast of Anti-Monitor energy. Rather than killing him, it saved his life-- but his powers were reduced from near-godlike to Marvel mutant level, his top speed around Mach 1. To honor his uncle, Wally pulled on the red uniform again.
The next year, everything changed. Wally was now the Flash. He got his own book. And he upshifted from somewhat difficult to complete asshole.
The 1987 Flash revival came from Mike Baron, a former journalist from Madison, Wisconsin. Two of his early comics creations, Nexus
, lost their homes when Capital Comics folded. He landed on his feet at First Comics with editor Mike Gold. They formed a solid relationship and when Gold moved to DC he successfully pitched Baron as the new Flash writer. Today he lives in my home town of Fort Collins, Colorado.
Jackson (formerly Butch) Guice was starting penciller. His tendency to elongate legs was interesting on Wally but seemed out of place on the other characters. He didn't last long -- Mike Collins replaced him on issue 10 and was replaced himself by Greg Laroque at number 15.
From the beginning, the editors made it plain that The Flash
was Wally's book. Barry was dead, they said. Barry is not coming back. Wally is the Flash and will remain the Flash. It didn't play well with some fans, but any major decision will anger a certain number of devotees.
Mike Baron quickly established his take on the character. Wally expended so much energy while speeding that he needed immense amounts of food and usually long periods of sleep following any extended use of his powers. Without the financial support of the Teen Titans, and with no useful skills, he became something of a mercenary. When asked to run a heart across country for a transplant, he requested a health insurance policy that would cover him for some months, air tickets home to New York, and a guarantee of food and a place to crash upon arrival.
Wally’s life changed drastically before the end of issue 1. He won the New York state lottery and Vandal Savage left a human heart (a different one) on Wally's dining table.
Baron's first story established Savage as a continuing antagonist. This Savage was just that – he seemed as much the caveman he once had been as the sophisticated villain seen in other titles. Dropping from sight after issue 2, he would lie in wait. Issue 3 introduced the annoyingly named Kilg%re, an alien electromechanical intelligence that had destroyed its home world and, having found Earth, hoped to settle down. Fleet feet and the assistance of Teen Titan Cyborg seemingly put the Kilg%re away.
My first published LOC (letter of comment) was in 5. Editor Mike Gold cut it down to a one-sentence joke. Nice, guy, good editor, utter bastard.
In 8, Wally’s father was revealed as a Manhunter
agent during the Millennium
crossover. I don’t have the space to explain them. Check the links if you're interested.
Baron stayed until 14 and introduced a number of new speedsters. Red Trinity and Blue Trinity were Soviet wards of the state subjected to genetic, chemical and technological enhancement to create superhumans. Red Trinity defected to enjoy the fruits of capitalism. Blue was sent after Red, to no avail. Later, Blue Trinity was captured by the Manhunters , then sold to Savage. One member of Blue Trinity was Christina, a woman so indoctrinated by her Soviet masters that she had only what identity was imposed upon her by her superiors and, to a lesser degree, her peers. The identity itself was not so important.
Meanwhile, Tina McGee was involved in a study of Wally’s speed. Her estranged husband, Jerry, conducted speed research of his own, using steroids and bioelectronics to make himself not only fast but strong and mean. As the “Speed Demon” he nearly killed Tina, who had become involved romantically with Wally.
Then there was Velocity-9! A designer street drug, it gave ordinary humans temporary super speed but was instantly addictive and wasted addicts' bodies each time they used it. Wally encountered dozens of V-9 junkies before he learned Savage was behind the drug. In the process, Wally was injected, causing him to lose his speed. Savage was injected as well. At the time, he seemed no faster.
As if this wasn’t enough, Wally was pressed to move from his new home because local officials thought his presence would attract crime. Then, presaging the 1989 collapse, the stock market crashed and Wally was broke again. A big exit for Mike Baron, who later said he enjoyed writing the book but never felt he had a handle on Wally’s story.
William Messner-Loebs (sometimes credited as Bill Loebs) took over writing with 15. Best known for writing and drawing Journey
, the story of a frontiersman in the early 19th century, Messner-Loebs worked steadily in mainstream comics for some years after leaving The Flash
, writing Wonder Woman, Johnny Quest,
and the Flash
. He created Epicurus the Sage
for Piranha Press (now Paradox Press).
His Wally, though still self-centered and a bit of a jerk, was not so callous as Baron’s. Wally failed to understand why people weren’t always interested in his problems. This was understandable in a child, but Wally was now 20 and had responsibilities. He had to grow, or the title would be mired in self-pity.
Wally’s speed returned in 17, only to blip out again in 20 and return in 21. 20 also introduced readers to the philanthropic activities of Barry Allen’s former rogue, The Pied Piper. Issues 21 to 23 were tie-ins to Invasion
, that year’s DC crossover event. A number of alien races believed Earth’s many meta-humans posed a threat to the galaxy. They invaded (thus, Invasion!
), seeking to gain control of the metas. One of their scientists, gone rogue, developed a gene bomb meant to strip powered individuals of their abilities. When the bomb went off – you guessed it -- Wally lost his powers again.
In 24, a reunited Jerry and Tina McGee recreated the conditions that first gave Wally his powers. After a chemical soak and a bit of an electrical shock, he was ready. Asked to run he moved so quickly, without control, that the ground fused beneath his feet and he couldn't stop until he’d traveled thousands of miles in seconds. Refusing to believe Wally was dead, Tina and Jerry took to the road, following Wally's burn scar across America. In the southwest they found the delirious “Porcupine Man.” Wally was badly injured and in serious emotional shock. Fortunately, proper treatment brought him back to both physical and mental health.
In the following issues Wally seemed to grow up a bit, even wishing the McGees well in their future as they planned a move to California. In 28 he met a harsh TV reporter, Linda Park, who had reported on Wally's cross-country wipe-out. Wally accused Linda of building her career on disasters and people’s misfortunes. Linda objected, but she gained no ground with Wally.
In 32 Wally moved to Keystone City, the more blue-collar town across the river from Barry’s home of Central City. Keystone, we were told, had until recently been hidden from all detection by villains who made the world forget the city was even there. In Keystone, Wally fought The Turtle and Turtle Man, Golden and Silver Age villains who had fought their respective Flashes with slowness -- always without success. He also cemented his friendship with Joan Garrick, wife of the “late” Golden Age Flash, Jay Garrick.
(On DC’s Silver Age Earth-1, the Jay Garrick Flash existed only as a comic-book character. In Flash
123, Barry Allen vibrated off Earth-1 into Earth-2, where both Garrick and Keystone City were real. Following the compression of the DC multiverse into the DC universe, Keystone was established as always having been on the new Earth-DC. Jay Garrick was "late" because he and most of the Golden Age Justice Society of America, thought dead, were actually caught in a mini-Ragnarok, fighting Loki and the evils of Asgard to save the universe -- over and over and over and over and over ... It wasn't that interesting to most fans, but it kept the JSA from being summarily destroyed post-Crisis. Eventually the JSA was rescued from its plight, allowing Jay to rejoin the world of Flashes.)
In what seemed an unfortunate turn for Wally, Linda Park left her position as a roving network correspondent to settle in the Twin Cities as a local news anchor. He came to her aid during her undercover investigation of a New Age cult and they grew to accept one another's brands of arrogance, eventually forming a tight friendship. During the cult investigation, Linda began to channel the spirit of an 800-year-old Irish bard, Seamus O’Relkig, a more genuine spirit than the one "channeled" but the cult's leader, who used special effects to bring in the suckers.
Kilg%re raised its head in 42, invading Tina McGee's lab and infesting her coworkers with little tiny Kilg%res. (She and Jerry had unexpectedly taken positions at Central University.) Wally thought everything was under control -- he could smash the little bastards quickly enough. He didn't know they were a diversion; Kilg%re was in the university’s central computer and sucked everyone into “virtual space,“ which appears to have been a full-spectrum VR experience. “Seamus” emerged and knocked Kilg%re on its virtual behind.
Wally thought it was just too easy to be real. He was right. “Seamus” had always been a bit of Kilg%re inside Linda (though when it got there was not explained). “O’Relkig” was a rough anagram of “Kilg%re.” The machine intelligence thought if it appeared in an obvious way and seemed to have been destroyed, it would be able to wander the electronics of the world, unmolested. Though Wally learned its plan, Kilg%re went on its way, dissolving into the ether. What could Wally do, anyway? As the Kilg%re pointed out, it was too powerful to destroy and too powerful to catch. Before leaving, it made Wally swallow a small object that, it said, would aid Wally when he most needed it.
Through this period Wally’s confidence grew, as did his speed. While he could not approach the near-luminal velocities of his teenage years, he was faster than he had been since before the Crisis. He seemed no longer to need the long naps he’d once depended upon, but his appetite remained massive.
Issues 45-47 featured Grodd (a particularly super ape among the super-apes of Gorilla City, established early in Barry’s run) using the Mind Force to control and increase the intelligence of small animals throughout Keystone. Number 46 was the first modern appearance of Rex, the Wonder Dog, who described himself as “The dog at the heart of the world, the dog for whom the universe has waited.” Sounds a bit like Grant Morrison.
Messner-Loebs’s finest work may have been 48-50, which took Wally to the next level as a speedster and an adult.
Vandal Savage was dying, a victim of the Velocity-9 injection he received in 14. He moved no more quickly, but his body aged rapidly. Though Savage had lived 10,000 years, he had remained vital. That was over. In a final fever, he worked to monopolize the drug trade in the United States by driving prices to the basement. More addicts would overdose, the mob would tear itself apart, and society would reap the benefits. Vandal really was a man of vision. At his side was Blue Trinity's Christina, now called Lady Savage - a V-9 addict and Savage's toy.
Savage kidnapped all of Wally’s loved ones (including his dog) and challenged Wally to a duel of sorts. With his friends booby-trapped, Wally was forced to stand on an energy-leeching plate that reduced him to normal speed. A short distance away stood Savage, with a pistol. Wally needed only to run a few steps to regain his speed. When he reached Savage the hostages would be freed.
Savage gave the signal and raised his gun. Wally ran. His feet hit the sand. Savage’s bullet tore through Wally’s heart. Wally died. End of issue 49.
As issue 50 opened, Wally lay like a man crucified, resting on metal, surrounded by metal, machinery deep in his chest. The Immortal One, a powerful young mystic, arrived and recognized the technology as alien, at which point Wally woke from an extended hallucination and screamed, “Kilg%re!” Keeping the promise made in its last appearance, Kilg%re had come to Wally in the moment of his greatest need. Having repaired Wally’s body, Kilg%re collapsed into itself and disappeared in puff of smoke and crackling electricity, never to be seen again (I hope).
Being “dead,” Wally took advantage of his situation. With the help of the Immortal One, he appeared before Savage and challenged him to another duel – all of Savage’s weapons and minions against one man who ran very, very fast.
Wally's home had been looted, his uniforms stolen and the materials he used to create them destroyed. Tina McGee and her colleagues constructed a high-tech suit (inspired by the Dave Stevens-designed suit from the 1990-91 CBS TV series) that would allow Wally to take full advantage of his speed. The uniform featured a larger chest emblem and an altered lightning-bolt “belt” that pointed down at front and rear. It dropped the wings on the boots. It was shiny. And it gave Wally white eyes like Batman. It was cool.
At Savage’s compound, Wally tore through everything he faced, sand fusing beneath his feet. Ordered to kill Wally, Lady Flash (Christina, in a stolen uniform and yet another imposed ID) found the strength to turn on Savage, who shot her at point blank range. It looked that way, at least. Wally, from a dead stop twenty feet away, had caught the bullets. “I could’ve stopped them fifty feet away … two miles away … ten miles away!
I can always stop you, Savage … even if you live another ten thousand years.”
Savage revealed a vest of explosives but was taken by the Immortal One. The two vanished in a traditional flash of light. Returning with his mom to their humble apartment, Wally was told by lawyer Ben Hayes that he was rich – again.
Through the 50s, Wally learned that he was an heir to the estate of the Golden and Silver Ages villain, The Icicle (Joar Mahkent) – or, at least, “The Flash” was. Since Mahkent had battled both Jay Garrick and Barry Allen, it was obvious he knew there was more than one Flash and there could be others – or so Hayes argued. Mahkent’s relatives took exception. In time, Mahkent's granddaughter told Wally she wouldn't surrender the estate but would cancel his debts, which Wally considered a fair deal.
Issue 54 featured an outstanding story, "Nobody Dies," in which Wally jumped from an airliner to rescue a flight attendant who was sucked out of the cabin after an explosion. Power Girl visited in 59, wearing the worst uniform of her career. I don't say that because everything was covered but her head. It was just ugly. In Messner-Loebs’s closing bow, the last page of 61 shows Wally, dejected at the lack of romance in his life, getting the merest hint of a flirt from Linda Park.
Mark Waid arrived with 62. He had moved from comics fan to comics journalist as the editor of Fantagraphics' Amazing Heroes
, then to comics pro as an editor at DC, where he worked on Legion of Super-Heroes
and Grant Morrison's Doom Patrol
. In 1990 he left editorial work and became a freelance writer. In 1992 he pushed The Flash
in a whole new direction. Put plainly, Waid revved things up. Over the course of just a few stories Wally stopped being a speedster and became a student of speed. Waid also brought a new narrative voice to the book. Nearly every issue Waid wrote was narrated by Wally.
"Year One: Born to Run" expanded on Wally's origin and explored the idea that Barry may have been more than human, or at least different. After that the book was pretty standard hero/villain stuff until 73, which was a traditional comics Christmas story with some action and “good will to all” sentiment.
On the last page, Wally answered the door to see Barry Allen, in full uniform, very pleased to be back.
“The Return of Barry Allen” ran through 79. Barry remembered losing Iris, being on trial for manslaughter (he was acquitted, by the way), and his body reconstituting from anomalous energy in a filthy alley, shortly after Wally fought Dr. Alchemy there. Wally had his doubts about the authenticity of his mentor, but Hal Jordan and his power ring swore Barry was telling the truth. That was good enough for everyone, including Jay Garrick (long thought dead, but freed, with the rest of the JSA, from mini-Ragnarok).
Wally, a bit overwhelmed as the youngest of three Flashes, considered relocating but was cut off by Linda, whom he now was seeing regularly. She suggested a name change, another idea that went nowhere. Wally decided he had to adjust, and he was on his way until Barry seemed to lose his mind.
In 75, “Identity Crisis,” Barry edged into megalomania, willing to let Wally die in a villain’s trap so Barry would be the one “real” Flash. The story revived a classic speedster and introduced a reinvented one. Johnny Chambers, the Golden Age’s Johnny Quick, had become an ultrafast Tony Robbins, selling self-esteem. At the other end of the economic spectrum, Max Mercury -- “the Zen guru of speed” --was selling tokens in the subway.
Max Mercury, Jay Garrick, Johnny Quick
Pressed into service he, Johnny and Jay Garrick had no choice but to shut Barry down. Wally, disheartened by Barry’s hatred, chose to lay low and allow Barry to think him dead. He refused to involve himself in the older men’s battle with Barry, until forced. Eventually, he had to fight Barry, and that was impossible. He just didn't have the speed.
Max said, “You keep saying you don’t want to replace Barry, but the moment you become as fast as him ... that’s exactly what you’ll have done.
“Think about it.”
I’ve said enough. Well, nearly enough.
If you recall, the editors made a promise at the beginning of the title. They wouldn’t break it.
Also, think 25th century.
Now I’ve said enough.
There’s a trade paperback
Penciller Greg LaRoque left the book at the conclusion of ‘The Return of Barry Allen.” In 80, Mike Wieringo brought a looser feel to the book, along with a temporarily less bulky Wally. While still muscular, he more closely resembled the Flash of the classic Carmine Infantino days, with a runner’s sleeker form. Unfortunately, Wieringo’s looseness continued to loosen; before long the art was distinctly “cartoony” and Wally‘s chest had re-expanded.
Wieringo’s iffy entrance was matched by the quality of Waid’s stories through much of the 80s. Only 84 was significant, and that only because of its use of foreshadowing (your clue to quality literature, as Berke Breathed taught us). As a rather lame but dangerous villain destroyed a mall, Wally had to choose where to help. Told by a security guard that no one seemed to be in an area that had caught fire, Wally was able to stop a plummeting elevator.
(Wally’s inability to move fast enough both to check the fire and stop the elevator was in sharp contrast to his confidence at the end of “The Return of Barry Allen.” Heading to what would probably be his last confrontation with the maddened Barry, Wally matched and perhaps bettered Barry’s speed. Here he seemed unable to move even as fast as he had when the series began.
Perhaps the close confines of the mall were an issue, but were this the case it should have been explored, and it was not. The closest thing to an explanation given was that Wally had three seconds to stop the elevator and could save “a few nanoseconds” by not searching the smoky fire area. A nanosecond is one billionth
of a second. Did Waid think or even know about what he was writing? Even comic-book science doesn’t cover this discrepancy.)
Waid’s failure to understand allowed him to set up another stage in Wally's development. In 88 he was sued for negligence by a woman hurt in the mall attack. Wally, knowing the elevator passengers suffered only bumps, was not impressed. He changed his mind at a press conference when he met the plaintiff, Allison Armitage. She had been in the smoky area Wally didn't search. Her face was badly burned and she had lost her legs.
Unable to face Armitage, Wally ran. He halted disasters and apprehended criminals as he spent his rage. He did not stop until he collapsed in Linda’s arms. In court he fared no better. Armitage’s lawyer pushed Wally into a frenzy of paranoia and violence that led to his being banned from using his powers or wearing his uniform in Keystone. Even in such a state, Wally recognized the hallmark of Abra Kadabara, the techno-magician from the future. Several speed stunts later, Kadabara was gone and the attorney was exposed as corrupt.
After the trial, Wally visited Armitage. She asked, “You nearly flipped out over this. What happens the next time you’re not fast enough to save everybody?” Wally answered, “We’ll never know.”
Cue the Speed Force.
In 91 Wally coerced Johnny Chambers into explaining the “speed formula” -- 3x2(9YZ)4A -- that allowed him to draw speed energy from the fourth dimension. Wally called on it to stop an essentially unstoppable disaster. The world froze, as it had on many occasions when Wally pushed himself to top speed. This time it did not thaw. Wally moved through the city, moving at near-light speed with no effort, wondering if he’d ever return to normal. Max Mercury appeared. Accompanying Wally, he pointed out problems the Flash could fix and those no could have helped, no matter how fast.
Barely able to keep up, he counseled Wally, "Big things are ... waiting for you just ... around the corner . Move forward ... to meet them. Don't spend ... the rest of your life frozen ... with fear." Overtaxed, Max himself "froze".
Wally admitted to himself that he'd always made choices about his activities as the Flash . He would for the rest of his life. He could only hope those choices were wise, and do what he could to make them count. He assembled a simple but unlikely solution to the disaster and whispered, “Go.“ The jerry-rigged rescue worked. Relieved, Wally paused to wonder what Max meant, and what lay in the future.
In the future, 2995 to be specific, a time portal was opened to 1994. Fleeing the Science Police, Iris and Bart Allen jumped into the past, buffeted, then separated, in the time stream. lris was Barry’s wife, her history
far too complex to explain here. Bart, it seemed, was Iris's grandson, born with all the speed of his grandfather Barry but none of the control. Two years old, he looked twelve. The government had fed him high-speed virtual reality to keep him sane but didn't care about giving him a life or curing his disorder.
Iris hoped Wally could somehow stabilize Bart's condition and help him control his speed. He did, but not without battling the hordes of Kobra, a would-be world conqueror. For months Kobra's forces had been infiltrating and destroying small fringe religions around the twin cities and investigating alternative energy sources in the area. It seemed that Keystone and Central offered a wealth of wind, water, and solar possibilities, which Kobra tapped to broadcast energy to his followers' weapons and other tech.
Meanwhile, Zero Hour
started. A crazed Hal Jordan, fresh from destroying the Green Lantern Corps, supposedly wanted to destroy the existing space-time continuum and replace it with something better, cleaner, happier and altogether more decent. It would be a universe in which his home city had not been destroyed and he would not have suffered a psychotic break, where Barbara Gordon had never been paralyzed, where tragedy never had to be the spur to heroism. In this, his aim was not unlike that of the Golden Age Superman in the current Infinite Crisis
. In the end, Jordan was defeated, but in saving the future Wally ran "beyond light" and, like his uncle Barry, vanished.
was an attempt, nearly ten years later, to clean up the mess the DC Universe had become after Crisis on Infinite Earths
. Despite DC's declarations that the post-Crisis timeline would be clear and contradictions would be eliminated or at least minimized, the aftermath wasn't so tidy. In the absence of an Earth-DC Superboy, Paul Levitz had to devise an explanation for his existence in Legion of Super-Heroes
continuity. The writers and artists of the "Five Years Later" Legion project wound up hampered rather than aided by two sets of Legionnaires, one adult and one teenaged, with its own fill-ins for Crisis victims like Supergirl. The Superman books used an alternate universe to permit additional Kryptonians,-- the same “pocket universe” from which the Legion's Superboy emerged, if memory serves -- although alternate earths supposedly had been banned. Hawkman
was a mess beyond redemption and so literally vanished into the time storm.)
In the 0 issue , which followed 94 and Wally's activities in Zero Hour
, Wally returned from the future, watching his life as it rewound. He bounced between the tedious and the momentous until he came to rest at a family picnic, ten years before his subjective "present." That was the day, he remembered, when a dimly recalled relative pulled him from a funk and told him he could be everything he dreamed. For weeks before Zero Hour, he'd asked relatives who that might be. No one remembered any visitor. Finally, Wally thought, he would learn who had changed his life.
Young Wally sulked in his room. Adult Wally approached, waiting to see who would rouse the boy's spirits. No adult was in the room. No adult came. Wally saw his reflection in the window and knew who it was that had come to help the boy.
Time paradoxes still make my head hurt.
At peace, Wally took control and ran home -- to disaster.
Sliding into his present in 95, Wally saw something so hideous he refused to discuss it with Linda. Instead, he started training Bart, who during Zero Hour
had taken the code name Impulse.
Bart had to be ready to take over when the unspecified disaster hit. In another battle with Kobra's forces, Wally approached top speed while saving Bart and destroying a Kobra installation. When he returned home, he told Linda what had happened:
"I was in the 64th century. In order to get home, I hit a speed I'd never hit before. The rush .. the freedom .. it was indescribable. I broke every barrier, Linda -- every one! -- and when I did, everything ... everything changed ...
"In the moment I learned something critical ... something about Uncle Barry ... and about myself, too. You know how people have sometimes talked about Barry? About how no one could be as fast as he was and still be human?
"Terminal Velocity" traced Wally's introduction to the Speed Force and the consequences of tapping its energies. Needing help to make Bart the next Flash, Wally assembled Max, Jay, Johnny and Johnny's daughter, Jesse, a nascent hero herself.
Johnny scoffed at Max's explanation of the Speed Force, while Jay admitted he once had felt something pull at him. It came down to Max to put it bluntly: How could anyone run so fast, without help? No matter how much food, no matter how much sleep, nothing could explain super speed except an outside influence.
Hoping the key to deciphering Kobra's plans lay in understanding the energies he used, Wally pushed light-speed to affect a red-shift, revealing a power net surrounding the city. He told the others what he'd seen when he returned from the timestream. Wally would pass light-speed while Kobra destroyed the city. At that moment, Wally would enter the Speed Force. He wouldn't come back; the force was the end of a speedster's race.
The running men (and woman) destroyed most of Kobra's Keystone power facilities, forcing him into an offensive game; the power net was increased to raise a force field around Keystone. Only Wally and Jesse made it into the city; Bart and Max were trapped outside. Jay was inside when the field was raised, but lacked the raw speed to face the task. Johnny, never as fast or durable as the Flashes, had run himself out . Despairing, Wally told Jesse what he had really seen at the end of his time jaunt. Yes, he would move into the Speed Force, but it would happen as he failed to save Linda from a Kobra weapon. Only Bart was fast enough to save Linda once Wally merged with the Speed Force.
They'd have to make do.
Kobra activated his primary weapon, a device that induced an earthquake and tapped its energy (pretty fancy, no?). The force field channeled the energy to a receiver satellite that broadcast power to hundreds of followers around the country. They would terrorize the nation and, somehow, lead to Kobra's taking control of the United States. (Waid never explained that bit.)
As Wally and Jesse searched the city, Linda, Iris and the Piper traced the energies of Kobra's weapon and came under attack. They blocked the villain's teleporter, leaving him trapped in a crumbling city. As Wally approached, Kobra's laser locked on its target and fired. Wally moved to intercept the beam and so save Linda. Jesse tackled Wally, seriously injuring her leg as the laser struck her.
In that moment, the not-always-too-bright Wally realized he was Kobra's actual target; Linda would have been a collateral loss. He sped off, the laser tracking him. He was drawn to the Speed Force, trying to fight it but pulled towards its embrace. Bart, having vibrated past the force field, reached his side. The laser, unable to track them both, shut down. Linda was safe, the city was whole and Wally was still in this world.
Again the laser fired, this time at the woman Kobra thought had brought him down (he was always a bit of a misogynist). Wally realized he'd been a fool. He moved to save Linda, reaching light-speed as he pushed her from harm's way. Transmuting, merging with the Speed Force, Wally wanted only enough time to say farewell. He whispered: "3x2(9YZ)4A," and the world froze. In the briefest of moments, almost too small to measure, Wally took Linda's hand. Then, in a crack of thunder and a blinding light, he was gone.
Bart leapt forward to face Kobra, who blasted him with a weapon that set him afire and knocked him from a roof to the ground. Kobra gloated as induced temblors shook Keystone. He broadcast the quake's power to his followers, who created havoc nationwide. At last, Kobra would rule the world.
Buildings fell. Jay pushed through his fatigue to evacuate a hospital, collapsing as he brought out the last of the patients. Rescue services were there but stuck at ground zero of an earthquake. With great effort, Max used super-speed vibrations to open a fissure through which panicked Keystoners could leave the city.
Bart, though badly shaken, was still in the game. Most speedsters heal quickly. He, Linda and the Piper attacked Kobra with the Piper's sonic weapons and whatever firepower they could steal from fallen Kobra troops. Jesse, using her secondary power of flight, did what she could. One by one they fell, until only Linda remained. Kobra's assistants teleported to safety. Their king stayed to deal with one remaining problem. He stalked Linda, finally standing over her, ready for the kill.
A crackling energy touched the exhausted Jay, crippled Jesse, unconscious Bart, and Linda, who wore Wally's ring, emblazoned with his symbol. Kobra pulled it from her hand. It glowed in his grasp. Thunder roared. A figure appeared between Linda and Kobra -- Wally, as if carved from lightning. He shrugged off Kobra's attack, tossed the would-be conqueror far away, and ran to the device controlling the quake. Circling faster and faster, he mirrored Barry Allen, striking an unstoppable machine in a blur of fists and feet made invisible by their speed. The device exploded. Linda cried out to Wally, but no one was there.
Max had finally arrived. Linda wailed that she had to find Wally. Max told her Wally was gone. "Then what ... what did we see?" Bart asked. Always the philosopher, Max speculated that perhaps the group, at death's door, had seen a ghostly vision. Perhaps they'd hallucinated during the machine's collapse. "Or maybe ... just maybe, for all he did in his time on earth ... for all those who loved him ... Wally West earned a chance to put things right ... one last time."
Jesse's leg was healed. Bart, run ragged and nearly dead only minutes before, was recharged. Max hardly seemed as if he'd nearly exhausted himself opening the earth. It was as if they'd all tapped into ... "something primal," Max said. He began to lecture Bart and Jesse about their responsibilities in Wally's absence.
Linda's ring glowed once more. In tears, she ran blindly, her grimace becoming a smile as she raced into Wally's arms. "Took you long enough to get over here," he joked. He'd been blown free by the explosion, he said, too fast for even the speedsters to see.
What Wally had experienced in the Speed Force, what he was beginning to understand, he said he couldn't describe. But he had changed. He wasn't just in touch with the speed anymore; now he had a direct line to it. His abilities were evolving.
But, Linda asked, how could Wally return? Max said no one comes back. Max doesn't know everything, Wally replied. Linda couldn't understand. Why come back from heaven? It had all the answers! It had everything!
"True," he said. "But you weren't there."
"If we don't believe in freedom of expression for people we despise, we don't believe in it at all." -- Noam Chomsky