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.