Retro-Review: THE FLASH #62-#65 – “Born To Run”
[Editor’s Note: This review may contain spoilers]
Writer: Mark Waid
Letters: Tim Harkins
Colours: Glenn Whitmore
Reviewed By: Derek McNeil
The Flash #62-65 – “Born To Run”: When Wally West, the adolescent nephew of the Flash’s fiancée, accidentally gained powers of super speed, he became the Scarlet Speedster’s sidekick. Growing up as his hero’s protégé, Kid Flash had a childhood of amazing action and adventure. But on the day that the Flash died, Wally’s carefree adolescence abruptly ended and his life as an adult began. THE FLASH: BORN TO RUN looks back at Wally’s earliest days as the Kid Flash and explores the gamut of his emotions and experiences from his first day as a child hero to his succession of Barry Allen as the new Flash. A journey full of humour and drama, this story shows just how much Wally West loves being the fastest man alive.
In Crisis On Infinite Earths #8. DC shocked fans by killing off the Silver Age Flash, Barry Allen. In issue #12, Wally West became the first DC sidekick to take up the role of his mentor, ditching his Kid Flash identity to carry on Barry’s successor. In 1987, DC gave Wally his own title, which brought the Flash back as one of DC’s major heroes of the era.
This title introduced the idea that Wally was struggling to live up to the example of Barry Allen, who Wally idolized. Wally felt duty-bound to carry on Barry’s legacy, despite feeling unworthy of it. He seemed stuck trying to live up to the impossible standards he set for himself. Wally never seemed to progress past this point.
Then, in 1992, Mark Waid took over as writer of The Flash. Waid took this characterization of Wally West head on, making his run on the title a coming-of-age story that truly matured Wally into the role. Wally went from being a stand-in for Barry to being the definitive Flash of the era.
Waid started his run, logically enough, at the beginning, with Wally’s origin in a story arc titled Born To Run. Waid could not have made a more perfect selection for a title. Being the Kid Flash/The Flash was Wally’s first, best destiny. Wally lucked into his dream career of superheroics at a young age and never desired to do anything else.
Waid immediately started planting seeds that would figure large in his story. Even though Barry was well established as a formative influence on Wally’s life, Waid established in Born To Run that Wally saw his Aunt Iris as equally important a role model. As Wally states, “Barry may have taught me how to be Kid Flash… but Iris taught me how to be Wally West”.
There are also some bittersweet family moments in the story. The framing story set in the (then) current-day DCU has Wally visiting his grandfather Ira West, Iris’ father. We learn that Wally has been avoiding his grandfather and seems impatient to disentangle himself from the old man. We discover that Wally is painfully reminded of Iris by his grandfather. Iris had apparently died before Barry, even though readers knew otherwise. Upon learning that he also reminded Ira of his daughter, Wally realized that it was better to remember her together.
I quite liked seeing Ira again when revisiting this story. The absent-minded professor hasn’t appeared much since the Silver Age and it would be great to see him show up in Joshua Williamson’s current title. I’m not sure if he even exists in continuity, as the New 52 drastically changed the West family tree. I hope Wally in his current capacity as fixer of DC continuity (see The Flash #750) brings him back to the DCU.
Ira, speaking as the scientist he is, makes some interesting statements about Barry’s powers and the circumstances of Wally gaining the same powers: “After I saw what he could do, I spent an entire month working out the science behind his powers. Those I could explain bent the laws of physics to the breaking point”.
Ira doesn’t come to any conclusions here. But this starts the questioning into Wally and Barry’s powers that would remain a common thread of the title. Waid continued delving into these questions, developing the idea of the Speed Force, which has become a cornerstone of the Flash mythos today, both in the comics and on the CW TV show.
With Barry back in the comics today, it’s not a big deal now, but I can remember how great it was to see Barry back in action, even in flashback. Barry, at that point, had become what some readers half-jokingly called “the patron saint of the DCU”. Barry had been gone long enough to establish that he wasn’t coming back (or so it seemed at the time), but recent enough that readers of the time remembered him fondly. And it was nice to revisit a less-complicated era of DC history for the span of a few issues.
In retrospect, I find it apparent that Waid had set out from the beginning to write a coming-of-age story. Both the flashback story and the current-day stories contained important moments of growth for the character. Wally’s remembrances of his early lessons and his introspection about his relationships to Barry, Iris, and Ira were a solid start on the his voyage of self-discovery.
I also enjoyed the art of Greg La Rocque and Jose Marzan Jr. They did a particularly did a fine job of capturing the Silver Age feel of Wally’s early days as Kid Flash. I also have to note that it seems a bit strange to look see the Flash’s speed shown without arcing electricity accenting his speed.
What could I say about this story that started Wally West on the path to becoming a worthy successor to Barry Allen. Born To Run shows that Mark Waid truly got the character right from the start. Waid didn’t need to find his footing on the series, but got it off to a running start.
Mark Waid’s tenure as writer of The Flash is hailed as one of the great all time Flash eras. It’s one of the few cases of a legacy character successfully coming to be as beloved by fans as much as the original. Waid’s run is well worth looking into, whether you are a new reader, or a longtime fan looking for a good story to rediscover. And Born To Run is the ideal place to start.