When The Flash: Rebirth put writer Joshua Williamson in charge of Barry Allen's fate, fans knew the speedster was in good hands. But after years of expanding the mythology of the Speed Force, and re-imagining Batman's two best stories with Flash, Williamson's role has grown much, much bigger.
With Batman/Superman assembling a corrupted army serving DC's most terrifying villain in years, Williamson, along with James Scott Snyder and James Tynion IV, is plotting the future of the entire DC Universe. Screen Rant had the chance to speak with Williamson during NYCC to find out what's in store for The Flash (both present day and far future), how friends are becoming enemies to Batman and Superman, and more. The full interview can be found below.
First things first: they put Old Man Barry in Batman Beyond!
I know. I know. It was super weird. They didn't tell me until I saw the cover. And I was like, 'Well, that makes sense.' It's okay because of the stuff that's coming up in our plan. Because the idea is that even though the timeline reset itself after Year One, Barry still grows up into Old Barry, so he would still be around. I mean it's cool. I feel like people liked him and like his look. So we're not done with him.
Was that the first time you've had that feeling of, 'I'm now one of the guys who's created stuff that's going to be used for years'?
Yeah, I'm nervous about it. With Barry you can't be, but... Bendis called me one day and was like, 'You've got to be zen about these things.' You work in these giant franchise things... the only one that I'm a little sensitive about is Godspeed. He's the only one I'm a little like, 'Let me know if someone's going to use him.' They've tried a couple times, and I'm just like, 'Please don't.' I think they were going to do something with a prison break, so they were like, 'Can we use Iron Heights?' I was like, 'No, I'm literally going to be using it and I need all the people in Iron Heights.' I try to cooperate. But I think the trick is that if you have an actual story, then you can win out. Not if you're just like, 'No I don't want you to.' Godspeed ii the only one I'm sensitive about. I don't want anyone else trying, not just yet. Not until I got him to a certain place, and then it will be, 'Go for it.'
The last time we talked, I asked how you could turn Billy Batson evil.
Now I know in that moment, and as Jim Gordon was revealed, and Supergirl was revealed, going through all of that. You were just thinking, 'Wait until Issue #2 when Superman turns evil.' That moment when The Batman Who Laughs gets his old buddy back, where is his head at in this point of the story? Because this is basically the Superman he never got to create.
Well I mean listen, if you're--think about it from The Batman Who Laughs' perspective. On his world he was a member of the Justice League, he had his whole Batman family, and he killed all of them off. Because his thing is, 'I kill whatever I think could beat me.' But there's a part of him that thinks maybe he might have been too rushed in that decision. Because he didn't get to use those people. Now he's here so he's like, 'Who can I use?' It really came from the thought of just... if you're The Batman Who Laughs, if you want to create an army that's going to go up against not just the heroes of the DCU, but also the villains--who do you get? The answer's obvious: Superman. That's the first one you go after. So why wouldn't he? Why wouldn't that be the first person he would go after?
He goes and he gets Shazam and some of the others first, but it's all strategic. Every character was picked for strategic reasons. So with Blue Beetle, with Jaime, he picked him because he knew people would underestimate him. He knew that people don't realize how powerful Blue Beetle is, and how great a hero he is. So he thinks, 'If I can get him, they're going to underestimate him. They're just going to see him as some kid.' So that's part of it, and also there's the technology aspect because of the Scarab. Going to get Donna Troy, because Donna Troy is a Titan, and he knows that would hurt the heroes, to know that he pulled in one of the Titans. And because Donna's angry, you know? She's mad about everything that's been going on with the Titans. So he's able to go with her because he knows what that would mean to everybody. And then Shazam, you go back to Underworld Unleashed that Mark Waid and Howard Porter did, you saw that Neron was trying to corrupt Superman because he was the most pure. But it wasn't. It was Shazam. I wanted to go back to that idea, that if you can corrupt Shazam, who is one of the most powerful and one of the most pure, you can corrupt anybody. So it was really a show of force. Which is also why he's the first we revealed.
Supergirl I can't get into too much because it's too spoilery for stuff that actually happens in the book. Gordon was kind of built-in, because of stuff that was going on in The Batman Who Laughs. We knew he was going to infect somebody who would hurt Batman. Someone who Batman is close to. And then Hawkman because of his connections with the Dark Multiverse. We already established all that stuff with him way back during [Dark Nights: Metal] and the idea that he had been connected with Barbatos, connected with The Batman Who Laughs. That was the big motivation there. Hawkman is one of the greatest warriors in the DCU, so if you need a warrior, a tank, you need somebody you can use as a weapon, this is who you get. So I felt like it was strategic. We saw it like Batman Who Laughs. Who would I go after if I needed people who could help me win? And we wanted to be surprising, that's part of it. There's a weird mix of obvious and not obvious.
There's just the littlest hint that Billy gives that... it isn't just as simple as turning evil.
It's not, yeah. There's definitely a series of one-shots to support some of that stuff. It's not just like you're turned evil or twisted. You're giving in to your worst impulses, and this side of yourself that's selfish and mean. It's like what Scott was talking about... how you can do what's right or what's wrong, but sometimes there's a grey area where you can make a decision. To be uncaring, selfish, and not caring about people, and only caring about yourself. That's what's happening to them. Look at Donna, she is so angry about what's happened with the Titans. She blames the adult superheroes, She's an adult, you know, but she blames Batman and Superman. So when she goes up against them that's what she's mad about.
It's funny because we've only seen Shazam so far, because he's a 13 or 14 year-old kid, right? So you're seeing this edge-lord version of a teenager who all of a sudden is just like, 'I'm going to start cussing!' That's why I wrote him the way I did. Like, let's write him as a kid who's suddenly like, 'I'm going to be a bad kid now!' You know, what is his version of that? 'I'm going to cuss!' So I wrote him in that state of mind. The other ones you're going to see they're not quite like that. They're not going to come out and be like, 'Hee hee hee ha ha ha.' It isn't like that. You're going to see them and be like, 'Oh they look different, but it's still them.' They're just saying what they feel is the truth.
It already feels like a special Batman and Superman story, even just for the little moments like... the idea of seeing Batman scrambling through someone else's Batcave looking for a solution. And of course when Superman goes evil, you have Batman chiming in with 'They say I'm crazy.' How has it been writing those?
Oh, it's the most fun part.
Because you are still dealing with serious storylines, but other times it's hard to find those moments of levity.
I wanted it to be fun. So much of what we do now is so dark, and so we definitely live in the land of darkness at times. But it can't always be that, so I wanted it to be about these two heroes, you know? Have it be fun. There's a lot I could talk about with this, but you know, 'The hero is only as good as their villain'? So I'm going to ask you this. Let's say I give you a flashlight, okay? If you go outside into broad daylight and turn that flashlight on... you know it's on because you turned it on. But you don't need it. You can't see it, right? Where would you turn that flashlight on? You turn it on in the dark. I wanted to show that the best way to show how bright our heroes are, and how much they shine, how much they are symbols of good and hope. The only way to really see how bright they are is to put them in the darkness. So that's part of what the story is. The stuff that James and Scott and I have been building is, we're showing the darkness to show you how bright they are. That's part of the story with Batman/Superman, is we're able to show how bright they are, but also how fun they are. There's still a little bit of buddy-cop comedy, they poke eachother, they're sort of antagonists in their relationship, but we know they trust eachother, and we know that they're friends. So that's really what I wanted. That's why I feel like it has that fun feeling, even though there's dark stuff happening all the time.
I guess readers are prepared to see that difference between the dark and the light... even if they may not win, as seems to be how this is going to play out.
Well... I mean the story we're telling is long. Like we were talking about earlier. Scott and James and I have been building this story since 2016, and it's changed, and it's evolved, and it's gotten bigger in some places. And now with what's happening in Justice League, all the stuff coming with Batman/Superman is there are wins. But you guys have to understand, I think once we get there you'll see that we're going to lose some battles, we're going to win some battles, and then we'll get to the big war eventually.
Speaking of smaller battles, as a lifelong Captain Cold fan--who has always insisted Leonard is Barry's rival, not his enemy--the current comics look to offer the first time Leonard Snart has gotten equal footing with Barry, now that he has his powers from Lex. Was this a personal Manifesto for you? It seems like every writer who writes Captain Cold sets out to remind fans what's great about him.
I wanted to show why he's awesome. But it's really weird, sometimes you've got to make somebody who they're not, so they can find out who they are. So Captain Cold is a Rogue, he's not an 'end of the world' style supervillain. He's about this code, and his family. I wanted to show that part, but to really show that I needed to show that... he needs to realize it, too. We know that, but he needs to see it. So I wanted to get him to the place where he can learn it. Yeah, I've been building this story with Cold gradually since the beginning, leading all the way through this storyline right now. That moment with Barry--not to get too spoilery, but there's a moment where Barry and Leonard are alone for a moment, and they talk about it. They have a moment where they're kind of forced into a situation together, and they talk about it. I wanted to have one last thing to say about Leonard, and that scene is going to have it.
I think everybody who works on The Flash, you want to work on certain characters, and you want to say something about them. Like with Trickster, I had a thing with him and Trickster. Or The Turtle. I wanted to show The Turtle could be scary, and do one great Turtle story. Because, no offense to anybody else who's done a Turtle story, there are actually some really cool ones, but they're really short and little. Geoff [Johns] did a really great issue of Flash with Howard Porter where The Turtle is in it for like half the issue. And it's great, and he's scary, and he's twisted, and then he never got to pick it up again. I wanted to pick that up like, 'Look you saw this taste, let's build out on that.' And it was great because I got to have Howard Porter draw it.
That's the key, I think, to writing The Flash. You have to get your head into the villain a little bit, and really try to think of Barry and the villain at the same time. That the villain can't just be an obstacle he's running around, or something to hurdle over. They have to bounce off eachother. In the first arc I had Godspeed do that, it was intentional to have Godspeed be somebody that Barry could bounce off of. Or with Eobard, my favorite arcs are the ones where the villain--I think I had the most understanding of them. So Eobard, Gorilla Grodd, Hunter, and then the Rogues... those are always the ones I look back at, the ones where I had the strongest villains, that I'm most happy with throughout.
I know fans are going to have their calendars marked for December, because all of these dates are lining up beautifully to bring one year to an end and another one start. Can you tease how Batman/Superman is going to lead into that?
Yeah, in December the three books are Justice League #38, Batman/Superman #5, and then Year of The Villain: Hell Arisen. Those are the three books. Everything is important, like Scott was saying, everything is building to something. But for that particular day those are the three books that are going to connect them. That day you'll see how it's all adding up to something bigger, and then everything will stat coming together in December. I feel like you could probably read... I think the order to read them in is Batman/Superman, and then Justice League, then Year of The Villain. Because Batman/Superman takes place concurrently but before Doom War.
I'll give you the opportunity to heap some praise on your buddy James taking over Batman. What do people have to look forward to?
Oh it's awesome. I've read the first issue, it's great. He has so many awesome plans coming. James has wanted to write that book forever. That's definitely a dream thing for him. He loves Batman, and... he wanted that book really badly. So again I'm really happy for him. The stuff he was talking about doing, and the story he's telling, it's very good, and there's a lot of really fun stuff coming in that book. I don't want to spoil anything for him, but he has a lot of really fun stuff coming in that book. It's really cool. There's things that like--because I know the whole thing, I know the whole story. Not just the first bit but the whole thing. And yeah, it's awesome. I was jealous. There was stuff in there that I was like, 'Aw man, I wish I had thought of that!' There's things in there... 'I'm so jealous you get to tell this story.' So yeah, he's doing really cool stuff.
Finally, I have to point out to you that Old Man Barry... a lot of people responded to his introduction by noting how sexy he is. Do you care to respond?
You should talk to Howard [Porter]. Actually I'll say this: I make a point in the script to talk about Barry and I tell Howard sometimes: 'You gotta make Barry sexy, man.' So yeah, we put it in there for Old Man Barry specifically, from the very, very beginning. We first introduced him earlier than Year One, in Flash #26. So that was something Howard and I talked about. But yeah, there are specific parts--there was actually a scene in Year One where Barry opens the door and he's just got out of the shower, and Iris is there. I wrote this whole thing to Howard, I wrote like a page basically of just being like, 'Howard, this is really important to me: you need to make the sexiest drawing of Barry Allen you've ever done in your life. This needs to be the one, from this moment forward, that people use.' Because he had his shirt open, and I was like, 'You've got to make this like the one, man. This has to be the moment people are like, 'Holy shit, Barry has a runner's body, and he looks amazing.' He had it where he was wearing sweatpants, but he was clearly not wearing underwear so it's like hip... he knew what he was doing.
So yeah, the times that it's in there I try to be like, 'Howard... this is important to me' [Laughs]. Howard is awesome. Howard is the best dude. He's one of those artists I've worked with that I would work with forever, man.
The Flash #81 and Batman/Superman #3 are available now at your local comic book shop.