Flash (vol.2) #33 (1989)

Flash (vol.2) #33 (December, 1989)
“Joker’s Holiday”
Writer – William Messner-Loebs
Penciller – Greg LaRocque
Inker – Tim Dzon
Colorist – Glenn Whitmore
Letterer – Tim Harkins
Editor – Brian Augustyn
Cover Price: $1.00

Here’s one I’ve been wanting to talk about for a long while.  It’s one of those “key” issues, maybe to no one but me… but one I’d only heard whispers about when the subject of early Flash (vol.2) comes up.

It’s been on my ever-growing list of books to keep an eye out for… for as long as I’ve carried a list.  Finally stumbled across it in a cheap-o bin yesterday… and couldn’t wait to get home and read it.

So, we’ll take the hit “views” wise… I don’t know what it is, but anytime we discuss The Flash here, views go wayyy down.  And engagement?  Fuhgeddaboudit!  Maybe this very strange issue will change that… who knows?

Only one way to find out…

We open with a reminiscence from a young woman… she recalls her tenth birthday party, when her parents hired Rags the Clown to entertain.  What’s worse, they left ol’ Rags in charge of the party… and he was in a bad way.  He was drunk/hung-over, creepy… destructive.  Just not the best chaperone.  Go figure, right?  Anyways, when her parents (finally) returned, the house was cleaned up… and ol’ Rags gave our gal a peck on the cheek as he left.  This would begin her fear of clowns… something that stuck with her until the present day.  More on that in just a bit.

We shift scenes to Wally West moving into his new Keystone City digs.  He is given a weird housewarming visit by a blonde woman… who greets him with a slap in the face.  Ya see, during an earlier adventure, The Flash zipped across the country… and unfortunately, right through her puppy Bunches!

She continues to berate him as Joan Garrick arrives with a young couple to introduce to Wally.  The grieving woman stomps out… and we learn that she was just an actress hired by a shadowy figure in order to keep young Mr. West on his toes.

Now, with that out of the way… Wally meets this couple.  It’s Dana and Ken Simpson… and wouldn’tcha know it, Dana is the coulrophobic woman we met earlier.  She tells Wally (I probably ought to mention that his “secret identity” is publicly known at this point) that the Joker is trying to steal her baby.  He’s made threatening phone calls… and has sent her twisted packages.

Wally “flashes up”, and hits the town to follow up.  He heads to the Keystone City Police Station… where he’s given a rather chilly “how do you do?”.  They basically tell him to hit the skids… and so, he decides to escalate things by visiting the Police Captain personally… only to find he’s a few minutes too late!

We jump ahead to Linda Park delivering a news report on the murder-by-Joker-toxin of the Keystone City Police Chief… she also interviews the Simpsons about the threats the Joker made to them… which causes Dana to rush off a sobbing mess.

Flash and Linda share a bit of flirty/contentious banter before Wally rushes off to make a phone call… to Bruce Wayne.

Bruce informs Wally that there’s no possible way that the Joker is terrorizing Keystone City… but offers to send him any information he has to help him connect whichever dots need connectin’.

At the station, Wally goes through the information sent by Wayne… and learns that the Police Captain was set to meet with a fella by the name of Juice Mantee the day he was murdered.  He cross-references that name with the Bat-File, and finds that Mr. Mantee was once a member of the Joker’s Gang.

With Wally on the job, Joan Garrick approaches Linda about visiting with a friend.  A friend who happens to be a therapist, who’d like to discuss postpartum depression.  Seems Joan has some suspicions about Mrs. Simpson.

Wally heads to Mantee’s office… and thinks about how he’d very likely have access to Joker toxin.  He is greeted upon arrival by a gaggle of gunny geeks… one of whom delivers the immortal line “Eat leaden death!”  Gotta love it!

Back at the clinic, Linda and Joan get more of the quick and dirty on postpartum depression… and it’s delivered in an easy-to-digest way.  Really like the way this was handled… no condescension, while at the same time, it’s not “dumbed down”.  Joan decides to call Dana to have her come in… however, learns that she (and the baby) have gone missing!

We rejoin Wally as he busts into Mantee’s office.  After a brief skirmish… Mantee is shot.  This scene is kind of a mess… we wouldn’t know that Mantee was shot if Wally didn’t tell us.  It’s like they forgot to draw backgrounds for the bottom three panels here… really pulls me out of it.  I mean, just look at it…

As Wally tends to Mantee…’s body, the phone rings!  It’s Joan, and she tells him he must get to the Keystone Bridge “ASAP as possible”.  He’s there… in a flash… and finds Dana Simpson precariously dangling her baby off the side of the bridge.  Maybe she figures the only way to save the tot from the Joker is to toss him in the drink.  Her delusions have gotten far worse… and she is now seeing everybody as the Joker.

Hell, check that, she even now sees her baby as the Joker!  And so, into the drink he goes!  Luckily, Wally can outrun a falling child, and rescues him before impact.  The police help Dana down from the bridge… and, as you may imagine, she is rather disoriented.  She doesn’t remember how she got here… and what she’d just done.

We wrap up with Wally having a housewarming party at his new pad… and we now see the shadowy figure who’s had his eye on him throughout the issue.  Are ya ready for this?  Ladies and gentlemen… I give you, the Turtle.  Aye yai yai.

Well… that certainly was a weird issue.

First, we get a Joker “guest appearance” without him even showing up!  That’s pretty cool… especially back in the day where Joker appearances weren’t a weekly occurrence.  I mean, really… is there a single week without a Joker appearance… or at least a cover appearance?  I don’t think so…

Let’s get the easy stuff out of the way before going “deep”.  We wrap up with the introduction of the Flash’s first Keystone threat… the Turtle.  Ya get it?  Turtles are slow!  Oi.  Can’t say that this would entice me to buy the next issue… but, what do I know?

The Wally/Linda dynamic was pretty cool.  I get a sort of Billy/Allison from Melrose Place vibe from them… and that’s good enough for me.  You can tell there’s an underlying attraction there… but neither of them really wants to see/admit it.

The art… was a bit of a miss.  We get some sorta McFarlane-esque “gummy/blobby faces”… but it doesn’t really work.  Then there’s that page where Juice gets shot.  Such a missed opportunity… I mean, removing the backgrounds was such a bad idea… especially if they weren’t going to change the angle to make the scene more dynamic.  We really wouldn’t have had the slightest idea that he was shot if Flash didn’t outright tell us.  My initial reaction was that Wally punched him… I never would have guessed he was actually shot.  Another art issue I have is that baby Donnie looks older than I’d have liked.

Now… the crux of the issue, postpartum depression.  Well, there’s a heavy topic one normally wouldn’t associate with superhero comics.  It’s a potentially touchy topic as well… one that I feel didn’t get fleshed out enough in my six years of psychology courses.  For any current students/recent psych grads… you probably know that there are certain “inconvenient” topics that don’t quite get their due… not saying it’s universal, but at least for me, postpartum kind of got glossed over.  It was never denounced, mind you… but wasn’t “boosted” either.

It’s a pretty scary subject… and, as mentioned, a pretty heavy one at that.  I feel like Messner-Loebs handled it pretty well here.  Let’s break it down into the Dana Simpson thread, and the Linda/Joan thread… starting with the latter.

We joined Linda and Joan chatting up a clinician… who educated them on postpartum… and did so in a way that didn’t talk down to them (or the audience), and even shined a light on the stigma related to the malady… and again, didn’t do so in a way that talked down to anybody.  I feel like if this were written today, it would be riddled with passive-aggressive agenda-pushing.  Thankfully, we don’t get that here.

Now Dana… isn’t depicted as totally insane.  Sure, it gets really dicey at the end… but in the lead-up, she’s treated pretty fairly.  She’s convinced that the Joker is trying to kidnap her baby… and her husband hasn’t said anything to argue that.  If he’s going to go along with this… whether he believes it or not (we have no reason to believe he doesn’t), her fears will only compound… and she’ll continue to dig her heels in.

Let’s look at her childhood trauma for a bit.  She associates clowns with… in a way, abandonment.  Her parents left her alone with that rotten Rags… and it stands to reason she’s make a link between child abandonment, danger, and clowns.

To the end of the story… Dana kinda goes off the rails.  Tossing baby Donnie off the Keystone Bridge is a rather extreme way to wrap up… and it’s the kind of ending that I don’t really dig.  I mean, in the real world… there is no Flash.  On that, we can probably all agree.  I don’t like it when they mix very real problems/situations with the fantastic.  It’s… I dunno, kind of cheap.  I mean, it invites questions as to why superheroes don’t just solve all of the world’s problems, ya know?

Anyhoo… despite my very few complaints… I’m glad I finally had the opportunity to read (and share) this issue.  I’d definitely recommend it if you’re in the mood for a rather off-beat adventure of the Flash.  For your convenience, this bugger is available digitally… and for just a buck!

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