I read the recent Flash collection, Savage Velocity, and one thing really jumped out at me: there is a DRAMATIC shift in tone once William Messner-Loebs comes on as writer. The book collects issues 1-18 and Annual 1, published immediately post-crisis. Mike Baron writes most of them, joined largely by Jackson Guice. And they add a lot of things to the mythos: Kilg%re, Chunk, Wally's gotta-eat metabolism, Velocity-9, Red and Blue Trinity, Tina and Jerry McGee. The "death touch." He brings Wally's mom back, and makes his dad a Manhunter sleeper agent. And they establish Vandal Savage as a Wally villain.

But at the same time, Wally is a louse -- mercenary and materialistic, and immature in lots of ways. And no one else in the series comes off much better.  Wally sleeps with Tina, and starts a relationship with her, right on the heels of her separation from Jerry. (I put that on Tina more than Wally, but at least she ended things with Jerry beforehand.) But regardless, Wally's still a bit of a horndog. And he's 20, so it's not like it's an unrealistic way for him to be.

But then William Messner-Loebs & Greg LaRocque take over, and everything immediately gets better. Everyone's still the same characters, in the same situation -- they don't upend the plot in the least, and spend four more issues bringing it to a conclusion... but suddenly, the writing and art become much more humane. 

Art-wise, I put this down to LaRocque's greater skill. Guice is good, but he's nowhere near as good as he'll become in later years. LaRocque has a better facility with human expressions and emotions than Guice (or his later fill-in, Mike Collins) does. Guice might have also hamstrung himself: I've read that he was trying to makes superspeed look different from the model Carmine Infantino set down for Barry; sometimes he succeeds, sometimes he doesn't.

LaRocque doesn't bother with reinventing a visual vocabulary that already works; he just uses it to great effect. And as LaRoque's skill grows throughout the series, he becomes perhaps my favorite Flash artist.

And from page 1, William-Messner Loebs establishes a fact of his run on the book: Everyone matters. The first page is the story of Lila Karlin, a Velocity 9 junkie taking her final suicidal run at high-speed. She dies in a single page, but we're given more insight into her life than were were in the previous chapters that have had V-9 junkies working for Vandal Savage. Suddenly they storytelling seems to care about the people in the story.

And yet they're the same people. Wally's still dating Tina, and still materialistic. Mrs. West is still irritating to Wally and Tina... but for the first time, we get a chance to see inside her head, and discover what's motivating her. Chunk drops by with a little financial help. Wally and Tina break up. A family starts to grow, among the strangers in Wally's apartment building. And the Wally West we love starts to come into focus.

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I pre-ordered this one because it was solicited as a hardcover, but gave it a pass when it ended up being a tpb. I can't tell you how many times I picked it up and flipped through it before it was moved from the "recent releases" rack to the regular shelves, though. I remember these stories very well, although it has been many years since I have read them. Your first paragraph reminds me of all the reasons I want to re-read these stories, and your second paragraph reminds me of why I don't. I was about the same age as Wally when these stories came out (a little older), and whereas I certainly identified with him, I didn't necessarily admire him. I would still like to re-read these stories someday, but I'm holding out for an omnibus. 

When there are cons again, you'll surely be able to pick this up for $5 or $10. I was really disappointed this wasn't a hardcover too, but I wouldn't hold my breath for an omnibus. I really hope they collect more of the Messner-Loebs LaRocque run, though. As much as I love Waid's run. WML/GL did such a great job showing Wally growing and learning. Reading the transition between Baron and Messner-Loebs in this book is a great argument for why new writers shouldn't just reboot when they come on board; Baron took Wally to places WML wouldn't have, and gave him an excellent starting point to explore and give depth and perspective to. I'm not a big fan of Baron's run, in retrospect, but it's essential to Wally's story nonetheless.

Yeah, despite my having been a huge fan of Baron's Nexus and Badger, I wasn't a big fan of his Flash, either. I think one of the problems early on was that Barry Allan was still considered to be THE Flash (by fans, the characters, and the creators themselves) and Wally West was simply A Flash. I remember during the Millenium series, one of the super-heroes says, "I wish the Flash was here," to which Wally responds, "I'm right here," and another character says, "He means the real Flash, Wally." 

Speaking of holding one's breath, I held mine for a long time waiting for DC to release a John Byrne Superman omnibus. One was finally solicited for July 2020 release, but it was one of the casualties of COVID and DC reorg. Regard a Flash omni, DC is currently in the process of re-releasing the Geoff Johns ones, so I'm hoping after that. Still, they're pretty lax about the immediate post-Crisis era. There have been multiple volumes of JLI and Wonder Woman, but little else. Ever since the reorg, there have been fewer and fewr collections solicited that I have been interested in. I've drifted off-topic, so I'll stop now. 

When the Wally West Flash series debuted, I was struck by its change of tone from his appearances in New Titans and Crisis. From someone determined to uphold the legacy of the Flash, Wally suddenly acted like he wanted to get away from that image. It seemed to me that Wally no longer had Barry Allen to rein him in and was now free to be the "real" him. And the "real" him was someone the total opposite of what we knew. 

Yes, they wanted a "different" Flash but they gave us an unlikeable one!

I'd say with Wally West reprints, the priority is Johns, then Waid, then Baron/Messner-Loebs. 

The one thing about Baron's run... there are moments when it seems like he and Guice are still figuring out how to pace a mainstream comic, frame panels, and how to provide an effective cliffhanger. There are moments when Flash reads almost like Flaming Carrot --not as silly, but almost a loose hodgepodge of ideas that haven't quite congealed yet. 

If I have a chance, I'll upload a couple panels later that illustrate what I mean.

Jeff of Earth-J said:

I think one of the problems early on was that Barry Allan was still considered to be THE Flash (by fans, the characters, and the creators themselves) and Wally West was simply A Flash. I remember during the Millenium series, one of the super-heroes says, "I wish the Flash was here," to which Wally responds, "I'm right here," and another character says, "He means the real Flash, Wally." 

Philip Portelli said:

When the Wally West Flash series debuted, I was struck by its change of tone from his appearances in New Titans and Crisis. From someone determined to uphold the legacy of the Flash, Wally suddenly acted like he wanted to get away from that image. It seemed to me that Wally no longer had Barry Allen to rein him in and was now free to be the "real" him. And the "real" him was someone the total opposite of what we knew. 

Yes, they wanted a "different" Flash but they gave us an unlikeable one!

That sums things up pretty well.

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