With this week's introduction of Wally West in The Flash #30, readers learned just how different the character is in the New 52, as writers Van Jensen and Robert Venditti made the teen's future death the key element in their first storyline on the comic.
Perhaps the first thing Wally West fans might notice from the character's first appearance in the New 52 is that he's no longer a redheaded white kid like his previous incarnation. The young character is described as "biracial" by series artist Brett Booth, who said on Twitter that readers will find out more about Wally's racial heritage in The Flash Annual #3 later this month, as well as issues #31 and #32.
But his role appears to be very important to the future of Barry Allen's tenure as Flash — Venditti even compares him to Robin's role with Batman, an "almost, not necessarily a second lead character, but very, very close to that… much more than just a supporting cast member."
And readers of The Flash are already seeing the beginning of how the present day ties into what Barry Allen will be doing during DC's September Five Years Later event.
Newsarama talked to new co-writers Venditti and Jensen about the choice to makes changes to Wally West, and what readers can expect in future issues of the series.
Newsarama: Robert and Van, it looks like the cat's out of the bag about Wally West, thanks to the last page of The Flash #30. What was behind the decision to change the way Wally looks and his racial heritage?
Van Jensen: That came through DC rather than being part of the pitch that Rob and I put together for the book. And it's really just a central part of DC's commitment to representing our modern culture and a diverse society through the New 52 and the entire line of comic books.
And it was something that, when the idea was presented of reintroducing Wally, and a very different take on Wally, Rob and I really just looked at it as a new opportunity to expand what we were doing with the book.
And really, rather than in any way limiting what we were planning to do, it actually became this great, central piece of the story, and we both feel like the story has only a lot richer for having Wally there.
Robert Venditti: Yeah, you can almost see — I don't know, but I'm trying to put myself in the shoes of the Silver Age writers — but you can almost how the introduction of Wally into the series back them would have given them an entirely new window through which to view Barry and the city and the Flash universe.
And I think that, with Van and I, that's exactly what happened to us. You know, by bringing Wally into the series, it's opened up a whole other way to look at the characters in the series, particularly Barry.
So it's been a lot of fun to write. And I can't stress enough how much fun I'm having working with Van on this story and the stuff we're doing with Wally and Barry.
Nrama: Can you expand on that at all? How you said Wally opened up another way to look at the characters and the series? How?
Venditti: Yeah, I mean, if you're writing a character like Barry, who's a solo lead of the title — and he has, obviously, a strong supporting cast around him, but he is a solo lead — then you're always looking at things from his point of view. Even if it's not necessarily first person, it's from his point of view.
When you have a character like Wally — and I would say this is true of Robin or anyone like that — they become almost, not necessarily a second lead character, but very, very close to that. They're much more than just a supporting cast member. They become part of the series.
So we've been able to view Barry from Wally's perspective, which is much different than viewing him through the perspective of, you know, Iris West or Darryl Frye, or Barry's perspective of himself.
And likewise, you learn about Barry through how he views Wally, and what their relationship is.
And so it opens up an entirely new dynamic in the series — not only that we haven't seen in the series in the New 52, but also a kind of dynamic that I have never written in any of the comics I've written in the past.
So that's essentially what it comes down to.
Nrama: So let's clarify what we're seeing in issue #30 — the Future Flash is from 20 years in the future, but the scenes with Wally take place five years in the future. So is Wally around in the present day, just five years younger? Am I reading it right?
Jensen: The only place you see Wally is five years in the future. In The Flash Annual #3 is when they'll meet each other for the first time [in the present day].
Nrama: What was behind your approach to the structure of this story? Because you're giving away the end before the two characters have even met. Is it merely to show the motivation for why the Future Flash takes certain actions in the Annual?
Venditti: Yeah, it was in part to establish motivation, and also to give a bit of mystery.
But also, when we took on the book, we knew about the September Five Months Later month that's going to be coming up, and so this story was structured specifically to make that a chapter in the story, as opposed to a month where we'd be torn into another story, you know?
So the original storyline was always built to incorporate something like this.
But I also think it's interesting to see Wally in the very begging [of the storyline] and see Barry's reaction to the circumstances in which we see Wally, and how distraught he is about it, even though we don't know anything about Wally yet. And that's five years into the future.
And now, starting with the Annual, we go back to the present, and we see the relationship that develops, even though they haven't even met each other yet, hinting at how close they're going to become five years later.
And now we're going to see how that plays out.
So it's sort of an interesting way, I think, and a challenge, in terms of writing that kind of relationship. You find out that they're really, really good friends first, and then you go back to find out how they came to be that way, instead of watching the friendship grow and wondering where it's going to end up.
Does that make sense?
Nrama: It does. I think it's why some readers enjoy the New 52 — they kind of assume, for example, that Clark Kent and Bruce Wayne are going to be buddies eventually, and it's kind of fun to see how they meet and how the relationship grows. Sorry, I didn't mean to make an analogy.
Venditti: No, that's great. No, that's exactly right — to try to take things, and storylines that in some ways we're all familiar with and try to invert them or look at them from a new angle, and in doing so, challenge ourselves as writers.
Nrama: We've seen the solicitation for the September issue. As you mentioned, this current storyline is leading toward that month's issue. It said the "Future Flash" Barry and present day Barry are going to be fighting each other. What can you tell us about how they meet? Because it seems like Future Flash will come back in time to prevent Wally dying.
Jensen: Yeah, that's really the central mystery of this first storyline. We now know who Future Flash is — it's Barry Allen from 20 years in the future.
And when we think of Barry Allen and Flash in the present, he's this really sweet, caring, all-American guy, and if he has flaws, it's because he wants to help people too much.
Now we see him 20 years in the future, and he's almost a broken man. He's changed in a extreme way. And we're going to see a lot more about that, starting in the Annual and the following issues, leading up to September.
And that leads to this question, which is, what could happen that would make Barry, who is so pure and innocent, to break him and turn him toward the dark side, as it were.
Nrama: There's also this mystery of losing time. It seems like an interesting idea with the Flash. I assume this is related to his powers? Can you speak to what we saw in this issue, and what that brings to the story going forward?
Venditti: Yeah, we hinted about that in #30. You're going to see a little bit more of that in the Annual. And that's definitely going to be a central part of this first arc that we've built out. And that's part of the larger mystery.
But I think we're going to learn the limitations of Barry's powers, and also the constraints that are put on him by those powers. And how that can be difficult for somebody who wants to be the guy who is always there to save everybody, and it always there to defend the cities and to protect people in every circumstance.
Nrama: Time travel has, historically, been a big part of the Flash. But it's also something that gets him in trouble. Were you at all reluctant to use time travel? Or did the idea of having to do this Five Years Later story just say, well, we've got to utilize time travel, even though it's a risk Barry's taking to mess up the timeline?
Venditti: We never felt like we "had" to because of Five Years Later, at all. But I think that examining time travel as part of Barry's power set was always something we wanted to do, for the very reasons that you mentioned — the idea that it is risky, and it's something that's been done before.
We just want to look at it in a different way.
It's part of the mythology that's sort of been baked into the character, and I think we've come up with a way of going beyond that and putting a new spin on it.
Jensen: It's also, as a writer, it's kind of a cool challenge to take on a time travel story that's been done both in The Flash and just in popular media. There are tons of time travel stories, so to create a little bit of a new wrinkle in that was a pretty fun challenge.
Nrama: So we've talked about a couple of the central mysteries introduced in this issue, but can you give us some hints about what's coming up in the storyline, now that we know a little about the set-up of the story?
Jensen: Sure. Obviously, the mystery of the Future Flash and his mission is going to continue to play a bigger and bigger role.
But in the present, we're going to see Barry both meeting and discovering who Wally is, and them feeling each other out.
And then, we're going to see some familiar rogues, but also some sort of forgotten rogues re-entering the picture, and creating some very big challenges for Barry in the present.
So there's really a lot of big stuff coming.