Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Messner-Loeb's Legacy

As many DC comics fans will already know from the internet buzz, former DC writer William Messner-Loebs has fallen on hard times. Operatically hard times. Out of work, in an auto accident, short one arm, with a mobile home that became unliveably infested by mold (before it was stolen) and a wife critically ill in the hospital, Messner-Loebs is the target of an industry-wide relief effort.

M-L is remembered mostly by DC fans for his work on Wonder Woman, Flash, and Impulse. Some have unkindly dismissed him as "the man who made Wonder Woman a fry-cook." You may not agree with some of his plotting choices, but let's give the man his due!

M-L recognized Wonder Woman's most serious flaw: because her reboot left her with no civilian identity, WW had become almost impossible to relate to. He took steps to humanize her and for that I applaud him.

In the Golden Age, writers used a pretty consistent formula: hero gets involved in a situation through his/her secret identity, reaches an impasse that would stymy an ordinary person, than changes in his/her heroic identity to overcome it. This is the so-called "adolescent power fantasty" that drew readers to most Golden Age heroes. This formula has taken a bad beating in the post-Crisis DCU; I get the sense that writers now perceive it as superfluous plotting, but it was what made the heroes seem human and allowed readers to identify with them. Messner-Loebs realized the human touch was missing and strove to restore it in his stories.

Similarly, it must be noted that M-L created the backbone of the current Flash mythos, whose glory has accrued mostly to other writers. He removed some of the severe limitations on Wally's power. He gave Wally confidence to come out of Barry's shadow. He put Wally back in Keystone (he had been in NYC, in case you'd forgotten). He gave Wally some friends: Chunk (a marvelous character DC has abandoned) and Piper (whom M-L gave new vitality by revealing that he was gay). He introduced Linda Park.

Of course, like any sensible person, I hate Linda Park. NOT the Linda Park that M-L created. She was a feisty anti-Lois Lane, a critic of the Flash who came grudgingly to respect him. It was only in the hands of later, wussier writers that she became (for no apparent reason) Wally's "beacon of love that anchors him to humanity blah blah blah"... the Linda Park that all right-thinking Americans despise...

Messner-Loeb realized what so many writers do not: heroes have to be human. Not weak; just human.


Davinder said...

I'm glad someone else remembers Messner-Loebs's run on the Flash as fondly as I do. The stories were irreverent, and had an easy, sometimes meandering pace to them, which, now that I think about it, is an interesting way to present the fastest man alive.

Waid's stories repeatedly had Wally "finally" come out from under Barry's shadow and "reach his true potential," and every time it happened I'd think, "But Messner-Loebs did that back in issue fifty" (which is still one of my favourite covers and one of my favourite issues).

Devon Sanders said...

Good, good stuff. I knew about his plight but never really thought about his impact on DC's mythos. I wish I could do more for him than marvel at his past work.

Scipio said...

Well, you could carry the benefit sketchbook TwoMorrows Publishing is putting out for him...

Gus Casals said...

I love the Mesner Loebs Flash too, I already mentioned elsewhere how much I like Chunk....but you are so right about Linda!

I dropped the book when the whole beacon of love thing started. All those who say that Waid's run is de "definite" one....they didn't read Bill's, clearly.