The Flash by Mark Waid Book Two
Written by Mark Waid
Art by Greg LaRocque
Wally West has finally found his footing as The Flash when out of nowhere the long-thought-dead Barry Allen has returned from the dead. Barry returns to his role as The Flash running alongside Wally and the Golden Age Flash, Jay Garrick. However, something is wrong with Wally’s resurrected mentor, and he feels himself being pushed away. It will take some speedster allies to help get to the truth behind Barry’s return. There are also brief ventures to Gorilla City with a Green Lantern team-up as well as a handful of one-off stories, but the main draw here is the year-long Barry Allen story.
The Return of Barry Allen story is was the first time I became aware of Mark Waid. I had never read the arc, but having been a subscriber to the now defunct Wizard Magazine at the time, I knew of the overall plot. I also knew this was the moment where Waid really began to make his mark on Wally West and the mythos surrounding the character. This is the moment where the wholly forgotten Quicksilver aka Max Mercury is reintroduced. Waid also begins to create a universal theory of speedsters by starting to lay the groundwork for The Speed Force.
But let’s start with the first arc of the collection “Gorilla Warfare,” a crossover between The Flash and Green Lantern. This entire four-part story is dedicated to writer John Broome, the creator of the Hal Jordan Green Lantern and one of the classic Silver Age DC scribes. The events that take place are straight out of a Silver Age story with GL baddie Hector Hammond teaming up with Gorilla Grodd, an alliance that inevitably leads to betrayal as all good DC villain team-ups do. The evolutionary transformations Flash and GL undergo is a lot of silly fun.
There’s a two-parter introducing a new version of the Flash villain Doctor Alchemy, but the real fun begins with a seeming Christmas one-off that has Wally teaming up with Golden Age Flash Jay Garrick. I have been a massive fan of the Golden Age characters since I was a kid. I love the sense of scope and history they gave the DC Universe and ate up their short-lived Justice Society of America series that came out just about a year or two before Waid was on Flash. Waid’s inclusion of Jay into the supporting cast of The Flash was a genius move and something that should have been done long before. Without Barry around, Jay could have served an excellent mentor figure as seen in this story. But the conclusion, with Barry Allen knocking on the front door, sets off what this whole collection is about.
The Return of Barry Allen kicks off what is arguably the best run of stories during the Wally West era of The Flash (though I am personally a little more partial to Geoff Johns’ run, what he did could not have happened without Waid’s work). Wally begins to question his place as The Flash is Barry is still here. When you look at the scope of DC comics, Wally is the only sidekick to permanently take the mantle of his predecessor. Even now, with the convoluted way Wally has been brought back into the comics, he still uses the title of The Flash. In fact, The Flash series has been the one DC series to really embrace the Legacy concept that made me love these comics. Green Lantern has the conceit that they were all space cops, but The Flash really had to establish a lineage and connection between the characters.
Waid also uses Barry Allen’s return to bring more of the universe’s speedsters into the fold starting with Johnny Quick. Quick always seemed like an also-ran to Jay Garrick but thanks to the work of Len Strazweski on Justice Society, Quick was made into a sort of superhero Tony Robbins using the power of positive thinking to achieve success. In the case of Quick, he had a formula/mantra he recites to gain his super speed. This was always at odds with the strange instances of the Flashes’ power acquisition. However, Waid directly addresses this beginning the first stages of his unified field theory of super speed in the Speed Force.
The primary way Waid accomplishes this is by reintroducing Max Mercury (formerly known as Quicksilver but with the name changed for obvious legal reasons). Mercury was a character acquired by DC after a buyout of Quality Comics. The Max Mercury character when initially introduced in 1940 was a complete one-dimensional cipher, no origin or secret identity revealed. He was just a speedy guy. This allowed Waid to make Max whatever he needed him to be. The full origins of the character are not revealed in this volume, but he is established as a more zen figure, in tune with the Speed Force, guiding Wally from a distance.
Barry Allen’s return is resolved in about six issues with a reveal that is pitch perfect. The Flash books have always been the more time-malleable titles and how Barry got here and who he really is fits that classic element. It also serves to cement Wally West as THE Flash and brings full circle his development as a character from 1986 to 1993. He has a firmly established personality now, not a constantly shifting one. His powers are opened up to go beyond anything Barry ever accomplished. Most importantly, the series feels like it has a crystal clear direction going on into the future. And that is what we will be looking at next week with Book Three!