It Came From the Back Room #31

Standard recap: I’m slowly going through AABC’s one-million-plus back-issue room, restocking the boxes on the sales floor and pulling stuff to sell as discount/overstock/special items. I’m going through the alphabet backwards (don’t ask), and at my speed (especially with the school semester in full gear), this amounts to a two-year project.  This week, the focus continues to be on the letter “F,” and on discount comics featuring the Fastest Man Alive:

The Flash Volume One

Discounted issues from Volume One of the comic don’t come up a lot here — there are a few dozen lower-condition books below issue #300, and a few more than that from #300 up to the end of the title with issue #350. Many of those latter issues involve the “Trial of the Flash,” an over-two-year-long storyline wherein Barry has “killed” the evil Professor Zoom, and gets put on, yes, trial for murder in Central City. I was reading comics regularly when this story appeared, in the early ’80s, and even in those pre-Internet days it was widely derided, in letters pages, fanzines and the like, for its length and lack of logic (the mass-murderer from the future gets killed during a battle, and the guy who stops him from slaughtering more innocents gets indicted for it? Really?).  Looking back at the issues now, it’s a better read than it seemed at the time: writer Cary Bates keeps plots and subplots spinning deftly, uses the Flash Rogues Gallery well, and is clever about the ins and outs of the trial itself; meanwhile, old Flash hand Carmine Infantino, in the twilight of his career, is cutting some artistic corners but still providing very smooth, eye-pleasing visuals to the character whose adventures he’d then been drawing for over 25 years. Yes, it’s long (long enough that DC just released a Showcase paperback of just those issues), and the courtroom antics sometimes recall a particularly bad Law and Order episode (although “bad Law and Order episode” is probably redundant), but, in this modern era of decompressed storytelling and writing for the trade, it holds up well; maybe the Flash, ever an accomplished time-traveller, was just ahead of his time.

Flash Volume Two

Barry Allan walks into a future-era sunset with his true love at the end of the first Flash series, #350, cover-dated October 1985, but his retirement is, even for a speedster, remarkably short-lived; just a month later, in the November, 1985-dated Crisis on Infnite Earths #8, he meets his death at the hands of the Anti-Monitor. That doesn’t end the character’s publishing history, though, because less than two years later, in June 1987, Barry’s nephew (and former Teen Titan) Kid Flash, Wally West, puts on the costume, becoming the first DC sidekick to make a permanent transition to the major leagues.

Since AABC was around in full force in 1987, we have a lot of issues from this era available on the discount racks right now, and most of them are solid, above-average superhero tales. This volume of Flash had remarkably good luck with writers, and it’s easy to divide it into four chapters, based on four long scripting runs:

Mike Baron

Baron had made a name for himself as the creator of the ’80s alternative books Nexus and Badger, and worked at both DC and Marvel (where he had a distinguished stint on the Punisher) in the ’80s. His Wally West Flash marks a sharp change from the Barry Allen Silver-Age one; for one thing, he’s considerably slower, able to run maybe 700 miles an hour: fast, but nowhere near the lightspeed, molecule-vibrating ability of his Uncle Barry. Too, Baron’s more-realistic physics means that moving fast takes a physical toll: after a run, Wally has to eat like a horse to replenish his energy levels. In other changes, he’s a “known” hero, so there are no secret-identity shenanigans, and in the first issue he’s scrambling for money, going so far as to use his speed to take on a courier job for a hospital for pay. Baron makes all of this fascinating and fun reading, stirring in recurring villains like Vandal Savage and the machine intelligence Killg%re, and adding love interests, Russian speedsters, the massive teleportation mutant Chunk, and other new characters to the supporting cast. He starts out teamed with artist Jackson Guice, then adds a few issues with Mike Collins before bowing out with issue #14, having put this new version of the Flash on a firm footing.

William Messner-Loebs

Loebs had built a reputation as a solid storyteller with his early-American frontier series Journey, and takes over Wally’s adventures with issue #15, with art by Greg LaRoque; minus a few fill-ins, that team stays on the title through issue #59. That almost-four-year run features Messner-Loeb’s trademark human characters (even the bad guys are, typically, not completely bad, and the supporting cast is filled in and deepened so that they’re as fun to read about as Wally himself), as Wally loses his speed and gains it back, gets involved with cults, aliens and assorted mobsters and hangers-on, and encounters older Rogues Gallery adversaries like Captain Cold, the Turtle, Gorilla Grodd and others; probably the highlight here is issues 48-50, wherein Vandal Savage kidnaps all of Wally’s friends to force a final showdown, and kills him (!) only to see him bounce back and end up with both a newly-designed costume and the enhanced-speed powers that his Uncle Barry had always had. Messner-Loebs is especially good at satisfying, self-contained, one-issue stories: something of a lost art today.

Mark Waid

Waid is yet another writer who established his mainstream credentials on Wally and company: he comes on board with a “Year One” four-parter, drawn by LaRoque, in issues #62-65, and then settles in for a very long tenure, all the way through issue #159. Laroque continues through a nothing-is-as-it-seems “Return of Barry Allen” story in issues #75-79, after which Mike Wieringo, Waid’s future partner on a long and well-regarded Fantastic Four run, comes on board for a year, from issue #80 through the introduction of Impulse in #92. Next up are Carlos Pacheco and Salvador Larroca, who provide art for the six-part “Terminal Velocity” that ends in issue #100, and sees Waid setting up the Speed Force as a sort of universal super-speed conduit that’s been part of the Flash mythos ever since. After that, Oscar Jimenez provides art on most issues through #116; by #118, Waid is co-writing the book with Brian Augustyn, with Paul Ryan as the main artist through #129. Issue #130 sees a high point: a Grant Morrison/Mark Millar collaboration, still with Ryan art, that lasts through issue #138 — although Ron Wagner takes over the art chores for the last few issues of that period. Then, Millar solos on the book from issue #139-141, and the Waid/Augustyn team come back for the wedding of Wally and his longtime love, Linda Park, in issue #142. They stay on the book through issue #159 (with art mostly by Paul Pelletier), after which Waid finally bows out. Not to worry, though, because there’s one more new writer set to make his name with Wally and company:

Geoff Johns

While Baron and Messner-Loebs provided an ’80s Flash, and Waid stewarded him through the ’90s, Johns is most responsible for bringing him into the 21st century, starting with his debut in issue #164. He does this through strengthening various elements of the character: making Central City (and neighboring Keystone City) feel more like actual places, for example, by establishing them as tough, hard-working Midwestern cities like Pittsburgh, and by giving the Flash his own Arkham Asylum, in the form of Iron Heights, the grim prison (with its even grimmer warden), where most of the bad guys end up. He also updates the Rogues Gallery, adding new villains to it and creating new versions of old ones like the Trickster and, most importantly, Professor Zoom, who receives a brand-new origin and becomes the same kind of nemesis for Wally that previous versions had been for Barry Allen. The two artists who help the most with this project are Brian Bolland, who provides gorgeous covers from issue #164 through #187, and Scott Kolins, who begins work on the interior pages with #170 and stays all the way through issue #200; the only problem with this early Johns era is that the books have relatively-low print runs, and values high enough that very few of them are on the discount racks. Over issue #200, when Johns is still writing but other artists, like Alberto Dose and Howard Porter, are drawing Wally, is another matter: most of these issues are out at cover price up through Johns’s last one, #225.

Newer Issues

The recent publishing history of the Flash gets complicated, so try to follow this: Volume Two ends with issue #230 (March 2006), but then Volume Three, titled Flash: The Fastest Man Alive and featuring Bart Allen/Impulse in the costume (Wally having retired) runs for 13 issues from August 2006 through August 2007, after which Bart “dies” (cause of death being the Rogues, with low sales as an accomplice), and DC gets Mark Waid to come back on board for a revival of Volume Two with issue #231 (dated October 2007) and a return of Wally West, now with two kids who also have super-powers. This iteration lasts through issue #247 (February 2009), after which Johns gets Barry Allen re-established in the DC Universe with the mini-series Flash:Rebirth, from June 2009 through April 2010, and then a regular-series fourth Flash volume (the “Brightest Day” one) begins in June, 2010, with Johns back as scripter and Allen in the costume. That gets to #13, and kicks off the just-finished Flashpoint mini-series, ending the volume and paving the way for yet another new Flash #1, volume five, which will begin this month. Got all that? Good, because if you need to catch up on any of those issues, most are now out at cover price. In addition, the Flash original art pages that I talked about here, along with the key Silver Age Flash books that we still have in stock, will be in the display case back at the west end of the store for another week or so; check them out, if you haven’t already.

About Phil

With 40 years of experience in comic reading, collecting and reviewing, English Professor Phil Mateer has an encyclopedic mind for comics. Feel free to ask Phil about storylines, characters, artists or for that matter, any comic book trivia. He will post your questions and answers on the AABC blog. His knowledge is unparalleled! He is also our warehouse manager, so if you are looking for that hard to find comic book, ask Phil!
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