Taken from IGN....
Geoff Johns Discusses Flash: Rebirth
Why should anyone care about Barry Allen? The architect of many classic Scarlet Speedster stories chats with IGN about the return of Barry Allen.
by Dan Phillips
April 2, 2009 - He's lent his talents to revitalizing Superman, Green Lantern, Justice Society of America and the Legion of Superheroes among other beloved properties, but now, with Flash: Rebirth, writer Geoff Johns takes on arguably his biggest challenge yet: reintroducing Barry Allen to a new generation of readers. Following the events of DC Universe Zero and Final Crisis, the Silver Age Flash has returned to the DC Universe fully for the first time since his heroic death in Crisis On Infinite Earths, but as issue #1 proved, his return is not quite the jolly affair many imagined.
IGN Comics sat down with Johns to talk about the long-awaited debut issue, get his thoughts on Barry Allen and the Flash mythology, and compare this project with his and artist Ethan Van Sciver's celebrated Green Lantern: Rebirth miniseries. Be sure to check back after each issue of Flash: Rebirth hits to read Johns' thoughts and commentary on the project!
IGN Comics: My first question is probably one you've heard often leading up to Flash: Rebirth, because I think it's one that a lot of fans my age are wondering. I'm twenty-five, so the over-whelming majority of Flash comics I've read had Wally West in the costume.
Geoff Johns: Me too, by the way.
IGN Comics: Right. Which is why I'm so curious about your decision to be involved in Barry's return. In the lead-up to Green Lantern: Rebirth, readers still had plenty of exposure to Hal Jordan because of his role as the Spectre. That hasn't really been the case with Barry, though, whose appearances have been few and far between since his death in the original Crisis. Knowing so many fans will be unfamiliar with Barry, how are you planning on introducing him to a whole new generation?
Johns: Well the whole idea is to introduce Barry Allen to everybody, period. I think even people who know Barry Allen will find things in issue #1 that they've never seen before. We've never really visited Barry Allen's past before he got hit by the bolt of lightning. And so some of what Rebirth is going to do is delve back into the past and reveal some things about it that previously weren't there.
IGN Comics: You're speaking specifically of the whole tragedy involving his father and mother?
IGN Comics: That's interesting, because as far as I know, the character never really had any tragedy in his life up until the big Professor Zoom story right before Crisis. Why did you think it was important to bring some tragedy into his back-story?
Johns: What we'll find out is we'll see what drove him to adopt such a strong sense of justice. I really want to explore what drove Barry Allen to adopt his uncanny sense of wrong and right. You're not just born with that. Barry Allen strove for that and was somewhat obsessed with it. Also, it's about why he got into forensics. What led him to that area of work? Why not become a cop or a prosecutor? Why forensics? That's something I really wanted to explore – what drove Barry Allen to this life that he chose? What made him Barry Allen before he was hit by the bolt of lightning?
IGN Comics: For those who never really went back and read all the comics of the Barry Allen Flash era, can you explain what you believe makes him so different than Jay, Wally and Bart?
Johns: Jay Garrick for me is kind of like the father figure. He's everybody's dad in JSA, and I've always played him as a father figure that you could talk to. He's the guy who is really supportive and would reach out and help you. Wally West is the sidekick made good. He's grown up and now has his own family. He's kind of come full circle from a kid to now raising kids himself – and kids that he can't necessarily relate to. With Bart it was one thing, because he was this kid who was a little bit unwieldy but still had super speed. So on one hand Wally could relate to Bart and could see this impulsive kid and what made him this way, and what super speed could do to you when you're young.
But now Wally has these two kids who, although they derive their powers from the speed force, their powers are completely bizarre. One can turn intangible and the other can tap into this weird super strength. And for him, he just doesn't know how to deal with that. He struggles with it. So I see Wally as this father figure who is in over his head. And then you've got Barry who is coming back, and I think his attitude is completely different than anybody would think it was. Because he comes back to find out that he's looked upon as a saint, as if he was perfect. He saved the universe and became St. Allen. And that's a little bit jarring to him.
IGN Comics: From the scene we see with Barry and Hal, it seems like Barry feels a distance or disconnect with the world. His time in the speed force seems to have detached him from humanity to a certain extent. There's almost this Captain America-like "man out of time" element to your take on him here.
Johns: There is, because so much time has passed for him. Unlike Hal Jordan's time away, where the Green Lantern Corps was devastated and the whole Green Lantern universe got sort of messed up, the Flash universe moved on and even flourished. They paid respect to Barry, but also grew past him. Wally became the Flash, Bart became Kid Flash and there were a bunch of new speedsters out there. Barry has come back to kind of check everything out and is wondering what he's there for. Why does he need to be there? Though his legacy was strong, now he's feeling detached from everything. He doesn't' really know where to run next. All he knows is that he feels the clock ticking for some reason in the back of his head. In his mind, he's just going to help as many people as he possibly can. That's his focus right now.
IGN Comics: Obviously Green Lantern: Rebirth immediately brought up a whole debate between the Kyle Rayner fans and the Hal Jordan fans, and I assume Flash: Rebirth will bring about the same sort of argument between Wally and Barry fans, with Wally fans worrying that he'll be pushed to the side.
The nature of the Green Lantern property allows for multiple heroes to occupy the mantel at the same time, which allowed you to keep Kyle front and center. With the Flash concept, however, I imagine it will take a little more creative maneuvering to allow Barry and Wally to both share the spotlight. Did you struggle at all to give both characters equally important roles?
Johns: Well you kind of have to look at what the Flash Universe is. Obviously not everything has been revealed to the reader yet. You're asking me to answer a question that was answered at the very end of Green Lantern: Rebirth, and I can't really comment on that this soon.
IGN Comics: Fair enough. To a certain extent, it almost seems like you're using Bart Allen as a mouthpiece for the Wally fans who object to Barry coming back and assuming the mantel.
Johns: Bart has an attitude that I think he has every right to have. And he'll expand on that as we move forward. But to Bart, he's finally gotten back as Kid Flash, and to him, he's wondering what happens now that Barry Allen is back. For Bart it feels wrong. There's something that's bothering him about Barry's return and he's not sure what it is.
IGN Comics: Bart's role in the series will most likely present a certain amount of awkwardness for readers. We saw him return in Legion of Three Worlds #3, but everyone is going to be wondering how he got back to the present in his younger form.
Johns: You're going to see him get back to the present day after Legion of Three Worlds. It's not like it's a big secret. After Legion of Three Worlds he's back in our time.
IGN Comics: So fans just need to be patient and they'll find everything out?
Johns: You don't even have to be patient. Just know that at the end of Legion of Three Worlds he's back here. He even says in this issue that he came back from the future. The reason I wanted to bring him back from the 31st Century was because it harkens back to where he came from in the first place. He was born in the future, and if he was going to come back and be Kid Flash again, I wanted it to reference back to where he came from in the first place. Just as when he came back here as Impulse, he's coming back as Kid Flash.
IGN Comics: We see that he's reverted to his younger form, but what can you say about his mental state? Does he retain the memories from his time as the Flash?
Johns: He certainly retains the memories, but by all accounts, all the adult part of him is gone. The adult part of him was just like when he grew in spurts as Impulse, and all that adult part of him is gone. But the idea is I just want to get back to Bart Allen as Kid Flash. I think that's the character I want to reestablish firmly in the Flash universe.
IGN Comics: I've talked to you before about how you often use continuity as a tool rather than a hindrance, and you've explained how it all sort of comes naturally because it's all constantly kicking around in your head.
With Green Lantern: Rebirth, you did a decent amount of "house keeping" in terms of making past stories jibe together and work in service towards the greater epic you planned to tell. With the Flash Universe, the mythology is so tied into time travel that I imagine that sort of thing, making sense of it all, would be a lot more difficult to accomplish this time around. Was it tough to get everything squared away in the planning stages of this project?
Johns: No. It was a lot different because Barry Allen returning is a pretty clean return as far as where he came from. He came out of the speed force. Whereas with Hal you had his death and the Spectre and all this craziness. We'll get into how Barry came back and why Barry came back throughout Rebirth. But it absolutely fits in pretty clean, and I think you'll see how it all ties in. It's pretty tight. Like Green Lantern: Rebirth, this will tie in a lot of stuff that's happened over the years into one story.
The idea is to kind of take everything that's come before and push it forward into a new direction. Just like with Green Lantern, where everything came together. You're supposed to have a hundred questions after reading Flash: Rebirth #1, and as we move forward those questions will be answered.
IGN Comics: Just one thing that I'd like to clarify: Marv Wolfman has famously stated that he left a loophole in Crisis on Infinite Earths where Barry could be yanked out of his death run in a way that would allow him to come back and live out his life knowing he had to eventually return to sacrifice himself. It seems like you and Grant went a completely different direction with the way you brought him back in DC Universe Zero and Final Crisis. Is that correct?
Johns: Yeah. It's totally different.
IGN Comics: Alright. So let's hit on the issue's opening scene. Obviously it's supposed to carry with it a certain amount of mystery, but the character's claim that he brought Barry back from the dead brings up a ton of questions. Can you say anything about what's going on in that opening?
Johns: No. [laughs]
IGN Comics: Is this a character that fans know?
Johns: I can't say anything about the opening. Sit tight.
GN Comics: Okay, moving on. In addition to the opening murder scene, the second thread running through the issue is the idea that Barry's return has clearly had some serious ramifications on the speed force. We see it with the Black Flash's death as well as the result of Barry touching Savitar. Is that question of what Barry's return means for the speed force something that will play throughout the entire miniseries?
Johns: I'll just say this: the character in the opening scene says, "I brought you back, Barry, and it's the worst thing I could do to you." That sums up the entire miniseries as far as the mystery and what's going to happen. This will be expanded upon in the miniseries, but the idea is that Barry is back and it's not a good thing for everybody else.
IGN Comics: How about the ramifications of the Black Flash's death specifically? What does that mean for the rest of the speedsters?
Johns: More on that next issue.
IGN Comics: In Final Crisis, Wally states that he dealt with the Black Racer before in the form of the Black Flash. Are you working off that same premise – that both characters are iterations of the same force?
Johns: You'll see more about that in issue #2.
IGN Comics: How about the Rogues. Last time we saw them in Rogues Revenge, they were coming to terms with the realization that whatever rules they might have been playing by with Wally have been thrown out the window by Barry's return.
Johns: Mirror Master's line in this issue sums it up pretty well.
IGN Comics: "We're gonna need more Rogues." That reminded me of "we're gonna need a bigger boat."
Johns: Yeah that's the idea.
IGN Comics: Though fans weren't necessarily aware of it at the time, Green Lantern: Rebirth began what would become a trilogy of stories. Are there similar long term plans for Flash: Rebirth?
Johns: I think you can already start to see seeds of stuff in the first issue if you look closely. There are definitely long-term plans for this book and for the Flash Universe. You will see it unfold – that's all I can say.
IGN Comics: That brings up a question about your work in general. You seem to plan things with an eye towards the future – even more so than most.
Johns: I'm a long-term planner because I like to plan where the characters and the universes are going to go. I like to work on a bigger canvas, I guess, with these smaller stories making bigger stories making bigger arcs turning into one giant character arc for a team or group. All I can say is I'm dedicated to the Flash Universe.
IGN Comics: When you're planning out these long-term blueprints, how much wiggle room do you allow yourself to pick up on ideas on the fly?
Johns: Oh, plenty. Everything grows and changes. Even before I type it, a line of dialogue changes or a scene suddenly takes a different shape. Things always evolve and change, but the general direction is always pretty solid when I start.
IGN Comics: Have there been any recent instances where a sudden idea pulled the rug out from under all your plans?
Johns: Sure. Absolutely. For instance, it quickly became clear that the idea for Flash: Rebirth was nothing like Green Lantern: Rebirth. In fact, it's the exact opposite.
IGN Comics: How so?
Johns: Well Hal Jordan was a bad guy. He was essentially the worst sinner and biggest maniac in the DC Universe, and then he came back. This is the exact opposite. Barry Allen is deemed a saint and the greatest hero in the DC Universe, and he's come back. The entire story is almost upside down from Hal Jordan's rebirth.
IGN Comics: Well the whole goal of Green Lantern: Rebirth was to show why Hal Jordan was the greatest Green Lantern of them all. Is that the same goal with Barry's rebirth?
Johns: It's a Barry-centric story. The goal is to explore Barry and find out what he means to the Flash universe other than just saying he's the greatest. All these guys look up to him save for Bart. Jay looked up to him. Wally obviously looked up to him. All the DC Universe looked up to him – even heroes that Barry never met. And Barry comes back to find all that. But it's not a question of showing everybody who Barry is. It's almost a question of Barry rediscovering it for himself.
IGN Comics: So it's almost like you're trying to humanize the legend, whereas with Hal it was about trying to build that legend back up.
Johns: Well with Hal we saw some of the back-story and we got to see his humanity a lot. You have to realize that they stopped doing any monthly storytelling with Barry Allen in 1985. I didn't start reading comics until '85. You have Barry Allen missing an entire two decades of modern storytelling. He didn't get the Batman: Year One, the Superman: Man of Steel, the Green Lantern: Emerald Dawn or the George Perez Wonder Woman treatments. He's a blank slate in a lot of ways. A lot of readers don't know him.
Now for me, when Hal Jordan came back, Hal Jordan was coming back as a cornerstone of a bigger universe of the Green Lantern mythology. It was about raising the bar of the Green Lantern Universe itself – what it meant and the scope of it all. And Hal was the cornerstone of it. For a lot of readers I talked to, this was the first time they had read Green Lantern. Hal Jordan didn't come back for all the people who remembered him way back when. I mean, he came back for them too, but it was really more for a brand new audience. Hal Jordan brought in a lot of new people.
And that's the same thing we're going for with Flash: Rebirth and Barry's return. I want people who never read the Flash before to jump onboard and find out what the Flash universe is all about. It's not just about a guy who runs fast. There are all these other characters involved, and chief among them is Barry Allen. But then the question becomes 'why is he the cornerstone?' Just because people say so? Because he saved the universe? Well as Bart Allen says in this issue, "Sure, he sacrificed himself to save the universe, but now he's back. So what did he really sacrifice?"
IGN Comics: Again, that brings me back to my point about Bart, in that he's voicing a lot of the thoughts of modern day readers.
Johns: The idea is that you've never seen Barry in action before. You've never seen him cut loose.
IGN Comics: As far as bringing new fans on goes, attempting to introduce and redefine the Flash Universe for a new generation seems like quite the daunting task. Did you have to go back and reevaluate what defines a great Flash story? Obviously, you had the long run on the monthly where you probably thought about the same questions, but this seems a lot different.
Johns: I tackled things back then differently. If you look at this first issue, there's a real sense of speed as a theme. Ethan did a great job on this, and the idea of speed is something Ethan and I talked a lot about. But the job of Flash: Rebirth is to tell the absolute best Flash story we can utilizing all the pieces on the table. Again, it's about taking all that and pushing it to the next level.
IGN Comics: Is it as simple as coming up with all the iconic elements from the Flash's past and trying to incorporate them in a fresh way?. To use the simplest example, the latest solicits describe another Superman vs. Barry race.
Johns: That solicit itself is probably the most simplified version of what Rebirth #3 is you could ever imagine. You probably see that solicit and think, "oh, another race between Barry and Superman!" And as you can tell from issue #1, this thing is pretty hardcore. It's a hardcore mystery. It's a detective story. It's a superhero epic on a much bigger scale than a simple bunch of races strung together by a "Welcome Back, Barry" story.
IGN Comics: But do you have certain tropes in your head that you know you want to hit in a Flash story?
Johns: Well there were certain things I wanted to hit, but they had to happen organically. The only reason there's even a semblance of a Superman/Flash race in this series is because as I was writing it that grew organically out of the story. The race is for a very specific reason. Superman is essentially trying to stop Barry from doing something. But again, all this stuff grows out of the story.
IGN Comics: Anything else you want to say about the miniseries?
Johns: Just that if you don't know who Barry is, then this is the book for you.
IGN Comics: Thanks for taking the time, Geoff. Look forward to talking to you about issue #2.
Johns: No problem, Dan. Talk to you then.