Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Wally West's Last Stand

Since I was old enough to first hold a comic book in my hands, I have always been a fan of the fastest man alive. This will surprise no one who reads Crimson Lightning. Because of the great consistency in themes, style, and characterization across generations, it makes little difference whether we're talking about Jay, Barry, Wally, or Bart. I love them all equally. I delight in the scarlet speedster's whirlwind adventures no matter who has donned the winged boots to carry on the legacy. I find this both comforting and reasonably reassuring for, as we all know, the crimson comet's title has been in upheaval for several years at DC Comics and The Flash: Rebirth signals a new changing of the guard.

As many readers have pointed out, The Flash: Rebirth has, quite unexpectedly, proven to be aggravatingly slow going. It wasn't until the release of The Flash: Rebirth #4, featuring what may be regarded as the series' pivotal plot twist, that things shifted into high gear. This is not to say that the mini-series has been uneventful! In fact, it's difficult to keep track of the epic developments. The one and only Barry Allen has been resurrected, brought miraculously back to life. His rebirth has been accompanied by the annihilation of one foe, the dreaded Black Flash, and the revitalization of another, the sinister Professor Zoom. The speed force and its newly revealed negative counterpart have been redefined. Speedsters including Wally, Jay, Bart, Johnny, Jesse, Max, Iris, and Jai have all been significantly impacted by these events. With so much happening, so much superheroic drama and such psuedoscientific upheaval, it would be easy to overlook those moments that resonant most evocatively on an emotional wavelength. I generally avoid posting reviews or commentary on recent releases here at Crimson Lightning but, on this occasion, I think that I'd like to share some thoughts.

When I finished reading The Flash: Rebirth #4, closed its glossy cover, and placed the comic down on my lap, an affecting and somewhat surprising personal revelation slowly dawned on me. It took a moment but, flipping through the issue one more time, I knew I was right. Page eight, I though to myself. Page eight. That's when it happened. That's when I suddenly sat up and took notice. That's the precise moment when my heart skipped a beat in my chest, as if I had been hit by an errant bolt of lightning from out of the blue, and I was wholly engrossed in the storytelling. That's the point at which Geoff Johns and Ethan Van Sciver really had me, for the first time since the series began. Issue four, page eight. And what transpires on the dazzlingly-illustrated eighth page of The Flash: Rebirth #4? Wally West, his costume slashed, his crimson cowl carelessly discarded, determinedly charges headlong into the inescapable energy torrents of the speed force in order to save the lives of his missing friends. As he dashes forward at his most astonishing super-speeds, he chants a familiar and reassuring mantra, his tried-and-true secret for success and survival: "As long as I have Linda, I'll find my way back."

If I am to be honest about my emotional response to the storytelling in this mini-series, really and truly honest, for me, that was the moment. Forget the disintegration of Johnny Quick. Forget Eobard Thawne's maniacal outbursts. Disregard Jay and Bart's valiant, pulse-pounding battle with the Reverse Flash. Even amid the heroic struggles of the sainted Barry Allen, after four tantalizing, twist-filled issues, it was Wally West's romantic charge that left me a bit breathless.

So, what does all this mean? The Flash: Rebirth #4 confirmed something I have long known about myself and also forced me to reconsider an acceptance I had long since shrugged off. Firstly, I am an incorrigible romantic, and that clearly affects my taste in superhero stories. It's a real disappointment that Iris Allen's role thus far has been all-but peripheral. I trust that this oversight will be rectified in those installments that remain. After all, the legacy of the Flash is fueled by love, not extra-dimensional energies. Secondly, I'm not nearly as prepared as I thought I was to let Wally West and his family step aside. After all these years, I'm far more attached to this character than even I, an incurable fan of each of the scarlet speedsters, would have ever expected. It's going to take me a bit longer than I first thought to get used to having Barry Allen back in the spotlight. Fortunately, as the young hero would remind us if he were here, Wally's not likely to get lost in the shuffle...

"As long as I have Linda, I'll find my way back."

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