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DC Rebirth: How The Flash became a mentor again

Joshua Williamson discusses his take on the Fastest Man Alive

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DC Comics

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Last spring, DC Comics started over again. Under the Rebirth banner, the company relaunched its main books and reinvented its famous characters. This kind of event has become rather common among the two main superhero comics publishers in recent years: Marvel shook up its storied continuity with the Secret Wars event in 2015, and DC itself just did a huge relaunch in 2011 called The New 52. But where The New 52 had experimented with radical new directions for its characters (Superman dating Wonder Woman! No sidekicks for The Flash!) to mixed results, Rebirth aimed to bring its characters back to their core elements while simultaneously looking to the future. It’s been a huge success so far, both commercially and critically.

Now that the first collections of the Rebirth line are rolling out, casual fans have a chance to see what all the fuss is about. To figure out how Rebirth came to be such a success, EW spoke to the creative teams behind five of DC’s biggest books (Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, Green Arrow, and The Flash) about how they freshened up their famous characters while still paying homage to past classics.

The Flash is often at the center of DC’s biggest events. Barry Allen’s original death in 1985’s Crisis on Infinite Earths set the template for all the DC mega-events that followed. Decades later, when DC decided to kickstart its New 52 status quo with the Flashpoint event, it focused all the action around Barry (who had returned from the dead in the meantime, as all superheroes eventually do). And when DC Rebirth teased readers with the discovery of the iconic Watchmen smiley-face button in the Batcave, it made Barry one of only two DC heroes privy to that top-secret information. In short, The Flash has long been one of the most important characters in the DC Universe. So when Joshua Williamson set out to write the new DC Rebirth series for The Flash, he determined to demonstrate what makes Barry Allen so unique. And he started by giving The Flash’s superpowers to everyone.

Well, not everyone. But for the first time since The Flash’s origin story, a lightning storm of Speed Force energy hits Central City, imbuing dozens of people with similar speed powers.

DC Comics

“I think some of the best stories DC has done in recent years is when you look at a part of the character’s origin and you see something and you build on it in an unexpected way,” Williamson tells EW. “So I thought, what if, instead of there just being The Flash, and he’s the only speedster, what if there were a lot of them? What it does is make Barry question what makes him special. The bottom line is powers don’t make Barry Allen the hero. He was a hero before the powers, and he would be a hero without them, it’s part of who he is. But he needs to learn that again. That’s where the motivation came from. You build out of the origin, you build out of who the character is.”

As the only person around with Speed Force experience, Barry is forced to teach these new speedsters how to control and use their powers without hurting anyone. One of his pupils stands out above the rest, however: August Heart, Barry’s police co-worker who has very different ideas about how to use his powers. As the series goes on, August becomes an interesting mirror to Barry, the Aaron Burr to his Alexander Hamilton, if you will.

“Barry’s a character who’s very obsessed with justice, but August is obsessed with revenge. Barry was always trying to prove his father’s innocence, while August wants to prove someone’s guilt,” Williamson says. “I enjoy writing jerk characters, characters on the antagonistic side who poke and prod. That’s not Barry. Barry’s the nicest guy you’ll ever meet, he’s polite and not snarky. So August allowed me an avenue to see the story through his eyes. He really shares the spotlight with Barry, and he’ll play an important part in the story throughout the run.”

DC Comics
DC Comics
DC Comics

For as much as Barry teaches August and the other new speedsters about handling their powers, they also teach him how to be a mentor again. This prepares him to have sidekick(s) again, something that Williamson notes was missing recently. DC Rebirth made the interesting decision to bring back Wally West, the original Kid Flash who had been erased from the New 52 continuity … even though there was already a young Flash fan named Wally West running around this universe with his own incipient powers. While the old Wally sets out to discover the source of this recent reality-shifting, the new Wally edges closer and closer to the traditional Kid Flash role.

“Barry’s always been a mentor and teacher, and that’s something I felt was really missing recently,” Williamson says. “One of my favorite things about the DC Universe is the sidekicks. I really thought that was missing. I started looking at Wally and seeing him as a student and sidekick. We’re telling the story of how he becomes a full-fledged partner for The Flash, but right now he’s just a student, still a sidekick. I wanted to explore those ideas of Barry being a teacher. It mirrors Kid Flash’s evolution, at first nervous about his powers and then by the end embracing it, and learning that being a hero or sidekick is more complicated than being a fanboy.”

The Flash vol. 1: Lightning Strikes Twice is on sale now.