I sometimes make the assertion that Barry Allen’s death might have been the best thing to happen to DC Comics in the 80s, giving the Justice League a fallen hero to live up to, giving a once-stagnant universe some life-or-death stakes, and (most importantly) elevating Kid Flash Wally West to the major leagues. While Barry ran illogically fast and claimed it was science, Wally actually explored what superhuman speed REALLY meant and what it could really do. Your Major Spoilers (retro) review of Flash #91 awaits!
Writer: Mark Waid
Penciler: Mike Wieringo
Inker: Jose Marzan Jr.
Colorist: Gina Going
Letterer: Gaspar Saladino
Editor: Brian Augustyn
Publisher: DC Comics
Cover Price: $1.50
Current Near-Mint Pricing: $5.00
Previously in Flash: After his mentor gave up his life during the events of the Crisis On Infinite Earths, sidekick Kid Flash took up the mantle of his fallen mentor, and became the new Flash. Initially only able to run at around the speed of sound, Wally’s abilities slowly began increasing to their former levels, seemingly somehow tied to his emotional and psychological state. When his mentor seemingly returned from the dead, Wally found that his only real limitation in speed was his own mind, taking control of his powers and vanquishing the pretender to the name Barry Allen. With the help of old-school speedsters Jay Garrick, Johnny Quick and the enigmatic Max Mercury, Wally has begun to explore the real potential of his own powers, but can’t quite put his mentors diverse teachings together into one coherent theory.
That is all about to change.
A group of technological pirates on what was supposed to be a simple smash-and-grab, breaking into a WayneTech transport and taking off with the machinery within, ends up running afoul of the Keystone City Police Department. Still smarting from the loss of what he thought was his mentor, Flash is trying desperately to improve himself as a hero, hoping that the input of his Golden Age Mentors will make him the Flash he needs to be. But, in saving the young woman and her baby, Wally West seemingly dooms both thieves and police officers to a fiery death…
“3X2(9YZ)4A” may seem like nonsense, but for the first time, Flash finds the focus necessary to channel the formula as Johnny Quick once did, but instead of the extra burst of speed he expects, Wally is stunned to see the helicopter freeze in midair. It takes a moment for the truth to kick in: The world hasn’t slowed down, he has increased his own velocity, going to ludicrous speed with hardly any effort at all. What he can’t figure out? How to make it stop.
With the entirety of Keystone City frozen in time, Flash has all the time he needs to figure out a solution, but realizes that the three policemen in the ‘copter are beyond his ability to help. Struck by a bout of Hamlet-level melancholy, Wally West moves through the streets as if in a daze, thinking about his recent failures. A woman left to burn because he couldn’t be in two places at once, the first time he has had to make a decision to save one life over another. As he wanders the streets, a more terrifying thought occurs to him, as he has been lost in thought for some time, and the world remains frozen. Flash fears for a moment that he will be forever alone in a city of frozen statues…
Max Mercury (originally known as Quicksilver in his few brief Golden Age appearances in Quality Comics) has a wicked sense of humor, doesn’t he? The ‘Zen Master Of Speed’ drops a little knowledge on our Fastest Man Alive, explaining to Wally that he’s entered this hyperspeed state on purpose, and only he can decide when it ends. In short, Wally’s inability to return to normal speed is a product of his own self-doubt…
A quick trip through a burning building at super-speed gives Flash a little bit of perspective, while Max starts to really feel the burn of pushing his powers to such levels, explaining that, sometimes, there are choices WITHIN your choices, and that only acting on those variables can show you the real path. (The don’t call him Zen Master for nothing.)
And there’s the bombshell that changes everything Flash-related, FOREVER. This, dear friends, is the first full-on mention of the Speed Force, the energy field that would redefine everything about Wally and his life, age Bart Allen up to be the fourth Flash, bring Barry Allen back from the dead (not to mention being a cornerstone of his adventures even a couple of universal reboots later.) Max’s words spur our young Flash into action, and he puts into motion a plan so clever, you could put a tail on it and call it a weasel, and for probably the first time in his life, he has all the time in the world to act.
Leaping to the rocket sled, Flash uses cable to secure it to the helicopter, then lets himself return to normal speed, watching as the momentum of the sled rights the chopper long enough for the policemen to regain control, and the short-range sled’s engines burn out, leaving them tied to a police vehicle and ready to take in for their crimes. I was going to make a joke about tying it all up with a bow, but even I have standards. Well, some standards, anyway. As the issue comes to an end, The Flash wonders what the future has in store for him…
Then, the future shows it’s hand…
Iris Allen (who in the original continuity was a refugee from the 30th Century) has escaped Earthgov’s oppressive boot in the future, traveling back to the present (for 20 years ago values of present, anyway) with a surprise: Barry Allen’s grandson Bart, soon to become the speedster known as Impulse. Bart doesn’t make a full appearance here, but does have a quick shadowy cameo, and his presence in the past would make ripples in the life of his grandpa’s protegé for years to come. That, however, is ANOTHER story. This one, though, is an example of one of those perfect single issue stories, playing off what has come before to give us a whole new perspective on a character who has been around since the late 50s, and doing so with pizzazz and lovely art. Thousands of comics promise to change the status quo foreverrrrr, but Flash #91 actually does so, putting a whole new spin on super-speed and setting in motion what would come to be a centuries-long Flash dynasty throughout time and space, earning 4.5 out 5 stars overall. I complain a lot about the decision to resurrect Barry Allen, perhaps too much, but this story (and dozens of other equally impressive Wally West-driven tales) should be a clear indicator of why.