Growing Up Fast

Flash: Born to Run TPB
Writer: Mark Waid
Artists: Greg LaRoque, Jim Aparo

March 19, 2005

By Avi Green

When Mark Waid took over the Flash’s book, following the departure of William Messner-Loebs, who’d done considerable work to improve it following the mediocre job done by Mike Baron when the second volume first began, he did a remarkable job in continuing the adventures of Wally West, and to start his own run off with a bang, he wrote one of those “Year One” stories that DC tries out with various characters, this one focusing in a more updated version on how Wally came to be Kid Flash.

This TPB compiles the four issues in which Waid worked on that, and also three short stories that were published later on, focusing on some of Wally’s other exploits in his starting years as Kid Flash. Speaking as someone who once read Kid Flash’s origin as was first told in 1959 within the pages of the old 1963 Flash Annual, in a special reprint that was sold like a prestige format special, I must say that this does a swell job in updating it, with Wally tripping to Central City to visit his aunt Iris West, whom he tended to pay a visit to at least once every year in the summer, from his hometown of Blue Valley, Nebraska, and getting his first official view of his childhood icon in action, he also got to rescue him from the threat of being shot by bank-robbing criminals after being knocked down by one of the baddies.

Later on, after meeting Barry again in his civilian guise, they went to eat at a resturant, and then Barry took Wally back to his apartment where he intended to make sure that Wally got his wish of meeting his icon up front and in the flesh. And of course, it turned out to be even better than expected – the accident that made Barry into the Scarlet Speedster repeated itself, much to even Barry’s surprise, this time with Wally, when, while explaining how he got his power, another lightning bolt stabbed in through the window, and knocked chemicals kept on the shelf in Barry’s private home laboratory right onto Wally, endowing him in turn with super-speed.

Over the next month of Wally’s vacation in Central City, Barry, in his Flash guise, took Wally to train with his newfound power and skill, and made sure to put together his own costume, that having first been the lil’ Barry outfit, which would later give way to the even cooler yellow-and-red one with the open mask top. They trained in the art of vibration (yep, that kind of vibrating), and also being responsible with how to use your power for good purposes. I remember when in reprint of Flash #110 that I read of “Meet Kid Flash!” Barry explained to Wally that, “Your speed is a great gift, but also a huge responsibility! Always use it to help others less fortunate than yourself and never for your own gain!” Here, Wally gets some of that lesson too, certainly after swiping a policeman’s cap off while speeding around town in joy of having his new speed. As Barry points out kindly but seriously, “stealing that policeman’s hat though…” So of course, Wally had to learn that silly acts of mischief like that aren’t what make one a superhero.

The first member of the Flash’s Rogues’ Gallery whom Wally faced off against was the Mirror Master, at the time being Sam Scudder. He was trying to pull some heists using mirror-constructed clones who could work as minions for him, some of whom faded from existence after being caught by both Flash and Wally, and, when looking at some of the photographs on the pages that his aunt Iris was editing together at the Central City Picture News offices, Wally realized that there seemed to be something to that effect there. Racing to investigate soon afterwards, he discovered one of these particular mirror clones making off with some valubles, and decided to follow, soon discovering that the Master of Mirrors was indeed behind it. He left a message at Barry’s laboratory in the police headquarters, and then went back, this time using some policemen’s caps to serve as a marker to let it be known where exactly the secret hideout was, but fell into one of the Mirror Master’s special traps while slipping inside to see what was going on. Scudder then forced him to watch helplessly as he laid out a trap for the Flash as well, and when it looked like the Scarlet Speedster had been killed, Kid Flash, using all his strength, broke free and slammed into Scudder in a rage. But, as it turned out, Flash was alive, having figured out a way to use Mirror Master’s own technology against him as a decoy.

After delivering Mirror Master to the cops though, Wally found himself unable to use his speed without ending up in pain. Interestingly enough, the problem featured here is the same one that happened to Wally back in the mid-80s, when Marv Wolfman wrote in the New Teen Titans that he found he was suffering from an illness that prevented him from using his speed properly, and had to quit from crimefighting for awhile, until the Crisis on Infinite Earths helped to cure him of it. Here, we get the idea that it actually happened at first when he was in his early years of being Kid Flash, and later came back to cause him problems again.

Finding this out, you can say that Wally certainly wasn’t happy that his childhood gift seemed to be slipping away. And returning to his hometown, and to his jerk father Rudy, this only made him all the much sadder. After all, as had been established, Wally did not get along well with his father, Rudy West, and when being scolded by him for accidentally letting some kitchenware drop, he later ran out of the house in childish anger, in a time when a midwestern hurricane was brewing. So here his father had to go out and come to where he’d climbed up a tree in the fields, and a lightning bolt knocked it down, wedging Rudy on the ground unconscious. Realizing how stupid he was, Wally now realized he was going to have to show some real responsibility, and not only succeeded in overcoming the illness that struck him at the time, running super-fast again, but also rescued his father and the town from an approaching twister, by reversing its flow. With that, he helped his now recovering father back home again. And not only did he find that he was able to maintain his speed still, the rest, as they say, is history. No doubt even Barry was pleased to discover that Wally’s new life wouldn’t be ending so…fast. Quite the opposite, it would be only just beginning.

Waid gives the story an enjoyably light tone in the ways of the Silver Age, and uses some good pseudo-science references in the ways that Julius Schwartz came up with. And the characters are quite appealingly written in ways that don’t stray too far from how they were first presented years ago. And it’s quite a real valentine to the era it takes place in too.

It’s interesting as to how Waid seems to tell a story that took place about a decade before this was published from a more modern looking viewpoint: there are computers of the modern age on hand, and it would look as if it took place just 3 years prior to when this is published at the least. I once recall someone pointing out how Waid did something like this with internet e-mail services featured in the less successful Superman: Birthright miniseries from 2003. I’ll admit that it is a bit odd, but here in Born to Run it otherwise works well, and does not detract in any way from the story at hand.

The only thing here that really doesn’t impress me is the intro by Grant Morrison, who wrote 10 issues of the Flash in 1997 and never got any further than that. “Fan-thing”? That’s not very polite, I’m afraid. Other than that, it’s a most wonderful book.

The rest of the book features three short stories published mostly in annuals and specials since then, from 1995, 1997, and 1998, such as a “Day Two” story wherein Kid Flash finds himself at odds with Mr. Element, alternately known as Dr. Alchemy, and real name being Albert Desmond. He’s trying to sabotage valuble artifacts owned by the city museum and even a millionaire, and Kid Flash faces off with him even before the Flash has a chance to help out. While Barry isn’t pleased that Wally took on Mr. Element on his own, Kid Flash nevertheless manages to bring down the crook, and explains to Flash that because he didn’t know how to contact him correctly, he had to go after Mr. Element on his own.

It makes sense, more or less.

Then, there’s a story involving the template for Cobalt Blue, who arrives in Central City to try and steal their speed, and, unlike most of Barry’s other foes, who usually use scientific tools as their weapons, this strange character uses magic ones. This takes place some time after Barry and Iris got married, and Wally has then become Barry’s nephew (and took to wearing the yellow-and-red costume with the open mask top). Fortunately, they succeed in defeating him, and he’s basically vanquished in a gulfing of magic flame.

The artwork for this part is by Jim Aparo, well regarded as one of the best Batman artists since the Bronze Age, and who’s also the co-creator with Mike W. Barr of the Outsiders in 1983. It’s very great to have someone like Aparo drawing this part.

Then, finally, there’s a short story that’s like a dream sequence for Wally as he and Linda Park and their friends celebrate his birthday, that offers a glimpse of a life that could've been possible had he not paid a visit to his aunt Iris that very magical summer. This too is a very touching and poignant part, and very nicely sums up the book’s content.

Born to Run is a very engaging look at Wally’s early years as Kid Flash, and is highly recommended for reading.

Copyright 2005 Avi Green. All rights reserved.

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