Fans of DC Comics' "Flash" series have been saying the same thing for the past few years since Geoff Johns took over the writing reins of the series: "read this comic book." It would seem that their cheers of support have had an impact, with new readers flocking to the book and acclaim growing for the Scarlet Speedster's series each month, but Johns' isn't ready to rest on his laurels. With the buzz already high on April's "Blitz" storyline, that features the return of classic Flash arch-nemesis Zoom, Johns spoke with CBR News about his plans for the reportedly bold new direction of the series after issue #200 and reintroduced readers to Wally West, the Flash himself.
"The book's about an average guy named Wally West, who was struck by lightning and is now the fastest man alive," says Johns. "He is the hero of Keystone City, which is the blue collar capital of America, where they make anything that moves from planes to trains to automobiles, and no one's better than Keystone at that. The one problem it does have, though the people are very honest, is that the city's infested with 'Rogues,' criminals that have extraordinary scientific devices or powers that they use to perpetrate crimes. They hide everywhere."
Even with a well-realized world for the Flash to play in, he is still another superhero in tights to many and has only one power: running really fast. But to Johns, making the Flash interesting to readers isn't a challenge and he believes that if people give Wally West a chance, they'll be taken with the character. "It's all perception, because things slip by other people that won't slip by Flash. For example, when a bomb explodes, Flash can watch it explode. When lightning strikes, he can watch it strike and see it grow. It's a unique experience for him because when he's in the world of speed, there's no sound and his ears just don't process sound, so he's in this big beautiful silent world where anything's amazing. Watching a bullet pierce the air is cool. Watching fire move and flicker. It's a scary and compelling place - the world between the ticks of a second.
"For me, Wally West grew up being a superhero and that makes him different from so many other heroes. He used to be the sidekick to Barry Allen, the silver age Flash, and now Wally's the hero- I think he's the first real sidekick who accomplished what they set out to do, which is take over their mentor's mantle after their mentor dies. He's also not a genius -- the only reason he knows physics is because he had to learn more about his own powers. But he's a by the cuff, feet on the ground and heart on the sleeve kind of guy- he doesn't play mind games with anybody. He is who he says he is.
"If Wally had to describe being the Flash, he'd say it's the best rush in the world and he would say it's a responsibility he loves and feels very proud of carrying on. Wally's very confident, he's been doing it for so long - it's the only thing he really knows how to do."
Being Flash may prove fatal to Wally West in April's "Blitz" storyline, which Johns has promised will change the Flash mythos forever and affect Wally in a way that no one expects. The cause of this change will be Zoom, though there's some confusion as to whether this is the classic Zoom (as seen most recently in the Mark Waid penned "Return of Barry Allen") or an all new version of this classic foe, confusion that makes Johns smile. "There are conflicting reports on purpose. We don't want anyone to know what we're doing yet. All people know is that Zoom is coming back and that there will be a form of Zoom in 'Flash.' We don't want to tell people much beyond that. I don't think you need much more to sell the story than to say, 'It's Scott Kolins drawing two guys moving at super speed fighting across the world.' He's gonna draw the hell out of it."
When Zoom's been used in stories previously, whether it be the events leading up the classic "Trial of Barry Allen" or the more recent, "Return of Barry Allen," it's almost seemed like a rite of passage for the Flash -- his appearances are sparse and expectations are high from fans whenever the villain appears. "There's no more pressure on us because the reason we're using him is, as you said, it's a rite of passage. This will be another rite of passage- whether it's a good one or bad one remains to be seen. You can't do a two-part story with Zoom- he's become too big of a character for that and Mark Waid proved how big he is with 'Return of Barry Allen,' which is probably my favorite Flash storyline ever. Same with the 'Trial'- it was huge back then and proved, once again, that Zoom is big…just like his stories. It changed Flash's life forever. Captain Cold can show up here and there. Trickster can pop up whenever he wants to, but when Zoom shows up, it's a big, big deal."
Johns says the same will be true of "Blitz" and while he wants fans to pick up the story, he says it's better if people don't know what's coming up. "I don't want to spoil the story of 'Blitz,' as it's just not about Wally West fighting for his life and there's a lot more going on. I can tell you what it's not about. It's not about revenge. It's not about taking Wally's place. It's not about destroying the world. It's not about being evil. I'm sure some people will be upset by the developments that occur in the book, I'm sure of it, but that's a good thing. It's gonna get a reaction, a really strong reaction and it's a good step forward- 'Flash' has never been controversial, ever, but this may be the story that does it. It's not controversy for controversy's sake- it's a step we're taking in the overall plot. Some people won't respond to it, some people will- my comments will be very clear when we get to issue #201. But we've been building to this storyline, Scott & I, since we started on this book and we knew what this was going to be, when this story was going to be and that it had to be in #200. The new direction, it must have been a year ago when Dan DiDio talked with us about 'Flash' and we came up with what would occur after this. That's why I'm sticking around. Because the next race is going to be a lot of fun."
While Johns' passion for this story is quite evident, most writers do promise lasting occurrences after big "events" in comics, but this time the writer says it'll be unlike anything people are expecting. "I know that's a marketing cliché but I can't think of any other way to spin it. Like I've said before, it's the single biggest change in the Flash's life since Wally West put on the costume. I think that's true. I'm not going to say that we haven't seen this kind of thing before, but it's something no one expects. It's all about who the Flash is and the person behind the mask. We'll still have the Rogues and Keystone City, but we've tackled that -- we're trying to take the person behind the mask to the next level and we're going for a fresh new start, that'll hopefully draw in even more people."
No matter how good the writing, a comic book series needs exciting art and judging by fan response, the team of Scott Kolins, Doug Hazelwood and James Sinclair does qualify. With "Blitz" on the horizon, Johns is sure that new readers joining the festivities will enjoy the art at the very least and has nothing but kind words for his comrades in arms. "The art team has outdone themselves and they're gonna blow this thing out of the water," exclaims Johns. "There's this scene in #198 where Scott is going to out-top all his previous work. His detail is unbelievable and his Zoom is very striking. He did a few tiny tweaks on the costume, where the wings on the side are more like horns and the eyes are a bit reverse of Wally- they're black with the glowing red eye. He's also taller and bigger- the guy's very imposing. Scott's nailed what's Zoom's about and he's not just drawing two Flashes- it's Wally and this very scary guy. Then there's the destruction occurring in 'Blitz' and if you're familiar with the just completed 'Run Riot' story or our other Grodd issues, you'll know that Scott is a monster when it comes to this stuff. We haven't seen a lot of his Jay Garrick or Impulse or Jesse Quick, so it should be great to see that in action. All of the guys on our book are making it look amazing."
There's also some dangling plot threads in "Flash" and as any reader of Geoff Johns' work knows, the scribe never starts a story without the end in sight. One of the more popular subplots in the series has been Captain Cold commandeering the Rogues and Johns says that it's a plot point that won't be forgotten. "Cold plays a major, major role post #200. I know a lot of people keep asking about the Rogue spotlight issues and you'll be happy to know that 'Flash #197,' 'Blitz Part 1,' is really a Zoom spotlight issue. And then we'll probably have another down the line after #200, I don't know when, but I want to keep doing those. There are so many characters and I don't know whom we'll hit next. I love Mirror Master. I'd love to do Cicada. I could definitely do Trickster or Murmur. I think that any Rogue issue would be a challenge. It's always a lot of fun. The Piper storyline will also be resolved after issue #200."
With all this discussion of changes and overhauling of "Flash" and the titular character, it should be mentioned that it's a common belief that iconic heroes like Flash, Green Lantern, Batman and Superman, for example, can't ever really change because they're icons and needed for marketing purposes. Johns says that on "Flash," he's been given a lot of leeway and that when you look at DC, you'll see that things do change. "In all honesty, I'm sure that's all true to a degree- I mean you can't kill Flash and have no one ever put on the suit again, he's too much of an icon. At the same time, you can't say they didn't do anything with Green Lantern- whether you agree with it or not, it's a big change. Characters like Superman and Batman can't be changed a lot, but you can still do a lot with the world around them and if you approach it right, with them, too. DC has been extremely fantastic with any changes we've done or are doing. The guys up there want to see things evolve and move forward.
"DC hasn't hindered us at all and they've encouraged us to add our own spin to things, which you'll see in 'Blitz.'"
Johns also adds that "Blitz" will be very new reader friendly and that he encourages superhero fans to give the series a try, as he feels it will epitomize the best the series has to offer on all creative levels. "We're gonna tell a kick ass story about a hero who can move at the speed of light and a villain who can move at the speed of light. It's gonna be a fun and intense. Are we trying to change the world with this story arc? No. I just think in 'Flash' we're putting together a damn good superhero comic."