What is it with DC Comics and The Flash? On Monday came the revelation that the September issue of his comic will be the first part of a storyline called "This Was Your Life, Wally West. Then there was the recent return of 1960s Flash, Barry Allen. All this suggests that DC is about to forcibly retire their current Fastest Man Alive just a year after bringing him back from the dead. Why can't the troubled publisher make up its collective mind about what to do with one of the first science-fiction superheroes?
If September's The Flash #244 does, indeed, mark the beginning of the end for Wally West – and the fact that that storyline isn't by recently-announced new writer Tom Peyer suggests that that may be the case, if his longterm plans are being cut short; regular Flash artist Freddie Williams II has already been announced to be returning to the Robin series - this will be the third relaunch of the Flash franchise (and, indeed, may lead to the third Flash character to take over the lead of the franchise) in the last five years.
Following Wally West's disappearance in 2005's Infinite Crisis series, former Kid Flash Bart Allen took over the winged cowl in the 2006 series, The Flash: The Fastest Man Alive - only to be killed off a year later, following the critical response to the relaunch. Wally West was brought back to the series – and his absence later retconned as him taking his family for a vacation on an alien planet – last summer in the All-Flash special, before his cancelled series was brought back as if it'd never gone away in the first place, albeit with a new set-up, courtesy of Mark Waid, one of the (if not the) most Flash-fan-friendly writers out there.
Of course, that new set-up didn't take, much to Waid's confusion:
I don't know. You know, I just think, in retrospect, the stars were not in alignment in a lot of ways. I kind of knew we were in trouble right off the bat when I so loved Daniel Acuna's artwork. I so loved it. And I was so unprepared for the insane volume of hatred from the online community about how much they just despised his work on the title. I knew at that point, I thought, "Oh god, we're in trouble." Once more, the online community has me questioning what I thought was good. Which I shouldn't let happen, but it's hard not to do when the volume is that loud.
And at this moment in time, I just ... in terms of superhero work, I feel frozen. I kind of... I feel like I'm momentarily out of step with what fandom wants because I don't get it. The same voices that are screaming that we gave Flash a wife and kids and family, because they say that's not what Flash is, are the same people who are screaming that they've broken up Mary Jane and Peter Parker. "How dare you take his family away!" I'm like, wait! Wait! What? Which way is it? So... growth and change good... or growth and change bad?
Change, as we now know, seems to be the only constant in the Flash franchise. Or, at least, change back; as Waid's new Flash Family series was floundering with fans, it was revealed that Wally West's own mentor Barry Allen was being brought back to life 23 years after his death, as part of DC's Final Crisis event.
Will Barry take Wally's place (And, as an aside, does this mean that Bart would've been accepted more as a Flash if he'd had a "y" at the end of his name?)? It's possible, and would fit in with a more general move at the publisher to return their comics to their 1980s status quo (See also: Resurrecting Hal Jordan, bringing the multiverse back, returning the Justice League to a mix of big names and c-level characters, thinking that anyone wants to read Batman And The Outsiders, etc. etc.)… but that doesn't mean that it would be a good move. Having Wally West as the Flash makes him unique in the DC line of characters; while he may not be the only former teen sidekick to grow up, he is the only one to grow up and adopt the costume and title of their mentor on a permanent basis and be accepted by the fans in doing so. He becomes an everyman "in" for the reader, being someone who has also grown up with the superheroes and is as familiar with the clichés and tricks of the trades as the fans themselves, while still being recognizable to kids who know him from the Justice League cartoons. Will all of that be thrown away by DC in favor of the Silver Age nostalgia of having Barry back in the role, or is the title of the new storyline a big fake-out? Expect to find out before the end of the year…
The Flash #244 [DC Comics]