Part Two: Acceleration
Flash 73 ended with a huge surprise for Wally and his friends. On Christmas Eve, he opened the door and came face-to-face with
Barry Allen, understandably thought dead following the Crisis on Infinite Earths, was back.
Barry remembered losing his wife, Iris West Allen, at the hands of the murderous Professor Zoom and being on trial for killing Zoom years later. (He was acquitted of manslaughter, by the way). He recalled his body reconstituting from anomalous energy in a filthy alley, shortly after Wally fought Dr. Alchemy there. What happened before that blipping back into existence, what happened after the Crisis, was a blank.
Wally had his doubts about the authenticity of his long-lost mentor, but Hal Jordan and his Green Lantern power ring swore Barry was telling the truth. That was good enough for everyone, including Jay Garrick. (Jay had also been thought dead, but had been freed, with the rest of the Justice Society of America from a mini-Ragnarok. See part one, because it’s too complicated to explain here.)
Wally, a bit overwhelmed as the youngest of three Flashes, considered relocating but was cut off by Linda, whom he now was seeing regularly. She suggested a name change, another idea that went nowhere. Wally decided he had to adjust. He was on his way to finding peace as something other than “The” Flash, when Barry seemed to lose his mind.
In 75, “Identity Crisis,” Barry edged into megalomania, willing to let Wally die in a villain’s trap so Barry would be the “real” Flash. The story revived a classic speedster and introduced a reinvented one. Johnny Chambers, the Golden Age’s Johnny Quick, had become an ultrafast Tony Robbins, selling self-esteem. At the other end of the economic spectrum, Max Mercury — “the Zen guru of speed” –was selling tokens in the subway.
Pressed into service, Max, Johnny and Jay had no choice but to shut Barry down. Wally, disheartened by Barry’s hatred, chose to lay low and allow Barry to think him dead. He refused to involve himself in the older men’s battle, until forced. Eventually, he told them, he would have to fight Barry. He knew that was impossible. He just didn’t have the speed to face his returned mentor.
Max said, “You keep saying you don’t want to replace Barry, but the moment you become as fast as him … that’s exactly what you’ll have done.
“Think about it.”
In the closing pages of 79, we learned more about a book Wally had found when he searched the alley where Barry had found himself when he regained consciousness. It was The Life Story of the Flash. The author was Iris Allen. The book it was published in the late 1990s. Iris Allen had been dead for years in 1994, when Wally found the tome.
Think time travel. Think yellow and red, not red and yellow.
Penciller Greg LaRoque left the book after finishing ‘The Return of Barry Allen.” In 80, Mike Wieringo brought a looser feel, along with a temporarily less bulky Wally. While still muscular, he more closely resembled the Flash of the classic Carmine Infantino days, with a runner’s sleeker form. Unfortunately, Wieringo’s looseness continued to loosen; before long the art was distinctly cartoony and Wally‘s chest had re-inflated. Also, Wieringo and his collaborators on the art made little attempt to use the color shading and heavy shadows that suggested Wally’s uniform was glossy. From this point on, the suit usually was a rather flat, medium red.
Wieringo’s iffy entrance was matched by the quality of Waid’s stories through much of the 80s. Only 84 was significant, and that only because of its use of foreshadowing (your clue to quality literature, as Berke Breathed taught us). As a rather lame but dangerous villain destroyed a mall in 84, Wally had to choose where to help. Told by a security guard that no one seemed to be in an area that had caught fire, Wally was able to stop a plummeting elevator containing ten people.
Wally’s inability to move fast enough both to check the fire and stop the elevator was in sharp contrast to his confidence at the end of “The Return of Barry Allen.” Heading to what he thought would be his last confrontation with the maddened Barry, Wally matched and perhaps bettered his uncle’s speed. In the mall incident, he seemed unable to move even as fast as he had when the series began.
Perhaps the close confines of the mall were an issue but, were this the case, it should have been explored. It was not. The closest thing to an explanation given was that Wally had three seconds to stop the elevator and could save “a few nanoseconds” by not searching the smoky, burning area. A nanosecond is one billionth of a second.
However, Waid’s failure to understand timekeeping allowed him to set up another stage in Wally’s development. In 88, our hero was sued for negligence by a woman hurt in the mall attack. Wally, knowing the elevator passengers suffered only bumps, was not impressed. He changed his mind at a press conference when he met the plaintiff, Allison Armitage. She had been in the smoky area Wally didn’t search. Her face was badly burned and she had lost her legs.
Unable to face Armitage, Wally ran. He halted disasters and apprehended criminals across the city as he spent his rage. He did not stop until he collapsed in Linda’s arms. In court, he fared no better. Armitage’s lawyer pushed Wally into a frenzy of paranoia and violence that led to Wally being banned from using his powers or wearing his uniform in Keystone. Even in his agitation, though, Wally recognized the hallmark of Abra Kadabara, a techno-magician from the future both Wally and Barry had faced multiple times in the past. Several speed stunts later, Kadabara was gone and the attorney was exposed as an unwilling accomplice of the villain’s.
To save face and prevent future liability, the Barry Allen Foundation, which had been backing Wally’s life as a hero, decided to settle with Armitage and cut its ties with Wally. Wally visited Armitage, seeking clarity. She asked, “You nearly flipped out over this. What happens the next time you’re not fast enough to save everybody?” Wally answered, “We’ll never know.”
Cue the speed force.
In 91, Wally coerced Johnny Chambers into explaining the use of his “speed formula” — an extraspatial construct represented by the mathematical string, “3X2(9YZ)4A” — that allowed him to draw speed energy from the fourth dimension. Wally called on it to stop what seemed an unstoppable disaster. The world froze, as it momentarily had on other occasions when Wally pushed himself to top speed. This time, it did not thaw. Wally rushed through the city, moving at near-light speed with no effort, wondering if he’d ever return to normal. Max Mercury appeared. Accompanying Wally, he pointed out problems the Flash could fix and deaths and disasters no one could have helped, no matter how fast.
Barely able to keep up, he counseled Wally, “Big things are … waiting for you just … around the corner . Move forward … to meet them. Don’t spend … the rest of your life frozen … with fear.” Overtaxed, Max himself “froze”.
Still racing, Wally admitted to himself that he’d always had to make tough choices about his activities as the Flash . He would for the rest of his life. He could only hope those choices were wise, and do what he could to make them count. Assembling a simple but unlikely solution to the seemingly unsolvable disaster, he whispered, “Go.“ The jerry-rigged rescue worked. Relieved, Wally paused to wonder what Max meant and what lay in the future.
In the future, 2995 to be specific, a time portal was opened to 1994. Fleeing the Science Police, Iris and Bart Allen jumped into the past – first buffeted, then separated, in the time stream. lris –, her history far too complex to explain here – was Wally’s aunt and Barry’s “late” wife. Bart was Iris’s grandson, born with all the speed of his grandfather Barry but none of the control. The government had fed him high-speed virtual reality to keep him sane, but didn’t care about giving him a life or curing his disorder.Two years old, he looked twelve and his growth was out of control.
Iris hoped that Wally could somehow stabilize Bart’s condition, to help the boy control his speed and his rapid aging before Bart’s hyperaccelerated constitution burned itself out. Wally and Bart solved the problem together, but not before battling the hordes of Kobra, a would-be world ruler returning from years of DC Comics obscurity. For months, Kobra’s forces had been infiltrating and destroying small fringe religions around the twin cities, as well as investigating alternative energy resources in the area. It seemed that Keystone and Central offered a wealth of wind, water, and solar possibilities, which Kobra tapped to broadcast energy to his followers’ weapons and other tech.
Meanwhile, Zero Hour started. A crazed Hal Jordan, fresh from destroying the Green Lantern Corps, wanted to destroy the post-Crisis space-time continuum and replace it with something better, cleaner, happier and altogether more decent. He would have a universe in which his home city had not been destroyed by the alien conqueror Mongol and he would not have suffered a psychotic break; where Barbara Gordon had never been shot by The Joker and paralyzed; where tragedy never had to be the spur to heroism. In the end, Jordan was defeated, but, in saving the future, Wally ran “beyond light” and, like Barry, vanished.
(Zero Hour was an attempt by DC, nearly ten years later, to clean up the mess their fictional universe had become after Crisis on Infinite Earths. Despite DC’s declarations in 1986 that the post-Crisis time line would be clear and contradictions would be eliminated or at least minimized, the aftermath wasn’t so tidy. In the absence of an Earth-DC Superboy, Paul Levitz had to devise an explanation for his existence in longstanding Legion of Super-Heroes continuity. The writers and artists of the “Five Years Later” Legion project wound up hampered rather than aided by two sets of Legionnaires — one adult and one teenage — with its own fill-ins for Crisis casualties like Supergirl. The Superman books used an alternate universe to justify the presence of Kryptonians other than Superman. It was the same “pocket universe” from which the Legion’s Superboy emerged, if memory serves, although alternate earths supposedly had been banned post-Crisis. And so on, to deal with just a few characters.)
The 0 issue of Flash followed 94 and Wally’s activities in Zero Hour. That month, Wally returned from the future, watching his life as it rewound. He bounced between the tedious and the momentous until he came to rest at a family picnic, ten years before his subjective “present.” That was the day, he remembered, when a dimly recalled relative pulled him from a funk and told him he could be everything he dreamed. For weeks before Zero Hour, he’d asked relatives who that might be. None remembered any visitor that day. Finally, Wally thought, he would learn who had changed his life.
Young Wally sulked in his bedroom. Adult Wally approached, waiting to see who would rouse the boy’s spirits. No one else was in the room. No one came. Wally saw his adult reflection in his young self’s bedroom window and knew who it was that had come to help the boy.
Time paradoxes still make my head hurt.
At peace, Wally took control of his time hops and ran home — to disaster.
Sliding back into his present in 95, Wally saw something so hideous he refused to discuss it with Linda. Instead, he started training Bart, who during Zero Hour had taken the code name Impulse.
Bart, Wally stressed, had to be ready to take over when the unspecified disaster from his vision struck. In another battle with Kobra’s forces, Wally approached top speed while saving Bart and destroying a Kobra installation. When he returned home, he told Linda what had happened while he was away:
“I was in the 64th century. In order to get home, I hit a speed I’d never hit before. The rush .. the freedom .. it was indescribable. I broke every barrier, Linda — every one! — and when I did, everything … everything changed …
“In the moment I learned something critical … something about Uncle Barry … and about myself, too. You know how people have sometimes talked about Barry? About how no one could be as fast as he was and still be human?
“Well … they were right.”
Needing help to shape Bart into the next Flash, Wally assembled Max, Jay, Johnny, and Johnny’s daughter, Jesse, a nascent hero herself.
As Bart bumbled through training, Max told a story. A young Army messenger in 1838 was blessed with speed by the dying prayer of a Blackfoot shaman. As Windrunner, the messenger kept the peace on the plains until, one night, he felt a summoning. As he ran, faster than he thought possible, he felt himself pull closer and closer to something like paradise. But, as Max put it, Windrunner looked God in the eye and blinked. Heaven slammed its door. Denied his Valhalla, Windrunner paid another price – he was tossed forward in time 50 years. The plains had become a city. His loved ones were gone. After a time, with a new name – Bluestreak – the speedster tried again to run “beyond light” and enter the speed field, as it sometimes was called. Again, fear kept him from his goal. Again, he was shunted forward in time. And again, to become Quicksilver of the Golden Age and, later, Max Mercury. This was how Max had come to understand speed.
Wally and Jesse were stunned. Johnny scoffed at Max’s explanation, while Jay admitted he once had felt something pull at him. It came down to Max to put it bluntly, How could anyone run so fast, without help? No matter how much food, no matter how much sleep, nothing could explain super speed except an outside influence.
Hoping the key to deciphering Kobra’s plans lay in understanding the energies he used, Wally pushed light-speed to affect a red-shift, revealing a power net surrounding the city. He told the others what he’d seen when he returned from the future. Wally would pass light-speed while Kobra destroyed the city. At that moment, Wally would enter the speed force. He wouldn’t come back; the force was the end of a speedster’s race.
In 98, the running men (and woman and boy) destroyed most of Kobra’s Keystone power facilities, forcing him into an offensive game; the power net was increased to raise a force field around Keystone. Only Wally and Jesse made it into the city. Bart and Max were trapped outside. Jay had been inside when the field was raised, but lacked the raw speed to face the task. Johnny, never as fast or durable as the Flashes, had run himself out . Despairing, Wally told Jesse what he had really seen at the end of his time jaunt. Yes, he would move into the Speed Force, but it would happen as he failed to save Linda from a Kobra weapon. Only Bart was fast enough to save Linda once Wally merged with the Speed Force.
They’d have to make do.
Kobra activated his primary weapon, a device that induced an earthquake and tapped its energy (pretty fancy, no?). The force field channeled the energy to a receiver satellite that broadcast power to hundreds of followers around the country. They would terrorize the nation and, somehow, lead to Kobra’s taking control of the United States. (Waid never explained that bit.)
As Wally and Jesse searched the city, Linda, Iris and the Piper traced the energies of Kobra’s weapon and came under attack. They blocked the villain’s teleporter, leaving him trapped in a crumbling city. As Wally approached, Kobra’s laser locked on its target and fired. Wally moved to intercept the beam and so save Linda. Jesse tackled Wally, seriously injuring her leg as the laser struck.
In that moment, the not-always-too-bright Wally realized he was Kobra’s actual target; Linda would have been a collateral loss. He sped off, the laser tracking him. He was drawn to the speed force, trying to fight it but pulled towards its embrace. Bart, having finally vibrated past the force field, reached Wally’s side and split off. The laser, programmed to follow a speeding object and unable to track them both, shut down. Linda was safe, the city was whole, and Wally was still in this world.
Again the laser fired, this time at the woman Kobra thought had brought him down (he was always a bit of a misogynist). Wally realized he’d been a fool. He moved to save Linda, reaching light-speed as he pushed her from harm’s way. Transmuting, merging with the speed force, Wally wanted only enough time to say farewell. He whispered: “3X2(9YZ)4A,” and the world froze. In the briefest of moments, almost too small to measure, Wally took Linda’s hand. He said, “goodbye.” Then, in a crack of thunder and a blinding light, he was gone.
Bart leaped forward to face Kobra, who blasted him with a weapon that set Bart afire and knocked him from a roof to the ground. Kobra gloated as induced temblors shook Keystone. He broadcast the quake’s power to his followers, who created havoc nationwide. At last, Kobra would rule the world.
So ended Flash 99.
As issue 100 opened, Piper rallied Linda to protect themselves from Kobra’s minions. Linda decided to fight back. Buildings fell. Jay pushed through his fatigue to evacuate a hospital, collapsing as he brought out the last of the patients. Rescue services were there but stuck at ground zero of an earthquake. With great effort, Max used super-speed vibrations to open a fissure through which panicked Keystone residents could leave the city.
Bart, though badly shaken, was still in the game. Most speedsters heal quickly. He, Linda and the Piper attacked Kobra with the Piper’s sonic weapons and whatever firepower they could steal from fallen Kobra troops. Jesse, using her secondary power of flight, did what she was able. One by one they fell, until only Linda remained. Kobra’s assistants teleported to safety. Their king stayed to deal with one remaining problem. He stalked Linda, finally standing over her, ready for the kill.
A crackling energy touched the exhausted Jay, crippled Jesse, unconscious Bart, and Linda, who wore Wally’s ring, emblazoned with his symbol. Kobra pulled it from her hand. It glowed in his grasp. Thunder roared. A figure appeared between Linda and Kobra — Wally, as if carved from lightning.
He shrugged off Kobra’s attack and tossed the would-be conqueror far away, reclaiming the ring for Linda. Then he ran to the device controlling the quake. Circling faster and faster, he mirrored Barry Allen’s last moments in the Crisis, striking an unstoppable machine in a frenzy of blows and kicks made nearly invisible by their speed. The device exploded.
Linda cried out to Wally, but no one was there.
Max had finally arrived. Linda wailed that she had to find Wally. Max told her Wally was gone. “Then what … what did we see?” Bart asked. Always the philosopher, Max speculated that perhaps the group, at death’s door, had seen a ghostly vision. Perhaps they’d hallucinated during the machine’s collapse. “Or maybe … just maybe, for all he did in his time on earth … for all those who loved him … Wally West earned a chance to put things right … one last time.”
Jesse’s leg was healed. Bart, run ragged and nearly dead only minutes before, was recharged. Max hardly seemed as if he’d exhausted himself opening the earth. It was as if they’d all tapped into … “something primal,” Max said. He drew Jesse and Bart aside and began the next step of their education in speed, going over their responsibilities in Wally’s absence.
Linda’s ring glowed once more. In tears, she ran blindly, her grimace becoming a smile as she raced into Wally’s arms. “Took you long enough to get over here,” he joked. He’d been blown free by the explosion, he said, too fast for even the speedsters to see.
What Wally had experienced in the speed force, what he was beginning to understand, he said he couldn’t describe. But he had changed. He wasn’t just in touch with the speed anymore; now he had a direct line to it. His abilities were evolving.
But, Linda asked, how could Wally return? Max said no one comes back. Max doesn’t know everything, Wally replied. Linda couldn’t understand. Why come back from heaven? It had all the answers! It had everything!
“True,” he said. “But you weren’t there.”