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Baron and Messner-Loebs’ Flash

PART FOUR · Pay To Play

Issues 51-61 plus a one-shot. That's what's left.

Wally West was hustling to stay seen in 1991. He was already a staple in Justice League Europe (issues 9-12 of that title were written by Loebs) and he raced Superman who returned the favor by guest appearing in Flash #53.

With the TV show under his belt, his profile was modest but steady. Having that consistent creative team certainly helped keep things together. I like LaRocque. I can't pinpoint his style or what even inspired him. It might have been influenced by Byrne? Maybe Zeck? It's superhero comic book style. Kinda like M.D. Bright or Alex Saviuk. An inker can spice it up or ruin it, but the foundation is there.

Shades of Breyfogle, though. Big plus.

I felt a little sad coming to the end of this stack of comics. I knew the experience would be over soon, so I tried to really take it in even though the stories themselves felt like they were in a hurry. As if there were larger forces trying to get them out of the way. Wally became an I.R.S. agent which is a good solution for some in-story knots that had been building up, but X-Force #1, Weapon X, and McFarlane's Spider-Man were dominating the stands. What chance did Tax Collector Wally have?

The Superman issue was fun and it featured the coming out of Pied Piper. A great one-and-done story. Loebs was writing those more and more this last year. One of the best issues on this entire series is the standalone "Nobody Dies" in #54. Having never read it, I was genuinely gripped despite knowing the classic resolution of the average superhero comic.

The series marched on with a tie-in that felt a little forced and thus uninspired, a murder mystery, the quasi-return of an old villain, and another nod to the homeless. Rod Whigham drew the last two Loebs issues to give LaRocque adequate time to catch up on the upcoming bi-monthly schedule. I like this scene from #60.

Superhero comic book writers are always proud of themselves whenever they write a story without anyone throwing a punch. First of all, that's bait & switch. But really: big deal. Loebs pulled this off several times with style and grace without requiring a medal. (I'm guessing he was influenced a little by the Hernandez Bros.  -- hey, someone on the team was a fan.) His last issue, in what could've been a typically boring wedding issue, is a testament to his skill, and he beautifully, seamlessly wrapped up several dangling plot lines.

He made me like Wally's mom! Even Mason Trollbridge ended up being a pleasant fixture in the series. I really wish LaRocque was on board for this issue, as it really covers everything the Flash crew built over the years. Even Wally himself ends on a hopeful, romantic note. (One that turns into something substantial.) Loebs wrote a funny and touching editorial to boot. It was a strong goodbye. He left the book in good condition for the guy stepping up to the plate, Mark Waid. The baton had been passed.

LaRocque stayed on Flash for a little over a year during Waid's starting point. He worked with Loebs again on Justice League America Annual #7 in 1993 and drew a Flash cameo in the splash for Justice League Task Force #16:

It wouldn't be until 2011 when the duo reunited for a DC Retroactive: Flash issue. LaRocque inked himself on that one, which is a great rarity. The only other time was for the awesome cover to #35. The Retroactive issue is a solid, clever story that introduces "villain" Alexis Cooper and B.A. Richardson; neither were utilized again.

This one-shot also reprints "a classic tale from the 80s" a.k.a. issue #18, "The Adventures of Speed McGee Part 3". A good story but an odd choice. Odder still is that not a single one of the other issues have ever been collected or reprinted. Definitely not the Mike Baron stuff, that blip is completely ignored. (His issue #2 was included in 1991's Greatest Flash Stories Ever Told, but it felt more like a courtesy than a celebration.) DC wants us to believe that Flash started with Waid. Fair enough, he treated the Flash mythos with respect and adoration, orchestrating the glossy superhero glory that fans wanted from the beginning. That the Loebs work remains uncollected is too bad. Maybe there isn't an audience for that material... but who takes that temperature?

Loebs dipped into the Flash world again with satellite title Impulse, a title I haven't read so I don't know if he revisited anyone from the old gang. He went on to write a long run on Wonder Woman (a fourth of it collected in the mid-90s and recently repackaged as a Mike Deodato collection), a brief stint on Thor (a rare Marvel gig), and the first 24 issues of The Maxx (of which I'm unsure how involved he was in creating characters instead of solely making sense of Sam Kieth story ideas).

Loebs steadily worked in comics for about two decades, but that changed around 2000. It was definitely weird reading all those Flash comics that talked about homelessness knowing that Loebs would be in that world in a very real way several times.

These names that we saw in credit boxes as we grew up are immortal, so knowing the people behind those names are hurt or in need is surreal. Around the time Loebs made his case public, John Ostrander had his own health issues/medical bills to deal with. The late Norm Breyfogle ran into similar problems. These stories aren't necessarily cautionary tales of the cycle of industry, but sobering reminders that things can just turn on you, and that life is a string of setting up safeguards to deal with such events.

I wish Loebs the best and hope things turn around sooner than later.

Here is his GoFundMe page.

William Messner-Loebs jumped on a corporate comics train and rode it for a good long while. He told great stories while he was on it, tried to expand his readership's minds and tolerance, and entertained them while doing so.

It was honest work. It is good comics.

Do like me and marathon the entire series or sample the few favorites I've listed below. Like I said, these have never been reprinted, so either raid the bins or get them digitally.

Flash Volume 2 · Recommended Reading List

· 5 & 6 - To get a taste of the Baron/Guice chemistry, look no further.
· 20 - A tense issue, as the anxiety creeps up on you. A mild nightmare.
· 24 - 28 - Ambitious 5-parter with great art. Several story elements juggled.
· 30 - Clever deconstruction of speed tucked within a larger narrative.
· 44 - This one has it all: tweakers, talking cats, and a sliced throat.
· 54 - Excellent heroic adventure comic. Should be included in Best Of's.

This article originally appeared on Michel Fiffe's Patreon page.