So it’s one of those weeks when life’s getting in the way of properly tending the nerd farm, which means this’ll have to be quick. But after checking out the reader comments on last week’s review of Heroes in Crisis, I’ve been giving that book more thought. I started writing this as a response to couple of readers, in fact, but considering that time’s at a premium for me this week, I figured a short column on the subject would be just as good.
First of all, I’d like to thank you guys for calling my attention to the wider fan reaction to what was done with Wally West in Heroes in Crisis 8. I don’t frequent many comics message boards these days, and I’ve most definitely become a “never read the comments” type of guy in these days of Comicsgate and knee-jerk negativity. So while I figured that some hardcore Wally West fanboys had probably lost their shit over this, I hadn’t really paid attention. But now I find out that Tom King’s received death threats over this book. I mean, considering his CIA background, I’m sure it’s not the first time. But, still. Calm the hell down, people! Take a deep breath. Go for a walk. Have some cake. Something! It’s just funnybooks!
At any rate. The one huge Wally West fanboy I know seems to have been taking it in stride. Which is to say, this story has made him sad, but he’s not frothing at the mouth. It’s his comment I’d like to address first, in fact. In short, he asked if this was a story that should have been told in the first place.
It’s a fair point. When it comes to these long-running corporate-owned characters, you’re usually better off in the long run not to rock the boat too much. They’ve been making money off Superman for 80 years now. So the smart play is to update him a bit every decade or two, but otherwise maintain status quo. Even his death back in the 90s was just a storyline, with his return built in from the beginning.
What they’ve done with Wally West is a little different, though. He killed some people. He killed them accidentally, with an ill-timed but very understandable moment of weakness. But he still killed people. And then he committed time travel suicide as part of a self-imposed act of penance. That’s a really interesting story, but it’s also a story that alienates as many readers as it attracts. It gives you a short-term sales boost, but the readers who come in for this story may not be sticking around month-in and month-out down the line.
Take me, for instance. Before this, it had probably been 30 years since I read a Wally West comic…
…and I don’t plan to read any more Wally West comics after this (if such things are still possible after this). Wherever the fallout of Heroes in Crisis is dealt with, I’m not likely to read it unless I think it’s going to be good. And with this sort of corporate spandex crossover stuff… I usually don’t.
Wally West fans, though, probably would be around to read whatever happened to Wally next. Granted, there probably aren’t enough of those to support a book unless Wally’s the one and only Flash, and that role currently belongs to Barry Allen. Which… Hmm. I don’t know that there are enough Barry Allen fans to support a book in which he’s just “Fast Guy Who’s Not the Flash,” either. People who follow the Flash seem to follow the Flash, regardless of who’s under the mask. Are there enough Flash fans to support TWO Flash comics? One starring Barry and one starring Wally? Or would that just split the fan base, and leave you with two failing books instead of one successful one? I don’t know, but it might be an interesting experiment.
Mind you, that would seem to be a moot point since, you know, time travel suicide, and all that.
That could still be undone with loopholes and shenanigans, of course. It’s super hero comics, for god’s sake. It’s more remarkable when a character DOES stay dead. But some have expressed a concern that this story “ruins” Wally West, and that he can only be fixed with a reboot.
I tend to think this only makes Wally more interesting, though. This isn’t like what happened with Hal Jordan, who snapped and became evil after his home town was destroyed. That was a lot stupider, for one thing. But also, this isn’t a case of Wally West turning bad. He didn’t snap and go on a killing spree. He went through absolute hell, and had a single moment of weakness. A moment of weakness that he regretted even as it was happening.
I’ll even forgive Tom King that shouted “NO” in this case, because he freaking earned it with every single damn panel leading up to it. This is a grand tragedy, the story of a man broken by cosmic forces beyond his understanding or control. Sure, he tries to cover it up. But he also records a confession, so he doesn’t cover up the crime to get away with it. He covers it up to buy himself the time he needs to do the penance he thinks he owes the world.
Think about that. Wally West is SO good, SO responsible, that his immediate response to this situation is to start trying to fix things in a way that wouldn’t be allowed if he just admitted his actions up front. Now… He’s also not quite in his right mind by this point, so his plan is pretty desperate. And he also decides that he deserves to die after he sets things right. So there’s that. But if he’s somehow brought back to life after all this, it leaves Wally in a fascinating place as a character.
Because, you know… After thinking about this a bit more, I’m becoming convinced that the whole of what Wally’s done to make things right is to release the Sanctuary tapes to the public. Granted, he released them to Lois Lane, who he knows won’t reveal anything that’s actually compromising to the super hero set. But he’s put all that pain and suffering out there in the world. He’s made the super hero community admit to the existence of Sanctuary, and to the problem of super hero PTSD. He’s forced Superman himself to make a public statement that this happens, and that it’s natural, and that it’s okay to seek help.
And in doing that… In taking the secrecy out of the problem… In making it less mysterious and less SHAMEFUL… He’s preventing anyone else from going through what he did, wondering if he’s the only one with a problem. So out of this horrible accident of violence comes… Hope.
Which is what everyone’s been telling Wally he represented in the first place.
So, yeah. I find Wally West more interesting now than I have in 30 years. And if it was put in the right hands, I’d be tempted to read a comic that dealt with a revived Wally West continuing to do penance as best he can.
Now, I don’t think that comic’s going to happen. There’s been a power shift at DC Comics back toward Dan Didio, the guy who came up with the idea of rebooting everything and started all these problems in the first place. Didio wants to reset the core DC characters to their original status quo, eliminating the sidekicks that age them prematurely. That’s left Geoff Johns out in the cold a bit, and it was Johns who championed the return of Wally West, and the return of the continuity Johns remembers most fondly. He even went out and wrote a comic that blamed the whole thing on that evil wizard Alan Moore.
Which… Y’know… That’s also the story that brought all this misery down on poor Wally’s head. So maybe THAT’S the story that shouldn’t have been told, and this one’s just the logical reaction to it…