For a generation of comic book fans, Barry Allen wasn’t the Flash. It was his nephew, Wally West, who became the real hero in red after his awkward early years with the Teen Titans. Now, in the upcoming third season of The Flash on the CW, Wally West (played by Keiynan Lonsdale) will don the yellow spandex as Kid Flash, replacing the Flash of our reality.
After Grant Gustin’s Barry Allen traveled back in time to prevent his mother’s murder in Season 2, Season 3 of The Flash will see the repercussions in the multi-episode arc “Flashpoint,” loosely based on Geoff Johns’s continuity-rocking storyline from 2011. One result is Kid Flash, protecting Central City in the absence of the Flash we know and love.
In the ‘80s and ‘90s, however, Wally West was THE Flash, succeeding Barry Allen after his sacrifice in Crisis on Infinite Earths from 1985. With the majority of stories written by heavy hitters like Mark Waid and Geoff Johns, Wally West headlined some of DC’s finest Flash titles ever, until Barry returned for good in 2009’s The Flash: Rebirth.
I highly suggest picking up everything you can from Waid and Johns (and Grant Morrison and Mark Millar too, who did a few issues to keep Waid from burning out), but these six specific arcs aren’t a bad place to start.
The Flash #54, “Nobody Dies”
What good is super speed in free fall? Good question. In “Nobody Dies,” a single issue written by William Messner-Loebs — a prolific writer who has been everywhere from Marvel to Boom! to IDW — Wally must save a flight attendant in free fall. Like a good stand-alone episode, “Nobody Dies” is a concept-challenge for the Flash to use his abilities in ways not even he could ever expect to.
The Flash #197-#200, “Blitz”
Pretty much all of Geoff Johns’s run on The Flash is worth picking up, but issues #197 to #200 introduce readers to Zoom, aka Hunter Zolomon, the second evil speedster in yellow to make the Flash’s life a living hell. Zoom goes after Wally’s pregnant wife Linda, who miscarries their unborn twins. “Blitz” pushes Wally over to the edge in ways readers had never seen before or even since.
The Flash #220-#225, “Rogue War”
Although Wally acts as a kind of “guest star” in his own comic, the ensemble “Rogue War” is a packed book of Flash villains who turn on each other when they can’t decide who is actually on the side of the good guys and who’s under mind-control. A sort of Civil War for the Flash, Wally has to stop them before their collateral damage becomes catastrophic.
The Flash #62-#65: “Born to Run”
Comic Book Resources sums up Mark Waid’s Born to Run as “Wally West: Year One” and we couldn’t agree more. As Wally visits his grandfather, readers get a glimpse into Wally’s origin story in ways comics could after Crisis.
The Flash #73-#79, “The Return of Barry Allen”
It was a big deal when Barry Allen (or, “Barry Allen”) returned to comics in Mark Waid’s run on The Flash. Sure, it wasn’t actually Barry Allen (you’ll have to read to find out who is actually in disguise), but it’s a story all about how you probably should never meet your heroes, even if they define everything about you.
The Flash #95-#100 (plus #0), “Terminal Velocity”
While it isn’t the culmination of Mark Waid’s run on The Flash, it certainly feels like it with issue #0 a stand-out that sets up the trouble in #95 to #100. When Wally gets a glimpse into a dismal future, he — like Barry Allen in the TV series — does everything he can to stop it, only to lose his girlfriend Linda in the process. Desperate, Wally West does everything he can, only to wind up in the Speed Force. Along with artists like Oscar Jimenez, Salvador Larroca, and Carlos Pacheco, Terminal Velocity is one of Wally West’s finest comic book adventures, period.
The Flash returns on October 4 on the CW.