Why Wally West Should Be The Flash
I want to make this clear, I don’t really read The Flash, so I don’t have a vested interest in this, or anything. This isn’t me saying, “I grew up with Wally West, damn it, and I want everything to always be the same!’ Only jerks do that. This is me, reading butt-tonnes of analysis (haha, get it? PUN INTENDED) on the subject, and coming to some conclusions that I’m surprised aren’t raised more often.
So. Let me explain.
Over at TV tropes there’s a thing they talk about called the Eigen Plot, in which the dangers that the heroes face are dangers that specifically require the application of each hero’s special set of skills (see the end of Mystery Men, for example). What I assume must also exist, though I haven’t checked because I’m afraid of getting sucked into TV Tropes never to return, is that there’s a similar rule for group character development — an Eigen Character Spread, or something. Basically this amounts to: Wolverine is a cool guy, a tough loner who doesn’t take guff from anyone. But if you want to make an interesting book with more characters than Wolverine in it, you can’t make everyone a tough loner who doesn’t take any guff.
And, at a larger level, even if these heroes don’t all show up in the same book, if I’m a reader of a set of comics, maybe I don’t want to read a bunch of books where everyone is the same character. That’s why I might read the Wolverine comic, but also read the Fantastic Four — different powersets, obviously, but also different characters, all of whom behave in different ways.
So, what about the Flash? The point I’m trying to get to here is that the Flash, in order to be a part of the DC universe, can’t just have different powers that he uses in a different way: he needs to be a different person, with a different motivation, different ideas about the universe, and so forth.
What makes Wally West interesting is the Legacy of the Flash — he’s not just a Flash who has inherited the mantle from the previous Flash, but actually THAT Flash wasn’t the first Flash either.
But it’s more complicated than that, isn’t it? There’s a Batman legacy, too, in which he trains apprentices to take over for him (an idea seized on and amplified by Grant Morrison in Batman Incorporated). And there’s a Green Lantern legacy, in which different guys have taken over the role of the Green Lantern of Earth and behaved differently.
The Flash legacy is similar, but it’s specifically different in a way that never comes up, and it surprises me because it’s right there in the name: The Flash: The Fastest Man Alive.
The thing about that is that there can only ever be one Fastest Man Alive. You don’t inherit the title — you earn it. And, once you’ve got it, it’s you until you can’t do it anymore. Batman can make more Batmen and Robins and Batgirls — the mantle of the Bat is something that you are inspired to take and that you aspire to. The Green Lantern Corps is an organization that specifically recruits people to the job and, as we’ve seen, there can actually easily be a bunch of Green Lanterns of Earth in the same place.
But the notion of the Flash as a necessarily unique position is unusual, and it fuels a lot of what’s behind the character. That’s why the notion of Professor Zoom, the Reverse Flash of the 25th Century, has so much traction (haha) with the Flash — he’s another contender for the position of Fastest Man Alive. And he’s not even the first Reverse Flash; that was a character who was actually called ”the Rival”.
So, the role of the Flash itself is, in itself, conducive to the idea that he’s going to be following in the footsteps of his predecessor (HAHA), but there’s a little more to it than that, which is: SOMEONE has to be the legacy character. The idea of “I’ve got a legacy to fulfill, I’ve got a hero to live up to who was basically the biggest hero in this world,” that’s a really strong character and you don’t really see it in any of the other main Justice Leaguers. You don’t even really have the option among the main guys — maybe Kyle Rainer, except he took over after the last guy went insane and tried to kill everyone, so that’s an even different story. Also, they’re bumping him for Hal Jordan, anyway.
The real argument for why Wally West should be the Flash isn’t that he’s a superior character, necessarily, just that he’s a different character and we could use a little god-damn variety in here.