William Messner-Loebs' Flash (Part 2)

A column article, The Full Run by: Maxwell Yezpitelok

You know the drill by now, so let's get to it. Previously on Flash: 21-year-old Wally West became The Flash after the previous guy, Barry Allen, died saving the universe. Life hasn't been easy for young Wally, who's been plagued by money problems, relationship problems, and turning-into-a-spiky-monster-because-your-powers-malfunctioned problems. During his last adventure he met a cute TV reporter called Linda Park, and… nothing happened. Not for a good while, anyway.

As with last time, we'll be running exclusive commentary from Flash writer William Messner-Loebs in some of his issues. His comments will be in bold type.

Flash #36 (March 1990) – "Running on the Edge"

(William Messner-Loebs / Greg LaRocque / Larry Mahlstedt)
That cute reporter Linda Park hosts a daytime talk show, only instead of interviewing battered women her guest is a lady who says she can channel the spirit of an ancient wizard from Atlantis. When the TV studio is attacked by terrorists, the woman uses her mystical powers to defeat them. Impressed, Wally decides to join the magic lady's cult.

Flash #37 (April 1990) – "Channels of Love and Fear"

(William Messner-Loebs / Greg LaRocque / Larry Mahlstedt)
Wally seems pretty happy after joining the cult, but Linda is convinced that the whole thing is a scam. The lady who runs the operation proves that her magic powers are real by summoning the ghost of Wally's dad, who immediately asks to borrow five bucks. Meanwhile, Wally's neighbor Mason porks Joan Garrick (the "widow" of the original Flash). Nice.

Flash #38 (May 1990) – "Running on the Edge"

(William Messner-Loebs / Greg LaRocque / José Marzan Jr.)
In this issue we find out that the cult really is a scam. Wally's father is in on it, having faked his heroic death a while ago and pretending to be a ghost (so typical of dads). Linda's trying to convince Wally that there's no such thing as ghosts, but her argument is undermind when she herself is possessed by the spirit of an ancient Scotsman wizard called Seamus O'Relkig.

Flash #39 (June 1990) – "The End of Everything"

(William Messner-Loebs / Greg LaRocque / José Marzan Jr.)
Wally defeats the evil cult (who are also terrorists) with the help of Seamus O'Relkig, his repentant dad, and the little Chinese kid from Flash Annual #1. Everything goes back to normal. Oh, except Linda, who will apparently have to learn to co-exist with the powerful Scottish mystic who occasionally takes over her body. The end.

Let's see what Mr. Loebs has to say about this unusual storyline:

There was a lot of chat about cults at the time. Someone once said, “A cult is a religion you don’t approve of.” I remember vaguely being unhappy with this storyline. Having a guy as self-confident as Wally join a cult would indicate shaky emotional underpinnings, that couldn’t be explored in depth in a mainstream superhero. Or the series wouldn’t be about anything else. Maybe I just wasn’t the guy to write it.

Flash #40 (July 1990) – "Philosopher's Stone"

(William Messner-Loebs / Greg LaRocque / José Marzan Jr.)
Wally and Linda seek the help of Dr. Alchemy (a reformed Barry Allen villain with mystical powers) to figure out how to get rid of Seamus O'Relkig -- but they happen to visit him on the same day that his evil psychic twin tries to usurp his identity! Don't you hate it when that happens? More significantly, Seamus tells Wally that Linda has the hots for him.

Flash #41 (August 1990) – "Elemental Conflict"

(William Messner-Loebs / Greg LaRocque / José Marzan Jr.)
Dr. Alchemy's evil twin starts transforming people into chemical elements with his Philosopher's Stone. Wally fights him with the help of the good Dr. Alchemy. Eventually we find out that the "evil twin" was merely a manifestation of Alchemy's bad side, created by his magic stone when the guy reformed (it felt lonely in that drawer, I guess).

Flash #42 (September 1990) – "Mechanical Difficulty"

(William Messner-Loebs / Greg LaRocque / José Marzan Jr.)
Hot scientist lady (and Wally's ex) Tina McGee thinks that everyone in her laboratory has been possessed, because they're acting way too nice. Wally and Linda/Seamus stop by the lab to calm her down, eventually discovering that the entire building has been taken over by Wally's cybernetic enemy, the Kilg%re (pronounced "Josephine").

Flash #43 (October 1990) – "The Trouble with Kilg%re!"

(William Messner-Loebs / Greg LaRocque / José Marzan Jr.)
Wally and his new BFF Seamus O'Relkig team up destroy the Kilg%re in an epic battle -- but then Wally realizes something: "O'Relkig" is actually an anagram for "Kilg%re"! So it turns out that Linda had a computer virus in her brain this whole time. Now that he's caught, Kilg%re releases Linda from his control and goes away, but not before giving Wally a mysterious "gift".

That was a very sneaky plotline by Mr. Loebs -- he had us rooting for that Seamus guy for a while there. Here's what he has to say for himself:

I went back to put my own take on Kilg%re. I think every writer should have the fun of following [Kilg%re's creator] Mike Baron in a series. There are so many great concepts to play with. Coming up with something original is so hard and yet Mike could do it five times before breakfast. I had only to reach out and take what was already there.

I was tech mad at the time. I was finally writing with a full computer and it made formatting scripts so much easier. Remember all those Star Trek scripts that revolved around planet destroying ultra-computers? Those storylines seemed to fade away once the scriptwriters were working on computers every day. And nano-bots were the talk of the tech-zines. Little did I know how useful they would be for unraveling plot knots.

Flash #44 (November 1990) – "Balance Sheet"

(William Messner-Loebs / Greg LaRocque / José Marzan Jr.)
Nothing much happens in this issue. Wally tells his therapist about his week: he saved a guy who was stabbed in the neck, visited his accountant, teamed up with the Pied Piper to fight with some superpowered junkies… y'know, the usual. Wally's absent-minded therapist is a great character: one minute he's talking about bleaching his teeth or getting new trousers and the next he's making a major breakthrough. We asked Mr. Loebs to tell us a little more about him:

That therapist was loosely based on my social psych prof in college. We were discussing UFOs and he said he wouldn't believe in them even if he saw one; he'd rather believe his mind rather than his eyes. I go back and forth about him. I briefly helped teach the course. We clashed all the time, even though I quoted him to other people. There are some people who are never really settled truth in your mind.

Flash #45 (December 1990) – "Dog Days"

(William Messner-Loebs / Greg LaRocque / José Marzan Jr.)
You know what this comic needs more of? Psychic gorillas. Animals all over Keystone City are going crazy, killing people and generally acting like jerks. The cops ask Wally for help, because clearly they're way out of their depth with all these killer giraffes hamsters and such. They are all being controlled by a talking gorilla with psychic powers called Grodd.

Flash #46 (January 1991) – "The Day of the Beast"

(William Messner-Loebs / Greg LaRocque / José Marzan Jr.)
An animal-powered superhero (who is also a part-time supermodel) called Vixen shows up to help Wally with the animal apocalypse. Also, Rex the Wonder Dog, a German Shepard with the power of being smart (and having a human sidekick). Unfortunately Gorilla Grodd takes control over Vixen and she kicks everyone's ass.

Flash #47 (February 1991) – "Old Dogs New Teeth"

(William Messner-Loebs / Greg LaRocque / José Marzan Jr.)
Gorilla Grodd upgrades the intelligence of every animal in Keystone City so that they will take over the city, but the plan backfires once the animals get smart enough to realize Grodd is an asshole. Rex the Wonder Dog leads an animal revolt against Grodd, finally freeing the Keystone from his control. The Flash also appears in this comic. Mr. Loebs says:

Here again Brian [Augustyn, DC editor] asked me to secure Gorilla Grodd for our side and I was happy to do so. Villains are hard for me to make up from scratch, as are plots. Any suggestions Brian had were very welcome.

Flash #48 (March 1991) – "Persistence of Vision"

(William Messner-Loebs / Greg LaRocque / José Marzan Jr.)
Remember Wally's mom? Turns out we haven't seen her lately because she's actually been kidnapped, and Wally didn't even notice (or perhaps pretended not to). Wally searches his mom with the help of Chunk and Elongated Man, finding out that she's been slipping away to Paris to be with her new French secret agent boyfriend (but he hasn't seen her in a while either).

Flash #49 (April 1991) – "Savage Time"

(William Messner-Loebs / Greg LaRocque / José Marzan Jr.)
Remember in issue 14 when Vandal Savage is injected with a super-speed drug? No? Well, he's been aging rapidly since then, so now he's super old. He's also super-pissed, which is why he has kidnapped Wally's mom and everyone else he knows (including his accountant). Vandal says he'll let them go if Wally allows himself to be shot. He does, and then Wally dies.

Flash #50 (May 1991) – "The Fastest Man -- Alive!"

(William Messner-Loebs / Greg LaRocque / José Marzan Jr.)
Vandal dumps Wally's corpse in the middle of the desert and goes off to conquer the world or whatever. But then Wally's body starts being rebuilt by nanobites -- remember the "gift" Kilg%re left him in #43? It was a thing that rebuilds your body in case you die. Wally gets himself a shiny new costume and kicks Vandal's ass in an epic fight.

Each time you approach a watershed issue like the 50th it’s expected you’ll do something special. And what’s more special than killing your hero stone dead? There was a problem, however. I had not the slightest clue how to bring him back. I was a week into writing the second issue before the nano-bot solution suggested itself to very relieved comic book writer.


The fight with Vandal Savage that ends this batch of issues kicks all sorts of ass -- first of all, it's visually spectacular. Greg LaRocque does a great job rendering little moments and capturing facial expressions, but he really gets a chance to shine with those big, dramatic moments (which we'll see more of once we reach Mark Waid's issues). Also, this storyline shows how much Wally has changed since Loebs and LaRocque took over the title: he's willing to make the ultimate sacrifice and let Vandal Savage shoot him in order to protect the friends he's made over these past 50 issues. The first time Wally fought Savage back in #2, it was just him and his then-girlfriend. Now there's Tina, Jerry, Chunk, Mason, Piper, Ralph, Linda, the accountant, the therapist, and the talking dog.

Mr. Loebs says he's not happy with the storyline where Wally joins a cult, but I think it was a great way to finally show and address the creeping insecurities that had plagued him in the past (bear in mind that just a few issues ago, "the ghost of Barry Allen" was calling him a failure). Wally is a more confident person at the end of that storyline, and it's no coincidence that in #50 he decided to abandon Barry Allen's old costume and get himself something more original -- he's finally beginning to step out of Barry's shadow.

There are more storylines and less done-in-one issues this time around, but a personal favorite is #44, "the one where nothing happens", and that's where the following moment comes from: Wally is having a typical conversation with his therapist ("Tell me, do my teeth look stained…"), when…

"Did you hear that?" asks Wally. "I try never to hear irrational things," replies the doctor. That's it for this week: next time we'll go over the last batch of issues from the Messner-Loebs/LaRocque run and a couple of early issues by Mark Waid!

Maxwell Yezpitelok is a writer from Chile. He likes doorknobs. Find him on Twitter (@mrmxy) or outside your house OMG

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