The Flash is a legacy hero, going all the way back to the Golden Age of comic books and racing through significant points of history in the superhero genre. From Jay Garrick in 1941 to the introduction of Barry Allen fifteen years later, signaling the birth of the Silver Age, to Kid Flash inheriting the mantle of his mentor in 1986 after Crisis on Infinite Earths, the role of the Flash has been passed down for generations, embodying a history of heroism featuring multiple characters as the Scarlet Speedster.
But currently there are two Wally Wests. How did that happen?
The history of the Flash is emblematic of the history of DC, which is a history of legacy heroes. Not only have there been inheritors of various costumed identities, but there have occasionally been more than one hero occupying the mantles at once. Both Conner Kent and Jon Kent were Superboy at the same time, and the same can be said for Robin being both Tim Drake and Damian Wayne. But Wally West is a different—and more complicated—case. After all, we’re talking about two characters with the same human name, not just the same heroic one. The story of Wallace R. West and how he relates to the original Wally West is a unique one, to be sure.
In 2011, when DC launched the New 52, several legacy characters went missing as the DC Universe restarted it’s continuity, a fallout from the Flash miniseries, Flashpoint. Suddenly, Barry Allen was the only Scarlet Speedster in Central City, with no reference made to his former protégé, successor and nephew, Wally. This went on for a few years until The Flash #30, where at the end of the issue, the Future Flash, existing twenty years from the present, vowed to avenge “Wally’s” death. We see a newspaper clipping for a black-haired, dark-skinned young man said to have been killed in a car accident. Fans were stunned, both at the revelation that a Wally was being referenced and that he was unrecognizable from the traditional red-haired version.
Keiynan Lonsdale as Kid Flash on The Flash
This was an attempt to coalesce the comic book characters with the then-new live action CW series, which had cast Candace Patton as Iris West and Jessie L. Martin as her father, thus solidifying their version of the West family as African American. One of the New 52’s goals was to make fans of the media interpretations of various franchises less confused when pursuing the comics, which until this point, were often completely different. On TV’s The Flash, the actor and singer Keiynan Lonsdale was cast as Wally in season two and suited up as Kid Flash in season three. But where the comics were concerned, the new Wally’s story would only grow more complicated from here.
In the Flash comics, “Wallace” was introduced as Iris West’s troubled nephew who lashes out and skips school after the Flash arrests his Uncle Daniel (the latest in a long line of Reverse-Flashes). In response, Barry tries to spend time with him and provide a positive male influence and before long the two become friends. But in Future’s End: The Flash #1, a battle between the Flash and his future self sees Wallace in the middle of a Speed Force explosion which grants him his powers. There are some complex timeline shenanigans that follow, but the short version is that from that point on, Iris’s nephew is one of the fastest people on the planet.
Wallace keeps these powers a secret from Barry and Iris for a long time. He even keeps them from the Flash, whom he attempts to assist when the Riddler tries to expose his secret identity. And it’s shortly after these events that the original Wally West comes back into the picture…
Due to various events in the multiverse, the original Wally—who remember, had essentially be retconned out of the DCU and hadn’t been seen since the start of the New 52 in 2011—finds himself tearing apart as he travels between locations, citing the differences in the way the DCU has progressed and noting that someone is actively messing with the timeline. Running into Batman in the Batcave, his wife Linda Park, and former co-Titans Cyborg and Nightwing, Wally fails at getting his loved ones to remember him. As he begins losing his grip in this dimensional plane, he spots Wallace West use his newfound powers to save someone from an oncoming car.
This is when the relationship between the two is made clear—both red-haired Wally and black-haired Wallace are nephews of Iris West. Wally is the son of her brother Rudolph, and Wallace is the son of her brother Daniel. Both were named after their great-grandfather, and so the two Wallys are indeed cousins. This keeps the Flash Family literal, as Barry and Wally were originally uncle and nephew.
Wally descends upon Barry and is about to disappear forever, but miraculously, Barry recognizes and rescues him, restoring everyone’s memories of the previous Kid Flash. The timeline is still damaged, as memories of Wally’s tenure as the one true Flash, his wife and children are still lost. Still, Barry concludes that despite the lost years in their lives, Wally has more than earned the right to the Flash name and fashions him a new costume to distinguish himself from a kid sidekick. Meanwhile, Wallace has been working on his speed for months, and is more than ready to inherit the role of Kid Flash.
Yes, it’s a bit clunky, and you can form whatever opinions you’d like about retconning and then bringing back characters, but this was truly the best possible solution here. Remember, at the time of the New 52, the company mandate was that this new DCU was the only DCU. That meant the new African American version of the character was the ONLY Wally West that would exist going forward. He was Wally—just with a new look and ethnicity to reflect where things seemed to be going with the character at the time. The decision to bring back the original version of Wally, in DC Universe: Rebirth, was a choice they didn’t anticipate at the time. But when that decision was made, something had to be done with the new version of Wally. They could have either written him out of the DCU in some way (like they did with his uncle’s version of the Reverse-Flash) or figure out a way he could coexist with the original Wally, which is what they did.
So, where are things these days? Well, the original Wally West has resumed the mantle of the Flash and protects Central City. You can read about his adventures over in The Flash. Wallace West joined the Teen Titans and began a relationship with Emiko Queen a.k.a. Red Arrow, another legacy hero and teenage sidekick. He also learned that his “Uncle Daniel” was actually his father. (We mentioned retcons can be complicated and confusing, right?) The two Wallys have become close over the years, and with Barry Allen no longer active in Central City, it’s likely the original Wally who will serve as younger Wallace’s mentor going forward.
That is, perhaps, until the day that Wallace is ready to take on the mantle of the Flash himself…
Donovan Morgan Grant writes about comics, graphic novels and superhero history for DCComics.com. Follow him on Twitter at @donoDMG1.