Tuesday, February 21, 2006

R.I.P. The Flash – 1987-2006

Last month, FanBoyWonder said good-bye to an old friend with the cancellation of The Flash with issue 230. We realize that we are a little late in offering comment—but these days, any title that runs (no pun intended) for two decades deserves a decent wake.

The demise of Wally West’s comic had been telegraphed for many months, so even as the character’s final fate remains uncertain (at this point), it was still tough when we realized that it was the end of a title that we’ve collected continuously since we picked up Flash #1 in February 1987.

There will of course be a new Flash title, and perhaps a new Flash, but let’s take moment to take note of the title’s two decade run over 232 issues (including a “0” issue during the 1994 Zero Hour event and a Millionth issue during the entirely forgettable One Million event of 1997), seven annuals and numerous Specials and Secret Files.

Not counting fill-in writers, the Wally West Flash title consisted of four writer eras —Mike Baron, William Messner-Lobes, Mark Waid and Geoff Johns.

There are many younger readers for whom the only Flash they have ever known is Wally West. However, the former-Kid Flash is the third hero to call himself Flash, preceded by Barry Allen and Jay Garrick.

Wally debut as the Flash at the end of CRISIS on Infinite Earths #12, following Barry Allen’s noble sacrifice to save the universe (until Infinite Crisis that is). After a year of being underused by Marv Wolfman in the New Teen Titans, Flash #1 debut in Feb. 1987—written by Mike Baron with art by Jackson Guice.

We should emphasize just what a big deal Wally West’s elevation as the Flash was at the time. The sidekick replacing the hero was and remains fairly unprecedented—not even Dick Grayson accomplished that when he became the first sidekick to grow up and move on—turning in his Robin uniform to become Nightwing three years earlier in Tales of the Teen Titans #44.

Little did anyone know when Flash #1 hit the stands that it would mark a very long road ahead for the Wally West character back to respectability. With Barry’s death in the CRISIS and Jay’s (temporary) banishment to limbo with the rest of the Justice Society, Wally was the only Flash remaining but he was far from the Fastest Man Alive anymore.

Wally had been de-powered to just below the speed of sound, was given a bunsen-burner metabolism which required him to eat 3 times his body weight and to sleep 12-18 hours after using his speed. However, Flash’s physical limitations paled compared to his newly built in character flaws as a self-centered, womanizing jerk whose secret identity was now public.

Despite an impressive debut issue featuring a cross-country run by Flash for an organ donation in issue 1, Wally West would spend years as a “B-list” hero trying to step out of Barry Allen’s shadow. Baron lasted 13 issues, Guice was gone in less than ten. William Messner-Loebs took over mid story arc from Baron in 1988 and he enjoyed a competent but largely forgettable four year run.

WML is known for bringing heroes down to earth, but Wally had already been brought down quite a bit. With all of the supporting characters WML brought during his tenure, Wally at times became a guest in his own book.

For the most part, WML’s stories don’t individually stand out but taken as a whole, his contributions were a steady, if maddeningly slow course correction in returning Wally West to greatness. Linda Park, Wally’s future wife, was introduced during WML’s tenure, as well as the concept of Wally’s psychological block that kept him from attaining full speed—something Mark Waid would exploit during his run on the book.

In his last year on the book, WML appeared to find his stride and he helped restore Flash/Wally to a modicum of respectability--The Vandal Savage story arc, issue 48-50, remain WML’s best Flash with a killer cliffhanger in issue 49, literally, as Wally is shot and left for dead.

Following his near death, Wally rebounded faster than ever, with a slightly new costume. What could have and should have been an opportunity for Wally to wear his own distinct costume was lost as the short-lived The Flash life-action TV series (1990-91 season) was still on the air and DC didn’t want to make a radical change. The fact that Wally never had his own costume, as he had as Kid Flash (the best of all the Flash costumes in our opinion), has always been a mistake in our opinion.

All in all, given the editorial climate at DC during the early 1990s—manifest in the frequent and numerous retro-cons years after the CRISIS was supposed to have streamlined the DCU continuity—few other writers could have done as able a job with the Flash as WML and his work provided the spring board for Mark Waid to take Wally West to light speed and beyond.

Next, Part 2 of R.I.P. Flash will deal with the Mark Waid and Geoff Johns eras of The Flash.


Post a Comment

<< Home

Free Hit Counters
Online Universities