Originally published September 28, 2018.
It wasn't that long ago that "I can't remember" was about someone else...
Here at Newsarama we’ve prided ourselves for a long time for not being quick to judge. We like to think we fully embrace the notion that a comic book story is never fully told until its final page. That creating drama and conflict serially over months at a time often requires red herrings, misdirection, and showing readers climaxes before the key events of the first two acts. It’s in fact become a very common comic book narrative device to show snippets of a story’s resolution and then take months to explain the nuances of how the story arrives there.
Backwards storytelling if you will.
Show … and then tell.
And that may exactly what DC Comics and writer Tom King have brewing in Heroes in Crisis, the now 9-issue limited series that began this week. We have a lot of questions about what’s already becoming the controversial debut issue of the series – questions that we’ll ask and request DC to respond to in the coming days. We won’t prejudge, and again we fully realize fairness will require us to keep an open mind while the story unfolds from its first page to its last.
But the nature of serial comics storytelling by design also accounts for the fact readers are intentionally given chapters of the story weeks and months apart and have no choice but to react and form opinions of the portion of the story given to them.
So we’re reacting this week to one element of the story in particular, with no other choice to form an early opinion as we wait for the answers to all our questions. And here it is:
Dear DC Comics and Tom King, why in the world did you kill Wally West?
As we say, we fully acknowledge there may be more to Wally’s (and Roy and everyone else’s) apparent murder than meets the eye. But Wally’s particular recent history makes the choice to render him a seeming victim difficult to comprehend.
Because it was just a little over two years ago in DC Universe: Rebirth #1 that Wally was chosen to symbolize the return of elements of the DCU writer (and then-Chief Executive Officer) Geoff Johns – perhaps DC’s most influential over the last 20 years – seemed to argue had been lost, both before and during the controversial "New 52" that began in the fall of 2011.
Wally wasn’t only the story’s near-omniscient narrator, able to articulate what still seems upon rereading a very metatextual POV that the other DC characters were unable to even grasp at that point in continuity, he literally represented what the story argues was lost – in particular legacy (having served as the Flash’s sidekick and later as the Flash himself), friendship (the original Teen Titans are perhaps DC’s symbolic embodiment of the lasting power of friendship), and love and hope (the foundation of his history as the Flash was Linda Park serving as his tether to the world and Wally’s indomitable ability to always return to her).
Johns’ intentions in that story are admittedly somewhat a matter of interpretation. Did he even mean to be as metatextual as we’ve deduced here at Newsarama? The entire story seemed to go beyond the writer’s chosen words, which at the time we focused on here (click above).
Wally was our field guide and articulator as Barry Allen’s role as a smiling, happy-go-lucky hero was emphasized. Wally was the one to tell us Green Arrow and Black Canary’s long romantic ties would be reestablished. Through Wally’s eyes we learned very subtly but pointedly that readers should doubt that the controversial events of Identity Crisis - the story Heroes in Crisis may inevitably be most compared to - actually occurred. Through Wally’s voice we heard the word “hope” … a lot.
The answer to Johns’ intentions and what it was supposed to mean for the DCU as a whole may well lie in his in-progress follow-up Doomsday Clock. But for reasons we may never be privy to, it appears Wally won’t be present for the resolution; DC and Johns have said Doomsday Clock takes place in the near-future of the DCU and not in the present of Heroes in Crisis.
But any which way, it’s hard at our disadvantaged perspective to imagine a scenario in which Johns chose Wally to serve as the center of gravity of the opening chapter of his story about hope with the intent for him to be dispatched again so soon in the manner in which he seemingly has.
All of the heroes’ deaths in Heroes in Crisis were tragic, some graphically (Blue Jay) and some poignantly (Hot Spot) so. Wally’s for-now unceremonious death stands out, however, as a conspicuous choice that raises questions for readers invested in the world of DC.
The single-panel is as jarring as Clay Mann's art is stunning
2016's Rebirth #1 and 2018's Heroes in Crisis #1 together read in absence of another explanation like an intentional sharp change in editorial direction. And that isn’t inherently a good or a bad thing, just a change. But that Barry and Wally literally hugged and cried together only so Barry and everyone else could lose Wally again so soon, so violently, is a punch to the gut. And perhaps that’s ultimately your point, Mr. King and DC Comics. Maybe the story Mr. King is trying to tell required a shock to the system, in a way Blue Jay, Hot Spot, and even Roy Harper being murdered couldn’t provide on their own or even all together.
If that’s the case, King’s choice to de-emphasize Wally’s death in particular (the other major players in the story appeared in confessional pages, Wally's name is never fully uttered) is either masterful or diabolical.
But even in a world of ever-flexible continuity, of an ultimate lack of consequence, if Wally (who by the way, moves at incomprehensible speed) was able to be surprised and bloodied to the point of murder, this one seems hard to undo.
And we won't even mention the final pages of The Flash #51, which seem almost cruel considering.
Ummmmm, yeah, okay.
But again, we’ll try to remain open minded and we hope our readers will too, but answers to our questions may be months in the offing.
For now, however, we have been left wondering this – is Wally just caught up in an editorial difference of opinion in regard to his place or lack thereof in DCU publishing and Heroes in Crisis was a vehicle for an argument won? Is the “hope” Wally’s return indisputably symbolized just 20-something months ago already an element of a now expired DC 'era'? Or are there answers we can’t even anticipate coming? Did we have this whole 'hope is back' thing wrong from the start?
Whatever the answers to these questions – whether they’re even legitimate questions or merely the overwrought imagination of comic book journalists – we’ll be waiting for them, in the form of a conversation and/or next month’s issue. And we guess on that level Heroes in Crisis #1 succeeded in piquing our interest.
But we’re going to keep asking, until DC sending Wally and all he symbolized away … again … so soon ... makes some sort of sense.