On some of my favorite comics-based forums, there seems to have been a small battle (OK, outright war) between fans of Wally West as the Flash and Barry Allen as the Flash. It would be somewhat amusing if it weren’t such a passionate battle. I’ve commented on a couple of those forums, but given that I’ve started this little blog I thought I’d add those thoughts here…..where to begin…oh yes!
I began collecting comics in the 1960’s when I was a kid, at a time when comic books were only 12 cents. Obviously one of my favorites was the character who officially kicked off the Silver Age of comics, Barry Allen as the Flash. But, I also was a big fan of Wally West as Kid Flash, from the moment I bought the first issue of Teen Titans. For that matter, I was also a big fan of Jay Garrick, the Golden Age Flash, though all those annual JLA/JSA team-ups. More recently I also enjoyed reading about Bart Allen as Impulse, and later as Kid Flash and his own run as the Scarlet Speedster. I didn’t see a reason to like one above the others then, and I still don’t today. I followed them all for years, and like a lot of comic fans, gradually faded from the comics scene. What brought me back? Crisis on Infinite Earths. Let’s talk about that a bit…
There has been a lot of ret-conned hype added to Barry’s death in CoIE. But, Barry didn’t die at the end of the series, and he wasn’t even the “featured” death of the series (that honor was given to the Silver Age Supergirl and to a lot of Earth-2 characters). I was pretty sad at the time, and frankly it didn’t make a lot of sense (other than to say “he started the Silver Age and now he marks the end of the era”). You want angry, I was pretty angry at the time. But, at least they passed the mantle on to Wally, and that made the change a bit easier to take. They did make a lot of mistakes at first, limiting Wally to the speed of sound and going through that somewhat ridiculous explanation of how Wally needed to have the biggest case of the munchies in the history of humankind in order to fuel his speed. But, over time they brought in the concept of the Speed Force, and more importantly they developed Wally’s character into a true, iconic hero with compelling storylines and his own cast of supporting characters to add to the legend.
A lot of today’s fans never knew Barry as the Flash, and for them the more recent changes have been particularly (and understandably) difficult. I get it, mainly because I lived it during CoIE so many years ago. When one of your favorite characters is cast aside it is very frustrating. So, why change?
Back a couple of decades ago, most of my group of fans were fading away. In fact, I’m definitely an aberration - not many old guys still buy comics. DC needed to bring in a new generation of fans in order to stay alive, so they shook everything up…and it worked. They brought in…the generation of fans who are now worked up over Wally’s being sidelined. Problem is, that generation is also reaching the age where a lot of fans are fading away from comics, and DC must once again shake things up to attract that next generation of fans. They will make mistakes along the way - they certainly did last time as well. But, hopefully they will get enough things right to bring in and keep those new fans the comics industry needs in order to stay viable. The real test over time will not be simply this “big event”, but whether they can write believable characters and compelling storylines that will keep a new group of fans pulled in.
In the meantime, I’m hoping we can calm the rhetoric between the fan bases. There is no reason for us to fight each other, or to trash-talk one fictional speedster or another. I’ve been a fan of Barry, Wally, Jay and Bart as well for a very long time, and will be for quite some time to come. I’ll be watching the upcoming Flash series with the hope that we’ll see something great for each of these exceptional characters.