The War on Wally West

wallyThe War on Wally West

No, I don’t really believe there’s a conspiracy of any sort against Wally (Steph Brown is another matter). I just liked the alliteration for the title here. But it’s hard to deny that there have been a series of somewhat questionable decisions that are having bad effects on Wally’s appearances, and his fans’ happiness. And, no, before someone jumps in with this, I am not a “Barry-hater.”

A brief history first (If you’re familiar with Wally, you might want to skip this next bit, or you can always read along and see if I screw up). When DC started what became known as the Silver Age of comics, Flash was one of the heroes they included. The new one had similar powers, but a different costume and a new man wearing it. Struck by lightning that bathed him in an array of chemicals, police scientist (long before the current CSI craze) Barry Allen gained super-speed and became a costumed hero. Unlike most of his contemporaries, Barry wasn’t an orphan; in fact his parents played a part in his life as long as Barry was the Flash. As most Silver Age heroes did, he gained a side-kick: Wally West had a freak duplication of the accident that gave Barry his powers, and became known as Kid Flash. Wally teamed with other sidekicks and was a founding member of the Teen Titans, and joined many later versions of this group.

Wally joined the New Teen Titans, a remarkable book that many argue was some of DC’s best work. He left the group after he started having problems with his powers. It was at this point the Crisis on Infinite Earths swept through DC Comics, and changed most of their history. In the aftermath, Barry Allen died a heroic death, and Wally became the first sidekick to step up and take on his mentor’s mantle. Wally was the Flash from 1988 till the DC Reboot in 2012. He changed the costume, grew up, figured out ways to use his powers Barry never had, married, and had kids who inherited powers from him. Things looked great for Wally…until Final Crisis.

This pretty much finishes the character bio, for those who skipped it. Now on with other things.

Although many important people at DC had said it would never happen, Barry Allen came back from the dead. And that was close to the last we saw of Wally. He was unceremoniously bumped to the sidelines for reasons that didn’t really work. The Flash book was given back to Barry, Wally left both the Titans and the Justice League with no explanation. Wally fans were told to relax, that he’d be back, in either a back up to the Flash book, or headlining a new title, rumored to be titled Speed Force. Neither of these things happened. Wally was eerily not only absent, but wasn’t mentioned anywhere, even by people who were supposed to be among his best friends. DC Editorial claimed (lamely, in my opinion) they didn’t want to confuse people with multiple versions of the same character. We’ll get back to that.

Then came yet another history altering miniseries: Flashpoint. Flashpoint marked the end of the DC Universe as it had been for many years, and also the relaunch of about all the characters therein. Wally had a minor part in Flashpoint. He was a non-powered support character to his aunt, Iris, and then casually killed off. Was this the end of Wally?


The DC Reboot happened, as they launched the “NEW 52!” Changes were wrought on most characters, many were de-aged, had their histories re-written, or, in some cases, apparently erased. Wally is among the missing. Barry was given the role of Flash, and Barry’s grandson from the future, Bart, was given the part of Kid Flash. Most of the “between” generation either suffered horribly or vanished. The only hero left standing of that group was Dick Grayson as Nightwing, and even he lost much of his history.

DC Editorial claimed they were aiming for the “most iconic” versions of their characters, and that their target audience was males aged 18-35. Let’s take a look at this argument.

Barry was the Flash from 1956 to 1986, thirty years. Wally wore the costume from ‘86 to 2012, twenty six. Barry had the title longer, but Wally was around longer, covering Barry’s decades long absence.

Aside from the comics, where has Flash been seen?

On the Superfriends, a Flash showed up occasionally. He was never identified by civilian name, but given the time frame, we’ll say it was Barry. One for him, unnamed, as a minor character.

There was a sadly short-lived live action TV show in1990 on CBS, lasting only one season of twenty two episodes. This featured an odd hybrid character. He was called Barry, and had Barry’s job. But by this point in the comics, Barry was dead, and the Flash on the show had Wally’s metabolism problems, limitations, and was dating Wally’s girlfriend. Call it a draw? 60/40 Barry?

Flash’s next big outing was Justice League Unlimited. This was a fantastic cartoon that ran for three seasons (July, 2004 to May, 2006). Flash was one of the founding members and main characters, and was quite clearly identified as Wally West.

Despite DC Editorial’s concerns that the Flash situation was confusing, the cartoon show “The Brave and the Bold” managed to include Barry, Wally, and even Golden Age Flash Jay Garrick, all three of them in one episode once. I guess people who watch cartoons are less easily confused than people who read comic books?

The next major DC cartoon was Young Justice, about (at first) six young heroes. One of them was Wally West, Kid Flash. During the run of Young Justice is when the DC Reboot happened, so the show became the only place fans could see Wally. He was a major player in season one, and much less so in season two. Then, in the series finale, Wally dies, and Bart, who’d been in as Impulse, takes Wally’s costume. Seems a running theme.

So, as far as who’s gotten more attention beyond the realm of comics, I’d say it’s Wally.

Ok, if you’re talking “iconic” (defined as either pertaining to or characteristic of an icon, or, in art, executed according to convention or tradition), maybe they meant in appearance? Funny thing, that. The major change Wally made to Barry’s costume when he inherited the identity was to the belt. On Barry’s costume, the belt is a band of lightning circling the waist. On Wally’s costume, it’s two lightning bolts meeting in the center. The ICONIC Barry of the New 52… is wearing Wally’s costume.

A few other things of interest that didn’t fit neatly anywhere else:

I mentioned earlier that some people had talked about how major an event the death of Barry Allen had been. One of them said it was “too important to ever undo.” That was Dan Didio, now one of the head honchos at DC Comics. Guess “ever” came early.

One of DC’s weak justifications of dumping Wally for Barry was they didn’t want to confuse people with multiple versions of the same character. Let’s see… there’s an entire police force of Green Lanterns in space, and five of them are from Earth. There are even several different titles about the various Lanterns, plus another character of that name in the Earth 2 book. Oh, and there’s another FLASH there, too. In the new continuity, there have been at least two Batmans, four Robins since they cut Steph out (three if Scott Lobdell’s retcon holds), and now two teams calling themselves the Justice League, not counting a third that had its book cancelled a while back. Nope, nothing confusing there.

Oh, and the “target audience” mentioned earlier? If any of them know a Flash at all, it’s quite probably WALLY, if you do the math on the years.

So, let me sum up:

Wally was in action longer than Barry, and has had more media exposure. Wally’s costume is being featured in the new reality. There are multiple versions of characters out there, even speedsters called Flash. Fans are still calling for Wally’s return, and, in the face of this, he’s been killed. Twice. And, aside from that, ignored. Fans who ask about him at cons are put off with jokes, lame excuses, and mocked by DC staff.

If you’ve not figured it out yet, in the NEW 52, “iconic” means “the people in charge like it better” (see also Damian Wayne as Robin, the revamped Amanda Waller, Kid Flash, Wonder Woman, etc).

Wally was the first sidekick to step into his idol’s boots. He expanded the Flash powers, and made a great name for himself. He fought Barry’s Rogues, and his own. He was a member of the Teen Titans and Justice League, on various versions of both teams. He matured from wise-cracking womanizer to respected hero and family man. He, and his fans, really deserve better.

Are Comics and Cartoons Being Dumbed Down?

I’m both a writer and a reader, and one of my preferred genres has always been superheroes.  That’s an area of interest for me, and considering the box office records set by the Avengers movie last summer, maybe it’s of interest to one or two other people out there.  With the perspective of decades of comic book reading, I’ve been noticing a trend in the writing overall.

As, I said, I’ve been a hero fan all my life, I’ve never pretended otherwise.  And, overall, I’ve been very lucky in that much of my lifetime has been a good period for that.  I’ve gotten to see some amazing work done in bringing comic book heroes to both the large and small screen.  I can remember being thrilled when I saw the Superman movie in the theater.  Yeah, with Christopher Reeve as the lead, I did just about believe a man can fly.  I had serious doubts about Michael Keaton as Batman when I heard the casting, and he did a damn fine job.  And while there have been some clunkers along the way (Catwoman, Elektra, the Spirit, Green Hornet), there have been some amazing movies (just about all the lead up to, and most definitely including, Avengers!).

On the small screen, again, some not so good ones, but some amazing ones as well.  I’d more or less argue the dawn of the modern, quality, hero cartoon started with Batman: The Animated Series.  This was an amazing show, with serious stories, character depth and development.  Dick Grayson quit being Robin and moved on to Nightwing.  Mr. Freeze got a tragic but amazingly well done origin.  There were many guest stars from around the DC Universe.

This was followed by Superman, Static Shock, and then the astounding Justice League Unlimited.  I can’t say enough good things about JLU.  The immense cast, juggled deftly, the plots and subplots, love interests, everything was handled with respect for the characters and the VIEWERS.  JLU was a show easily watchable by adults.  The Teen Titans cartoon was a bit of a let down, being a lot sillier, but was enjoyable and had some good moments.

Marvel had various shows of different quality, almost always built around either the X-Men or Spider-Man, with an occasional foray into adventures for the Hulk.  Some were great, some were erratic, and some just fizzled out.  I particularly recall enjoying the X-Men one in the 90′s, with both Gambit and Jubilee among the regular characters, and the Spider-Man that aired, oddly, on MTV of all places.

Then, in the recent past, we had hour long blocks from both Marvel and DC that seemed to be compromises between the two extremes.  DC began the “DC Nation” block of programming.  The two shows that made this up were Green Lantern and Young Justice.  Green Lantern was computer animated and more simplistic overall, one could argue largely “kid friendly.”  Young Justice was a very well executed, realistically drawn cartoon featuring many young heroes at the dawn of their careers, from the well known (Robin) to the obscure (Rocket, Aqualad II).  Many fans were relieved that characters banished from the DC Comic line after their reboot managed to make the line up of the show, like Wally West as Kid Flash, and even a cameo by persona MUY non grata Stephanie Brown.  The DC Nation shorts even featured an array of ideas and characters, including Amythest, Plastic Man, and Animal Man voiced by Weird Al Yankovic.

Over in the Marvel Universe block, they rolled out Ultimate Spider-Man and Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes.  Spider-Man was back to being a teenager, working for Nick Fury (the version from Marvel’s hit movies, not the main comic line) and teamed with similarly age-regressed heroes Power Man, Iron Fist, White Tiger, and Nova.  This was definitely kid fare, with Spidey frequently stopping the show to narrate, make wise comments, and have odd, chibi-style images in his day dreams, a bit like one of the hallmarks of the sitcom Scrubs.  Avengers: EMH featured adult heroes in big adventures, with plots stretching over many episodes, great character development, and the gradual appearance of many Avengers’ favorites from the books, like Vision, Ms. Marvel, and Black Panther.

As an adult comic fan, I was ecstatic.  Two well written hero cartoons with some good plotting, and character development, and, a bonus for me, they were about teams I like with a lot of lesser known characters I was fond of.  Remember that old saying about “Only the good die young”?

Young Justice was plagued by mystifying, random, unannounced hiatuses, lasting months.  Even the people at DC Comics often said they had no idea what was going on, as the did the writers on the show.  Well, oddly enough, if you make a show vanish for many weeks at once, it suffers.  Thanks to the combination of the airing practices that seemed designed to kill it, as well as a toy line that didn’t exactly set sales records (the only point of cartoons is to sell toys, it seems), the show was cancelled.  Season two would finish, but then that was it.  It would be replaced by an anime style Teen Titans, partially based off the show that ran a few years ago, but written even more for kids.  Green Lantern, too, was axed.

Avengers: EMH also came to a sadly premature end, slated to be replaced by Avengers Assembled, with a line up and look set to reflect the recent hit movie, not the comics.  While the fate of Ultimate Spider-Man is unclear, they have announced a new show for Marvel: Hulk, Agents of SMASH.  Based both on the title and the stills I’ve seen so far, I’m betting this, too, will be aimed at kids.

All of which leaves me wondering: is the era of the smart hero cartoon over?  Hopefully, I’m overreacting and people will be able to mock me about this in the future.  But USM, Agents of Smash, and a Teen Titans based on a series of shorts that featured a burping contest just don’t sound like they lend themselves to complex story telling.

I’d love to be saying something to rival Batman: The Animated Series, or JLU, or Avengers EMH is coming soon.  But it doesn’t look like it.  Young Justice ends on Saturday the 16th after just two seasons, and I don’t see anything to match it on the horizon.

Pair all this with DC’s recent reboot, and I see a troubling trend.  Decades of history were thrown out, certain characters ignored, relationships overall were gotten rid of.  Female characters in particular fared badly, either vanishing or radically changed to be both simpler and sexier.  Overall, the stories feel to me, as an avid reader and long-term fan, dumbed down.  As is happening to the shows I was discussing.

A lot of people look down on popular entertainment like comics and cartoons, dismissing it as immature or silly.  Read anything by Gail Simone, Bryan Q Miller, John Ostrander, Peter David, Paul Dini, most of John Byrne or Chris Claremont, and you can see it’s not true.  These things don’t have to be dumb to work, or aimed solely at kids.  But that seems to be where they are heading.  I don’t know if they are succeeding at getting younger readers; my personal observations so far indicate no.  But I know that they’re driving away older readers, female readers, long term fans.

I don’t think I’m being unrealistic in hoping that at least some of this fare be suitable for adults who aren’t just there to stare at barely clad women, or characters punching/shooting each other.  Is that really where the market needs to go?  Is that where we WANT it to go?

Think about this the next time you’re deciding what to read or watch.