When I think of families in comic books, the word that comes to mind first is tragedy. I don’t turn to comics to get feel-good stories about relatives. That’s not to say they don’t exist or to say it’s the way it should be, but so many heroes have devastating backstories involving their parents’ death! It’s to the point that when I see familial scenes in big two comics, my hackles immediately go up. I’m prepared for a trick. So, at the beginning of Flash: Year One when Wally West started talking fondly of his aunt Iris, I was skeptical.
Iris is deceased when we begin our story. I started to worry the flashbacks we were inevitably headed towards would be about her horrible death and how it scarred and ruined Wally. Thankfully, Mark Waid and Greg LaRocque went in a different, heartwarming direction. Once I picked up the happy vibe, my wariness disappeared and I relaxed into Wally’s memory of becoming Kid Flash. I don’t know if I’ve ever read four comic book issues so quickly.
Flash: Year One captivated me. It’s not dark and gritty, it’s pure fun.
That isn’t to say it’s without a little familial ugliness. Wally called his mother and father “two people who had no business being parents.” Their relationship is strained, and his father doesn’t offer a warm greeting after Wally returns home after his summer with Iris and Barry. We do see some resolution towards the end, I don’t get the impression Wally and his father will ever be close.
Even if Wally is unhappy at home, at least he has Iris and Barry/Flash. I hope to be half the cool aunt Iris is one day. She’s more open and loving than either of Wally’s parents, and she lives in an exciting city where Wally’s idol Flash resides. It’s a no-brainer. And though Wally doesn’t get Barry’s appeal, he loves spending time around Flash. When you think about the events in ten-year-old Wally’s summer, it’s like a kid’s dream come true. He got away from his parents, got to stay with his beloved aunt, met his idol, and then got superpowers and became his idol’s sidekick. That’s called winning.
It was nothing short of delightful to watch Wally discover his powers by blazing across a field and around the city. Superheroes are allowed to enjoy their powers, and the joyful side isn’t portrayed often enough. Best of all, Flash encourages it.
And that’s not all the family goodness! Wally’s grandfather, Nobel prize winning Dr. Ira West, is a through line in the story. The reminiscing begins when an Wally finds a scrapbook at his grandpa’s house, Dr. West examines Wally while he’s Kid Flash, and the story ends with present day Wally cooking his grandpa dinner. Wally’s stroll down memory lane seemingly gives him the courage to tell his grandpa he’s been keeping his distance because his grandpa reminds him of Iris. Aww. The revelation leaves them closer.
Just one part of the story made me feel snarky: Wally transformed the same way as Barry? The coincidence is too remarkable. I go along with Dr. West’s theory about Barry subconsciously causing the right mixture of ingredients and lightning to nudge fate to give him a partner. Otherwise, why would he put chemicals on a cabinet that could fall over on a person? Central City surely has an equivalent of Ikea; Barry could have found plenty of shorter shelving solutions which would minimize the risk of another accident.
Yes, I know Barry believed lightning doesn’t strike twice, but wouldn’t you be extra cautious? If I had to store chemicals similar to the ones that transformed me, I would put them in a cabinet with locked doors. I would use low shelves. I wouldn’t put any of it near a window. Just because you never know.
But hey, without the miraculous repeat of the superhero-making event, we wouldn’t have Kid Flash. I can’t complain too much.