PART THREE · Mother Man
This time, issues 30-50.
Brian Augustyn was the new editor at this point, a fresh-faced old-school Flash fan who would moonlight as Mark Waid's writing partner down the line. From what I understand, he helped a lot with plots and steered the ship more than the usual editor would. It's probably why we shifted more into familiar territory: Wally West moved back to Keystone City, older villains were reintroduced with a twist (Turtle, Alchemy, Grodd), and the Rouges kept popping up.
Most of them were reformed of course; that was William Messner-Loebs making his cast well-rounded. He had done well with crossovers and wasn't above a cameo for a sales bump (this time it's the Joker in #33). He even tied in Batman: The Cult, a story that has otherwise vanished from canon.
Loebs was a team player. He wrote with kindness and imagination. You can tell he was pushing himself to try new things. (Issue #30 is a great example, as is the treatment of Rex the Wonder Dog in #47.) He injected topics like postpartum depression and cult behavior before they were part of the general discussion. He used reformed criminals and the homeless almost as recurring backdrops. He even utilized a few Mike Baron darlings such as Vandal Savage, Kilg%re, and Red Trinity.
This era of Flash has been described as the "Whiny Wally" era, but man, almost every letter writer complains about something. Everything from scientific corrections to conflicting pronunciations... and the clamoring for Barry Allen's resurrection is difficult to ignore, it's oppressive. Hats off to assistant Dan Thorsland for being patient with every single last one of them.
Quick note on the art: penciler Greg LaRocque hit his monthly mark, and the inker that was there from the Jackson Guice days, Larry Mahlstedt, left after #37. His style was slick but not overpowering, it gave LaRocque the sheen he needed. Jose Marzan Jr. took over from here on out and things got a little rougher, a little looser. Imagine going from Terry Austin to Frank McLaughlin.
Story-wise, some of the multi-parters could've been cut in half, but it's good to witness a creative team clicking. Also worth noting is that Wally's cast kept growing. It's nice at first but it sometimes feels a little aimless, as if Loebs wasn't confident with West as a lead. By looking at his own art style, I suspect that Loebs was a Will Eisner fan. That might've carried over in the writing, since the Spirit eventually became a background character in his own stories. I wish more was done with Chunk and his out-of-nowhere family (he almost had his own mini-series written by Scott Lobdell), but at least Pied Piper was fleshed out. I'm still not sold on Mason Trollbridge as an ad hoc mentor/old coot, but I really like Linda Park, even when she's, uh... inhabited by an Irish spirit (?) for a while. Though Loebs doesn't develop her relationship with Wally as much as future writers will, I'm glad he helped create her.
Great, now I sound like one of those letter writers.
Around this time, there was a Flash television show -- and the comic still wasn't a best seller at DC. (A company that, as a whole, underperformed Marvel by a mile. How's that for context?)
I never watched that TV show, but I was at least buying the Flash comics off the rack. I wasn't reading them much, though; this is possibly the earliest example of me buying something out of habit. I didn't have a straight run, but I had most of the issues pictured above. I remember flipping through them, liking the consistent art some but skimming the story, never getting hooked. If it was on the spinner rack, I nabbed it. If I missed an issue, the back issues were cheap. I wanted to like this comic.
I still do.