With Barry Allen at perhaps his lowest point of the “Rebirth” era, writer Joshua Williamson is taking him back in time in The Flash for a new version of his origin story, “Year One.”
The storyline, which features art by Howard Porter, not only retells the Flash’s earliest speedster adventure against the Turtle, but it explores how Barry became the optimistic hero he is today.
And according to Williamson, there’s a twist that makes this “Year One” story different from what readers might expect from an origin story.
And the second issue of "Year One" will address where (and when) this story takes place, since there are still some questions about how the events of “Rebirth” have impacted Barry’s past.
With this week’s The Flash #70 kicking off the new storyline, Newsarama talked to Williamson about “Year One.”
Newsarama: Josh, a character called Steadfast sent Barry Allen back in time at the end of #69. And although this is a development in the current story of the present-day, it gives you the chance to sort of tell his origin story again. You’ve been on The Flash awhile now. When did you first think about going back to tell the story of Barry’s early days? Was this something you wanted to do from the beginning, years ago when you started on The Flash?
Joshua Williamson: Yeah, it’s kind of crazy, because today, the art for issue #80 came in, which was super surreal because, I mean, at the beginning, I had so much stuff I wanted to do. I had this really big, epic story. But at the beginning, you just focus on that initial, first eight issues, you know?
So yeah, I had a lot of ideas about how I could lay all this stuff out and play with the mythology of the Flash.
“Flash: Year One” was definitely a part of it. I wasn’t sure if I was ever going to get to be able to tell that story. I think it’s crazy that I’m looking at art for issue #80.
I basically pitched “Year One,” maybe, like, a month after issue #1 came out. So this was always in my head.
Nrama: I know you’re featuring the Turtle in this issue, but solicitations also mention the Rogues in general. Is this an origin story of sorts for them as well?
Williamson: A little bit. The Rogues are only in it a little, because the first time Barry met some of the Rogues, they weren’t quite the Rogues yet. So we’re going to see teases of that and little pieces of that building. We’ll mostly see Captain Cold. There are hints and pieces of things, but it’s kind of like Batman Begins and how there was only a hint of the Joker.
Primarily, it focuses on Barry and the Turtle and some of the stuff we introduced at the end of issue #1.
But there are little teases throughout. You definitely get to see one of the Rogues have a big moment.
Nrama: It sounds more like Easter eggs?
Williamson: Yeah, there’s some Easter eggs. But there’s also a major part with one of the Rogues that happens. It’s one of my favorite parts in the book.
Nrama: Can you set up where Barry is when the storyline takes place? What’s he like? Where’s his head as we meet the young, pre-Flash Barry Allen?
Williamson: When Barry was little, he was very much a hopeful, optimistic person. But then when his mom was murdered, it changed his view of life. It made him this very pessimistic person who didn’t look forward to the future anymore. He always thought the future was going to be kind of a bummer.
Geoff Johns said it best, I think. After his mom died, he was always standing still after that. He wasn’t moving forward.
And then once he got hit by the lightning, he started finally becoming this optimistic person again.
That’s what I want to explore with this story. It wasn’t easy. I want to show that it wasn’t just because he got his powers. Getting powers doesn’t automatically make you a hopeful, optimistic person. I wanted to show the actual evolution of him going from the powers to becoming the hopeful, optimistic person again that he was when he was a kid.
But there are some twists and turns. We tried to do a “Year One” that I think is not exactly what people would expect from it.
Nrama: So that’s what sets it apart from other stories about Barry’s origin that readers have seen in the past?
Williamson: Yeah, people might think they already know what it’s going to be, and we tried to play around with those expectations.
There’s a very clear reason why it is different from most of the Year Ones that are out there, and from anything we’ve seen from the Flash.
We’re also getting more into Barry’s head. With the one Mark Waid did, when he did “Born to Run” with Wally, that was kind of focused on Wally and Barry was kind of to the side of that story a lot. It was always through Wally’s point of view.
And they did a couple little shorts too, but it was just laying what we kind of already know.
With this, I just wanted to show a really different take on it, and show Barry’s perspective and what he was going through when he got those powers and have some fun with it.
Nrama: You mentioned that you pitched this story awhile ago. Why did you think now was the right time to tell it?
Williamson: Because Barry’s at his worst currently in the storyline.
With everything that’s been going on in his life in the last year, ever since “Flash War,” things have just gotten worse for him in a lot of ways.
And I think it’s really beaten him down.
“Flash War” itself was already pretty rough. But even going back to “Perfect Storm,” which is the Gorilla Grodd storyline we did right before “Flash War.” And then everything that happened in “Flash War,” it was just constantly beating him down. And then everything he’s gone through since “Flash War” with the new forces, with him going on “Force Quest” and you know, Gorilla City being destroyed and him feeling responsible for all these people and all these bad things that have been going on.
And the stuff with Wally, and the stuff with Iris, and the stuff with The Flash. Everything keeps beating him down.
And then we did this Trickster storyline. And the Trickster storyline, he lost. He saved the city, but not only did the Trickster get away and rip off the entire city, but he destroyed Iron Heights and every single Rogue - every single villain that was in Iron Heights - is now free.
It made him really confront what was going on with him, and kind of confront the idea that he’s become this pessimistic person.
At the end of The Flash #69, he’s dealing with that, where he’s aware of how pessimistic he has become, because of all these events in his life and how he really lost in a big way this last year.
And then suddenly, we have a new character that comes in called Steadfast who has the powers of the Still Force. He tells Barry, you have forgotten something important. And for the Multiverse to survive, you need to remember it.
And then he blasts Barry with the Still Force, and that sends Barry’s mind, basically, back in time.
Not to get to spoilery for something I plan later on, but now he has to remember his origin. He needs to kind of relive what happened to him so that he can remember what he forgot and what’s important going forward.
We had talked about doing this story in a couple different times and different places, but it never worked out. At one point, we talked about maybe doing it after “Flash War” and it just didn’t work out.
Part of it was that I wanted Howard to be able to draw it. And for Howard to be able to draw this book and do it the way we wanted to do it, he needed time. We’re operating on the 16-panel grid with this story, and that takes a lot of extra effort and a lot of hard work on Howard’s part, and on Hi-Fi and everybody.
So to do this book, we needed time. And that meant pushing it back.
But then I looked at the calendar and the story we were planning, and I was like, oh! If I do it right here, when Barry’s at his worst and he needs to be reminded of that side of himself, the hopefulness and optimism, that’s the time to do it.
So that’s why we picked right now.
Nrama: OK, so let’s talk about the continuity of this “Year One” story. We saw Barry’s early career in the New 52, but then “Rebirth” changed the continuity somewhat, particularly with Barry now remembering the original Wally West. How does this fit into that? Is Wally around? How would you explain the continuity of this “Year One” story?
Williamson: We kind of answer that in the second issue of “Year One,” in issue #71.
A big part of the Flash mythology is time travel, multiple realities, multiple timelines. And there is a scene, again not to spoil too much, but in issue #71, there is a scene where what you’re asking actually gets questioned.
Like, there’s a moment where it’s sort of like, when does this take place? In what timeline is this in? So there is a moment where we talk about where and when this takes place, and what version of this “Year One” is this?
If somebody wanted to read this, I would say, we’re making it where, if somebody came in and they were coming in fresh, and they had never read The Flash before, they could read this straight and have no problem. They’d be able to dive right in.
If somebody who is like me, is like a little bit continuity crazy, they will still be able to get what they want out of it. They’ll get to see how it works. And we were able to address those puzzle pieces. I think they’ll be able to see, oh, that’s where this takes place. That’s how that works. This is interesting.
I think we were able to balance those things.
Nrama: In Heroes in Crisis, it was revealed that Wally is going through something pretty important and bad. Will your book be dealing with that after “Year One"?
Williamson: Oh, I can’t say anything yet.
I think we’re close to some stuff. I think in the next month, there will be more information that people can get excited about, but I can’t talk about that yet.
Nrama: Big stuff coming?
Williamson: I can’t say anything! All I can say is that I can’t talk about it!
Nrama: You mentioned Howard’s art and said you specifically wanted to wait until Howard Porter could do this. Why? Why him?
Williamson: When I was reading Geoff’s The Flash run, two of the artists that worked on that book that I really liked a lot were Scott Kolins and Howard Porter. And I’ve been a big fan of Howard Porter’s since The Ray and when he was on Underworld Unleashed. And when he was doing JLA.
He’s been one of my favorite artists for awhile. I actually met him back when I was probably like 17 years old at a comic con. He drew me a robot Hourman and a Zauriel. And I’ve always wanted to work with him.
The first thing he and I worked together one was Justice League vs. Suicide Squad. We didn’t really talk much during that, but then we started working on The Flash together and we started talking on the phone. And him and I are just really on the same page with a lot of stuff.
We just click really well, and I feel like we have kind of a shorthand communication with each other.
Flash is Howard’s favorite character. And it was the first comic he was reading. It was really what introduced him to comics was Flash comics and made him want to draw comics.
So he really has a passion there for the character, and he knows the mythology. He knows it, right? And because he worked on The Flash from, I think, #208 to #225 with Geoff, he really knows it. He knows that world really well.
So when him and I get on the phone, we talk about the character, we talk about some of the motivation, and we talk a lot about the core of the character. And then we talk about just how we want to tell the story. And we just go back and forth really easily. It’s awesome to work with him on it.
So I don’t know - I couldn’t imagine doing this story with anybody else. Before we even started on “Flash War,” we started talking about this. And he was just really interested. You could hear it in his voice that it was something he really wanted to do.
It was definitely both of us. We wanted to tell this story together. He was pumped about it and I didn’t want to do it with anybody else.
Nrama: Is there anything else you want to tell people about “Year One"?
Williamson: I think people will be happy reading this book. I always tell people, I’m a really big fan of the Flash. I really love the Flash mythology and the history and these characters. And I think people will see that when they’re reading this, that we’re trying to do something really special with the Flash mythology and these characters and make sure we’re able to tell a really fun, big Flash story that I think people will be happy with.