The 'All-New, All-Different' Flash: Geoff Johns exclusively talks 'Ignition'

Thu, July 31st, 2003 at 12:00am PDT

Comic Books
Arune Singh, Staff Writer

"Flash" #201
July is a busy time of year for Geoff Johns. One of the dearest projects to his heart of the entire year will be the all new Flash- though the scribe won't say if the massive upheaval the book is going through is done quite yet. DC Comics' the "Flash" has gained a lot of heat recently with the sell-out "Blitz" storyline and for those who are looking forward to the "Ignition" storyline, Johns lets people know a little of what's going to happen.

"Basically, what we want to do is whatever everyone isn't doing. The 'secret identity' in the superhero world has been called archaic and unnecessary. I hardly believe that. What we're doing is opening up a whole new world for the Flash to interact in, to worry about. We're adding more tension to the book, grounding in more in reality, and doing a modern spin on dealing with a secret identity."

"Issue #200 ended with no one knowing who the Flash is and #201 picks up a few months later with Wally at a new job," explains Johns. "He's going to have his career set and everything is going to revolve around Wally West as a character. We're going to rebuild who Wally West is from the ground up and take a new approach to him because the problem we were having wasn't necessarily with Wally, it was that he was just the Flash. He never had many interests outside of being a superhero. And the public identity causes people to recognize him everywhere he went. If he was at a restaurant or if he had a job, they saw him as the Flash - not Wally West. Giving him a secret identity again -- he can get in trouble, he can get fired, people can get pissed at him- and he can also be more of the everyman, blue-collar superhero that he's supposed to be. It's something we're working hard to re-establish and push as far as we can, this working class man, along with what we've done to Keystone City. The focus is on Wally West and who he is, why he does the things he does, not just the fact that he's a hero.

"'Ignition' focuses on self re-discovery. That will dove-tail right into the following arc which will focus on the re-entry of the Flash into the DC Universe. History never changed, in fact the JLA, Jay Garrick, and the other heroes know they once knew who the Flash was under that mask…they just can't remember the name or face. When Flash re-appears, they confront him. Essentially, we'll be re-tooling the status quo for a little while, over the next two arcs.

"Flash" #201, Page 6
"I don't want to spoil too much about what we're doing (you can see some of it in the preview art and take a guess), but Wally is very much a guy who lives in his surroundings- he's a guy whose comfortable in reality, in the here and now. He's comfortable with other people who don't appear to be overly educated, like himself. He doesn't read a lot of books, he doesn't go to a lot of art films or theater, Wally's more of a straight forward guy. He's more grounded than a lot of people and has an approach where he likes to do things one on one. Wally doesn't talk about things he can't touch- from theology to emotions. He doesn't talk about the problems inside of him and by bottling things up, he can develop a temper at times."

Johns' love of Wally West is well known and his love of the Flash, no matter who's behind the mask, is as great. With his determination to define Wally as a person separate from his life a hero, it begs the question: is Wally West the man different from Wally West the Flash? "A little bit and that's what we're going to get into," said Johns "But the Flash is a guy who's always got his feet on the ground. In #200, Barry Allen told him that, 'wearing the costume to keep me alive is not the right reason to do this. The right reason to do it is because you can do it- you help people because you can, because you're able to, not because you're alive.' So we're going to deal more with Wally struggling to do the right thing and of course the biggest obstacle will be Wally rediscovering who he is and what he can do, and why he should do it. The whole new approach is Wally learning from the ground up who he is and what he can do. Thus a rebirth of sorts for the Flash."

Of course, Geoff Johns' "Flash" is famous for it's supporting cast and the writer says the familiar faces pre-"Blitz" will still be around. "We're still going to see Wally and Linda. The Rogues will be everywhere- Captain Cold plays a big, big part- but the Rogues have always been an important part of the run since I started and they will continue to be a very prominent part of the cast post #200. There's an intriguing twist we have coming up with Cold post-200 that I think a lot of readers will enjoy. We'll also have some new supporting cast members where Wally works, Chyre and Morrilo- our favorite cops- will still be around and like I've said, #201 will be a very entry level, new beginning for readers. Also, the ex-wife of Zoom - F.B.I. profiler Ashley Zolomon - will be joining the Keystone City Department in #203. She's there to help her ex-husband…"

The prevalent theme in all of Johns' comments about "Ignition" has been "realism" and the idea of keeping Wally West more grounded, which is definitely a change of pace for the Flash. Recent years have seen man time travel stories and use of the "speed force," so fans may wonder if Johns is going to hold off on utilizing those elements in the near future. "For right now, yeah," admits Johns. "It's a new look for the Flash- there's a good reason. We'll get back to time travel and the speed force, but when we do, we'll make it so fantastic, so important in a big story that fans will be awed. Time travel and amazing speed force tricks should not be things that Wally can do every issue, which is what we're going for. That said, although we will have a very ground level beginning with Ignition - as the Flash re-emerges so will the fantasy element."

"Flash" #201, Page 7
As fans saw with the death and destruction left behind in the just completed "Blitz," Johns doesn't name his stories idly and for months there's been speculation as to why the new "Flash" story arc is named "Ignition." "The name has a lot of different meanings- there's a lot of subtext to it. Ignition relates to the fact that Keystone City is about factories and building cars and movements, and 'Ignition' is a new start for Wally West. There's some other reasons for why I named it 'Ignition'- but you don't really want to know now, do you?"

With all the "bold new directions" in comic books these days and changes in status quos, "Flash" was a book that was doing well without any shocking changes. But with the fallout from "Blitz," fans have seen that Johns continues to evolve the book. "I was talking with Dan Didio about 'Flash' and that there was an element missing, and that I was really happy with the direction we were going. I was happy with the Rogues, the city and everything else, but we were looking at Wally and I was trying to figure out how we can redefine Wally and Dan said that we had him as this blue-collar guy but we never seem him as the blue-collar guy because he's always in costume. That got the wheels turning in my mind and this was at a time where the movement was to drop the secret identities- we had Daredevil coming out, Captain America coming out, Iron Man coming out, all in something like the same month and on one level I think that can be a mistake. In the case of Wally West, this will allow him to interact with people on equal grounds and make mistakes and people can blame him. He can get away from the superhero life and have a life away from the superhero world that can be seemingly detached. As Dan and I talked more, I really didn't like the idea of him taking on some other identity- 'My name is Tom Sanders' or something like that- he's got to be Wally West! The more I thought about it, what if no one remembered that Wally is the Flash, including Wally himself? I think it's a leap and a risk we're taking during the story arc, but it'll be great for the character and fans in the end. It'll help us focus our stories around him as a person and the most important thing about this book is the man behind the Flash mask -- Wally West. We're going to keep all the great things- super speed, the Rogues, superheroes, etc- but really also keep the spotlight on Wally as an individual and see what makes him tick as an individual."

"We were always building up to #200 and I knew most of the ending of #200, but this whole idea came together about a year and half ago. We knew Hunter Zolomon was going to be Zoom from day one- we knew how he was going to be Zoom, when he would become Zoom, everything! What we wanted was a big change because when Zoom appears, things have to change and this is the biggest change to Wally West since he put the costume on. And I know when Zoom is coming back…"

Stories of this nature, "event" stories for lack of a better term, have come to make some readers wary of the result because many superhero comics fail to deliver consequences in similar stories. If there's one thing that Geoff Johns convinces you of, he wants it to be that this story is going to change "Flash" and Wally West forever. "This is the new status-quo. This will affect every book that Flash is in from 'JLA' to Kid Flash in 'Titans,'- we're going to re-examine the Flash re-introducing himself to everyone he knew. Again, the majority of this will shake-down in the Flash - in the second arc by Howard Porter. Flash first. DCU second."

"Flash" #201, Page 12
"Everyone remembers the Flash, and the Flash before him, but no one remembers who they were. No one except a few…for reasons explained in the second arc. One thing of interest in Ignition, Wally certainly doesn't want to tell Linda he's the Flash, for reasons we make clear in #201. We'll have that great moment of him with the Justice League, we'll have that great moment of him with the other heroes he works with and he'll have to decide if he wants to tell them who he is."

While the comparisons to "Ultimate" (the name of Marvel Comics' line of re-launched superhero series with no back-story) Flash will be, no pun intended, ultimately made, Johns says this is all about making sure anyone can enjoy the series. "Anyone can pick up 'Ignition' and know who the Flash is or who Wally West is, what he can do and what he's about," explains Johns. "That's the goal and it sounds like an easy goal, but we're really working hard to make sure that we redefine who this character is and set if off from there. 'Ignition' pulls the series to street level approach- 'Flash' has always been closer to a Superman book- more of a Batman approach and we'll see Wally grow from there. But we're going for a neo-realism with the world of Flash. And it won't be paced like an Ultimate book. We need to move the stories along fast - this is the Flash."

For a lot of fans, the event of "Blitz" are still strong in the forefront of their mind and many wonder what inspired this particular version of Zoom. As mentioned, this Zoom isn't the twisted man from the future- it's Flash's good friend Hunter Zolomon, who think Flash would be a better hero if he knew true tragedy. "I didn't want to bring back the original Zoom because Mark Waid had brought him back and done a fantastic story with him. It's like bringing him back once was great, but I didn't want to open that door again: most importantly, I wanted to create a villain that would be important to Wally West. Zoom would be a character that only Wally West could face, they'd share a history and that's why we chose to introduce the character so early on and have him develop for a year and a half, then having him turning into this character Zoom and not be a villain in the classical sense. The whole point was to give Wally West his own arch-villain. Zoom is out of the picture…but only for now."

Few would argue that Johns has done that successfully and with the conclusion of "Blitz," no one quite knows where Zoom is… and Johns says that'll be the case for a little while. "I already know when and how he comes back…but it won't be for a while. Like I've said before, when you use Zoom, it's gotta be big, it's gotta be important and we just used him. Before that, it had been ten years since he appeared in 'Flash'- issue #79 was back in '94 or '95- so I have an idea what we're going to do when he comes back. It sure isn't ten years away though!"

When Zoom does return, he'll have to pay for a lot and that includes the murder of Flash's unborn children in "Flash #199," which shocked many fans who saw Wally West and his wife Linda as the perfect super hero couple to have children. "I hope fans are upset," says Johns. "They should be. Zoom's a bastard. I hope fans are upset and fans are mad about it. When Zoom did it, I was mad about it and I wrote it! It's not over. It's a very essential issue between Wally and Linda in 'Ignition' and will continue to develop between them."

"Flash" #202
You'll usually not here many bad words about the "Flash" comic book, but there is one criticism that the Californian scribe says he'll be using "Ignition" to address. "Though we haven't been burning up the top ten, we've been a well accepted book," explains Johns. "I think one of the criticisms that is valid is that the supporting casts and the Rogues do overpower Wally, because they're more interesting at times. That's another reason we looked at the book and said we were happy with the supporting cast, the environment, very happy with the pacing of the story, the Rogues Gallery and wondered who needed more attention- Wally does! I was happy with everything in the book except what we were doing with Wally, he needs to grow more and have his own life, and 'Ignition's' really doing that for m: we're continually pushing the boundaries. That's the goal, like I said before, everything has to revolve around Wally."

And it's important for fans to remember, Geoff Johns is a huge fan of Wally West- he has the entire run of all the "Flash" comics. He can talk to you for hours about the intricacies of Flash, the brilliance of previous creators' work and why this is his dream project. But to some, the Flash is just a guy who runs fast and Johns explains why The Flash- in any incarnation- is such a unique character. "I always loved the idea who could move that fast, I always did. I also loved that he fought these great villains and he could do these amazing tricks like stopping a tornado or running up a wall. He's got the coolest costume in the world: very simple but sleek and it makes him a great visual character. And he lives in an amazing, fantastic world and since we've introduced the 'real world,' we want to re-inject it with that fantastic world so you can see how wonderful the world of super speed and speed force is. I always felt that the Flash- even Barry Allen- was more of a normal guy than anybody else. Superman was way up there, Green Lantern was in space, but the Flash was always on the ground, running around and protecting his city, the people he loved. It's been my view since I started that for a guy like Wally who can run at the speed of sound or at the speed of light, and travel through time or dimensions, he's still so real and so grounded. I think that's a testament to who the character is- he knows what's important- the people."

While Johns' synergy with artist Scott Kolins has been seen as a big part of "Flash's" critical success, Kolins final issue on the series was #200 and the new artist that fans will see on #201 and onwards is Alberto Dos, a name not well known to fans yet, but one that both DC Comics and Johns believe will make a splash. "Scott is an amazing, amazing artist obviously and he redefined the look of 'Flash,' but he decided to move on. With 'Ignition,' we needed someone to represent our new direction and someone that did 'blacks' [a pencilling term], not someone who looked like Scott because that wouldn't have been fair to anyone, so with this whole new direction and this whole new world, new arc, we wanted the art to be at times depressing, so when we do hit the bright costumes and such, it's in sharp contrast to what the rest of the world is. Joey Cavalieri was led to Alberto and when I was sent these pages, I was blown away- like I've said, he's like a cross between Eduardo Risso and Tim Sale. It's a real cool look for Keystone. And Joey already has some wonderful talent lined up for other issues. Tony Harris and the wonderful Howard Porter - who will be doing the JLA arc."

Another signature of Kolins' run on the series was the redesign of many costumes, the most apparent to recent fans will be the updated look of Zoom, and Johns says you may see similar innovation from Dos in the future. "We have a new version of Mr. Element coming in that sports a redesign but other than that, we'll see as the characters show up. That's the only ones I know will be redesigned early on."

If you still want more teasers… Johns' has them for you. "It's going to be different from any 'Flash' that's been published since #1. I'm really excited about the book. What we're trying to do is present to you a real world and inject it with the fantastic world of the Flash. Too many books today shy away from being superhero books, even though they are. I take pride in embracing superheroes, and the Flash will continue to be just that - a damned good super-hero book. We're trying to let everyone know - it's okay to be a super-hero book. You can still tell innovative, emotional and gripping stories."

 
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