In 1960, DC comics wanted to capitalize on the overnight success of young sidekicks like young Dick Grayson, and as a result, we got who was likely the next most successful young ward, Kid Flash, in The Flash #110. Wally West, created by John Broome and Carmine Infantino, was relatable in a way many characters at the time were not; he hadn’t suffered some massive tragedy, he wasn’t an alien, and he hadn’t grown up on an island of mythological demi-deities. He was just a young boy whose parents rode him hard and who dreamed of being a superhero. Very few “legacy” characters find the same level of success as their predecessors, both on the page and in the hearts of the fans, but Wally became one of them. Born into a dysfunctional family of two people who should never have been parents, Rudolph and Mary West, Wally spent most of his childhood wanting to become like his idol the Flash. But Blue Valley, Nebraska was a long ways away from Central City – home to his hero, and the harsh “tough love” that his parents gave him in response to his lofty daydreams did little to help him. His only source of respite from home life was his aunt Iris West and a mysterious figure who showed up at a family reunion to tell him that all of his dreams and more would come true and that he need only to persevere.
The following summer, Wally’s aunt Iris whisked him away to stay with her in Central City over the break. Iris was like the best friend that Wally never had, and he jumped at the chance to get out of Blue Valley, where he was the president and sole member of the “Flash Fan Club.” Iris introduced Wally to her friend at the Central City Police Department, Barry Allen, who claimed to know the Flash on a personal basis and would be happy to introduce Wally to him. While Iris was at work, Barry took Wally over to his apartment and said he’d call the Flash over (pulling a fast one on the young fan who didn’t know that Barry was, in fact, the Flash). When Barry left the room and returned as the Scarlet Speedster, it was the beginning of the rest of Wally’s life, and what a life it would be. The Flash answered all of Wally’s excited questions, including how he got his powers – in a billion-to-one chance. In a billion-to-two chance, no sooner had the Flash set up a cabinet with chemicals in the same manner as the night he had just described to Wally than lightning burst through the window, striking the young boy and covering him in the now electrified chemicals.
At that moment Wally West became “the Fastest Kid Alive,” and aided the Flash as the newly christened “Kid Flash.” Barry told his new ward not to tell anyone what had happened, then taught Wally everything he knew about how to manipulate and take advantage of his newfound superhuman speed powers, as well as educated the boy on his Rogues’ Gallery of villains and how to stop them. As he grew more skilled with his powers, Wally became a founding member of the original Teen Titans alongside Robin (Dick Greyson), Aqualad (Garth of Atlantis), Wonder Girl (Donna Troy), and Speedy (Roy Harper). He also became fast friends with Green Lantern Hal Jordan, just as his mentor Barry had before him. Barry Allen also revealed himself to be the Flash to Wally, which amused the Kid Flash as he’d always found the tardy and bumbling CSI to be a bore.
When the unthinkable happened and Barry Allen sacrificed his life to stop the Anti-Monitor in Crisis on Infinite Earths, the world needed a Flash and Wally reluctantly stepped into the role and his mentor’s old costume as the new Flash. Over the following years, Wally struggled heavily with being in Barry’s shadow and many looked at him (both the comics characters and the readers) as a less powerful version of the Silver Age Scarlet Speedster. It was around this time that the Garricks convinced Wally to move to Keystone City where he soon met the love of his life, Linda Park. It was only when Eobard Thawne, the Reverse Flash, disguised himself as Barry, attacked, and taunted Wally in Keystone City that he was finally able to push himself past his demons and break through the mental barriers that had kept him from reaching his potential, and he defeated the evil speedster handily. Wally was uncomfortably placed in a mentor role when Iris returned from a trip to the future with her and Barry’s grandson, Bart Allen, in tow. Iris implored Wally to help the young boy get control over his super speed, and the young boy dubbed himself the superhero Impulse. While saving the entire timestream from waves of destructive entropy alongside Rip Hunter and Waverider, Wally became lost within the timestream and was sent back in time to the family reunion, where he was given a pep talk by the mystery man whom he assumed to be an uncle. He soon realized that it was himself who had given his younger self the advice that he needed to hold out for his dreams to come true.
Shortly after returning from his unintentional trip down memory lane, Wally West and the other speedsters took on the villainous Kobra, during the final battle of which Wally entered the Speed Force and re-emerged of his own volition. Having now become one with the Speed Force, Wally’s powers and speed increased dramatically, and he defeated Kobra with ease. Wally’s adventures proved to come with far more frequent trips through the timestream and into the Speed Force than those of Barry, as his next encounter was with the Speed-Force-stealing demigod Savitar. After having stolen the speed from a number of speedsters, Savitar proved so powerful that the only way Wally could defeat him was to trap him in the Speed Force itself. Wally was then once again lost in the timestream, having been flung into the far future of the 64th Century, and then the mid-20th Century, before finally being pulled back to his own time by his “lightning rod” Linda Park. Following an epic confrontation with the master manipulator Abra Kadabra, in which Wally defeated the magician by afflicting him with his own backfired amnesiac spell, Wally and Linda were married and eventually had twins, Jai and Iris West, both of whom had been not only cursed with unstable aging (much like Bart Allen) but had begun to manifest superpowers (I can’t imagine the “terrible twos” with those…). After a very brief retirement in which Bart had taken up the Flash mantle, Wally West returned to the role he was meant to fulfill and found himself pulling double shifts with both the newly christened Justice League of America and his old team the Titans. Soon after, the resulting events of Final Crisis occurred, and Barry Allen made his triumphant return in Geoff Johns’ Flash: Rebirth. Not long after that, Barry went back in time to save his mother from being murdered by Eobard Thawne, resulting in the creation of the Flashpoint event in which DC relaunched their continuity for a younger audience and, much to the dismay of the fans who had grown up with him (myself included), Wally West and his entire family were nowhere to be found…
While gaining new readers with the New 52 had been the right idea given the current pop culture boom they had been experiencing through TV and films, DC had come to understand that their old and faithful fans wanted more of what they had grown up with. In a massive undertaking to marry the best of the old with that of the New 52, DC launched their Rebirth one-shot event in 2016, during which Wally West was revealed to have been lost outside of the timestream until the death of Darkseid in the climax of the Darkseid War. Wally desperately attempted to contact numerous heroes from within the Speed Force, including his wife Linda, but none could remember him, and he was unable to break through. Before he faded into the Speed Force forever, Wally sought out the man who was his final hope, Barry Allen. Barry remembered him and grabbed hold of Wally pulling him out and saving him from being lost to the halls of a history no one remembered. Wally, having been an outside-of-time observer of all the events that had transpired since the Flashpoint, told Barry of the pre-52 era’s lost history and then left to gather his old teammates, the Titans, in hopes of gaining their help in finding out who had stolen all of those years from them.
After restoring his former teammates’ memories of him in Titans: The Return of Wally West, Wally rejoined the Titans and together they worked to defeat the man who was responsible for erasing him from the memories of everyone on Earth, Abra Kadabra. The villainous magician had created evil, enhanced puppet clones of the Titans’ younger selves and held each of them, along with Linda Park (who still didn’t remember Wally) at opposite parts of the United States. In typical Wally West fashion, the Flash pushed himself from Keystone City to Coast City, then Metropolis and finally Gotham, traversing over seven thousand miles in under six and a quarter seconds to save his team and the love of his past life. As is typical of speedsters pushing themselves, Wally was absorbed back into the Speed Force, where a memory construct of Linda Park told him to keep fighting, for his team and for her, and that perhaps then she would remember him again. Re-emerging from the Speed Force, Wally knocked down the puppet master and tossed him into the timestream. The newly reformed Titans continue their heroic exploits with Wally once again making their family feel whole, including the Teen Titans: Judas Contract callout Titans: Lazarus Contract. In the aforementioned event, Slade Wilson (Deathstroke) captured both Wally West and Wallace West (II) to drain them of their Speed Force powers so that he could run back in time and save his son, Grant, from the effects of working with H.I.V.E. During their quest to stop Slade, Damian Wayne (Robin) had a moment of failing to use his head and struck Wally in the chest, which resulted in the speedster requiring a pacemaker for his now-present heart murmur. Wally then helped the team defeat the brooding, future counterpart of one of his own fellow Titans, Donna Troy, who calls herself Troya, despite dying (momentarily; you know, Flashes really can’t catch a break, can they?) during the confrontation due to overuse of his speed. But Wallace (II), feeling partially responsible for Wally’s condition, showed up and acted as a jumper cable to his heart and giving him the restart he needed.
In the DC event Flash War, just when Wally West had finally built up the courage to confront his aunt Iris, who had forgotten him just like everyone else had, and the reunion sparked long-dormant memories within the recesses of both of their minds, the chrono cops known as the Renegades came to take her to the 25th century for the murder of Eobard Thawne (see DC Rebirth The Flash Vol. 4 Running Scared). While Barry Allen and Wallace West (II) traveled with Iris and the Renegades to see her tried for the accused crime, Wally’s travel alongside them was disrupted and he found himself in the 25th Century’s Flash Museum. There he was confronted by none other than Hunter Zolomon (a.k.a. Zoom), who assured the young Flash that he was not here to harm him, but rather inform him of his children missing in the Speed Force. Shocked by this revelation, Wally was suddenly determined to find his kids, Jai and Iris West (II) (Flash writer Joshua Williamson renamed her Irey, because reasons), at all costs, and Zoom misled him to believe that the sole method of doing so was to run until the Speed Force itself would literally and metaphysically break. Barry Allen attempted to dissuade his former protégé, but to no avail, and was unable to stop him from his desperate mission. After an emotional exchange between the two Flashes in which Wally asked why Barry was always willing to risk everything for everyone but him, Barry resolved to aid the determined father in finding his children whatever the cost.
The energy unleashed as the two speedsters raced across the globe over and over, warping the very fabric of reality. Amanda Waller and the Justice League attempted to put a stop to the Flashes, but nothing they did amounted to even the slightest speed bump. Even Superman himself admitted that they were traveling far too fast for him to catch up to them, even in flight. As Barry and Wally accelerated further into the Speed Force and the timestream itself, Barry began to fall behind and called out to Wally that he was unable to keep up with him before the Speed Force broke. When the Speed Force was broken, two formerly unknown forces were unleashed: the Strength Force and the Sage Force. Hunter Zolomon latched onto these new forces, obtaining an immense increase in physical strength and perception, along with psionic powers from the respective new energies. Barry and Wally fought against Zoom with all their might, but in each exchange, he proved too much for them to handle. Traveling into Hypertime, Hunter Zolomon moved to rewrite history and all of time itself, and the Flashes chased after him. Barry opened up to Wally as they began to trail behind Zoom, telling him that the reason Wally had won when they first raced many years ago is that Barry had always focused on the science of the Speed Force while Wally had always enjoyed and valued the gift and was able to cut loose in a way Barry never could. Having the boost that he needed, the true Fastest Man Alive caught up to Zoom and knocked him out of Hypertime. In the aftermath of Flash War, Wally continued to run for several days without stopping as he attempted to locate his children, but ultimately they were nowhere to be found. To help Wally deal with the emotional trauma of all that had happened, Barry called in the Justice League and they took the emotionally broken speedster to Sanctuary, where he could find some manner of recovery. The unintended consequences of the Flashes racing were multifaceted, and at this point, we still don’t know enough about the new forces to infer their effects on the DC universe. But if Iris’ monologue at the end of issue #51 Flash War Epilogue is any indication, Wally’s heroics are far from over and, in fact, have only just begun.
Barry turning his former protégé over to the Justice League’s Trinity (Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman) to be taken to Sanctuary was supposed to result in the Fastest Man Alive’s emotional and mental recovery upon learning that his children were nowhere to be found. The events of the highly controversial and widely disliked Heroes in Crisis event told a different story, however. While amid his personal crisis that culminated from the loss of his children as well as his wife still no longer remembering their previous life together, Wally’s power’s went berserk (because that’s apparently a thing even though it hasn’t ever been before) and inadvertently resulted in the deaths of nearly everyone at Sanctuary sans Harley Quinn and Booster Gold. In a state of guilt and panic, Wally tried to frame them for the homicide before running back in time with the goal of killing himself as recompense for his actions, unintended as they were. However, instead, he chose to face the music and was willingly imprisoned by the Justice League. What will ultimately become of the Fastest Man Alive? Wally West is intrinsically tied to the current Rebirth DC comics Universe continuity, and a recent tease of a six-issue solo series from Scott Lobdell and Brett Booth suggests that Wally will be returning to his former glory in short order as well as learning far more about the DC universe and the events that lead to this point.
Unlike the other speedsters (barring Barry,) Wally West is far more than a Speed Force Conduit, as he mainlines its energies upon having merged with the Speed Force, attaining a sort of nirvana within it, and having been one with it for years when he was trapped inside of it. The result of this is that Wally, despite not being the Force’s creator, is able to harness its powers in full and move faster than any other Flash, any other speedster in general, and, as of DC Nation magazine #2’s official speed ranking, any other being that has ever existed, period. He is responsible for more acts of sheer speed than all of the other speedsters combined (having once travelled back to Earth faster than an alien being could teleport [which is instantaneous], outrun Death to the ends of time and space, carried over half a million people more than 35 miles away from an already detonated nuclear warhead in only 10 picoseconds – which breaks down to 1/100,000,000,000th of 1 second – and numerous other feats). He has all the same general Speed Force powers of the others who tap into it, but far beyond those he also has the ability of ENERGY CONSTRUCT CREATION, in which he uses the Speed Force to construct solid objects such as his costume (both his Kid Flash and current Rebirth continuity costume), an INFINITE MASS PUNCH that he once used to knock out a being with the durability of Superman by hitting him with more force than that of a white dwarf star, SPEED SHARING AND STEALING , whereby he can either absorb the inertia of any being or object or lend his own to another (it should be noted that beings who generate the Speed Force or its negative counterpart, namely Barry and Eobard Thawne, are immune to this ability). Most recently Wally has discovered he has the ability of TIME DILATION, in which he stops the flow of time entirely when his heart rate peaks and he can then essentially act as though he is using super speed without actually needing to move at those speeds.
Wally West is the Flash that I grew up with and has grown more than a lot of iconic DC heroes, and for many who grew up in the late ’80s and ’90s, he is the one true Flash. The reason for this is far more than his ability to manipulate the Speed Force; it is his relation to all of the other characters around him and his true love of what he does. Mark Waid’s run on the Flash book during the Wally West years also resulted in the massive mythos expansion that was the Speed Force. Flash War put Wally in a very fractured emotional state, and fans of the character know that this can only mean even more exciting adventures for our favorite Fastest Man Alive.