Bizarro Back Issues: The Flash In ‘Death And Taxes’ (1991)
A few years back, when there was first talk about a TV show based on The Flash, I remember hearing people say that the character could get a stronger foothold with the American public in a time when shows like CSI were so popular. The argument was that people would have an easier time getting their heads around the idea that Barry Allen was a police scientist, and that blew my mind. I mean, is the day job really the thing that people should be interested in when they're watching The Flash? Isn't the part where he can run super-fast and fight guys with ice guns the more important part of that whole franchise?
Besides, I think we can all agree that it was way better back in 1991, when the Flash worked for the IRS as the world's first superhero taxman.
Of course, the Flash back then wasn't Barry Allen, it was Wally West -- you know, the good one.
I've always been a Wally partisan, and while I'm sure that has a lot to do with the fact that he's the Flash I grew up with, I think there are a lot of interesting twists that make him a really strong character that just happen to coincide with my childhood. For starters, there was the fact that Wally was one of the first major superheroes to get rid of his secret identity. The idea was that he wanted the world to be able to properly honor his predecessor's legacy after Barry's death in Crisis, and in the process of revealing his identity to make that happen, he became the Flash full-time.
Of course, ditching his day job was a pretty easy decision once he won the lottery, but that opened up its own problems when Wally neglected to pay any taxes on his winnings before he spent it all, ending up owing Uncle Sam a pretty significant chunk of change. And that about brings you up to speed on what William Messner-Loebs, Greg LaRoque and Jose Marzan Jr. were dealing with in the pages of Flash #52, when Wally got called in for his audit.
Fortunately for the Flash, the Internal Revenue Service is slightly more forgiving than you may have heard. Or at least, they are when it comes to actual members of the Justice League whose superhuman abilities can be used for their benefit. To that end, they offer him a deal: He can work off his debt to the government by rounding up other high-level tax-evaders, since, get ready for it...
They need someone who can't be outrun.
Wally's first target is one Miles Anton Cramer, a crooked banker who, according to the ersatz Irwin R. Shyster handing out badges above, started off as the owner of an occult bookstore, and that oughtta be your first red flag since occult bookstores in the DC Universe are never not actual hellmouths. He's skipped town owing a ton of cash, and it's up to the Fastest Man Alive to get it all back.
Before he heads off to do the job, though, Wally heads to the park, where he finds out that the government isn't the only organization looking for Cramer:
The purple bikini lady is unrelated to the plot, but I do like the idea of the Mob having a very specific number of punches that they want delivered to Cramer, and I like even more that it's a number in the mid hundreds.
Having dealt with the Legitimate Businessmen, Wally teams up with Cramer's lawyer and accountant, both of whom are also owed a tidy sum, and heads over to his mansion to see about tracking him down. Cramer's not there, obviously, but in one of the most questionable moves in criminal mastermind history, he's left a few henchmen there with instructions to call if anything weird happens. Thus, Wally gets the bright idea to rough a couple of them up, in hopes that they'll place a call to the boss.
It seems a little weird that he bothers to show up in disguise and then reveal that he's the Flash, right? I mean, you'd think that The Flash showing up to hassle someone would be enough to get a reaction without the extra step of wearing a dumb hat. Uh, dumber than the one that has golden wings on the ears, I mean.
Either way, the plan works flawlessly. Not only does the henchman call the boss, he helpfully gets out a book that has Cramer's address and phone number written down for reference. Turns out he's been hiding under their noses in a penthouse suite all along, and Flash promptly heads over to see if he can finish this whole thing up so that we can all go home early.
And this is where things get weird.
I actually love the way that Wally deals with the crooks in this issue. He has a pretty consistent track record of being a nice, normal dude, and here, he has no actual desire to get into a superheroic dust-up with Cramer. He just wants the dope to pay his taxes, and goes in looking to reason with him:
Unfortunately, well, you remember that occult bookstore from a minute ago? Yeah, it turns out that Cramer has used his sorcerous knowledge to summon up a trio of elemental spirits from the depths of Hell itself, and is using them... to keep from being arrested for tax evasion.
Yeah, I know, but listen, this is the DC Universe. Summoning up demons is something that happens so often that you'd probably end up doing it by accident while you were trying to find out if Taco Bell still has the Quesarito. Using them for anything other than just covering up white collar crimes that you've already committed is just going to lead to being punched out by Superman or, even worse, Green Lantern. Getting knocked out by a giant boxing glove made of lasers would be bad enough, but listening to that guy do an off-key a cappella "Highway To The Danger Zone" on the way to the police station is a worse fate than death. Especially in comics, where death only lasts a few months.
Anyway, the fight against the demons is about as destructive as you might expect. Cramer's penthouse explodes in a burst of hellfire, and the resulting battle through the streets finds the whole city getting torn up. Buildings get knocked down, statues are torn out of the pavement, fire hydrants are ripped up, and the whole thing has clearly gotten out of hand, until finally it all comes to an end:
Thus the day is saved. Or rather, the flow of revenue to the government is saved, the rest of the day is pretty well and truly screwed thanks to massive amounts of demonic collateral damage that have left the city pretty thoroughly ruined. And who's going to take care of all this damage?
It may not surprise you to learn that Wally did not last long at this job.