Despite the fact that the Flash: Rebirth series itself largely slipped under most people’s radars, if you’re reading any DC books at the moment then it can’t have escaped your notice, primarily due to the first-few-pages preview that has appeared in the back of just about every DC comic over the past month, that Geoff Johns is beginning a new Flash ongoing featuring Barry Allen. The thing is, even if you accept that there’s not much inherently wrong with bringing Allen back (but that’s an argument for those of us who thought his death was important to have another day), it leaves DC with something of a problem. Because they haven’t yet figured out what they’re doing with Wally West – and so it leaves them with two characters (quite literally) running about with exactly the same name, in exactly the same costumes. And it makes them look rather like they haven’t got a clue what they’re doing. At least Marvel, currently going through similar issues with Captain America, seem to have a plan – for now, the status quo is that Bucky is Cap, and the newly-resurrected Steve Rogers won’t be publicly reclaiming the mantle.
I mean, I’ve no real problem with the concept of legacy superheroes – it’s been one of the building blocks of the DCU ever since Barry Allen (who, lest we forget, wasn’t even the original Flash) first leapt from the pages of Showcase. One of the richer elements of a superhero world that’s existed for almost a century is that certain mantles become iconic, and get passed on from generation to generation. It’s even possible to have multiple versions of the same codename running around at the same time – the myriad Green Lanterns operating on Earth have generally managed alright, particularly as John Stewart and Guy Gardner tended not to conceal their identities; and when Hal Jordan replaced Kyle Rayner as the (rather than a) GL, Kyle did the decent thing and sodded off to another planet. And hey – at least they all wore different costumes.
But the Flash conundrum is a different kettle of fish – at the moment, until someone comes out and claims otherwise, DC are publishing a series called The Flash while simultaneously having another character of the same name floating around assorted team books. It’s confusing, and it’s poor brand management. So what to do with Wally? Well, I thought I’d have a crack at playing Superhero Guidance Counsellor, and run (no pun intended) through his possible future career options…
1. Kill him
Harsh, but possibly not entirely unfair – it says a lot about a character that he can have existed for five decades and yet have such a tenuous grip on his identity that a bloke who’s been dead for twenty years can take it straight back. And this, you suspect, is the inherent problem with Wally – despite some critical acclaim and fan affection for Mark Waid’s run in the ’90s, he’s never really felt like a permanent fixture in the first place (indeed, self-doubt on this very topic remained a character facet for far longer than ever felt necessary). Still, he has been around for a long time, and a major character death at this point would seem hugely at odds with DC’s strategy for the next couple of years (he’d be inclined to wonder, for example, why he should die and yet Henry “Hawk” Hall gets brought back to life in Blackest Night). So he’s probably got to stick around – for now.
2. Give him a new costume
This has already been attempted to an extent, but let’s face it, they’re fooling no-one. I can see why Wally wants to hang on to the outfit – let’s face it, it’s still one of the best in comics history – but Barry came up with it first, and if he wants it back, it’s his. One option would simply be to palette-swap – the old yellow of his Kid Flash outfit is probably a no-go due to certain negative connotations, but how about blue? It looked good on Barry in his brief sojourn as a Blue Lantern, and has associations with electricity and bolts and so on. Alternatively, he could just go for something else entirely – again, he established the Kid Flash look (and indeed, Wally tended to work better as a character in that era, particularly in the ’80s Teen Titans), and could probably filch it back off Bart Allen (and don’t get me started on that kid’s difficulty establishing an identity) – but would he want to be seen as taking such a backward step? No, an entirely new look would probably be the best way forward, and that would also naturally tie in to…
3. Give him a new name
Because if he’s calling himself “the Flash” when there’s another “the Flash” embedded in people’s consciousnesses, then he’s just going to look silly. DC have had two Flashes before – when the Justice Society were wheeled out of retirement – but Jay Garrick was generally referred to as “the original Flash” or simply his real name. Hiding behind a mask, Wally needs something distinctive that the average Joe can call him. It’s not like the world is short on metaphors for fast things. Lightning? Bolt? Lightning Bolt? The Whizz? The Speedster? Zip Man? Mr Zoom? Captain Quick? The Pacemaker? Johnny Rocketfeet?
Alright, so “The Flash” is probably the only decent name for a fast superhero. But sometimes you have to settle for second-best. Just ask Matter-Eater Lad.
4. Turn him evil
Except I still don’t know if anyone would figure out anything interesting to do with him. And the “former sidekick becomes future villain” idea has already been done. A lot. And he’s got kids. I suppose you could kill his kids and turn him evil, but… well, there’s that whole Heroic Age Brightest Day thing again…
5. Turn him into a time traveller
Well, look, it’s not as if the DCU’s assorted speedsters aren’t already heavily linked with the concept of time travel – it’s been generally acknowledged over decades of stories that incredible speed is the best way of hopping back and forth in time. And I know DC are already putting out a time-travel-based series in the shape of Booster Gold, but with Dan Jurgens’ departure it’s unclear whether that book will maintain the current status quo. So if and when Booster settles back in the present, have Wally somehow (some reason to do with his powers) stuck bouncing around the past and future instead. Hell, this would even give you justification for still calling it Flash – as the name would take on a dual meaning, referring also to his “flashing” forwards and backwards.
Now, this does rely on the assumption that people would want to buy a Wally solo title – something that isn’t borne out by recent reality. But still.
6. Send him to an alternate world.
Well, there are 51 of the buggers. And there’d be a neat circularity to using a Flash to finally get around to playing with the post-52 splitting of worlds, since it was a previous “two characters with the same name” problem that led to the invention of Earth-2 in the first place. It’d mean, of course, he couldn’t interact with other DCU characters – unless you sent some others over with him. There’s an entire generation of characters – almost all contemporaries of Wally – who’ve at one time or another replaced a former mentor only to have them come back and reclaim the mantle when nostalgic writers take charge. So why not send a load of them to a parallel world, to become that Earth’s major heroes? Want Dick Grayson to stay on as Batman when Bruce Wayne returns? Donna Troy to finally become Wonder Woman? Basically, the whole cast of the one-time New Teen Titans, along with a few other mid-age characters, could sod off to finally become the Justice League that they keep being shown as in constantly-pushed-back possible futures. And of course, the crossover opportunities would be endless.
Incidentally, Wally was already sent to an alternate world a short while back – following the staggeringly ill-conceived decision to artificially age Bart Allen and have him become the new Flash. The difference here would be that you’d actually bother to tell the stories, rather than pretending he doesn’t exist. Although, actually…
7. Pretend he doesn’t exist
Somehow, I can almost see this as being the most likely option. “Hey, you guys, what happened to Wally West?” “Who?”
8. Kill Barry Allen
Well, if at first you don’t succeed…