Speeding to the Top: Talking "Flash" with Guggenheim

Thu, May 3rd, 2007 at 12:00am PDT

Comic Books
Jeffrey Renaud, Staff Writer

"Flash" #14
Marc Guggenheim is asked the same question every time he does an interview these days.

"Are we going to see Barry Allen or Wally West during your run in Flash?"

And without fail "The Flash: Fastest Man Alive" writer responds with the same monosyllabic rejection: "No."

But as CBR News caught up with Guggenheim, on this rare occasion he did offer a hint of a qualifier: "[That is) not unless I do a flashback, which I may very well end up doing. But no, I am not bringing back Barry and I am not bringing back Wally."

And do you want to know why?

"The thing that I find the most fun about Bart is he's very happy-go-lucky and he's a funny guy, a funny character. I like writing funny people. I think even the darker characters that I have written like Wolverine and Blade, I use them with a little more wit than they have shown in the past because at the end of the day, that's what I like to write. And with Bart, I feel I can really write towards that strength," explained Guggenheim, who has delivered two well-received stories since taking over writing duties on "The Flash" from Danny Bilson and Paul DeMeo with #9 in February.

The veteran TV writer of such hits shows as "CSI: Miami" and "Brothers & Sisters" also noted he'd be returning to "Wolverine" following Jeph Loeb's six-issue Sabretooth arc and there's more Marvel goodness coming from him soon.

"I just turned in the first issue of a five-part arc on 'Wolverine,'" explained Guggenheim, who wrote a seven-issue "Civil War" tie-in run for the series last year. "After Loeb, I am going back to Wolverine. There are one or two fill-in issues between Loeb and me. I have five issues with a really cool artist that I can't disclose just yet because they haven't announced it yet. I just turned in the first chapter. It will be five issues. I am also doing a top secret project for Marvel that I can't talk about, but I'm two issues in on that. It's very far off in the future - maybe December. Because of the artist that I am working with, and his limited availability, I had to get a very early jump on those issues."

But just as Barry and Wally are the past, Logan and the mystery project are the future. Guggenheim's work of the present however, is establishing Bart Allen as The Flash.

"That's the entire raison d'Ítre of this first arc," explained Guggenheim. "I was really only given one marching order, which is, make Bart the new Flash.

"My goal is to, by the end of the first arc, have Bart accepted as the new Flash. If it doesn't happen with a majority of readers, than I will feel like I failed."

"Flash" #13
Pulling that goal more within reach is the arrival of fan favorite Tony Daniel ("Teen Titans") who was announced as the book's new artist for #11, but actually jumped in sooner than expected and contributed to #10.

"Tony's arrival helps enormously [in establishing Bart]. For one thing, Tony is amazing. His art work is really, really, really stunning and he has done an incredible job of capturing Bart as The Flash. It is very easy to make the mistake of saying, 'It's just The Flash. He's got a mask and…' but Tony's Flash is different than Wally. It's different than Barry," explained Guggenheim. "It looks like Bart in the costume, but at the same time not looking like Kid Flash. And I think that is actually a lot harder to pull off than a lot of people might think. The other thing that Tony gives us is some consistency with the art, which is something that the book has been dying for even before I got on. Tony is a guy who can hit a monthly schedule too, he's good. He's the whole package. That was really, really lucky for us."

DC is hyping "Flash" #14 with the same type of zeal that Marvel supposedly espoused to its devotees (and retailers) about "Captain America" #25. The teaser solicitation reads:

DC Comics announces the second month of a special "Flash" promotion as the Fastest Man Alive's world changes forever! Retailers: please check your Previews order form for a special incentive designed to help you meet the demand for this story.

Unfortunately for "Flash" fans, Guggenheim isn't talking about the issue but for good reason.

"I can't tell you for two reasons, three reasons actually," quipped the native New Yorker who worked in Boston as a lawyer before becoming a full-time writer. "First off, it's a really cool surprise that I don't want to ruin, the second thing is, I honestly don't know what the incentive that they (DC) are offering is, so I can't even speak to it and the third thing is, I don't know what incentives were offered for 'Captain America' #25 because I was the last person in the world to know that Captain America was being killed. I walked into my comic book store like anyone else and my comic book owner yelled at me because he says he could have used a head's up, like all the other retailers, about Cap dying and I am like, 'I had no idea.' So, I am very excited that DC is promoting the book the way they are. I love the fact that we have a variant cover on issues #11 and #13. I love the fact that they are doing some sort of incentive for #14, but honest to God, I don't know what the incentive is."

But Guggenheim says don't wait until #14 to jump aboard this rocket-fueled bandwagon. According to Guggenheim, who is also busy at work on a pilot for ABC entitled "Eli Stone," from here on out, every issue of "Flash" is going to be non-stop action.

Not to mention the lifeblood of the speedsters will be further explored.

"We can expect to see a change in Bart's relationship to the Speed Force," explains Guggenheim. "One of the things that I am trying really hard to do with the book is give each issue a really kick-ass cliff hanger. Iris coming back at the end of #10, we've got Bart theoretically outing himself at the end of #11, then there's #12 and with #13, we probably top ourselves in terms of a shocking cliff-hanger."

As for #14 itself, Guggenheim remained coy when pushed further about its importance to both the series and the character. He wouldn't even share if #14 was the last chapter of his current arc or the first of a new arc.

"Flash" #12
"There's a complicated answer to that. It's a question that calls for a very complex answer which I can't quite divulge, but I think people will be really happy," laughs Guggenheim.

Three years ago, Guggenheim worked as a writer on the short-lived yet critically acclaimed "Jack & Bobby," which was co-created by "Justice League of America" scribe Brad Meltzer. The two have remained friends and it was Meltzer himself who came up with the storyline surrounding Bart's near-inclusion into DC's superhero mega-roster.

"Basically, here's the deal. Brad is a novelist and he can't help but approach comic book writing in the same way that he approaches a novel, which is he sits down and he writes," said Guggenheim. "He writes all 12 issues. So by the time I got to my first issue of 'The Flash,' he was so far ahead on 'JLA' that one of us would have been out of sync with each other if I had Bart join the 'JLA.' At the same time, I had a real desire - and again, this is all part of the overarching goal to establish Bart as the Flash - to have him join the JLA. That would have been the quick and dirty way of establishing him. And it was something that I thought about. It was something that I talked about with Brad, but then upon learning just how far ahead he was, I was like, 'Well, that's clearly not going to work.' And then Brad had this great idea, as Brad is want to do, of why don't we set up this idea that Bart really wants to join the JLA and in discussions with him, that whole bit in #9 that he has an opportunity to join The Titans, but he decides to hold out for the League, that was Brad's great idea. And I thought that it's almost better than Bart joining the League because it felt really real and touching and appropriate for the character and the place the character is in his life. It was one of those cool moments that were really borne out of a production issue. Namely, I couldn't have Bart join the League under any circumstances."

Guggenheim admits with Meltzer's run coming to an end, should the next writer on "Justice League of America" want Bart on the team, then he will have served his character well.

"My main goal is to establish Bart as the Flash so the biggest sort of compliment I could be given, or acknowledgment that I have achieved that job, would be to have somebody else say, 'You know what, The Flash should be in the League.' I would much rather see other people, like Brad, say, 'You know what, The Flash has earned it.' Then I will feel like I earned it."

And while he'd love to do it, Guggenheim doesn't think he's in line to replace Meltzer on DC's flagship title.

"You know what, I would totally love to," says Guggenheim, who co-wrote the upcoming Superman/Batman #35 and #36 with Mark Verheiden. "That would be a dream gig for me, but as far as I am aware, DC has other plans. It's funny. I have only really been writing comics for a year now. I am really lucky that I have got high profile gigs like 'The Flash.' I have been really, really fortunate. At the same time, I am not going, 'I can't wait to tackle 'X-Men' or 'Fantastic Four' or 'Superman/Batman' on a regular basis.' I would very much like to get to that point in my career where I am getting those offers, but I am in no rush."

And why would he be? Guggenheim is still busy with his comic book writing chores on "Blade" for Marvel and he also has a creator-owned series for Oni Press called "Resurrection" that is due to hit stores before the end of the year.

"We announced it back at Comic-Con last year and the first issue is being drawn right now. There is a lot of design work that has to be done. My hope is to get ahead on the scripts, so we are just churning things out once we get the entire infrastructure in place," explains Guggenheim.

"It's a high-concept idea," continues Guggenheim, an admitted fan of genre shows like "Lost" and "Heroes." "Basically, it takes sort of every alien invasion movie you have seen like 'The Day the Earth Stood Still,' 'Independence Day,' 'V' or pick something and it picks up right where those movies end. The aliens have been driven off the planet and now what?

"Flash" #11
"Now that we know that they are out there and the planet is pretty much in the shitter, now what? It is sort of post-apocalyptic, post the biggest disaster the world has ever seen.

"Simply the knowledge of extra-terrestrial life re-shapes and shifts the landscape. It examines the consequences of such an attack and such an invasion and a 10-year occupation from all the different angles you might think. Technologically, everything is different, religiously everything is different, politically everything is different, militarily everything is different, so the entire world has been changed - and not necessarily for the better, but in some cases, yes, for the better. It explores all those next steps."

Those same types of steps are even bigger when you start talking about making long-time fans of the Scarlet Speedster forget about names like Barry Allen and Wally West.

It's a reason Guggenheim feels he may have been a bit lucky coming on late to "The Fastest Man Alive" at #9 as opposed to taking on the series right out of the gates.

"It's a shame that Bilson and Dimeo's run gets a bad wrap. I really think that it was not their fault. It was not their execution. There is a lot of backlash in terms of the decision to take Wally out of the costume and put Bart in. And I think, no pun intended, they were the lighting rod for a lot of that controversy. So, not to be self-deprecating or anything, but I am sure I come in and I don't have that baggage," said Guggenheim of his run's early success.

But beyond his lack of baggage, Guggenheim thinks he has a pretty good character to write for, as well.

"With Bart, you've got a new guy in the old uniform, but the new guy is very familiar.

"And I think that's a fun thing to play around with," he continued. "I sort of played around with that in my first issue when I introduced Impulse as a villain. I think part of what's fun with Bart is you can take him in directions you couldn't take Wally or Barry, who have more sedate lifestyles. They are both in committed relationships where Bart can date around a lot more."

In closing, we asked Guggenheim about Flash's involvement in DC's "52" follow-up, Countdown.

Guggenheim laughed and said, "Let's just say he casts a very large shadow."

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