Legacy Heroes: The Flash

The Flash has more of a legacy than almost any other superhero. Being the fastest man alive is an honor passed down between generations, from Jay Garrick of the 1940s to Barry Allen of the 1950s and ’60s. Each generation of comic book readers is able to connect with its own unique iteration of the scarlet speedster. Within the comics, each Flash inherits a connection to the speedforce, a mysterious force which binds speedsters together. This connection through the speedforce gives a sense of tradition to the Flash mantle, creating a significance for the title. Furthermore, connecting the different Flashes through the speedforce is critical in developing a Flash family. This family unit broadens the title of the Flash beyond merely one hero. Over the years, creating a new Flash for each generation has generated a larger Flash family, reflecting the generational differences within real life families.

The family that runs together…

The first major addition to the Flash family came in 1956, when Barry Allen was created. Barry ushered in the Silver Age of comic books, starting a new generation of heroes that carried on the legacy of 1940s “Golden Age” heroes such as Jay Garrick, the original Flash. With Barry Allen came a new costume, new secret identity, and a slew of new adventures to the Flash mythos. Barry, a product of the 1950s and ’60s, is a very straight-laced type of hero. During the day, Barry is a CSI who believes in a very by-the-book form of justice, fighting for the rights of all people. As a CSI, Barry also incorporates much of his own intelligence into crime-fighting. Barry is a keen detective and scientist, using these skills to solve crimes and devise unique solutions for his villains. During the wackier times of the Silver Age, Barry also found creative ways to use his speed, such as vibrating through walls or creating speed-induced images of himself. While all of these aspects made Barry a fun, exciting new Flash for the Silver Age, he is very much a product of his time. In this sense, Barry does not have much of a personality. Barry, during modern times, can be seen as quite boring, being too perfect to be interesting.

Rushing onto the Silver Age scene

Keeping things interesting, however, was the next Flash, Wally West. Wally added a lot to the Flash legacy, considering his own history. Wally was originally introduced as Kid Flash, Barry Allen’s sidekick. Creating Kid Flash in itself is important to the Flash family, allowing for multiple speedsters to coexist. From there, new possibilities open up when Kid Flash inherits his mentor’s mantle. Making Wally the new Flash perpetuates the Flash legacy between generations, passing the torch to a new kind of Flash. Wally is a worthy inheritor to the Flash mantle, considering his experience as Kid Flash and connection to his predecessor. Developing Wally into the Flash gives the reader a sense of character development and continuity between the different Flashes. Indeed, Barry and Wally are two entirely different Flashes, for different generations. Wally is written with more relatable characteristics than Barry. Quite often, Wally feels the weight of the world on his shoulders, trying his hardest to be everywhere at once. Wally constantly deals with his doubts and struggles to live up to the Flash legacy. Additionally, Wally can be impulsive at times, yet he learns from his mistakes and becomes a better hero for it. All of these traits make Wally the Flash for a modern audience, in an age of more human heroes.

Now that’s character development

Part of what makes the transition from Barry to Wally so compelling is the relationship between the two Flashes. As the Flash and Kid Flash, respectively, Barry and Wally share a hero/sidekick relationship. Barry taught Wally everything that he knew, giving him the necessary experience to grow into a hero. More importantly, as the husband of Wally’s aunt, Iris West, Barry is seen as “Uncle Barry”. Wally looks up to Barry, not just as the Flash, but as a member of his own family. The idolization of his uncle makes Wally quite relatable as a character. Many people take inspiration from family members, and “Uncle Barry” grounds the Flash legacy as a family tradition. The familial ties between the different Flashes creates an intimate connection between each generation, making for a more emotionally resonant legacy.

Family ties…

It was not until 1985, during DC’s Crisis on Infinite Earths, that Wally needed to fill his uncle’s shoes. During the massive event, Barry vanished, sacrificing himself to stop the Anti-Monitor from destroying the multi-verse. Consequently, Barry Allen became a martyr in the DC Universe: the shining example of heroism to which no one could measure up. Still, someone needed to fill the void left in the Flash’s absence. At the time, Wally had retired from his role as Kid Flash to focus on his college education. Yet, with Barry gone, Wally knew someone had to carry on in his uncle’s memory. For a while, Wally struggled to inherit the role of the Flash. Wally felt that he had to try to honor his uncle, but he lived in constant fear that he might one day overshadow Barry and tarnish his memory. Eventually, Wally came to terms with his own fears, surpassing Barry and achieving his potential as the Flash. Surpassing Barry, Wally exemplifies the progress that comes in each new generation, as sons come to grow past their fathers.

The struggles of legacy

Wally’s adventures also developed far past Barry’s Silver Age tales of heroism. During his time as the Flash, Barry dealt with more traditional costumed villains than Wally. The main villains introduced during Barry’s tenure were the Rogues: costumed supervillains such as Captain Cold, Mirror Master, Heatwave, the Trickster, and several others. While all of these villains proved to be considerable challenges for the Flash, they were all fairly harmless. The Rogues were merely out to rob a bank or ransom the city for millions of dollars. Wally, on the other hand, experienced much larger threats. Many new concepts were introduced during Wally’s tenure, such as the speedforce, Flashes from the future and different dimensions, and new powers from the speedforce. Out of these big ideas came larger threats, such as Savitar, Abra Kadabra, Zoom, and the Combine organization. From evil speedsters, to magical threats, to terrorist organizations, Wally’s villains were a massive step-up from Barry’s costumed Rogues.

And all this was just Mark Waid’s run on the character…

The supporting cast in Wally’s life is also much stronger than Barry’s. Linda Park, Wally’s wife, is a perfect match for the scarlet speedster. While Wally is impulsive, Linda thinks things through. Linda can be uptight, while Wally carries a sense of fun with him. As an investigative reporter, Linda also works with Wally as a partner in solving crimes and uncovering the truth behind stories. Iris West, on the other hand, works more as a memory than as a character. When Barry was the Flash, Iris was constantly portrayed as Barry’s girlfriend and nothing more. The largest role which Iris had in Barry’s tales were little jokes about how he was always running late for their dates. From Wally’s perspective, however, “Aunt Iris” is another great role model. Iris, like Barry, is a pure, idealized family member who inspires Wally to be the man he is today. It is the combination of Iris’ spirit and Barry’s heroism which makes Wally into such a strong character. Furthermore, while Barry is highly idealized in the heroic community, Wally plays a more active role in heroic circles. While Barry helped found the Justice League, Wally was a founder of the Teen Titans as Kid Flash and a member of the Justice League as the Flash. Wally’s progression from Teen Titan to member of the JLA not only shows considerable character development, but it also demonstrates Wally’s broad connection to the DC Universe. Wally is good friends with big heroes such as Superman and Green Lantern, while maintaining close bonds with others such as Nightwing and Cyborg. Passing the torch from Barry to Wally created a Flash that is far more integrated in the larger DC Universe.

Lifelong friends

Unfortunately, Wally’s tenure as the Flash did not last forever. While Wally had a lengthy run as the only Flash, from 1985-2009, eventually, Barry Allen returned. During Final Crisis and the subsequent storyline Flash: Rebirth, Barry Allen was reintroduced to the DC Universe, following a near-twenty five year absence. This resurrection felt rather unnecessary for many reasons. First of all, Barry had been depicted as a martyr for decades, a fallen hero who stood as an example of true heroism. Reintroducing Barry reduces the significance of his sacrifice and takes away his value to the greater universe. Second, Barry did not have much of a personality when he was alive, so returning the character to life leaves little room for any character development. There were simply no new stories that needed to be told about the character. Third, Wally had already become the Flash of this new generation. New villains were fought, new powers discovered, Wally formed a family of speedsters such as Impulse and Max Mercury, and he had even been cemented as the Flash in the Justice League cartoon. Bringing Barry back into the picture was redundant, as now there were two Flashes when Wally had proven himself as the one and only Flash. Nevertheless, DC continued to push for Barry’s return, even making Barry the sole Flash after the Flashpoint storyline. In Wally’s absence, Barry was given many of Wally’s traits, including his sense of humor, certain villains, and a new power set. Making Barry the sole Flash once more regressed the Flash legacy by decades, removing the idea of a Flash family. Once more, the Flash had become about a sole hero.

Running back in time…

The Flash is a family title, one that should be passed on to a new hero for each generation. In this vein, Wally should be reinstated as the only Flash. Over the years, Wally proved himself as the Flash, becoming a hero for a new generation. Additionally, Wally’s ascension as the Flash is great development for his character, as the little nephew of the Flash who eventually became the Flash. Barry, on the other hand, is the Flash of a bygone era. Barry has very little personality and very little to explore in terms of character development. If Barry were to stay dead, he would serve more of a purpose, as a shining example for the Flash family. Barry’s memory has more of an impact on others than his actual time as the Flash. DC should move on from Barry Allen in order to continue the Flash legacy, just like when Barry replaced Jay Garrick in 1956. Each generation should have a Flash which fits the time period, and Wally is the Flash for today. As time goes on, perhaps someone will succeed Wally, becoming the Flash for a new generation. Yet the Flash legacy can only continue if DC returns the title of the Flash from Barry Allen back to Wally West.

Fastest family alive

Thanks for reading! If you like this blog, be sure to follow the column on Twitter @book_column and share with your friends! That’s all for this week. Be back next time for another entry in the Comic Book Column!

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