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INTERVIEW: Williamson on How Flash War will Shape the DCU’s New Year

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2018 marks the start of year three for The Flash in the Rebirth era, and true to form, Barry Allen and the Wallys West are showing no signs of slowing down. The title is racing towards one of its biggest moments yet: an event called “Flash War,” which is set to kick off in The Flash Annual #1 on Jan. 31.

But what exactly is “Flash War” and where is it going to fit in the pantheon of the DC Universe — not just in Rebirth, but in continuity as a whole? CBR sat down with series writer Joshua Williamson to get a closer look at just who, what, and how “Flash War” is going to impact the landscape of the Scarlet Speedsters as they hurtle towards one of their biggest conflicts ever.

Let’s start by setting the stage a little bit: can you elaborate a bit on just where Barry’s head is at going into “Flash War”? I assume there’s a lot going on for him emotionally after everything he’s been through this past year. Tell me as much as you can without spoiling the event.

Josh Williamson: “Flash War” will be the biggest Flash story in years and it will really have a major impact on the life of Barry Allen, Wally West and the rest of the cast of the Flash title… and maybe some other books. I don’t want to spoil too much here. It’s going to get bigger than I think people are ready for.

As for Barry, it’s been a hard two years for him. Every arc has been about confronting parts of who Barry is. His fears. During the “Running Scared” arc with Thawne, Barry was forced to confront his fears of being alone. And in the end, he was. Iris found out he had lied about his life as the Flash and Kid Flash was hurt, but also angry about Barry’s lies. They both left his life for a bit.

After that Barry started to spiral and he was transferred to Iron Heights, which is where he felt he needed to be. He felt like he deserved to be behind bars. No better than the Rogues he sent there. It was a dark time for Barry. And now he’s starting to climb out of it. Trying to rebuild his life and his relationships. He wants to fix his mistakes. But before Flash War starts in May, we have the “Perfect Storm” arc that runs from #39 to #45 with Gorilla Grodd. Barry must deal with one of his biggest fears in that arc, and by the end of it he’ll have a much better idea of who he is as Barry Allen and as the Flash.

Barry is the kind of person that takes on a lot. He’s a problem solver. If you come to him with a problem he just feels like he must fix it, even if you don’t ask him to. He welcomes the weight of the world on his shoulders, no matter what the cost… how much it hurts him. And here is something — a few things, actually — that happened in the past. That when it comes back around it impacts both Barry and Wally in different ways and how they choose to deal with it… brings them into conflict.

With a name like “Flash War” it certainly sounds like we’re about to watch Barry and one or both of the Wallys come to blows — what does that mean for the Flash Family moving forward?

It does sound ominous, doesn’t it? Even the best and healthiest families get into arguments. But what could possibly make the Flash Family ever fight each other? To ever come into that kind of conflict? And is it just Barry and Wally that have this issue with each other. Two Flashes getting into a fight has the potential to drag in a lot of people.

And really, the Flash Family is a concept that was more of a Wally thing. Barry wasn’t as much the speedster family man in the way that Wally was. That was dealt with a bit in the Flash 2010 Brightest Day series, that the big family and that life was still new to Barry. Can we get them to a new place with the Flash Family where it’s a Barry and Wally thing?

From 1985 to 2009, Barry was gone and Wally was at his peak. His prime. Then when Barry came back during Final Crisis and Flash Rebirth, Wally took a backseat and eventually disappeared during the New 52. It’s been a long time since we’ve really been able to explore what they’re like together. A lot of the stories we have about them together post-Crisis are all things we were told in flashback. Aside from a few small cameos here and there, like at the end of “Rogue War.” And the story we’ve always been told is that they were the best of friends. They were this great family. And I want to show that in the present. And I want to test that relationship, to see if it can come out the other side stronger.

You’re coming up on the end of your second full year working on Rebirth Flash and in that time, you’ve had the chance to create and reintroduce some very cool new concepts and characters to the mythology — Meena, Godspeed, the Negative Speed Force, just off the top of my head — is “Flash War” something that you’ve been building to with these new additions all along, or was the road to it a little more organic?

A lot of the stuff from the first two years was a build up to the big Gorilla Grodd “Perfect Storm” story arc that runs from January to April starting in Flash #39. But yes, there were seeds all the way for a much bigger story. There were certain aspects that I left on the table to pick up later. It’s funny, people will ask me at cons about certain story points or a character acting out of character, or something that didn’t make 100 percent sense to them… and I just smile. Because it’s all a giant plan. That’s one of my favorite parts of long form superhero comics. The long game you can play that someday, at the end, people can look back and see all the puzzle pieces that they missed. That there were pieces all the way back in Flash Rebirth#1 that I left behind for a reason. And honestly, doing a Flash book where I get to make new additions and build on the great Flash mythology with characters like Godspeed… it’s a dream come true.

Now with “Flash War,” the last two years, I really wanted to work with Wally West. The original who returned in DCU Rebirth, but he was doing his own thing in Titans. I tried to get him in the book a few times, but he was only able to make a few very short appearances which I felt was a shame.

Last spring when I was working on the “Running Scared” arc, I was deep in the mind of the Flash Family and its history, and felt like I just had to get Wally in the book. It just didn’t sit right with me that he wasn’t in the title. And as much as I was building to a bigger story I came across the idea for “Flash War.” It came from character and from moments in the story that I saw coming… and once I knew we for sure doing “Flash War” the direction of the title shifted. A lot of doors that had been closed for a long time opened. And I knew I needed certain pieces and characters to make “Flash War” work. And… I got to have Wally West in the book to help lead into “Flash War.” That was huge. It all came organically but worked with the story I was already building.

And speaking of Flash mythology, a while back you shared a tweet of some old Flash books you’ve been reading for research. For the completionist fans out there, can you call out some of the classic stories you’d recommend we read to prep for the event?

That picture says… most of it. I left a few things out because I was worried it would spoil things. I reread “The Life Story of the Flash” recently. That’s been a big one. I feel like we should do a sequel to that. I have a large shelf of Flash trades in my office and the research I’ve been doing goes way beyond what I posted in that picture. And I have nearly every issue of The Flash here in some form or another so if I ever need to look at anything for research I know where to go.

Once people read the Flash Annual #1 at the end of January that is a prelude to Flash War… a lot of things will come into light. The shape of what exactly Flash War is will become very clear and then we can talk about what comics to read. If you are already a Flash fan like we are… you’ll know when you read that annual what’s up.

Now over those two years, you’ve been able to work a revolving cast of really incredible artists on this book, and all of them have brought their own unique energy and style to Central City. Can you talk a little about the what your process with your collaborators works? Is there a secret to working with Howard Porter or something that Carmine Di Giandomenico absolutely loves to draw you try to work in?

The teams we’ve had on Flash have been excellent. I’ve been very lucky with the artists I get to work with on The Flash. Carmine, Neil Googe, Felipe Watanabe, Davide Gianfelice, Jorge Corona, Jesus Merino. Ryan Sook! Pop Mhan and Paul Pelletier. And most of the issues were colored by Ivan [Plascencia] or Hi-Fi. All have added to the story we’ve been telling. And now we have Carlos D’anda coming to the book for a few issues during “Perfect Storm.”

When I first started on The Flash, I was pretty hardcore detailed full script, but have loosened up the style a lot. The way I work with Howard is we talk on the phone about the ideas and the way the issue will roll out. Bounce some ideas around. I share with him the outlines ahead of time as well. Once we talk I start scripting and the share it with Howard.

It’s been awesome. Anytime we’re thinking of a cool idea or a way to do a scene we just jump on the phone. Howard is one of the best talents at DC, and I’ve been a big fan of his since he was on The Ray, so it’s been awesome to work with him. And the stuff he’s been doing for “Flash War” has been insane. I’ll work with him to the day I die.

With Carmine, because he is in Italy it’s harder to jump on the phone, but after working with him the last two years I feel like I have a good handle on writing for him. He injects a lot of energy and creativity into the pages. There are some really cool pages in the “Perfect Storm” arc that he did that was outstanding. He knows how to take the scripts and give them a certain kind flair that makes it all so exciting. So with Carmine, I try to find places for that kind of energy. We recently did the Dark Nights: Red Death special and I think that unlocked a few things between us as collaborators and you’ll be able to see that on “Perfect Storm.”

What are the artists working on “Flash War” bringing to this arc that we’ll be surprised by? In your experience, what constitutes a great Flash artist?

Movement. That’s the key. Can you handle the kind of movement a book like The Flash needs that will lead the reader across the page? And Howard knows that crazy well. Howard’s run on The Flash with Geoff Johns was one of my favorites, and when he came on our book with “The Button,” we had just worked on the last issue of Justice League vs. Suicide Squad, and I was ecstatic. I’ll be honest, a lot of what is “Flash War” and what the Flash book will be in 2018 came from talking to Howard. Howard has an amazing career at DC, with books like JLA but I believe this is his best work. It’s insane. He knows how to show the speed of the Flash but also how to slow it down for the emotional moments a Flash book needs.

Howard is doing the main bulk of “Flash War” with the main issues, while Christian Duce will be doing part of the Flash Annual and some issues around “Flash War.” And Christian is someone I first worked with a lifetime ago when I would do smaller custom publishing jobs for DC, and he’s someone I’ve seen really grow as an artist and he has such amazing potential. Really excited for everyone to see the work he’s been doing. I think they’ll be impressed and see that he has a bright future.

And finally, “Flash War” is the kickoff point for 2018 for Barry and the Wallys, but there’s still a lot more of the year left to cover — can you tease a little of what’s to come?

“Perfect Storm” with Gorilla Grodd and Wally West returning to the book is running from Flash #39 to Flash #45. It’s a huge story that gets really nuts will surprise people. There we’re going at our top speed in The Flash, but it’s all a build up and setting the stage for “Flash War.” The Flash Annual reveals some of the big points that we’ll be exploring in “Perfect Storm,” which puts us on the road to “Flash War,” which launches in May.

“Flash War” brings in a lot of new concepts, a return of some older Flash mythology and is the start of bigger story in the Flash series. I know that’s a bit of a spoiler, but that’s how I see “Flash War.” As a start of a new Flash era. A lot of big and fun and new and crazy is coming for the Flash because of “Flash War.”

I really cannot understate how important “Flash War” is to the Flash mythology… and really to the DCU moving forward in 2018.

The Flash Annual #1, the prelude to “Flash War,” is scheduled for release on Jan. 31.