When people talk about the Wally West "Flash" series, they usually talk about Mark Waid or Geoff Johns, both of whom had extensive, immensely popular runs on the comic. But in-between the series debuting in 1987 (with Mike Baron and Butch Guice as the creative team) and Mark Waid taking over in 1992, there was a three-year run by Bill Messner-Loebs and Greg LaRocque. And those issues were what made me a fan of Wally West.
If you've never read the duo's run (spanning "The Flash" #15-61), you're actually missing out on a great deal. The pair turned Wally West into a much more sympathetic character over time, expanded his supporting cast into a large group of interesting people, and developed a relationship between Wally and his mother that remains one of the more entertaining ones in comics. (And not just for the time she used Wally's JLI teleportation tube to pop over to Paris for a lovely evening out on the town.)
In short, that run was everything you look for now in a series: ongoing storylines, characters whose personalities grow and evolve over time, and consequences for actions taken early on. Waid's run was strong and worthy of its praise, but I do think that at times people don't realize how much it built on what Messner-Loebs and LaRocque created.
This is a long way of saying that hearing that "DC Retroactive: The Flash – The '80s" was by this duo made it a must-read, and that after reading the new story (plus a reprint in the second half), well, it makes me wish that much more that we'd see collections of their time on the comic.
Because the majority of their run depended on long, ongoing builds of character, we don’t get quite the same impact as this being a one-shot. It's still fun, though, with Messner-Loebs bringing back a large number of the Rogue's Gallery of the time, and having Wally once again end up with a slightly deranged stalker. The plot is tailor-made toward showcasing as many characters as possibly, which is perfect for this nostalgia trip, but it's also a logical set of steps rather than just random events. But it still builds, and when we finally get Alchema in all her glory? Well, it's a (deliberately) funny and amusing moment. And despite her problems, it's nice that Alchema has her own positives: her force of will, her want to do good, and so on. She's the sort of character that you can easily see returning down the line as a full-fledged hero.
LaRocque's art is good here, although I'm unused to seeing it with such slick coloring. But he's got some nicely well-rounded faces and beautiful thick ink lines; it's certainly a lot stronger than his first few issues were on the title, which the reprint in the back of the book is from. I do wonder if this issue was drawn on a tight deadline, though; there are a remarkably high number of panels with no backgrounds, something I'm not used to from LaRocque. After a while, the lack of backgrounds actually became distracting, although the neon pastels used in their place certainly weren't helping matters.
(Speaking of the reprint in the back half of the comic, I am slightly mystified on why they chose the final chapter of a 3-part story. Fortunately, like all good Messner-Loebs comics, he makes sure people who read it as their first issue weren't too confused.)
All in all, "DC Retroactive: The Flash – The '80s" is a fun trip down memory lane, and I think readers who never experienced this era of "Flash" might be pleasantly surprised with the strength of the run on the title. I'd love for this to be the start of more comics from Messner-Loebs and LaRocque. They're both too good to be ignored for too long.