These are big-time days for comic-book writers, and right now no one is bigger than Geoff Johns, the scribe who had the surreal experience this year of walking on the same stage as Keith Richards, Johnny Depp and the cast of “The Twilight Saga: New Moon” at the Scream Awards. The 36-year-old Detroit native picked up the Scream trophy for best comic-book writer. This year, Johns wrote the six-issue miniseries “The Flash: Rebirth,” which chronicled the return of Barry Allen, the most famous Flash. Today, DC announced that Johns and artist Francis Manapul would take the mythology further in March with “The Flash: Secret Files and Origins.” It’s a one-shot that leads up to a creative team taking over “The Flash” series, which already looks like one of the most promising runs of 2010. I caught up with Johns to talk a bit about the Scarlett Speedster.
GB: Tell me about your memories, as a reader, of Barry Allen getting killed off in 1985. It was such a jolting moment for DC readers and a pivotal point in comics history…
GJ: I had just started reading comics when the DC-altering “Crisis on Infinite Earths” came out. One of the first comics I ever bought was the death of Barry Allen. I had seen the Flash before in animation and had really been drawn to the character, and then he died. Ironically, his death might’ve even been the trigger that really sucked me into the world of DC Comics. When I got to the end of “Crisis,” and Wally West took on the mantle of the new Flash, I followed him into his book. Barry’s death really hit the DC Universe hard, it changed the entire makeup of it, and decades later his return is ushering in a new direction for the DC Universe.
GB: Do you feel restricted by the thicket of mythology that surrounds these characters? Even when it “doesn’t count,” you have to compete with it in some sense.
GJ: No. We all have a “thicket of mythology.” You meet someone and they have an entire back story. A city they were born in. A best friend they lost touch with. An event that affected their whole family. A first job. Everyone has history. And every character has history. We don’t meet characters the day they’re born. We meet them years later. To me, it’s the same thing. I think people can over-complicate the mythology, but I believe in highlighting the important parts — that is, the events that affected them emotionally — and moving on.
GB: Tell me about Barry Allen’s voice compared to some of his heroic peers’ — what’s his personality and mien?
GJ: Barry is a man who, despite what life throws at him, continues to step forward with a clear purpose and sense of who he is. He believes in justice, sometimes looking at it in black and white. He has no tolerance for those who victimize others. Before he became the Flash, Barry had trouble connecting with people emotionally, he was letting life pass him by. As the Flash, Barry found that excitement in life again and rejoined it with a vengeance. The most frustrating thing for Barry is related to his job as a member of Central City CSI. He investigates crimes that have already happened. Murders he can’t stop. No matter how fast he is, that’s the past.
GB: What did you want to avoid with this incarnation? In other words, what needed to be left behind for the character to run on?
GJ:Really, I look at something like “The Flash” as a long-term mission. “The Flash: Rebirth” was the knot to untangle in the shoelace before we could run. I wanted to clear the board, reexamine some key elements of Barry Allen and re-introduce a threat that would play throughout the next several years. Much in the same way as Green Lantern, I’m committed to a long-term story with the Flash and the universe around him. There’s nothing that really needs to be left behind, so to speak. However, “The Flash” No. 1 that will start in April — post-“Blackest Night” by Francis Manapul and I — will be extremely accessible. It’s Barry Allen a.k.a. the Flash, Central City and the Rogues.
GB: Were there any lessons in Lantern experience that you can point to that helped you here?
GJ: Green Lantern is a very different beast, but if I learned anything, it was patience. As soon as I came up with “Blackest Night,” I wanted to get to it as soon as possible. But I knew I wouldn’t have the proper buildup to the payoffs unless I rolled it out in the correct way. The same thing goes for “The Flash.” There are so many amazing villains and concepts within the Flash, they all deserve the proper time to explore.
GB: What are the compass points here as far as art? Flash has such a storied history, especially those Carmine Infantino years, how does that affect the present?
GJ: There are a handful of iconic Flash artists to me — Carmine Infantino, of course, being among the top. But speaking with Francis about his approach to the Flash and the world, thinking about the layouts, and specifically rethinking how to approach the power of speed and illustrate it in the best way possible is an ongoing conversation we’re all having. But I have a very clear idea of showing the true power of super speed in a way we haven’t really seen before. The Flash has always been a book at the forefront of where the rest of the superhero universe is going, and Francis Manapul and I intend to do our best to continue that tradition, yet we’re starting with a very basic concept — it’s superhero “CSI.” The first arc is entitled “The Dasterdly Death of the Rogues” and it’s a murder mystery, Flash-style. Which means it’s anything but what it first looks like. He’s my favorite character and it’s great to be back with him.
— Geoff Boucher
RECENT AND RELATED
FOR THE RECORD: I referred to Barry Allen as the “original Flash” in an earlier version of this post but, of course, there was Jay Garrick in the Golden Age. I meant the “original guy in the cool all-red suit” but just to make it more precise it nows says “the most famous” Flash.