Alright guys, we're officially six issues in and I think it’s finally time to talk about Wally West.
I won't lie. I've been kind of, sort of putting this one off. I'll never claim to be the biggest Wally fan on the planet, but I always really liked him. So, as you can probably imagine, that first issue—and the subsequent tie-in issues of THE FLASH—were pretty rough for me, even though I'm fairly well-versed in the art of superhero deaths. I know, I know, "They'll just come back later!" Which, maybe that's true, but I prefer to handle my comics in the moment, so regardless of what the future holds for Wally or any of the victims at Sanctuary, it was all pretty sad.
But HEROES IN CRISIS #6 made me realize something about why it was so sad, beyond just losing a character I felt some connection to, beyond just the requisite "a Flash has to die for it to be a real Crisis" trope. It all stems back to DC UNIVERSE: REBIRTH #1 and Wally's return.
Here's something a little personal about me: I've been reading DC comics for a long, long time—way before FLASHPOINT and the New 52 relaunch. I was actually pretty stubborn about all of that as it was going on. I dug my heels in and resisted change, I loudly bemoaned the loss of my favorite characters and the changes to the continuity I'd worked so hard to master. I was a pretty huge brat about it for a long time, before I finally got over myself and learned to love the new as much as I loved the old. But part of my major struggle with acclimating to the New 52 was the loss of what I'd always described as the "families"—the Bat-Family most obviously and officially, but the Flash Family, too. I missed Wally and Jay and Max Mercury. I missed Bart's weird history. I missed all the mantle passing and timeline shuffling.
So, naturally, the moment I picked up DC Universe: Rebirth #1, I experienced a lot of emotion. Getting Wally back felt like I had gotten part of myself back. Somehow, some amount of the time and effort I'd spent over the years was paying off in a way I never expected. I won't even lie, I burst into tears at the reveal. Sappy, I know, but man, I was really overwhelmed. Call it a testament to reading issues without having the twists spoiled in advance. It hit me like a ton of bricks.
But more than just Wally himself, the thing that hooked me was this overwhelming feeling of hope—of promise for the future. It felt like a shot of adrenaline, like literally anything was possible. Like somehow Wally himself was the avatar of just about everything good comics had ever been for me, everything I'd ever loved about superhero stories bundled up into one convenient package and handed over to me like it was nothing. Wally West, magic bullet.
Except...that's not really how things work, is it?
I didn't really think about it until now, until this issue, just how deeply, disastrously unfair those feelings actually are. Why should one person have to shoulder that level of expectation? Why should Wally have to be the guy responsible for fixing everything? What is he even supposed to fix? How is he supposed to do it? What does that say about him? About me?
It's weird to reflect back on those early days of the Rebirth era now and realize just how much I was asking for, and how unrealistic it was. Not just because Wally's only one person. He's a fictional character. He's allowed to be put in all sorts of ridiculous situations. Rather, it was unrealistic because of how much of a narrative impossibility it all was. A story where Wally magically corrected everything that I'd ever thought was wrong about the New 52 wouldn't be very good. It probably wouldn't even be very interesting, even if it did make sense—which, I mean, let's be honest, it probably wouldn't have made a ton of sense.
Don't get me wrong. I’m not happy that Wally died. I'm still pretty messed up about it. I'm still hoping for some sort of traditional comic book resurrection. But at the end of the day, I'm actually pretty glad that this is the Wally West story we're getting. That we're taking a second to look at the weight of all those crazy expectations in a brand new way rather than just waving it all off and letting the good guys save the day again. It's not clean and it's not simple and it's not always satisfying, but it's a good story. And, really, that's what my love for these comics has always been about. Give me a good story over an easy one any day of the week.
Meg Downey covers movies, TV and comics for DCComics.com, and writes two monthly columns for the site, "Gotham Gazette" and "Relationship Roundup." You can follow her on Twitter at @rustypolished.