SPOILER WARNING: The following article contains major spoilers for Heroes in Crisis #9 by Tom King, Clay Mann, Tomeu Morey and Clayton Cowles, on sale now.
Heroes in Crisis #8 explained how Wally West inadvertently killed the residents of Sanctuary. The issue also went on to reveal how Wally subsequently engaged in an elaborate cover-up, albeit a temporary one, to conceal his guilt. Wally's unintended fatal actions, on their own, could have arguably been perceived as forgivable, as he was under momentary emotional distress.
Forgiveness can lead to redemption, but it was Wally's deliberate deeds in the aftermath of the killings that made forgiveness difficult and his redemption even more unlikely. Tom King and Clay Mann's Heroes in Crisis #9, however, revisits Wally's actions. And while Wally's path to redemption remains a difficult one, his moral compass has been redirected enough to make it a little more plausible.
What Wally Did -- Originally
As Wally narrated last issue, he took no comfort as a resident of Sanctuary because he still felt alone. He didn't believe that his fellow superheroes had suffered the kind of loss he had, so he committed his first transgression by hacking into Sanctuary's data files. Wally thereupon committed his second transgression; taking it upon himself to learn the secrets of Sanctuary's other residents, without their knowledge.
He understood his colleagues' tribulations as intended, but the volume and emotional intensity of these secrets broke him. Momentarily losing control of his powers, he killed most everyone at Sanctuary and, after briefly realizing he hadn't been alone like he thought, he now ironically was.
Had Wally simply come forward at that point and admitted to what he had done, his tragic mistake could have been solely that, a mistake. Instead, though, Wally then compounded his actions by intentionally restaging the scene to mask his involvement, framing Harley Quinn and Booster Gold for the killings and deceiving The Big Three during their investigation. As if all that weren't enough, he also leaked Sanctuary's confidential files to the press.
He also went on to kill his future self -- whether that's considered murder or suicide is debatable, but it's not a terribly moral act either way.
What Wally Did -- Now
There's always one way in comics to undo a series of mistakes, though, and that's time travel. No, Wally didn't travel in time -- again -- to undo the murders. However, another time trip is taken this issue by Booster and Harley, along with Blue Beetle and Batgirl. But not to prevent the killings, however, except for one -- Wally's own.
The foursome doesn't really do anything to prevent it, they simply arrive at the point in time just before Wally kills his future self. Their arrival, though, seems to initiate a change of heart in future Wally. Rather than convince his freshly-distraught past self to kill him, he instead tells him what he himself needed to believe only days earlier, that despite his losses and recent actions, he is not alone.
Past Wally's realization has moral implications, as it forestalls the subsequent actions he would take to conceal his crimes in the short term. No longer does he alter the crime scene, frame his colleagues, or stall Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman's investigations. Instead, he faces up to his deeds, and come issue's end, is taken into custody.
What Will Wally Do?
Of course, Booster and company could have just traveled back further in time and prevented Wally from killing everyone in the first place, right? For that matter, Wally could have done the same himself. But with that logic, traveling back in time could pretty much prevent the introduced conflict of any storyline, so that wouldn't be the most terribly original story development.
And it wouldn't provide Wally any shot at redemption, as slim as it might already be. A time-wipe doesn't absolve Wally of guilt as a character. The tragedy still "happened," after all, and essentially only ignores the consequences of his acts.
No, the newest twist puts Wally in that sweet spot where redemption is possible. When he covered up his actions -- even temporarily, with altruistic intent -- he basically sabotaged any hope he had for eventual redemption. Had the storyline essentially erased his acts from continuity, his character would have been forever stained, with no means, or in-continuity reason, to ever redeem him.
But with his intentional mistakes avoided, and his inadvertent ones still in place, Wally can now start to atone for what he did, as best he can. Nothing he does will ever make the killings okay, but the tragedies can now serve as a cautionary tale for others. And that's exactly what he's already done; sharing his experiences makes the most compelling case yet for Sanctuary's continued existence. And, as the current issue shows, Sanctuary has been rebuilt, and there are plenty of heroes in need of its services.
It's also a far less egregious way to break the news of Sanctuary to the general public, certainly better than a confidentiality breach.
A Hero Reborn – One Day
While Booster, Harley, Beetle and Batgirl's intervention was the impetus for Wally's change of heart, a key element to Wally's eventual redemption is that the change came from within. His post-killing actions weren't simply retconned away, they were negated by him choosing to own up, rather than cover up. And admission is always the first step to atonement.
Wally has a long way to go, both emotionally and morally, before he can take his place as a superhero again. Super or not, though, he's still a hero, just a flawed one who needs some help and has some work to do. And it's not like he's the only hero who's ever killed someone. Superman, Wonder Woman and countless others have and their standing as heroes remains secure.
Heroes in Crisis is over, but there are still many heroes in crisis. Wally West is just one of them.