For fans of DC Comics, this week's Flash: Rebirth marked a milestone: The return of the publisher's own Christ figure, Barry Allen. We talked to writer Geoff Johns about resurrecting such a beloved character.
Why bring back Barry Allen?
Because the world needs heroes.
Bringing back Barry Allen, that was something that grew out of everything we were doing with Final Crisis with Grant [Morrison] and everything. You know, Grant and I had talked a lot about this, too, when we were working together on DC Universe Zero way back when, about what was going on with the Flash Universe, and more specifically the DC Universe.
With Final Crisis, it was a full circle from Crisis on Infinite Earths, and with Darkseid representing the ultimate evil, and Grant really playing the theme that Darkseid really is evil incarnate without room for any grays, Barry Allen was by all accounts considered the greatest force for good in the DC Universe, and so he was brought back to combat that as a signal of ushering in the new age of heroes back in the day with Showcase #4. Barry represents that.
My, and a lot of fans', opinion about this is that Barry Allen was almost more powerful being dead, because he was this figurehead, this person who made the ultimate sacrifice. He became this almost Guardian Angel for the DC Universe. By bringing him back, do you lessen that?
That's what the story's about: If Barry Allen is back, what does that mean to what he sacrificed, what does that mean to what he was seen as, what does that mean to the Flash universe... It's a very different situation to [Johns' previous series] Green Lantern: Rebirth.
To my mind, Green Lantern was broken in a way that Flash wasn't. Green Lantern missed Hal Jordan, missed the Corps.
I wrote the Flash for five years. I wrote Wally West for five years, I love Wally West, I love the Rogues. I think the Flash universe has continued on, though it's recently tripped. Whereas Hal Jordan's return brought the entire [Green Lantern] universe back. You know, the Green Lanterns had become kind of complacent. You only had Kyle Rayner and John Stewart flying around, really. But the Flash universe, it progressed. Wally West became a great Flash, you had a new Kid Flash, Jay Garrick was still around, new speedsters showed up. Even Iris West moved on. That's not to say there's nothing to build up or nothing new to add. There is.
Did you approach this as "I love Barry Allen, and therefore he's going to be the Flash"? I mean, like you said, you wrote Wally for years.
Not at all. I grew up reading Wally West comics, I read Barry Allen comics in back issues. I like the Flash; whenever I put a name down, listing my favorite characters, the Flash was always number one. I'm getting into Barry Allen now, so it's really a process of rediscovery, for me, of that character. But it's the concept, and the idea of the Speed Force, that is at the core of it all for me.
For me, the Barry Flash is much more of a science fiction,science hero, and Wally was more the superhero. Is the book returning to its science fiction roots?
There's definitely a lot of science fiction in it, absolutely.
And another major difference with Wally was, he never had much of a life outside of being the Flash.
Yeah, that defined his character once he became the Flash, his life became about living up to Barry's legacy and everything else was a part-time job.
Yeah, it was always about living up to Barry's legacy. And then, beyond that, he became his own character, his own hero, his own Flash, but he was never really out of the uniform very much. Barry is, or was.
So what do you think about complaints about DC being retro, with bringing Hal back and bringing Barry back? How much of that is because [DC] is being nostalgic, and how much is because the concepts just didn't work that well without those characters?
Well, I think Green Lantern is anything but a retro book. And you have a whole new, young audience reading about Green Lantern. That's a good thing.
I grew up reading comics in the late '80s and the '90s. Is it nostalgic that Cyborg Superman is prominent again in Green Lantern: The Sinestro Corps War or Bane in Secret Six. I don't think it's a case ofcertain characters like Hal and Barry coming back because they want to be retro, everyone has their favorites, and a lot of these characters are valuable to the DC Universe from all eras. The 40's, 50's, 60's, 70's, 80's, 90's. Booster Gold has made a big return to prominence. The JSA continue to have characters from all eras, including several new ones. Is it nostalgic for Barry to be back? For some people it will be, but for others - for most readers, Barry Allen is new to them. I'm a believer that all eras, including this one, are valuable to DC. I hate limiting anything in comics.
Barry's been dead as long as he'd been alive, so there's a whole generation who've never read Barry Allen as the Flash.
Yeah, but to me, that's exciting as hell. Barry Allen is "new" to most readers.
How much of this is open to people who have never read a Flash comic before?
100%. Just like Green Lantern: Rebirth. Green Lantern: Rebirth was a jumping-on point for a lot of people who'd never read a Green Lantern comic before. That was their first comic. I mean, not everyone's read comics for 20 years, a lot of people forget about that. This is definitely for fans of the Flash, but also for new readers who've never read the Flash, have never met anyone in the Flash universe.
Is Flash: Rebirth all about laying the groundwork for what's coming? How much of it is a story complete in and of itself?
It's a story in and of itself that obviously sets up the status quo for a lot of these characters. There'll be a couple of new characters coming out of it.
In the same way that Green Lantern: Rebirth set up pretty much the remainder of your Green Lantern run?
It has a definite ending, just like Green Lantern: Rebirth had a definitive ending, with an open road ahead. The last issue doesn't end "To be continued." It ends.
Is that the way you tend to think, in terms of character and stories? Is the point of Flash: Rebirth, to you, to relaunch a franchise?
It's a story about a guy who's come back, but feels the seconds slipping away,everything moving at breakneck speed and he isn't quite sure which way to turn at the fork in the road. Sure, there's going to be people who'll say "My favorite Flash is Barry Allen" or "My favorite Flash is Wally West" or "My favorite Flash is Bart Allen." Same with GreenLantern, everyone has their favorite characters, but...
But with Green Lantern, you almost get to the point where you can please everyone, because there are multiple Green Lanterns...
You can never please everyone, but there have been multiple Flashes since Barry Allen met Jay Garrick.
But there can only be one fastest man alive, surely. Doesn't there have to be a Flash in a way that there doesn't have to be one Green Lantern?
You'll see what makes each of them individual, just like you did in Green Lantern, through Flash: Rebirth. I think that'll become pretty clear.
Flash in all his incarnations has become somewhat of an avatar for the DC Universe. Barry ushered in the Silver Age, but Wally, to an extent, the changes he went through mirrored the direction of comics at the time, from Mike Baron's quasi-mature approach to Mark Waid's updated silver age run that set the tone for DC's superhero books for the next five years or so. Do you feel a similar pressure with Rebirth?
Of course, but I'd rather go for it or not. I believe in the Flash, I believe it can grow, and Ethan is doing an amazing job. Barry Allen ushered in a lot of heroes, but the world could always use more imo.
You're bringing back Bart [Kid Flash, who was killed in 2006] as well, right?
Bart comes back in [Final Crisis:] Legion of 3 Worlds - Sorry for the delay, but the art is worth it, it's freaking amazing! - but in Flash: Rebirth, he's back from the future and his attitude is "Wally's the Flash, I'm Kid Flash, Now Barry's back. What's going on? If Barry's back, where is everyone else?
"If everyone's coming back from the Speed Force, where's Max?"
Is the tone similar to Green Lantern: Rebirth? Because Green Lantern has a tone of, I don't want to say "space opera," but it's been very grandiose and the stakes have never been small.
Green Lantern is to Space as the Flash is to Time.
The backdrop is, big and epic. But it's a little bit more character-focused, though, the difference being, I gotta get into Barry Allen's history more because he's more of an unknown to people.
Barry didn't really have much of a personality, either. He died before the trend for giving your heroes more of a personality than just a schtick - in Barry's case, being late - kicked in.
Hopefully, you'll feel different as the series progresses.
Starting with Hal Jordan and bringing him back, even back then, was this great thing... I remember the skeptics on that, but it turned out well and I'm hoping to do the same thing with this.
By this point, Barry's better known for that legacy, for dying.
Yes. And why there's an ominous or reluctant attitude in Barry will become clear.
Do you think Flash is one of the more inviting of the DC superheroes to new readers?
We've got Green Lantern being made into a movie, all the talk about Wonder Woman back and forth, and obviously Superman and Batman...
The Flash is undoubtedly one of the most popular characters that the DC Universe has. I think he's one of the most popular characters in comics. Superspeed is one of the most amazing powers that I think people can get into and explore. Speed is something, today... everyone wants things to go faster, downloads to go quicker... No-one has anytime for anything. Speed is something that, today, we're always trying to get everything to go faster. As our society "progresses," everyone is wanting things to move faster, everyone is texting, using Twitter, all this stuff, all this constant communication and interaction, it's all about speed.
It used to take weeks to deliver a letter, and now you can communicate with someone in, like, two seconds. You can communicate with two or three thousand "friends" about what you're having for lunch immediately, all at once. It's pretty amazing.
In that case, is the Flash more suited to the modern world?
Absolutely. I think Barry Allen is more relevant now than he was back then, including his identity outside of the uniform... And not just because CSI is a TV show, but because the technology and the world has progressed.
Criminals are caught because of DNA, and Barry Allen hasn't been operating in a modern world since, what, twenty-plus years ago.
So what's your one-line pitch to io9 readers to read Flash?
He's the fastest man alive. If you've ever wished you had more time to do everything you wanted to do, here's a story about a guy who has that ability.
And then you can go and pitch that as a movie.
[Laughs] Who knows...