Warning: The following contains spoilers for Heroes in Crisis by Tom King, Clay Mann, Mitch Gerads, Travis Moore and Clayton Cowles.
I loved Wally West. Between his run in The Flash, his role in Grant Morrison's JLA title and his appearances in the DC Animated Universe, Wally West was my Flash. Unlike Barry Allen, he had hopes and dreams, a personality, and his own issues to overcome. We saw him grow into the mantle and start a family of his own. There's not a lot more I can say that hasn't already been said on this very site. But Heroes in Crisis has effectively ruined Wally West for me, irrevocably.
The controversial series from Tom King, Clay Mann and Mitch Gerards has come to an end, but the conclusion does little to save the character it has dragged through the mud. Wally West is responsible for killing dozens of superheroes in what is being considered a mental break. This wasn't mind control, he wasn't possessed by a foreign entity. He did it. What's worse is that, after he did it, he didn't come clean about it. Instead, Wally West hid the evidence.
The story explains that Wally panicked, traveled through time to murder a different version of himself and made it look like he was a victim. He then manipulated Booster Gold and Harley Quinn to pin the deed on them. This was all done, of course, because he wished to redeem himself in some way -- to do something equally as good to make up for the bad.
If it wasn't for a small contingent of heroes, along with Wally's own doppelganger, the speedster might have gotten away with it. However, they convinced him to give up his plan and turn himself in to the authorities. In the end, it's better to take responsibility than to try and make up for past mistakes. The series leaves the possibility of redemption open, but in my mind that's impossible, and, even if it was, he might not deserve it. Here's why.
Taking Responsibility Does Not Lead to Redemption
First of all, taking responsibility doesn't always lead to redemption in any meaningful way. There's a difference between the law and the court of public opinion. He can go to jail, serve out his term and be in good standing with the law, but he can't control what people say or think. The superhero community, the general public and even the comic book readers will still know that a hero is now a murderer or, at best, guilty of manslaughter.
The loved ones of those slain in the attack will still have to deal with Wally West being alive, being redeemed and maybe one day running around with his friends in the Justice League. Does the Flash really deserve to continue on as a hero just because he can run really fast? How would you feel if you had to watch the killer of someone you loved continue to find success in the spotlight, or find their missing family? Would that be fair?
Wally West doesn't even make a good case for his own redemption trail. While the crime was a mistake and not wholly his fault, he can still be blamed for his reaction. He spends a majority of the series running from justice and hiding his terrible actions. All this talk about redemption and responsibility at the end, and it's Harley Quinn who has the most appropriate response: kneeing him in the crotch.
If Wally accidentally killed all these people and immediately turned himself in, this would all be a different story. We could actually feel the remorse that Wally West is supposed to have felt. We would see him take responsibility in the face of unbearable tragedy, and then maybe there could be the honest conversation about PTSD and trauma that we were promised. By the end of Heroes in Crisis, taking responsibility for his actions and going to jail feels like the absolute bare minimum at this point.
Tom King advertised this series by comparing it to the mass shootings that we have seen in real life. Veterans suffering from PTSD. Police shooting kids. Students being gunned down in their classrooms. If that's what he was inspired by, it's hard to see how Wally West can ever be considered a hero again. You make those decisions, no matter how hurt you are, and you can't come back from that.
Does This Mean Wally West Should Be Canceled?
Now that Heroes in Crisis is over, we are left to pick up the pieces. The biggest question is what we do with the Wally West we have now. He was responsible for killing many superheroes and he is also guilty of trying to cover it up. Can anyone -- fictional or real -- honestly move on from this and one day see Wally in a better light?
While anything can happen in fiction, real people act a lot more stubbornly. When celebrities, politicians or even our own peers go bad, we no longer stand by and hope the good will one day outweigh the bad. Instead, online culture now considers them canceled, and all previous contributions to the world are now voided. It's a very scorched-earth approach, but it's one that I don't believe is altogether bad, if used responsibly.
There's a reason that cancel culture has thrived over the last few years. After the #MeToo movement, the 2016 Presidential Election and continuous coverage of increased gun violence, people are ready to do whatever they can to fix what is broken. When a person steps over the line, we are no longer hesitant to knock them back.
Does that mean Wally West is canceled now, and that we can no longer enjoy the character? I don't have an answer for that. I generally believe that, when it comes to creators at least, it's up to the individual whether or not they can separate the works of Michael Jackson or Woody Allen from the person. I do know, though, that there are enough talented people in the world that we don't have to put up with the bad ones. As sad as it is for me to admit, Wally has gone bad.
Wally West is a fictional character. He didn't actually do anything, he doesn't even exist. Someone made him kill and someone made him run, and this could easily be undone any number of ways. Comics are a very forgiving medium for characters who do horrific things, but the fall of Wally West is made worse by how high a pedestal he was once on. It's hard to see him making his way back up there, and, to be honest, as things stand now, he's not really deserving of that chance.