If the rumors are true that DC Comics are going to reintroduce Wally West as a young black man, I have some issues with that. No, not like that. I'm fine with one more positive minority role model. I'm more worried that DC won't pull it off.
For those not in the know, Wally West is the alter ego of the young hero who was known for years as Kid Flash, the sidekick of Barry Allen AKA The Flash, natch. Famously, in the classic "Crisis on Infinite Earths," Barry gave his life to stop a universe-destroying monster from wiping no less than five separate versions of Earth from existence. Wally, formerly of the Teen Titans, stepped up to fill the void and became the Flash himself, complete with a family and Justice League membership.
Then came Flash: Rebirth. Barry was brought back to life almost twenty years later, and then Flashpoint gave us The New 52. A complete continuity reboot, Barry was the one and only Flash, and Wally was nowhere to be seen. He's now set to make his return in The Flash Annual #3, and rumors persist that Wally will be coming back black.
Got all that? Good. Here's why I'm worried.
This is Permanent
Comics are known for being in a permanent Second Act. They give the illusion of change, but Spider-Man will always be Peter Parker, Batman will always be Bruce Wayne. Barry Allen was reinstated as the Flash, so this new Wally West will be going back to Kid Flash. But most major changes in mainstream comics do not stick. Babies are unborn, marriages are dissolved, entire worlds die screaming. But DC Comics needs to know that if they make Wally West black, he can't ever be white again. EVER. The modicum of hateful comments online responding to the initial change will only intensify if DC is seen as "whitewashing" a character in any way, even if he was originally a ginger.
DC Comics may not resist "whitewashing" him back. After all, there have been three Batmen, four Flashes, and six Green Lanterns. It always goes back to Bruce Wayne, Hal Jordan, and Barry Allen.
This Makes Him a Minority Legacy Character, and they tend to have a short lifespan
Traditionally in the DCU, when a new version of a character is introduced to continue a legacy, they eventually die, usually to bring the original version back. The new version has a good run, but most of the time, you expect a corpse.
There was the Latina Wildcat, a female Robin, the Asian Atom, the female Asian half of Firestorm; they all bit the dust. I think the black Aqualad may not exist anymore. Rumors persisted pretty heavy that John Stewart, the black Earth Green Lantern, was not long for this world after Geoff Johns' run.
Sure, this isn't always a given; Stewart lives, as does the Asian female Dr. Light or the teenaged latin Blue Beetle. John Henry changed from a Superman stand-in to his own hero, Steel. This is the tendency with minority superhero legacies; they either die, or become another version of the character. The difference is that Wally West was the first sidekick to really fulfill the promise of taking up the mantle. Barry died in "Crisis on Infinite Earths," and Wally took up the red and gold. Then in subsequent events, Barry came back, and Wally has been missing since Flashpoint. So Wally has been demoted back to a Kid Flash, who probably will never get called up again.
I said earlier that it would be wrong to change Wally's race and then potentially change it back later. I'm saying now that it wouldn't be right to change it from white to black in the first place. I don't have a problem with another minority character in super hero comics, but Wally wasn't created for a black audience. He's an existing white character being made black, the sidekick who's been most likely permanently demoted to Kid Flash. So this black version of the character will never become their own person, and always live in the shadow of the white "real" hero.
If a new DC speedster was being introduced with a wholly new origin, name, none of the historical baggage, and he happened to be black, it would only cause a minor dust-up with those who didn't like a Muslim batman. And they'd find some new outrage after a couple weeks. Remember the headlines when they made Alan Scott gay? Sure, they were all accompanied by photos of Ryan Reynolds. Remember the headlines when Scott Lobdell created Bunker, a gay superhero for Teen Titans? No, because they didn't happen.
DC Comics, if you want another black character, create a new one. Don't change a character that's existed for decades, give that audience something you created for them. That way we know he/she won't receive an unfortunate retcon or death. You can't slap a darker skinned coat of paint on something and pretend it's always been that way.
Of course, maybe Wally West will be the same Caucasian ginger he's always been and I'm talking out of my ass.