By Kevin M. Brettauer

“This boy’s fateful tragedy
You should remember well
The color of his skin was black
And his name was Emmett Till.
Some men, they dragged him to a barn.
And there they beat him up.
They said they had a reason
But disremember what.”
—Bob Dylan

In the aftermath of DC Comics’ latest continuity reshuffle, DC Universe Rebirth, we’re left with a startlingly altered DC landscape. Batman knows now that there have been three unique and different men who have called themselves The Joker. Wonder Woman has discovered that she’s a twin … and her sibling is not a sister, but a brother. The Justice Society and the Legion of Super-Heroes are on their way to a comeback. Dick Grayson has taken up the mantle of Nightwing again. Green Arrow and Black Canary have been reunited for the first time since the New 52 started. The pre-reboot Superman has taken over the role of his late New 52 counterpart. Perhaps most controversially, the DC Universe appears now to have been the creation of Watchmen’s Doctor Manhattan, a huge plot twist that shocked Watchmen co-creator Dave Gibbons, who was not consulted on the move. And finally, and perhaps most disarmingly, Barry Allen, known the world over as The Flash, has finally been reunited with his old sidekick, the former Kid Flash Wally West, well-known and loved by generations of fans as The Flash following Barry’s death in the mid-80s.

Wally’s stories as The Flash are considered classics. He was a key member of the Justice League under the pen of superstar writer Grant Morrison, and the years writers like Mark Waid and Geoff Johns spent pouring their hearts and souls into his heroic solo endeavors are as well-remembered as Chris Claremont’s original run on Uncanny X-Men or the Lee/Kirby years of Fantastic Four.

His visual iconography was as unique as Wally was. The costume changed. The man under the mask wasn’t blond, but redheaded, and his family was biracial. His relationship with his wife, Linda Park, and his friendships with characters like Nightwing, Donna Troy and Kyle Rayner, were the stuff of legend.

But wait one damn minute. I know exactly what you’re thinking. The current DC Universe already has a Wally West, a Wally reflected by his portrayal on the hit CW Flash TV show. Someone who isn’t exactly what Procul Harum would call “a whiter shade of pale.”

A black Wally West.

Could his introduction in the comics — and to an extent, the show — been a bit more culturally sensitive? Sure. New 52 Wally was introduced as a truant and graffiti artist. On the television series, Keiynan Lonsdale’s Wally was introduced as an illegal street racer with father issues. While the stereotypes implicit in the introductions of both New 52 and television Wally are impossible to ignore, both have grown beyond their initial depictions. Both have taken huge steps towards becoming not just heroes, but role models for children who grew up looking more like Barack Obama than George W. Bush. As New 52 Wally has begun to develop a strict moral code, along with superpowers, he is set to join the Teen Titans in the eponymous new series this fall. Television Wally’s emotional barriers have begun to fall, and he, too, has taken his first steps towards heroism even before a potential powers-granting experiment affected him and Jesse Quick in the lead-up to the recent season finale.

So what does the Rebirth of the original white Wally West mean?

For some, it’s a cause for celebration. The original Wally is one of the most beloved characters in the history of the medium. He remains as popular as Spider-Man (both Peter and Miles), Wolverine, Deadpool, Batman, Daredevil, Nightwing and any number of other great characters. His return might signal a return to form and a renewed respect for DC’s legacy, something many have thought lacking since the New 52 initiative began in 2011.

But what does it mean for his slightly younger cousin, the newer (and, let’s be frank here), blacker Wally?

Both protégés of Barry Allen. Both Flashes. Both heroes. Both distant cousins named after the same uncle Wallace. But the new Wally was just starting to discover his powers, just setting out on the path to become Kid Flash, when in swoops the white guy stealing his literal thunder.

In recent runs on The Flash, we have seen the future. We’ve seen what the newer Wally grows up to be: a hero as deserving of the mantle of The Flash as any hero before him. A man who went from troubled teen to burgeoning hero to Fastest Man Alive. But if characters like The Flash, The X-Men, Tim Drake and even Black Widow have proven, there is no such thing as a proven, permanent future in comics.

The issue here is that there are two Wallys. While I understand from a business, and even a creative decision, why the redheaded, lily-white original has returned, I can’t help but be concerned that this means that the newer Wally could be — sooner, rather than later — left by the wayside or even written out completely.

Comics are not real life, but they reflect the real world and form an important cultural foundation for millions of Americans. If a black character were removed from the pages of a major book, another young black man with a promising future who would never live to see it unfold, it would be a grim connection to the very real dangers faced by minorities every day.

But this time, there would be no room for obfuscation, no room for “he charged at me” or “he tried to take my gun.”

No, this time, it would be clearly premeditated. Calculated. Planned. Comic books aren’t something that just happen when you get into an argument with a store clerk and a cop walks by. No. They are thought out, planned out in advanced, written, drawn, inked, colored, lettered, printed, shipped.

I worry about the new Wally West, and I worry for his future.

And I wonder – what would Wally West 1.0 say if something were to happen to the younger Wally on his watch? What would the rest of the DCU say? Or would even social crusaders like Green Arrow ignore the situation, pretend not to notice? What would other minority heroes — Blue Beetle, Doctor Fate, Steel, the New Super-Man, Lark, Cyborg, most of Earth’s Green Lanterns — say? What would they think? What would they do? Would Jaime Reyes or Khalid Nassour ask if Barry Allen cares about black people?

Black lives matter. This is well-established, even if our modern society has a hard time swallowing it. I just hope it’s different over in the DC Universe. I hope there’s a bright future ahead for the whole Rebirth initiative.

I hope Wally West, the new Wally West, is going to be OK.