The Flash by Mark Waid Volume 6
Reprints The Flash #119 – 129, The Flash/Green Lantern: Faster Friends #1-2, The Flash Plus Nightwing, Showcase ‘96 #12, and DC Universe: Holiday Bash
Written by Mark Waid (with Brian Augustyn and Ron Marz)
Art by Paul Ryan, Eduardo Barreto, and Bart Sears
Wally West, as most readers know him today, was mostly formed by Mark Waid. As I’ve read through the Marv Wolfman and George Perez’s New Teen Titans run, I’ve seen that pre-Crisis Wally West was a different animal, more ambivalent with a greater conservative leaning, written that way to contrast him off some of his liberal teammates. Recently, West became the character at the center of Tom King’s Heroes in Crisis, an event comic that took many liberties with his personality and irked some fans. I am still holding my judgments until I can sit down and give the book a good re-read. In online conversations, there have been lots of talk about how King was not true to whom Wally is, talking about him as if he is a historical figure or some concretely established part of the DC canon.
For characters like Superman and Batman to reach iconic states they have had to be reduced down to core elements, and when a new creative team comes on board, they are allowed to play with the toys but have to set them back up how they found them for the next person who wants to play. A character like Wally West has much more opportunities to be malleable and influenced for decades by singular creators. While Dick Grayson transitioned from Robin to Nightwing, you’d be hard pressed to find many people outside the insular comics bubble who would see him as anything but the Boy Wonder. Almost every one of those people would have no idea who the hell Wally West as they’ve just discovered there was a Flash via the CW series. So this begs the question “Who is Wally West?” and think Mark Waid asked himself this throughout his entire run on the comic book series.
In the surrounding material of this collection, the Green Lantern and Nightwing team-ups specifically, Waid and his fellow writers are attempting to establish West in juxtaposition to other characters. We see Wally compared to Kyle Rayner (the Green Lantern at the time), Jay Garrick (the original Flash), and his old Teen Titans teammate Nightwing. Who Wally often is in comparison to these other people is the comic relief, especially when partnered with Nightwing. Wally is the lighthearted one, the guy who doesn’t look before he leaps, trying to impress the ladies, yet then freaking out when his actions unleash a genuine threat.
In the pages of the main Flash title, he does some shockingly dark turns when in rivalry with the future Flash John Fox. A police force attempting capture time travel violators wants to pursue Fox with the death penalty in mind and Wally seriously contemplates letting them have him until his paramour Linda Park admonishes that behavior. While contemporary fans seem to have a final and crystalized version of the speedster in their heads, I would argue that West could be half a dozen different interpretations. King’s current portrayal of a man distraught over his family’s erasure from reality and subsequent mental breakdown doesn’t create dissonance with the myriad of Wests we’ve seen written by others.
Waid works to weave an overarching story of Wally being banned from Keystone City, his longtime home. The city fathers reason that The Flash is a magnet for death and destruction due to the Rogues Gallery and new villains who want to settle scores with West or his deceased mentor Barry Allen. It’s an exciting concept that’s been used in many one-offs or imaginary stories in Superman books of a bygone era. It’s also something that doesn’t feel like it will bear out any serious weight in the manner Waid writes it. Even if I didn’t know the further history of The Flash it’s pretty evident he’s just making a temporary move until Waid wants him back in his home town. Are the stories that Wally has in his new home of Santa Marta, California worth the sidetrack? Not really. A new villain called Mr. Frost is introduced who appears to be a take on Spider-Man’s Mysterio, and he’s not that compelling of a baddie.
The best stories in this collection focus on the legacy aspects of the Flash. There’s a wonderful two-parter that focused on a presidential candidate coming through Keystone and the resurrection of long-dead villain The Top. Waid uses reformed villain Pied Piper in significant ways to show how people in the criminal life can leave, but elements of their past pursue them. The big concluding arc ties back into Waid’s Underworld Unleashed event, which could prove confusing to readers that don’t have that story fresh in their minds. This is another instance where the legacy of the character and his rogues come into play, and that is when The Flash works best. Overall, a decent collection of stories, a period where Waid would step away from the book for about a year and let Grant Morrison take the reigns. We’re definitely past the heights of Waid’s run, but it’s still very competently written and sometimes compelling reading.