Wally West is my Flash
I hate Barry Allen.
And I’m not using “hate” in the way that is typically used in the over-emphatic, superficial, trolling-oriented internet social paradigm. (Of which, I’m sure both John and I have been guilty.) But I’m talking about the true hate that lives in one’s soul until you’re on your deathbed and the priest, performing Last Rites, asks you release all of the hate in your life in order to be forgiven…and then you say, “uh…nope” and go to Hell because you just can’t let it go. That’s the kind of hate I’m talking about here.
I hate Barry Allen.
As a character…he’s boring. When creating the Silver Age Flash, Robert Kanigher and Carmine Infantino decided to make the character of Barry Allen boring as s*it because they wanted a contrast to his adventures as The Fastest Man Alive. In the early days of comics, most creators constructed these dichotomies in order to appeal to younger audiences. Contrast was an easy way to generate conflict and a constant streams of stories. Unfortunately, as the character progressed…he never stopped being boring. Instead of building upon his characterization, most writers just stuck with him being boring. More often than not, Barry Allen was the straight man to the light-years more interesting Hal Jordan (aka…the Silver Age Green Lantern). Most of their adventures together were about how much cooler and more interesting Hal was…and how Barry was entirely without any personality.
Part of the reason why I hate Barry Allen is because I think Wally West was…and will always be a better Flash.
But that’s not why I hate him. Barry’s overall character ineptitude is really only the icing on the three-layer cake of spite that I hold towards him. Part of the reason why I hate Barry Allen is because I think Wally West was…and will always be a better Flash. I grew up with Wally West as my Flash and one of the pivotal comic books of my childhood was “The Return of Barry Allen” storyline written by Mark Waid. Wally West was initially Barry’s sidekick (go…Kid Flash!) and eventually turned into his successor, after Barry sacrificed himself in the Crisis on Infinite Earths storyline. Wally was arrogant…but totally insecure about his powers. He was one of the few sidekicks that actually grew up and took the mantle of his mentor. Of the original Teen Titans group (Robin/Dick Grayson, Aqualad/Garth, Wonder Girl/Donna Troy, Speedy/Roy Harper, and Kid Flash), only Wally went down the path of becoming the hero he was training to be the whole time. Wally’s journey from sidekick to superhero made for some great stories and was the perfect way to build his character into something a hundred times more interesting than Barry.
…but that difference in character isn’t the entire reason why I hate Barry. As part of the Flashpoint/New 52 DC comic event, DC effectively erased Wally West from continuity and re-inserted Barry Allen into the picture. They ignored the 23 years of history…the 23 years of stories they created trying to build Wally into a suitable successor to Barry Allen…and they wiped it all away.
One of the strengths of the DC Universe…and an area where Marvel has never really focused on…is the concept of legacy. The mantle of a superhero is passed down…and every generation has their own representation of the iconic heroes. While the “Big 3” (i.e., Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman) haven’t really changed over the past few years, almost all other heroes in the DC universe are more mantles and titles than they are individual characters. There have been countless Green Lanterns. Waves upon waves of Flashes. A even a few Blue Beetles. One of my favorite series ever is Starman – which really delved into legacy and how the mantle and power are passed down from fathers to sons. The continuity of DC…as warped and contradictory as it was sometimes…is truly what makes it different from the Marvel Universe. Only recently has Marvel jumped into the “legacy” game by passing down the mantle of Captain America and Thor to new individuals (although we’re still waiting for the originals to come back). Although Marvel is known for the more fallible characters, DC has been unafraid to show their characters’ mortality and to allow its characters to truly grow. Yet for some reason, every 10 years or so, DC becomes frustrated with this growing continuity and decides to restart the universe. The best part of the DC universe is what they’re embarrassed about the most.
So my hate for Barry is really just a proxy for my hate for DC’s insistence on erasing the continuity and history that makes their universe unique. Barry is just the fastest moving target for my continued spite of the New 52 universe. I mean…Barry still sucks as a character…let’s not forget that…but his poor characterization pales in comparison to the unforgivable editorial and creative decisions at DC. Will DC “fix” this situation in their next reboot ten years from now? Probably…but then they’d just end up ruining it again 10 years after that. It’s a cycle of incompetence that will keep DC the #2 comic book brand.
I could learn to love Barry…but until the history of Wally West is once again part of the DCU, I’m just going to enjoy the hate. It’s so much more fun.