“The Return of Barry Allen,” The Flash #74-79
It’s hard to explain how crucially important this story was for me. I was actually just getting into reading comics regularly at the time, so it wasn’t about affection for Barry Allen or Wally West. It was how Mark Waid presented it. He had brought in Jay Garrick, the original Flash, Johnny Quick, and introduced Max Mercury, the “Zen Master of Speed,” three mentor figures who seemed to fill the void Barry had left, and yet Wally still rejoiced at the thought of Barry’s return…only to discover it was Eobard Thawne all along. There were certainly fans who longed for Barry’s return, which they couldn’t know at the time was some fifteen years in the future. And yet this was very much a Wally West story, that not only helped define him but Waid’s run on the title and really, his whole career (I don’t think he’s ever come close to his Flash material, except for Kingdom Come, and naturally Impulse).
But it wasn’t just Wally in this story, but Jay Garrick, and Johnny Quick, and Max Mercury. It made the Flash’s world feel real. He didn’t just have associates, or sidekicks, or allies, or teammates, or family, but people who completely understood him, who knew exactly what his powers meant to him. Each of them gave him guidance of one form or another, but it was really the mere fact of their existence that gave him credibility. A lot of fans think James Robinson invented that in the pages of Starman, but Waid made it feel organic. Jack Knight in a lot of ways became completely defined by the legacy behind him, but Wally became enriched. And “Return of Barry Allen” is the best way to experience it.