THE FLASH ANNUAL #1 Writer: Joshua Williamson Penciler: Howard Porter Colorist: Hi-Fi Letterer: Steve Wands Release Date: 2/1/18
The Flash Annual this year doubles as a prelude to Flash War, a highly-publicized event which is coming in May and will supposedly see Barry Allen and Wally West duke it out for the title of the true Flash. So naturally, the issue begins with a tour of the Flash museum – or what’s left of it – in the 25th century as the cops of that time give a rundown of the entire Flash family while investigating Thawne’s murder. But for now we return to the present day of Central City – or rather the recent past, since the Flash War prelude takes place before The Flash #39 – where both Wally Wests are saving people from the Top. Though he’s just as corny a villain as ever, Williamson gets a lot of mileage out of his abilities and justifies needing three speedsters to take him down. After the battle, an energetic and younger-looking Iris West (thank you, Mr. Duce!) is excited to interview Central City’s latest speedster, but Wally is understandably embarrassed and rushes off.
Let me just break here to talk about what an excellent job Christian Duce and Howard Porter do on this issue. Porter sets the 25th century apart, with visuals as stunning as they were in The Flash #25 and wonderful Easter eggs out the wazoo. On the flip side, Duce brings the present day to life and makes the battles pop and the main characters shine. And, of course, Hi-Fi’s colors are as vibrant as ever. Did I mention how much better Iris looks this issue? Because it gives me great joy.
The first few pages of The Flash Annual are chock-full of great moments between Barry and his two protégé, not to mention all the fun Flash family hints dropped at the museum in the opening scene. We’ve got references to Bart and the Tornado Twins, just as both the cops of the 25th century and The Top in 2018 notice the shifting and intermingling of timelines. Could Flash War be one way that we’ll start to restore the pre-New 52 continuity, at least for the Wests and the Allens? Nevertheless, a sweet outing to a taco truck soon turns sour when the younger Wally accidentally spills the beans that Iris killed Thawne (I vote we call this accidental manslaughter, because who actually expected Thawne to die?) after a bout of kidnapping and torment. Older Wally is in a rage at the thought of Barry not being able to protect his aunt, but Barry turns it around on him and reminds him that he hasn’t tried to rebuild his life since striking out with Linda. And bless Williamson for bringing her up, as I was beginning to think the Titans writers had forgotten about her. She’s not the only classic character incorporated into The Flash Annual, though, and soon Wally is off in search of his old girlfriend Francis Kane. But once again, what starts off a heartfelt reunion is turned on its head when Frankie remembers everything and experiences a Magenta-level rage. While the main things I remember from their relationship are how quickly he ditched her and her own struggles with controlling her Magenta persona, it seems those things slipped Wally’s mind – or were never in it because of whatever has been messing with both the timeline and his memories.
The fight that ensues between Wally and Magenta is as emotional as it is entertaining, because it’s a battle for Frankie’s soul and not just for Wally’s life. I liked that Williamson took the time to explore how selfish it was of Wally to spring a whole forgotten lifetime on her, and yet how necessary in order to feel like a complete person. And a happy-ish ending on that front gives him the courage to come clean with Iris, as well, though we won’t see the effects of that until The Flash #40. Wally ends the issue acknowledging that Barry was right and he needs to move forward – he even gets himself an apartment courtesy of Dick and Batman’s credit card. But the 25th century time police have discovered Iris West is responsible for Thawne’s death, and they’re not about to let it slide, which seems like a potential segue into Flash War in a few months. And while I won’t spoil the surprise, yet another character from Wally’s run makes an appearance – and he’s sure to give him and Barry a run for their money.
Whatever happens, the Flash War prelude proves that Williamson understands the importance of the Flash family and knows how to write Wally West, so hopefully we’ll see more of him in future issues. His interaction with the younger Wally are endearing and could be a lot of fun, and of course a rebuilt relationship between him and Iris is long overdue. Overall, The Flash Annual provided some really solid character work for Wally – perhaps the most insightful look into his psyche since Titans‘ first arc back in 2016. Family dynamics and character development are always going to attract me more than plot twists and shock value, so I hope Flash War will have plenty more of the former than the latter.
Verdict: 4 out 5 stars. A nuanced look at Wally West and the repercussions of rejoining a life that’s left you behind, The Flash Annual #1 promises an epic and cathartic story for the members of the Flash family in the near future.