Former Flash Wally West has been through... a lot, to put it mildly.
But now, he has his family back, and the role of the Fastest Man Alive is being comfortably filled by his mentor and friend, Barry Allen. After everything he's been through, everything he's caused, it's time for Wally to hang it up.
The Speed Force isn't done with Wally just yet, however...
What do you do with a problem like Wally West?
DC has spent half a decade trying to answer that question, to no avail. When the company brought Barry Allen back in Final Crisis as The Fastest Man Alive, Wally was quickly shuffled off the board and then ingloriously written out of continuity completely beginning in New 52 (2011). Then in 2016, they brought him back from publishing purgatory in DC Rebirth #1, to much ballyhoo, pomp and circumstance and… did nothing with him, really. His return was positioned as a key part of the Rebirth/Doctor Manhattan mystery, but when nothing came of it, someone greenlit the brain-numbingly stupid idea to make make him a multiple murderer of several heroes, including Roy Harper, instead. And then he… sort of became Metron? But also Doctor Manhattan? It was weird. By the time Wally finally got his family back in Death Metal, it was an afterthought.
So, what to do with him now? As much as Wally West is the Flash for fans of a particular age (ahem, me), it’s been over a decade since Barry Allen has returned to the role and has effectively supplanted him as the Flash of this generation of readers. He’s ubiquitously everywhere: comics, TV, cartoons, movies. But still, in print, there’s the Wally West elephant in the room (not even getting into the continuity headache that Wallace West’s existence creates, to boot). I’d also add that since his return, Barry’s personality has become largely similar to Wally’s was pre-New 52; a case could be made that, in terms of how they handle being the Flash, the two of them are basically the same character now. Except for the part where Wally is supposed to be 15-20ish years younger than Barry, which means that Barry would have to be somewhere in his 40s now, but clearly isn’t. So, that brings me back to my original quandary:
What do you do with a problem like Wally West?
The answer remains to be seen, but as of Flash #768, DC is at least putting a good faith effort toward finally giving Wally West a fair shake. New writer Jeremy Adams, transplanting into comics from Hollywood with scripting credits including Supernatural (HE WROTE “SCOOBYNTURAL!”), the upcoming animated film Justice Society: World War II, and Teen Titans Go vs. Teen Titans, has been tasked with the possibly insurmountable image rehab project of making Wally West not only relevant again, but a hero in his own right despite all of his recent mishandlings. But he also has to sell this to a whole new generation of fans, and get over the past five years’ worth of knotted storytelling where the character is concerned. This would be a nigh-impossible ask for any writer – I can count on maybe three fingers the writers I’d implicitly trust to get the job done – but to ask a fresh face to the comics game to overcome all of this, and tell a story that makes sense, and make it engaging, is asking a lot of anyone, regardless of what your resume is. That goes double for Adams, who is brand-new to the comics-writing game.
With all of that in mind, how does Jeremy Adams do in his freshman Flash outing, then? The answer is both simple yet, as with anything concerning Wally West these days, anything but.
He does the best he can.
That may seem like a non-answer that damns Adams’ efforts with faint praise, but considering the narrative weight he’s operating under, it might be the best we can hope for at the moment – at least in his first installment. But the end result, weighed against its own inherent strengths and weaknesses, is a pretty entertaining – but a little rough around the edges – comic.
There is so much to unpack where Wally West is concerned, it’s almost impossible to know where to go to give him a fresh start. His wife Linda is nowhere to be found, and long-missing kids Irey and Jay only get a passing mention. The restoration of his family was Wally’s long-running narrative thread throughout Rebirth, and now that he’s got them back, Adams keeps them sidelined rather than put them front and center, which is an odd choice given that that family is one of Wally’s key defining features. I assume this choice was made in order to keep the house as clean as possible for Wally’s big return to center stage and keep the spotlight solely on him; but it seems like the wrong choice under the circumstances. Wally just went through hell to get his family back – don’t sideline them now that he does. It’s Lucy with the football: just give us what we want, DC. Don’t tease it then take it away.
However, despite their physical absence throughout, the shadow of Wally’s family does loom large over Adams’ story, which finds Wally quitting the superhero game to spend time with his wife and children. This is a very mature, very responsible, very sensible and adult move – so of course, it promptly goes sideways and Wally gets lost in the timestream. The why and how of it are dependent upon the conceit that the Speed Force is, in a lot of ways, a huge MacGuffin, in that it can do pretty much whatever the writer needs it to in order to make a story work. And that’s fine, because there’s a mystery at the heart of what’s going on here, which means the Speed Force can be twisted and contorted to fit the story’s needs without it feeling like too much of a stretch.
And that’s how we wind up with Wally in dinosaur times, and ultimately, a speed velociraptor, which is one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen.
The why and how of it all remains to be seen, but the net result is sheer fun. And while there’s miles to go with Wally West’s image rehab tour, Flash #768 winds up being pretty darn fun comic. It could have easily collapsed under the weight that all of Wally’s narrative baggage, but doesn’t. It acknowledges what’s happened and then does what Wally needs to do – move forward. In this case, that means Wally bouncing around in the timestream, inhabiting others’ bodies. And while this doesn’t yet equate to a full sense of closure for where Wally’s been and where he’s going, it’s a decent first step.
One of the necessary downsides, though, is that Barry Allen is still pretty much omnipresent throughout the issue, and Wally’s narrative is heavily dependent on him. That means Wally doesn’t yet have much agency of his own, especially given that he is – by the design of the story – at the mercy of his environment, ceaselessly reacting to events around him. Barry is heading off-planet (and probably off-universe) in June’s upcoming Infinite Frontier miniseries, so from a continuity standpoint, it makes sense to leave Earth under Wally’s protection, when he inevitably decides to keep on keeping on as the Scarlet Speedster. That more or less necessitates this passing-of-the-torch mentality we see in this issue, but never the less, it means that Wally West isn’t the star of his own story just yet. More to come.
Most of the issue is drawn by industry heavyweight Brandon Peterson, who despite some amazing artistic chops, does fall into the uncanny valley a bit here and there throughout the issue. His art, while distinctive, clean, and jumps off the page, is occasionally too pretty and flawless. As a result, his figures sometimes come off as stiff and awkward. Fortunately, though, this is an only occasional hiccup in an otherwise gorgeous comic. Peterson’s art is as sumptuous as ever, brought to stunning realization by Mike Atiyeh’s jaw-dropping colors. As the penciling transitions to David LaFuente toward the last couple pages of the issue, it’s a bit of a letdown – despite LaFuente’s obvious growth as an artist in recent years – because Peterson’s work is so strong and compelling. Stalwart Flash letterer Steve Wands brings it all together, neatly pivoting between Barry and Wally’s competing dialogue boxes in such a way – color-coding each with inversed reds and yellows – that readers should have no trouble following whose is whose.
New writer Jeremy Adams accepts the task before him of bringing Wally West to the forefront of the Flash mantle with a bit of hesitation but a basically solid foundation. Now all that remains is for the story itself to move Wally into his own spotlight, and this book has the potential to be one of DC's best and brightest. Brandon Peterson shines as always on the art; the inclusion of time travel and speed velociraptors is just the icing on the cake. All in all, a sturdy first step in the rehabilitation of Wally West.
The Flash #768: The Best is Back
Writing - 7.5/107.5/10
Storyline - 7/107/10
Art - 9/109/10
Color - 9.5/109.5/10
Cover Art - 9/109/10
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