Warning: SPOILERS up to The Flash #50
Times have rarely been as exciting for fans of The Flash as they are thanks to DC's Flash War event, culminating in the latest issue. But when the dust settles from The Flash #50 - after Barry Allen and Wally West went head to head and broke the Speed Force, after Bart Allen returned to life, and Wally West remembered the children he had lost - it becomes clear that the real heart of Josh Williamson's time on The Flash may be what happens next.
Considering what's transpired in his post-Rebirth run already, that's saying something. We had the opportunity to ask the comic writer about the unexpected twists and game-changing reveals of Flash War, and where the story leaves every member of The Flash Family. His words may have some fans worried for their favorite speedster, but from the sound of it, Williamson is too dedicated to leaving his mark for the stories to underwhelm.
They may still be heartbreaking in the end... but only for the very best of reasons.
Well let's start with the one thing that is obviously going to define your first fifty issues: You made Flash officially faster than Superman.
[Laughs] Did I? I don't know, I feel like it's always been that way. I mean, that's kind of The Flash's thing, right? He's the fastest man alive, it's right there. I feel like we've all been saying it this whole time. I'm sure there are Superman fans that are disappointed, but I mean Superman can do everything else. He's Superman.
As a longtime fan of Wally West reading the '90s comics, seeing him return in Rebirth was a huge moment. But this feels like, in a lot of ways, the big Wally West story we've been building towards. Was that a priority?
In a way, I suppose. I've been a big fan of The Flash family, and I grew up with Wally, too. Barry's my favorite Flash now but I definitely grew up with Wally and Bart. And I think ever since Rebirth started, I remember I got the job on The Flash, and I think about two or three weeks later I found out that Wally was coming back. This was at the end of 2015-ish? So this was long before Rebirth had come out. So I got to be involved in a lot of the stuff really early on, and looking at the process of what they were doing when they were developing what was going to become Rebirth, and the stuff with Wally.
So for me going into this story, I was wanting to work with Wally for a long time but it just never worked out. And I always say this when we talk about it, you can't just go to them and say, 'I want to do this because...' You have to have a story, you have to have a reason. Basically it comes down to that. So with FLASH WAR, I went to them and I said, 'I want to use Wally, I have a really big idea.' At the time I was calling it War of The Flashes - so I was like, 'I want to do War of The Flashes!' - and it wasn't just about Wally, it's a Barry story too. I really wanted to tell a story about both of them.
I understand Wally takes a a big spotlight in this story because he is the major catalyst with Hunter [Zolomon] being in there. But I didn't feel like I wanted to tell 'The Wally Story,' to get back to your original question. I feel like Wally's story is very big and very much a part of the heart of what's been going in the DC Universe the last two years, and it's just my turn in the relay race, you know? My turn right now to kind of continue on that story, and pass it on to the next thing.
His story is far from over, you can tell at the end of this issue. And that's really the thing with FLASH WAR in general, it's just a piece of a really big story we're telling. I've been saying this whole time with FLASH WAR that it isn't the end of a story, it's really the beginning, it's the next step in a really big story. You can kind of see that in [The Flash #50].
Well in the final pages of the issue, you run through all of the big... not necessarily mysteries that you've set up, but the new problems that will need to be dealt with. The biggest one, which I think fans of the TV show and now the movie will notice, is that The Flash's time travel is no longer on the table. Obviously nothing in comics is permanent, but how committed to that twist should fans expect it to be?
Yeah, I mean that's kind of how... [Laughs]. That's a funny question to ask, like you said, nothing is forever in comics. That is the status quo for right now. The question you have to ask next is... what would have to happen for Barry to realize he has to get time travel back? So that will be part of the question over the next year, and parts of the story with the Flash Family. Right now they can't travel through time, which is okay because Barry doesn't like to, he doesn't want to. But eventually something is going to happen and he's going to have to travel through time. That'll be part of the story that we tell in the book over the next year or so.
Obviously there's also the subplot -- well for now a subplot, which is the coming of The Still Force introduced in the Justice League comic. Since it wasn't a Flash comic, some readers are going to be a little unfamiliar. Is there an easy way to tease out what's at work there?
Well it's all connected. That's one thing, I mean I work with Scott [Snyder] pretty closely, I talk to him nearly every day and we talk about all of this stuff. Last year we started talking about these new forces, they were going to be tied into Flash like the Still Force, the Sage Force, the Strength Force... and some of the other mysteries we're building with those forces. The idea that the Still Force was the exact opposite of the Speed Force. The idea of entropy, the idea of not moving, and standing still. He's exploring a little bit of that in Justice League right now, and then we're going to pick it up in a big way in Flash. That was a way of us trying to show that we're trying to tell this really big story, and everything is connected. So the funny thing is, it got introduced like... when was that? That was...
Oh, not that long ago.
A month ago? Yeah, right? We knew that though, we knew that going into it, so there was a conversation like, how do we do this in a way that makes sense with the timeline? So you've got it all together and you see that it's all connected. The Still Force, and the new forces. At first Barry's going to deal with the Still Force in Justice League and the new forces in this book, and then by the Fall it will all start to collide. And Barry will have to deal with all of it.
Should we expect that this new Commander Cold from the future will be a secondary story? He's been kept intentionally mysterious so far...
With the Flash book it's kind of weird. I have a chart here that has all of the subplots we've been building since Issue #1, and there's a lot of things we teased, and a lot of things we put out there and we picked up later, and you see that in the book. The stuff with the Renegades, we put that in the Annual. Some of the stuff they talk about in the Annual ended up happening. The stuff with Gorilla Grodd we were planning out since the very beginning. And there's certain things that are still in there that we haven't really touched on yet, but we've been teasing out,
With Commander Cold, he's going to be another one of those subplots we have where he and Barry don't really get along. But to figure out what's going on with these new forces they' going to have to work together. That's a big part of the next arc in the book, that's why he's on the cover of Issue #52.
Will Leonard Snart be inquiring as to who the heck this new guy is?
Yes and no? [Laughs] Theres' going to be a lot of people... I'll say this: that mistaken identity thing happens a lot over the next three months, after Issue #52. Because #51 is an epilogue to this that kind of deals with a little bit more Wally and Barry, and what happens after FLASH WAR. And then #52 through #56 deals a lot with the new forces and how Central City is at the center of those new forces. But also Barry dealing with all the ramifications of not being the fastest man alive anymore, and how he needs to learn how to be the fastest man alive again, needs to learn to be faster so he can catch up with Hunter and catch up with all of these things that are going on.
People keep meeting Commander Cold and thinking he's Snart, or realizing immediately that he's not Snart... some people will meet him and are like, 'Huh?' And some are like, 'Well, I know you're not Snart, I can tell the difference,' that kind of thing. Right now Leonard Snart is in Suicide Squad. I hope to do a story that crosses over the Rogues with the Suicide Squad eventually, I just don't know when we're going to do it.
On that theme of mistaken identity, a lot of people will be hoping it's Jay Garrick calling out to Wally from the Speed Force, but one of the big reveals of the issue is the return of Bart Allen. How much fun is that to deliver, knowing what peoples' reactions are going to be?
Oh man, I still don't believe it, a little bit? [Laughs] I mean I always tell this to people: when I was a kid... I started reading Flash during like, right after Born To Run but during Return of Barry Allen. That's my favorite Flash story of all time. Right after that, about a year-ish after Return of Barry Allen they introduced Bart. I was about the same age, I was like thirteen, fourteen years old and I was a hyper little kid, or hyper teenager, and I freaking loved Bart. And I've missed him, you know?
In my 20s I became a Wally fan, and now as an adult, you know, I'm a Barry fan. But I still miss Bart. It was funny because I had these conversations over the last two years would come up of whether I was going to be able to use him or not. And it's the same thing, you can't just say, 'I wanna use him,' there has to be a story in play, there has to be a plan, there has to be some kind of thing we're going to do. It it was one of my dreams for FLASH WAR to be able to bring Bart back, that was a big part of it. To have this idea of being able to put him in the book, have a plan for him... I can't get too deep into it but certain things kind of aligned, certain things like the stars kind of aligned in the right spot, the right time, and I was able to pitch using him and it worked out.
So the idea that Hunter makes them break the Force Barrier, you think that all is lost, you think that Hunter won. Wally even says it, 'Well Hunter won.' But in a way he didn't, right? He beat them emotionally, but what he didn't realize was that he's allowed Bart to get out. Bart has basically been in there since Flashpoint, because Bart during the Flashpoint had that Kid Flash mini where he got trapped in there, and he thought he died. One thing I think people should think about is that... in DCU: Rebirth, when Wally came out of the Speed Force he was wearing a Kid Flash costume. Here we're in the same thing, he's coming out wearing his Impulse costume. To me he's still Impulse but that's a whole other thing.
I'm really excited about it, man. It's super surreal. There was a moment where... I never told a soul, but I was in the office the week that this was going to print, and I would walk by someone's desk and they would have a printout of just that splash page. And I would just be like, 'Oh my god, put it away!' I was so nervous I didn't want to even see it, like I would stare at it. Even when the page came in... Howard [Porter] drew that awesome splash page of him and I was just like, 'there's no way that this is gonna happen.' But it worked out, and there's some fun stuff coming with him. I can't get too deep into explaining it, I don't know when it's going to be announced, the stuff with him. But yeah there's really a lot of cool stuff, I think fans of him will be happy.
Just to be sure, I'm assuming you also have not forgotten about Jay...
Oh of course not, I mean... this is my answer. And I always say this to everybody, when it comes to anything with the Flash mythology is that from the very beginning, I'm a big Flash fan, and I want to make sure that when I leave this book that I have no regrets. That eventually when it's my time to pass on to another writer, that I don't leave the book thinking there were things I wanted to do that I didn't do, or characters that I wanted to write that I didn't get to... that by the time I get done writing this book, that I get to play with every single character that's out there someway or another. So trust me, I have not forgotten anyone.
The issue's Epilogue is a heck of a tease, and I imagine a lot of people will read to that final page and ask if they've missed something. A villain so bad that even Eobard Thawne knew to take him down and lock him up?
[Laughs] Yeah we've been building to that for a while, at the beginning of the Annual that came out in January, Commander Cold was talking about that same thing, Iron Heights... that the only good thing Eboard Thawne did was catch this one person and lock them up. It's part of a really big story we're going to be telling in Flash for a while, I'm not sure how long. It's a really big villain that we're going to kind of tease out over a while of buildup, and something involving him vs the Flashes. It will be really interesting to see how we seed this story, and what people pick up, and realize. It's definitely going to be one of those things that changes a lot of stuff about the Flash.
From the very beginning I've been telling people this is something that's the beginning of a big Flash story. And, how do I word this... it's just the beginning, that's really it. This is the beginning, and this [villain 'Crisis'] is going to be a major part of the Flash book moving forward. But at first he's going to be one of those things in the shadows building until you realize how much of a big impact he's going to have on The Flash and the DCU.
As this chapter comes to a close, Wally is not only leaving Barry, but for maybe the first time since Rebirth he has a goal ahead of him. A pretty emotionally charged one that fans will be... maybe impatient to see addressed, since this story hinges on the emotion and terror of what Wally's dealing with right now. Is his path out of this book going to be just as desperate? Or a bit more calculated?
Oh, that's rough. I'm going to say out of those two options, definitely going to say desperate. It's going to be a hard run for Wally. Issue #51 is all about Wally, it's all about Iris and Wally. Barry is definitely in it, Kid Flash is in it, Commander Cold is in it, there's some other guest stars by other DC characters, but it's definitely all about Wally. You're going to get answers to a lot of what's going on with Wally past this. Because the whole issue, we had that little two page epilogue at the end of this, but really #51 is all an epilogue to FLASH WAR. It's kind of like how #46 with the Zoom stuff was a prologue to FLASH WAR.
They are very much bookends to eachother, which is one of the things I've been really happy about with FLASH WAR is #46 and #51 are both by Scott Collins who is one of the best Flash artists of all time, and really a big part of Wally history. And then in the middle, its all drawn by Howard Porter who was also really big artist on The Flash during Wally's hayday. And so we get to kind of tell this big story with those characters in that way.
But I think a lot of the stuff people are going to ask and wonder about with Wally, and want to know where he's going, and how he's doing, what he's doing, will all be in #51.
So much effort is put into Comics and TV and Movie superheroes trying to give them a motivation that really justifies their actions. When you show Wally his kids, forgotten and imprisoned, is it almost a free pass? That Wally can do almost anything and people won't hold it against him? Or is it a balancing act of trying to keep from being too dark since Wally is still a hero, right? But what wouldn't Wally do from here on out?
Yeah, we're trying to change the way these characters work a little bit, and put your stamp on them, add a little twist on them. I think with Wally, it's going to be a rough time. It's definitely going to be hurtful for him, and an emotional rollercoaster ride. I thought about this stuff a lot, you know. When we first started out again, I couldn't just say I want Wally and Barry to fight... I had to sit down and really think about both sides, and make the two actually have a conversation and think about what Wally was going through, and what Barry had gone through. Because Barry went through what he did, Barry had his mother taken away and he went back in time to try to fix it, and he caused the Flashpoint which caused a lot of trauma.
So Barry definitely understands that like... I don't know, how do you explain that to somebody? How do you tell someone you have to do this because of this? It seems so big, it's such a big thing. And it doesn't feel as personal that you... a person can say I'm going to risk it. That's essentially what Wally did in this story where he was thinking he was going to break the Speed Force, and he broke the Force Barrier, and Hunter kind of won that. But I think he looks at it and he's like, 'I need to be smarter about this, I'm not going to make the same mistakes that Barry made. But I'm not just going to sit here, I'm going to go find them. I'm going to figure this out.'
And we'll see in #51 the emotional impact of that first. But that story, I mean dude, that story is so big and just getting started and revving up, you know? And part of it is this is somebody else's story too, because that's going to move on from me a little. So I don't want to get too much into it, but there's a lot of stuff that's going to be happening in the DCU. Those bits and pieces with Wally was really me getting him over to those areas so people could continue to tell that big story with him.
So you're really going to be putting Wally West fans through the ringer in the foreseeable future.
Well not me completely, but... the thing that I was trying to do with Flash #50 is - and I've done this before, it's interesting to me - even from the beginning, one of the things I've been doing on The Flash book is when the Speed Force storm hit Central City, and the lightning went around and caused all these different speedsters, we played with the idea of, 'if there's a bunch of speedsters out there, why am I special? Why is Barry Allen special?' You kind of saw that it isn't the powers that makes him a hero, and we played that up again when Grodd is like, 'I'm taking the powers away because a speedster is nothing. That's Barry's fear.
One of the things I like to play around with is what makes The Flash? Is it just that he's the fastest man alive? Is it just about speed? So now in #50 Wally is the fastest man alive, he wins the race, you saw he wins the race in #49. In #50 Barry tells him, 'you're the fastest man alive, I'm not the fastest man alive anymore.' But one of the things that Barry does in #50 is he motivates and inspires Wally to run faster. Which is very much their relationship, and very much who Barry is. Barry is the character that inspires people to be heroes. He inspires people to do better, and that allows Wally to do better.
I know a lot of people have always been saying, 'well Wally is the fastest, he's the fastest, he should be The Flash because of that.' And my answer back is like... really? That's it? It just takes the speed part, like that's all it takes? I think that's the thing that Barry is going to be going through too. Barry is thinking, 'do I deserve to be The Flash? Do I deserve these things?' He has to figure out, on top of 'how do I become the fastest man alive anymore,' but 'how do I become the best Flash I can be?' And that's what the story is going to be like with Barry moving forward.
But then it gets interesting. You go back and look at Wally from the whole first hundred issues of his run, it's all about him trying to be as good as Barry. And him saying, 'I'll never be as fast as Barry, I want to be as fast as Barry.' And I've kind of flipped that role now, where Barry is the one saying 'I'm never going to be as fast as Wally, I need to be as fast as Wally.' Part of my goal was to twist that relationship around with FLASH WAR. But I hope that Wally fans are happy with this whole book, I feel like I tried to paint him in a light that is heroic, and would be willing to take risks. Which is something Hunter has always said about heroes: you should be able to take risks.'
I hope fans of both characters are happy with the stuff we've been doing... and see this is all us moving these characters forward, which is always a big part of The Flash. Trying to move these characters forward.
The Flash #50 is available now from DC Comics.