It would be an understatement to say that the Flash is having a bit of moment right now. With the hit CW series racing into high gear with it's second season and an upcoming Flash film set to be released in 2018, I'd say that it is a great time to be a fan.
Though I should be more clear when I say The Flash is having a moment. In actuality it is Barry Allen who is having said moment. Unlike some of his other crime fighting counter parts such as Batman and Superman, there have been quite a few Flashes, so to speak*. Allen first debuted in 1956 and remained the main scarlett speedster until 1985 when he sacrificed himself in Crisis on Infinite Earths. I was born in 1985 and for that reason I don't have a close relationship with that particular character like my older fellow nerds. My guy was always Wally West.
When I think of the The Flash, it will always be Wally that rushes to the front of my brain. For me, Wally made his debut in the Bruce Timm Justice League cartoon series and it has left an impression ever since. Before that though, you could find him out-racing his Rogues in the DC Comics written by Geoff Johns. Some consider his run to be a historic and an almost perfect. Well, that'll be up for me to decide this week as I dive into the first arc in the Johns run: Wonderland.
This is a delightfully 90's comic. I have to say 90's comic because it just looks and feels like a 90's comic right from the start and like I said in my review of Daredevil: Guardian Devil, it's not a bad thing. Angel Unzueta translates John's writing into a twisty and warped sense of reality. His line work is some how fluid and sharp at the same time - for this tale it works well.
The reader is just as disoriented as our hero who finds himself in a world where not only does the whole population lack any understanding of who the Flash is but apparently has never existed at all. Questions of sanity of course plague him as he is disheartened that no one knows who he is. It is not a hit towards his vanity but for companionship. Naturally, he has helped the police and it's citizens so many times that the guy gets his own damn museum for it! Instead the police treat him as a common crook and is placed in jail.
Not only has his identity as a hero been stripped away but his connection to the speed force as well. He is stripped of everything. Naturally, this would never be a problem for Batman who only has his own will and ability as hero help him out of such complex situations. Not for heroes such as Mr. West who are dependent on their powers. I used to say that it was for reasons such as I have explained that I always gravitated toward the likes of Mr. Wayne. Now, however, I am curious to see how this tale plays out. For who is Mr. West with out the speed force?
Identity and one's impact on the world is a big component to this tale. Our hero is forced to endure in a landscape that only knows him as Wally West, not the Flash. Seeing the world deprived of his achievements, contributions and mistakes are all null and void here. Wally is even accused of impersonating himself! Worst of all, the Flash is forced to ally himself with enemies Captain Cold and Mirror Master. Can he trust his enemies? Can he trust himself?
The Flash, like Alice in Lewis Carrol's Wonderland tale, continues to tumble down the Rabbit hole and ventures from a world that doesn't know him to a world that has completely shrugged off any similarity to Wally's reality. Medieval societies dominate this new level of complexity and is under the reign of King Grimm. a villain that Flash accidentally helped to create it. It is a interesting narrative to have a character forced to live in a world that can't acknowledge him or his accomplishments and is then thrust into a world that is created because of his actions. The hero sees a world in which he had the least impact to the biggest impact.
According to Grimm, West's hypocrisy is what has lead to all of the blood shed that had occurred and is sentenced to death. This is a great visual add to John's theme of being an outsider and West's reversal from famed hero to unknown outlaw. While the themes are certainly deep the resolution is found through beating the holy hell out of the bad guy - at least West gives a monologue while he does it:
"You claim I've sold out to my predecessor. That I turned my back on who I was. It's you who betrayed yourself. You were a great artist, Grimm. A kid with a dream, just like me. The difference is you gave up. I didn't. I live my dream now. And yes I carry on a tradition. But I do it my own way. I'm still Wally West. My own person. But I am also the fastest man alive. The Flash!"
Johns may be suggesting that it is Wally's proclamation of self and pride in carrying on the legacy of the Flash is what ultimately over comes Grimm and restores reality back to how it was: West acknowledged as a hero. It wasn't that West needed a world to recognize him and his efforts but that he had to recognize them for himself, there by granting Flash the power needed to restore his beloved city.
Having been able to see more of the themes in this arc adds new layers to the story and better understanding of this hero's journey and it had a surprisingly powerful impact on me. The action may not always beat to the same tempo as the emotional elements of the story but it is also what makes this comic and all comics so memorable, exciting and fun. There is also an added layer of delight to see Wally West operate away from not only the Justice League but his power as well, showcasing that the hero isn't in his or her unnatural ability, but in their actions with or without them; the mind to solve the problems and the heart that beats out the courage to do so.
You can find "The Flash: Wonderland available in trade paperback or in the Flash Omnibus Vol.1 by Geoff Johns at your local comic shop or on Amazon.com.
*Yes, I know there have been other people to fill in the role of Superman and Batman such as Dick Greyson or Steel but when you say Batman it will always equal Bruce Wayne and the same for Clark Kent for Superman.