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Speed kills: How Titans continues Wally West’s string of tragedies

The new Titans series kicks off with a shocking murder and the return of Wally West’s rough patch. Here's how Wally can't just catch a break.

A wounded Flash runs for his life
Image credit: DC Comics

Spoilers for Titans #1 and other previously published DC events below

Nightwing leads Starfire and Donna Troy
Image credit: DC Comics

With the Justice League disbanded for the foreseeable future coming out of Dark Crisis on Infinite Earths, the Titans are now the premier superhero team in the DC Universe-- and starring in a new series by Tom Taylor and Nicola Scott. The inaugural issue of this new series kicks off with a murder mystery from one of the Titans’ own, Wally West (the Flash and one of the co-founders of the Teen Titans) shot to death in the issue’s opening pages. But this isn't the first time Wally's met tragedy; the murder is the latest in a long line of setbacks and outright catastrophes to befall Wally across years of DCU history.

Every hero, including the various Flashes, faces tragedy-- it's a staple of the superhero genre and just a simple fact of life. But it does feel like Wally has faced more than his fare share compared to other major DC heroes in the comics for the past 20 years or so. From his meteoric fall from grace and gradual path to redemption as DC figures out what to do with the ‘90s Flash in the wake of his predecessor Barry Allen’s return, here’s what happens to Wally in Titans #1 and how it lines up with the character’s tumultuous history, adding perhaps the ultimate capper to the lonesome tragedy of this particular Fastest Man Alive.

A death in the family

Wally West is shot
Image credit: DC Comics

Titans #1 opens with a literal bang as Wally is shot point blank from behind through the heart by an unknown assailant, eliminating the possibility of him tapping into the Speed Force to dodge or vibrate through the bullet. In his final moments, Wally uses his speed to briefly bid farewell to his family and try to change his fate with the Cosmic Treadmill. His corpse is discovered by the rest of the Titans. Determined to learn what happened to his friend, Dick Grayson declares the area a crime scene as the Titans reassemble to solve the bloody murder together.

There are no clear clues as to who murdered Wally just yet, though the ending of the issue teases a meeting with longtime Titans supervillain Brother Blood. Blood recently has enjoyed a resurgence as the primary antagonist in Titans final season on HBO Max but the enemy’s mastery of magic would preclude the necessity of using a gun to kill his opponents. Whoever the culprit may be, the Titans have just suffered the loss of one of their own, presenting them with a threat that is just as personal and intimate as it is deadly for the entire DCU. In other words, just another Tuesday for the DCU’s leading superhero team.

The most tragic Flash

Zoom prepares to take Wally's children
Image credit: DC Comics

Death and tragedy aren’t strangers to the Flash family, with both Barry and Bart Allen dying separately during their respective tenures as the Scarlet Speedster before eventually resurrecting. Barry also lost his wife Iris West to the Reverse-Flash, reuniting with her only through time-travel trickery and multiversal reboots. But Wally is the one Flash that consistently can’t catch a break, and it’s been a growing trend as the Flash mythos charges into the 21st century.

Tragedy really began picking up for Wally during Geoff Johns and Scott Kolins’ run on The Flash, with the crazed Hunter Zolomon causing Wally’s wife Linda Park to suffer a miscarriage. The traumatic incident leads Wally to retire from superheroics for a time, but he reclaims the mantle of the Flash to defeat Zolomon in a heated rematch and miraculously restores Linda’s pregnancy in time for her to safely give birth to twins. Shortly thereafter, Wally and his family are transported to a pocket dimension within the Speed Force during the 2005 Infinite Crisis as the Flashes unite to imprison the villainous Superboy-Prime, emerging months later with the twins having aged into rapidly into young children in the interim.

The accelerated aging leads Wally and Linda to initially believe their children will live shortened lifespans, putting a heavy pallor over the family. Fortunately, an encounter with the Reverse-Flash in 2009’s The Flash: Rebirth by Geoff Johns and Ethan Van Sciver has the villain use the Speed Force to stop the accelerated aging, inadvertently doing Wally and his family a favor.

The New 52 shuffle

Doctor Manhattan banishes Wally West
Image credit: DC Comics

When DC rebooted the DCU’s continuity with its New 52 publishing initiative in 2011, one of the more notable changes was a fresh iteration of Wally West. While still Iris’ nephew and Barry’s protege after gaining his own connection to the Speed Force, this Wally’s father Daniel became the New 52 DCU’s version of the Reverse-Flash. Also, this Wally was Black, compared to the Caucasian previous incarnation, a change that would carry over to the CW’s Flash television series version of the character, with Wally played by Keiynan Lonsdale.

The subsequent DC Rebirth publishing initiative in 2016 that steadily restored the classic DCU continuity started with the classic Wally resurfacing and reuniting with Barry. Following that, the 2017 maxi-series Doomsday Clock by Geoff Johns and Gary Frank reveals that the omnipotent Doctor Manhattan from the Watchmen Universe is responsible for removing Wally from reality and for the wholesale changes to DCU history. Though Wally and DC’s classic canon are both restored, Wally’s children remain seemingly erased, and Linda has no memory of her past life or family when reunited with Wally.

Even back in the DCU, Wally is largely kept on the periphery for much of the DC Rebirth era as the New 52 Wally is still an active superhero, effectively giving the shared universe two Wallys running around. To mitigate the confusion, the New 52 Wally quietly goes by his full name Wallace, but Wally remains sidelined. Part of this downplaying of the character as DC juggles two Wallys is explained in Joshua Williamson and Howard Porter’s 2018 storyline “Flash War.”

Haunted by the sudden loss of his children, Wally tries to tap into the Speed Force to change reality himself only to unleash primal forces on Earth. Realizing how troubled he’s become, Wally enters a superhero rehabilitation facility known as Sanctuary, but his troubles have only just begun.

Wally West in crisis

Wally West consoles himself
Image credit: DC Comics

The 2018 crossover event Heroes in Crisis opens with the patients at Sanctuary brutally killed by a mysterious figure, with Wally among the victims discovered by other heroes investigating the facility. The killer is later revealed as Wally himself, who accidentally killed the other patients during an emotional outburst of raw Speed Force energy stemming from the grief of losing his children. The Wally corpse found at Sanctuary is explained as a time remnant used by Wally to cover-up his mistake in the most morally questionable moment of the entire story before Wally confesses and turns himself into the authorities.

With Heroes in Crisis vocally dividing readers, especially Flash fans, DC began to gradually redeem Wally, with the wayward hero tasked with purging the Dark Multiverse’s corrosive incursions across DC’s multiverse. This cosmic odyssey leads to Wally rescuing his children and Linda finally recalling her pre-New 52 life. Wally himself gains a degree of omnipotence from residual Doctor Manhattan energy, expending it to help heal the timeline.

Not only reunited with his family, Wally is further redeemed in The Flash Annual 2021, by Jeremy Adams, Brandon Peterson, and Fernando Pasarin. The story contains the revelation that the evil Savitar caused the Speed Force energy burst in Heroes in Crisis, in a quiet, if overdue retcon. With his conscience clear, Wally confidently retakes the mantle of the Flash, as Barry focuses on documenting the reborn multiverse.

Just as Wally’s latest chance to overcome tragedy was starting to pick up momentum, he is dealt the most ultimate setback of all with his own death in Titans #1. Wally has powered through plenty of fates worse than death before, and if there’s anyone who can break terminal velocity, it’s certainly the Flash – but Wally just can’t ever seem to catch a break. It took years for Wally to claw his way back into existence and renewed relevance and now it seems that death is determined to drag him back to oblivion.

Titans #1 is written by Tom Taylor, illustrated by Nicola Scott, colored by Annette Kwok, and lettered by Wes Abbott. The story continues in Titans #2, on sale June 20 from DC Comics.

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Sam Stone: Sam Stone is an entertainment journalist based out of the Washington, D.C. area that has been working in the industry since 2016. Starting out as a columnist for the Image Comics preview magazine Image+, Sam also translated the Eisner Award nominated-Beowulf for the publisher. Sam has since written for CBR, Looper, and, with a penchant for Star Trek, Nintendo, and martial arts movies.
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