Bizarro Back Issues: The Flash Against Vandal Savage’s War Against Drugs! (1991)
I have a lot of fun with Golden and Silver Age comics here in the Bizarro Back Issues column, but I think it’s really important to keep in mind that comics didn’t just stop being weird after Crisis on Infinite Earths. It’s something that you tend to hear a lot from casual readers, this idea that we had about thirty years of comics that were just Superman being a jerk to Jimmy Olsen, and Batman biff-bam-pow-ing his way through increasingly weird deathtraps, and then after 1986, everything was either Dark Knight Returns or X-Force.
The truth is, comics — especially superhero comics — were always weird, and they’re always gonna be weird, even when the aesthetics of the time are trying to lean hard into more Serious Issues. Like, say, that time in 1991 when Vandal Savage tried to eliminate the drug trade and the Flash got shot, killed, resurrected by a cyborg, and ended up with a new costume in the process.
It all went down in a two-part story that ran through Flash #49 and #50 from William Messner-Loebs, Greg LaRocque, and Jose Marzan Jr., and it’s somehow even stranger than it sounds. And it all begins with Vandal Savage, an immortal caveman who defines his age as being “older than every tree on Earth” — as opposed to the rest of us, who are only older than some trees — suddenly discovering that drugs are… bad?
This might require a little backstory.
Okay, so after Crisis, Vandal Savage was recast as an arch-nemesis for the Flash, and that’s basically perfect. With the death of Barry Allen and the move forward (ha-ha!) with Wally West, the Flash franchise had been redefined as being built on ideas of legacy and different characters taking that role for different eras, giving them an enemy who was immortal, and who had been there for each of those eras himself? That’s such a good idea, and it gave Savage an entirely new character motivation and personal hatred for the Flash.
And that, of course, most famously manifested itself in the storyline where Savage started selling Velocity-9, an addictive designer drug that gave its users temporary super-speed. This, of course, brought him into conflict with the Flash, which is handy. I mean, if it had been heroin that let you breathe water, we’d all be speaking Caveman right now.
Either way, that story ended with Savage being shot up with an overdose of V9 that counteracted his own meteor-based immortality, condemning him to death by aging. And Wally, understandably, isn’t exactly bothered by all this.
Savage, on the other hand, is bothered enough to want to eliminate the drug entirely, but he goes about it in a way that’s… well, pretty understandable when you consider that he’s a supervillain caveman, I guess. See, rather than just teaming up with DARE or encouraging kids to Just Say No to temporary super-speed, he decides to send his henchmen to murder all the other drug dealers in Keystone City and then flood the streets with V9 until it’s so common as to no longer be profitable.
The end result of all this is an estimated 300,000 casualties, which is about 300,000 too many for the Flash. Naturally, Wally wants to stop him, but there’s a problem: To get him out of the way, Savage has kidnapped everyone Wally cares about, from Ralph Dibny and Chunk all the way down to his lawyer and his mom.
With the Flash’s loved ones held hostage as leverage, Savage wants to lure Wally into the sort of one-on-one deathtrap that Barry Allen was so famous for escaping back during his tenure as the Flash. The thing is, the deathtrap in question isn’t one of the fun ones involving, say, a giant mixing bowl that’s going to turn Wally into the World’s Fastest Cupcake, or a printing press rigged up to turn the Flash into his own obituary.
It’s more of a “stand on this square and let me shoot you in the chest” sort of deal.
Which he does, complete with an exit wound that is super bloody in that classic late ’80s, early ’90s DC style.
Seriously, there’s a 2000-word column just waiting to be written about that pale pink DC Comics blood.
Anyway, this is the part of the story where the Flash dies and goes to heaven, where he’s greeted by a Jay Garrick who looks like God, a weird tennis-coach version of Barry Allen, and a ton of sexy superhero ladies willing to give him an eternity of “cosmic pleasure.”
It always seems kind of weird for those of us who came to Flash during Mark Waid and Mike Wieringo‘s run, but before he settled down with Linda Park, Wally was basically the horniest dude in the DC Universe. I guess Young Justice was basing that on the comics after all.
Apart from a handsy Phantom Lady, the premise here is that everyone else in Heaven is also dead, because Wally wasn’t there to protect them from Vandal Savage. But in the end, it just turns out to be a hallucination that Wally’s having as his body is rebuilt by a cyborg named Kilg%re.
If you’re familiar with him, Kilgpercentre was… you know what? Let’s just classify that under “beyond the scope of this column” and move on.
With his body more-or-less patched up by Kilg$re and his loved ones released by Savage (who believes him dead and therefore has no more use for the leverage), Wally ends up challenging Savage to another one-on-one duel — but not before he goes to a couple of scientists to get his brand-new slightly darker Modern Age costume. Which he needs, because Savage has stolen his old costumes and given them to Lady Savage — a Soviet agent who was originally part of the V9-powered Blue Trinity, who was then enslaved by Savage thanks to her addiction — so that she can become Lady Flash.
It’s a little complicated, but it’s also a prime example of a story where, after literally dying in the previous issue, a superhero just remembers that superheroes basically win all the time.
Oh, and then Wally wins the lottery. Watch The Flash on CBS, everybody!
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