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Relationship Roundup: Barry Allen and Wally West

Relationship Roundup: Barry Allen and Wally West

By Meg Downey Tuesday, April 24th, 2018

Relationship Roundup is a monthly column by Meg Downey that focuses on the many iconic relationships within the DC Universe. Each month, look for a different “ship,” romantic, platonic or a little of both, to take center stage.

There's a war brewing in the DC Universe, but it's not going to be fought by armies or soldiers. As Barry Allen closes out the home stretch of his costly confrontation with Gorilla Grodd, there's another fight looming just beyond the horizon…and it's one that could be even more devastating than the rampage of a giant telepathic gorilla despot. “Flash War” is coming and, like you might gather from the name, it's an event that may just tear the Flash Family apart.

Of course, to really understand the depth of what that means, we'll have to look at just who and what the Flash Family is, and for that, we're going to take a closer look at one of its foundational partnerships.

That's right, this month's Relationship Roundup is all about Barry Allen and Wally West, the fastest duo alive.

In the Beginning

Barry Allen had been around for a little while before Wally burst onto the scene—about three years to be exact. Wally debuted in 1959 after Barry's 1956 debut. The Silver Age Flash team didn't waste much time. Wally's first appearance was also his origin story and it wasn't exactly complicated. Just like Barry, Wally was trapped in a lightning storm while covered in chemicals from the Central City police lab, which subsequently gave him the power of super speed—a very literal "lightning strikes twice" moment.

So, why was Wally in Central City to begin with? He was visiting his Aunt Iris, Barry's girlfriend (and eventual wife). Wally was from a small town in Nebraska, but unfortunately, didn't get along well with his mother and father. So, the eager young ginger looked for every excuse he could find to go to stay with his Aunt and almost-Uncle, who became the closest things to real parents he had.

Fortunately for everyone involved, Wally wound up being a pretty quick study with the whole superpowers thing and immediately became Kid Flash, working side by side with Barry to help keep both Central City and his Nebraskan hometown safe. Originally, he even wore a costume that was practically identical to his mentor’s, but that was later changed to the yellow and red we recognize as Kid Flash today, just to keep things from getting too confusing.

Wally went on to become a founding member of the Teen Titans where he showcased one of the healthiest hero/sidekick relationships on the roster. Barry took his role as Wally's unofficial caretaker very seriously and in a way that only someone like Barry Allen really could. He wove science lessons (Flash Facts!) into their daily routines and looked out for Wally's wellbeing as best and as compassionately as he could, which set them apart from the majority of Wally's slightly dysfunctional teammates and friends.

In short, things between Wally and Barry were really great for a pretty long time.

...And then Barry died.

Life in a Shadow

In one of the most famous superhero deaths of all time, Barry Allen (literally) bit the dust during the universe-altering CRISIS ON INFINITE EARTHS in the 1980s, leaving Wally to pick up the pieces of the Flash legacy left behind.

It's probably unsurprising that Barry’s close mentorship and the good guidance he provided Wally in life actually became a sort of roadblock for the younger speedster in death. Barry's shadow was massive and looming just about everywhere, leaving Wally to feel like he was just never going to be quite good enough, strong enough, or fast enough to ever really be the Flash.

That tension—which, honestly, sometimes oscillated right into bitterness or anger—carried him for years as he settled into his new role. It got so bad that he even opened up about it to a therapist from time to time.

Of course, that's not to say that Wally ever resented the time that he and Barry spent together after Barry was out of the picture. Far from it! Wally would often be the first person to defend Barry's memory from anyone who spoke ill of him, but that didn't mean he wasn't carrying a weight around all the time. And carrying weight is really the opposite of what you want when you're trying to run for your life at the speed of sound.

In Barry's absence, Wally grew up to cultivate his very own rendition of the Flash Family. He married Linda Park, a TV reporter who often covered the Flash, had children of his own, and worked closely with heroes like Bart Allen, Max Mercury, Jay Garrick and Jesse Quick to create a network of speedsters that helped share the burden of Barry's legacy until it stopped being something that was dragging them all down.

...But then Barry came back.

Rebirth x2

Barry's revival came in a comic book event called THE FLASH: REBIRTH, which resurrected the famous hero nearly twenty-four years after his death. And as you can probably imagine, it threw quite a wrench into things for poor Wally in only the way that the sudden return of your childhood mentor-slash-idol-slash-guardian could.

However, despite his quarter-century of work cultivating himself as the Flash and healing from Barry's death, Wally was one of the few people to be completely and totally optimistic about Barry's revival. Others looked at the revived Barry with suspicion and concern (which was understandable—they've certainly all lived through some pretty weird stuff in their days). For Wally, while the years had been challenging, they had really done wonders for his ability to look at Barry as a multifaceted human being, rather than the immeasurable ideal he had built him into immediately following his death.

That said, things didn't stay calm for very long and it turns out they didn't have all that much time to reconnect. Barry infamously sparked the events of FLASHPOINT soon after, and things got a little rough (read: non-existent) for Wally for a few years.

But, just like with Barry's own death at the hands of a cosmic crisis, Wally's vanishing act wasn't permanent, and in DC UNIVERSE: REBIRTH #1, the two Scarlet Speedsters finally got the chance to reconnect in a way that actually, really stuck.

Their reunion was so long awaited and so emotionally resonant that it actually sparked the start of a whole new era for the DCU, ushering in a full universe-wide Rebirth in the wake of the New 52.

Of course, that isn't to say everything is all the way back to normal. Just like it was difficult for Wally to adjust to life without Barry, there have been moments where it's been difficult for both Flashes to adjust to life back in the world together. It hasn't always been easy, especially now that they're coming from two very, very different places, and, well, with Flash War coming up, it might not get easier any time soon.
 

Meg Downey writes about the DC Universe for DCComics.com and covers Legends of Tomorrow for the #DCTV Couch Club. Look for her on Twitter at @rustypolished.

"Flash War" kicks off in THE FLASH #47 by Joshua Williamson and Howard Porter on May 23, 2018.