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Bill Messner-Loebs on Flash

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>> William Messner-Loebs Joins FLASH
>> William Messner Loebs Ends FLASH Run [Flash #61 lettercol]
>> Brian Augustyn on Loebs’ Run

William Messner Loebs joins Flash

from Amazing Heroes Preview Special

Big news for Flash fans. A whole new creative team will be tackling the book later this year. The new writer is Bill Loebs, of JOURNEY and JONNY QUEST fame, and the new artist will is Greg LaRocque, he of Legion of Super-Heroes lore. The book takes on a new editorial look as welt, as it now falls under the auspices of Barbara Randall.

As this is being written, Loebs has just been announced as writer as of issue #15. “I have spoken to a number of my friends who read The flash,” says Loebs, “and getting their impressions about the book. Quite often I find that it differs from what the writer intended, and I have found especially with JONNY QUEST that writing to the impressions that the readers have, has worked, and I will be using it here.” Loebs says he does not intend to do a lot of changing of Mike Baron’s tone, and will stay with the first person narrative which Baron has been using successfully on the book. He will also resolve as many dangling plot lines as possible, and use as many secondary characters as possible so that he gets a feel for them. He will also continue to look at the realities of life at 700 mph.

New Editor Barbara Randall sees Wally West as a person who wanders through life picking up people. Prior to Loebs taking over, Mike Baron will be finishing up his last storyline on the book. Issue #11, which ended the Chunk storyline, also introduced a new group of villains called the Velocijunkies. Editor Barbara Randall describes them as yuppie-types who are hooked on a new drug called Velocity-9, which endows its user with super speed, but with the side effect of causing rapid deterioration to the body. Behind this plot, readers will discover, is a familiar face who bears a large grudge against the Flash. Also, in issue #12, the Red Trinity group will adopt a new nom-de-crime, and will now be known as the Couriers. In addition, issue#14, Baron’s last, will introduce one of Wally West’s neighbors as a gangster, and Wally’s personal life will undergo some profound, and rather “unprofitable” changes which will leave Bill Loebs plenty to work with the following issue. The art team for #12-14 is Michael Collins and Larry Mahlstedt.

Bill Messner-Loebs Leaves Flash
from Flash #61 lettercol

So, it comes to this. Forty-six issues of FLASH, almost four years of my life, and I’m sitting here in front of my monitor screen, knocking out a farewell to the readership. I think I mentioned in the first text page I wrote (to the second FLASH ANNUAL) that I was reading comics when the first Barry Allen FLASH was published, and that being writer on FLASH, the same book, was a source of pleasant dislocation to me. Well, that emotion is nothing compared to saying goodbye to it.

(Incidentally, I’ve always suspected that these little writer-to-readers chats are much more compelling to us writers than they are to the readers by a WIDE margin. Well, so be it. You folks out there are the most patient readership in comics (you even loyally stuck around as I turned FLASH into a porcupine and then had him disappear from his own book) and I’m sure you will politely hear me out, or at least quietly tiptoe to the door on your way to the fight scene.

My tenure on this book, so they tell me, is the third longest in FLASH history, behind only John Broome and Cary Bates. If so, I think it says more about the transitory nature of comics than any permanence of mine. Where else can you stay on the job for four years and edge into the record books? Or perhaps the culture itself is becoming more ephemeral. In these last four years, I’ve gone from writing on typewriter, to word processor, to personal computer, to another PC, and finally to yet a third. My tenure on FLASH has outlasted a president, oomfy-dillion TV series and Communism, Yes, Karl Marx and Twin Peaks are gone, but Greg and I are still here.

Greg LaRocque. Let us not forget in this orgy of self-congratulations that Greg LaRocque started when I did and will be here long after I am gone. That, it seems to me, is an even more noteworthy accomplishment than mine, given the attention span of most comic book artists. Greg LaRocque. Master of the weighted line and maker of magic. Producer of some of the most luscious women in comics. Partner. Friend. We have been in this thing, together, fromthe beginning, and since I do FLASH plot-first (giving Greg a paragraph or so to describe the action on the page and then adding the dialogue directly over his pencils), it is his pacing and sense of action that fill the book. If you are grateful that every issue of FLASH doesn’t consist of Wally. Chunk and the Piper sitting on the curb swapping one-liners, you have only Greg to thank.

And editors. Lemme tell you about EDITORS. People ask, “How can you tell a good editor from a bad editor?” “What do editors do, anyway?” Unfortunately, many of these people ARE editors, but these are valid questions nonetheless.

An editor is the interface between the creative team, upper management and the money guys. Very often, the editor is the originator of a book (or the originator of a new vision for a book), for which he or she then finds a creative team. And talks the company into freeing up enough money to produce and publicize the thing. AND finds a way to tilt the book’s new vision into the company’s overall editorial scheme for that year.

Barbara Kesel (at that time Barbara Randall) was my editor for the first year of FLASH. She gave me remarkable freedom in writing such an integral character for the DC Universe. I was able to establish my supporting cast, and to reshape Wally West somewhat for my own ends. I found Barbara invariably prepared, easy to talk to and supportive of my somewhat off-the-wall perspective. She was always willing to take the story in a new direction or have me introduce some new strangeness. When she left (to freelance, notably on HAWK & DOVE), I was depressed. I had lost my co-conspirator and my friend. Who could replace her?

Then came Brian. What can one say about Brian Augustyn that hasn’t been said better in the sealed records of House UnAmerican Activities Committee? What praise can one give him that hasn’t already been scrawled on a prison wall in the dank cells under the dread El Cameliente prison? By the time the second year had rolled around, Wally had been well enough established as his own man, that we could begin bringing back the Rogues Gallery. Brian is a bit more into the mainstream than I am, and he is more hands-on than the editors I had had before. This could have been a problem, but I found it oddly liberating.

Creating super-villains has never been my strong point. Brian would call up and say, “Hey, Bill. whadda ya think about doing Gorilla Grodd this month? We could do some rilly neat scenes of people being torn apart by giant apesl” Well, sure, I would reply, but I was hoping to talk about the moral and economic dislocation in the Reagan years. “Well,” says Brian. “Apes are economic. Maybe you can do a metaphor thing here.” People ask me how I was able to do stories about the homeless, or economic democracy or the Piper’s coming out; well, if you don’t have an editor willing to stand the gaff and take the heat from the occasional letter writer, you won’t accomplish anything. Barbara and Brian are those kind of editors. The best kind.

So, there I am, as happy as a clam in dip (and just HOW happy IS that, anyway? No one ever seems to ask) and churning out a story a month full of personal commitment, incisive social satire and just plain fun. WHY am I leaving? This may take a while to explain, but I think it’s important for me to try. Whenever someone leaves a book like FLASH, the assumption is that somehow he was pushed. WHY would anyone voluntarily give up work? Well, there are reasons. Everyone get comfortable. I’ll wait All set? Let me tell you a story.

Every freelancer, whether writer or artist, has two great fears. The first is that the check won’t clear. The second is that he or she won’t get enough work. Well, for a DC comics/Time Warner check to go bad, things would have to be so awful in this Republic that the last thing any of us would be worried about would be funny books. But the second fear remains valid. Comics are extremely volatile as a profession. Axiomatically, 90% of everything you are offered will fall through. Three years ago. I was offered and accepted five projects. They all fell through. Two years ago, I was offered and accepted six projects. All but one fell through. Last year I was offered and accepted four projects. They ALL happened. Every last one of them.

This meant I was writing almost FIVE books a month…plus incidentals. I told myself that something would happen…a book or two would be cancelled. I would be fired. SOMETHING. Instead, just like clockwork, every month I had five books to write. Then, my personal life entered a rough stretch. I started to wake up at three o’clock in the morning, drenched in sweat, with my mouth burning with stomach acid. I’m not a real smart guy, but I’m smarter than this. I began to look for a way out.

Secondarily, I had been offered WONDER WOMAN, a book I’d been interested in ever since George Pérez recast her in an image that excited people. I desperately wanted to write it, but it was impossible to write the books I was writing NOW, let alone another one. It was time to do some serious pruning.

Why pick FLASH to drop? Well, I still have stories to tell about Wally, but to be frank they wouldn’t have been substantially different from the stories I’d told before. I’ve always believed that a creator has to be like a shark: he moves forward or he dies. (Actually, he’s like a shark in that he’s often had to live on rotten tuna fish and exist on no sleep, but the other is more poetic). And I knew that if I left now, I would have someone to replace me-someone who has at least my commitment to the character, and maybe more. Mark Waid was available.

And who, you may ask, is Mark Waid? Well, he’s been an editor, the World’s Greatest Fan of the Back to the Future movies ever and an amateur magician par excellence. But for our purposes, he is well known as the best living encyclopedia of DC trivia. Yes, you heard right. Living encyclopedia. “Hey, Mark! What issue of JLA was the first appearance of Eclipso?” “109” “Hey, Mark! What was on the cover of JIMMY OLSEN #98?” “Superman marrying Jimmy to a girl gorilla.” “Hey, Markl What issue of SUPERBOY has Superboy flying back through time to preserve his secret identity, but inadvertently changing history, and having to then pretend to be an alien and make Lana look like an utter jerk?” “All of them.” Thank you, Mark.

Interestingly enough, Mark believes (and he should know) that he is the only person to have written stories featuring both Superman and Archie Andrews. Not together, of course. I knew, from having him as an editor, that he was enormously talented. Very often, the number of pages available for a story would be cut, and on the day of the deadline he would be forced to rewrite a twelve-page story into an eight-page one. When he would fax the result to me for final approval, I would never see the seams. In fact, the story would be stronger. All that remained was finding a way to turn this great power to good.

I have always believed in the need to write stories based in the real world, but stories that were based on hope. It is easy to write stories that say we are basically doomed and can only hope to live out our lives filled with misery, pain and anger, our only real joy the extermination of our enemies (one reason it is easy to write this is that there are many special interests out there who are more than happy to have us believe just that. It makes for easier sheep to shear. But that’s another sermon). The harder thing is to talk truthfully about the forces that act on someone who is trying to live decently in the last decade of the twentieth century. When you are also trying to talk about super-powers and other forms of science fantasy, the task is made that much harder. I am by no stretch my own favorite writer, but I give myself a good, solid ‘B’ for my run on FLASH. I certainly did my best, and I think the results were satisfactory. i hope and believe that Mark will be able to build on what I’ve done.

But beyond that, I hope he will be telling stories that have a personal dimension to them. If a writer is not writing personally, then he is not writing. He may be typing, he may be moving the ink around, but the only definition of writing that I know, that MEANS anything, is the transference of thoughts and feelings from one skull to another. Fiction is the closest we can come to understanding how another human being feels inside, and we should cherish that impulse. We certainly shouldn’t betray it by trying to telt our audience only what they want to hear. The reason I was willing to leave FLASH is that I knew what kind of a writer Mark would be and that FLASH would be in good hands.

So, let me check my list here. (1) I said thank you to my collaborators and editors; (2) explained why I was leaving; (3) threw in the shark metaphor; (4) made the customary welcoming speech about my successor; (5) added the usual strained witticisms, all while (6) trying to make myself look as noble as possible. Anything else? Oh, yeah. (7) Drag as many readers with you to your new books as you can.

So, then…what ARE you doing this month? I’ve got a couple of nice books I’d like you to meet. I’vealready mentioned WONDER WOMAN, edited by that nice Thorsland boy from down the hall in 3A. The conventional wisdom is that most of you out there are such wonked-out macho jerks that you’d rather dress in pink taffeta and pirouette through Swan Lake than read a comic book with a GIRL in it. This is nuts. I don’t think most of you are that shallow.

But even if you are…l’ll bet a lot of you watch Murphy Brown, or Reasonable Doubts, without first debating whether they are “girl TV shows.” I’d be willing to bet that you watch them because they’re edgy, they’re funny and serious, and because you never know what will happen next. Me too. And that’s why you’ll enjoy WONDER WOMAN. Because I’m going to do my best to shock you every month with something; to make you think; and to make you like Diana of Themyscira.

I’ll also be writing JAGUAR for IMPACT Comics. Another book with a female lead lwhat a talent for punishment the boy has!) IMPACT is a funny group of books. It’s a branch off the DC tree, created to lure people into the DC fold by giving them an interactive, complete universe in a handful of books. I don’t know if it will work, but I think it may and I’m giving it my best attention. The way the books are meant to fold into one another, the shared characters and common backgrounds may work or they may fizzle, but I think even the fizzles could be interesting.

Oh, yes. If you’re at all interested to see what I do when I write and draw my OWN book, pick up Wardrums at your local comic book store. It’s about a trapper and guide in Michigan, in 1812, and it’s real different.

Well, looks like I’m done. Thanks for supporting me all these years and letting me tell you a story. Now I think I’ll curl up with a good comic book, the one where Batman and Superman become tiny, exchange identities, and fight an invisible alien invasion while riding on the backs of dragonflies. I wonder what issue that was? Hey, Mark…

Introduction: Terminal Velocity

By Brian Augustyn
from the Flash: Terminal Velocity Trade Paperback

Momentum (mo-men-tem) n. 1. The impetus of a moving object. 2. In mechanics, the quantity of motion of a moving object, equal to the product of its mass and its velocity. 3. A moment.

If we can believe what we’re told, the “Terminal Velocity” story arc in FLASH made the comic an overnight sensation. It’s extraordinarily flattering that this perception should exist, but as with most ‘overnight’ successes, our comic has been on this track for many more nights and days than many realize. After all, the first glimmers of the “Terminal Velocity” story first appear in the title’s 91st issue – Mark Waid’s 30th as writer and my 64th as editor.

As is appropriate for a character whose modus operandi is speed and motion, I like to think of FLASH’s success as being a product of a carefully maintained momentum. We’ve been heading here for a long time, and, thankfully, people are starting to take notice.

When this book was first launched some nine years ago, the then creative team opted for a fairly radical approach: they decided to make Wally West, the hero, a thoroughly unlikable ego case with a rampant libido and the temerity to charge for his super-fast services.As a fan, I was not terribly pleased. When I arrived at DC and the dream-come-true job of editing the FLASH comic, I was determined to change that, but fast.

The problem was that, while I wasn’t nuts for the way Wally was being presented, it was a valid and fairly consistent treatment. I couldn’t just arbitrarily change things and make Wally a nice guy without blowing the book’s credibility right out the window. I realize that this sort of sudden, drastic change happens with distressing regularity in other comics, but the “deconstruct, dodge and deny” method has never worked for me.

In pursuit of an organic evolution of character, I realized that we had to find the key to why a previously nice guy like our young speedster had turned into such a chauvinistic s.o.b. in the first place. Explain why he was where he was and then go forward, growing him up into the hero we knew he should be – without disturbing the momentum.

It didn’t take a great deal of effort to realize what was the most obvious reason for Wally’s crudification. It was something that grew from everything we already knew about the character, in fact.

Wally West had recently suffered the tragic loss of Barry Allen, his best friend, mentor and father figure, and without a chance to mourn, thrust himself into a job he wasn’t near ready for. Feeling inadequate from the get-go and having those fears reinforced by unfavorable comparisons to his predecessor at every step would surely have a devastating effect on a young man.

If Wally was going to keep hearing that he was “no Barry Allen,” then damnit, he would stop striving upward and just be the jerk that everyone, including himself, already believed him to be. Once we knew that important character detail, running with it was a breeze.

It was new writer Bill Loebs’s innate inability to write a shallow character that first pushed Wally West onto the road to maturity and kept him going and growing. We’ve joked that Bill could write Satan and make him complex Humor aside, though, it’s absolutely true of Bill Loebs’s work that every character he writes, good guy or bad, is a fully realized, complex human being. Even demons from the pits of hell.

After forty-six successful issues, Bill decided he had taken Wally as far as he could and moved on to other challenges. Without a moment’s hesitation, I handed the baton to a relatively unknown writer named Mark Waid, who took over the race like a born sprinter. Mark and I had been friends since he was an editor at DC. and I knew we were already on the same track.


End of transmission. About this author:  Bill Walko is an author and artist and the man behind He's been reading and drawing comics since he was 5 years old and hasn't stopped since. Read more from this author