Pretty much everything I have to say specifically about Wally West would be a regurgitation on what Chris Sims went into on his column on Barry Allen, Wally West and how Barry coming back is bad for them both. However, that was a few years and a very successful TV show ago, and in light of, that, I feel the need to take a step back and look at the overall character.
The Flash overall is one of those perfect heroic concepts: the ultimate specialist, so good at using his one power that he has turned it into every other power you can think of. “The sun, I guess?” is the unifying theme of Superman, but the Flash has speed and only speed-derived powers to bring to bear, forcing the writers to get very, very creative. He has a perfect costume that you can see the appeal of instantly, which is an important element in a visual medium. More than that, though, is his tendency to be the forerunner (literally) of each shift in the superheroic market.
I’m not even the tenth person to say this, but the Flash tends to be the first one to forecast a trend at DC. Square Science Dad Barry Allen kicked off the Silver Age, with its colorful fun, science that would not for one second hold up under scrutiny, vast array of villains and sense of wonder and harmless fun. Wally West kicked off the age of the legacy hero, the idea of a grand unified DC continuity and an era where the superhero was a little more down-to-Earth - Wally worked for the IRS, delved deep into the legacy of the Flash and through it, the history of the DC universe. Barry’s return in turn kicked off the new 52.
I was talking with a Twitter pal this week about how if neither Superman nor Batman are the moral core of the DC Universe any more, who is? He remarked that the Flash might be the closest, and I in turn remarked that if that’s true, the moral core of modern DC created it by being bad at travelling through time. And really, that fits - the post-Flashpoint DC Universe is one where heroes fail more often and the line between good guy and bad is murkier than I’m comfortable with. It’s also, creatively speaking, a place where the brand, and how DC sees the brand, comes first. Elseworlds and imaginary stories are minimized for now - they’re often seen as diluting the brand, and this is why I fear we won’t be seeing a lot of the Multiversity outside of Grant Morrison’s passion projects. Vertigo - the imprint that made me a DC fan, since it was the perfect “what else has this creator done” gateway from the weird college student set to rediscovering the superhero - is a shell of its former self, since weird indie books don’t do much for sales, and the creators they kept happy and kept working for DC aren’t as much of a priority now.
So what is a priority? Well, The Flash as a TV show is currently everyone’s fave (problematic fave, but people are willing to let a lot of problematic elements go if the story is fun and entertaining.) The stated reasoning for the de-emphasis of legacy and continuity is that it was seen as a barrier to bringing iconic characters to other media. Why spend two movies setting up Wally West when you can spend one setting up Barry Allen? Ditto for Hal Jordan, Ray Palmer, etc etc. The Flash right now is the vanguard of the TV and movie age - where the comics aren’t the dog wagging the tail any more, but the other way around, and that in turn takes a different set of considerations.
I think DC’s misstep was bringing Barry back, rather than creating a new, non-straight white guy character to be the new Flash for a new generation. We have a black Wally West and he seems pretty cool, but he’s not “the” Flash any more than Val-Zod is “the real” Superman. But again: TV and movies are the priority, and there’s long-standing wisdom there that women and PoC can’t headline action and superhero movies (and Marvel is guilty of this too, and frankly, given how they have a license to print money at eleven movies into a cinematic universe, have a lot fewer excuses than DC which currently sits at one.) A woman or PoC Flash is harder to sell to networks and studios, and that’s that.
Well, that’s a lot about what Flash means, but not who Flash is, so back on track. Personally, Wally was my favorite, and I’ll admit that it might be because he was Flash at the time I got into it through the Morrison-Porter JLA. Wally and Kyle Rayner were the legacy heroes, and while Wally took being the Flash very seriously (he was a lot more serious than on the cartoon) Kyle was a doofus and often buckled under the weight of the world. Kyle was what a “new guy” hero was supposed to be, but Wally was something new - a “new guy” hero who had fully grown into the role. Wally was proof that you didn’t have to stay the new guy forever. That after enough time, you could be just “the hero.” And I liked that - and I liked that the universe had such a long history that it had enough space to accommodate such a unique take on the successor hero.
I think they still could, but not with the Flash, unless they do another reboot (and please God do not do another reboot. My issues with the new 52 aside, that is the last thing they need.)