Barry Allen has a reputation for being a bit of a sad sack. He’s the martyr, a Christlike figure in the DC Universe. He’s the good guy who would do anything — even sacrifice himself — to save the universe. Barry Allen is a force for good, yes, but that also makes him a bit, well, boring for some readers. Even writer Joshua Williamson, who’s at the helm of DC’s current Flash title, had to learn to love Barry.
“I was a Wally guy. I was very much into the adult Wally, [comic writer] Mark Waid’s Wally. That was me. That was my Flash,” Williamson told MTV News at New York Comic Con. “For a long time, Barry was known for dying. He was the martyr, and that was it. Even when Geoff [Johns] brought him back, I think that was such a part of his character. A big part of Wally’s character was always trying to get out of Barry’s shadow.”
After Barry Allen died saving the universe in Crisis on Infinite Earths, his plucky protégé, Wally West, took up the Flash mantle, becoming the definitive Flash for an entire generation. That all changed when Johns resurrected Barry more than 20 years later in Flash: Rebirth. For Williamson, a lifelong Flash fan, it was hard to get into Barry Allen as The Flash.
“When I was reading Geoff’s stuff, I was really liking it, but it wasn’t the same,” he said. “I liked it, but there was always a part of my head that was like, But Wally’s my guy.” However, that started to change when he was tasked with writing the Silver Age speedster for DC Rebirth.
“Then I realized something as I was writing it: When I was a kid, my favorite speedster was Impulse because I was a kid and I associated with him,” Williamson said. “I was a very hyper, kinetic teenager. I was very impulsive, so for me, that was my favorite character. My late teens and my twenties, I related a lot to Wally. There was something about his experience as a 20-year-old, I really related to it. Now that I’m older, I relate a lot to Barry Allen.
“I relate to Barry Allen as an optimist,” he continued. “This guy just really wants to help people, in spite of himself at times. He can’t help himself. He wants to help people. He wants to see the best in people, even if it means sacrifice. That goes back to who Barry Allen is. He will martyr himself, and I relate a lot to that.”
There’s something admirable about Barry’s eternal optimism. He manages to see the best in people, almost to a fault. In The Flash #6, it’s revealed that Barry’s best friend, August Heart, has been parading around Central City killing speedsters, and consuming their speed, as the fearsome Godspeed. Upon discovering his friend’s evil alias, Barry (being Barry) tries to reason with him. Because that’s what friends do.
“It’s this idea that Barry Allen is always almost trying to do too much, and I feel like all of those things made me really relate to him,” Williamson said. “At this point, I have such a strong, emotional connection with him. A lot of it is from writing it, but I do think that there’s something extremely powerful about Barry Allen. A lot of the work that Geoff has done with him has translated in the TV show. All of those things have been transferred into this character.”
Williamson’s newfound admiration for Barry also made him see his hero Wally West in a new light. The original Kid Flash, who vanished when The New 52 was created at the climax of Flashpoint, made his triumphant return to the DC Universe in Johns’s DC Rebirth #1 this summer.
“It’s funny,” he said. “I went back and I reread a lot of stuff, and I got to this point with Wally where I was like, This guy won the lottery. We shouldn’t like the guy who won the lottery! We should like the guy who’s a hardworking dude who really just wants the best from everyone.”
Wally’s return meant that for the first time there were two Wally Wests in continuity: the original, and the young Wallace West, Wally’s cousin, who took up the Kid Flash mantle in The New 52. Young Wally is the newly appointed Kid Flash in Williamson's Flash series, while Older Wally went and joined the Titans. According to Williamson, he has a lot of cool stuff planned for Kid Flash, including the anticipated Kid Flash of Two Worlds arc in Flash #9.
“I didn’t create him, but I feel a very strong emotional connection with that character,” he said. “In issue 9, we have a lot of cool stuff coming up with that. The two Wallys meet in that issue, and there’s some powerful emotional stuff there. Issues 10, 11, and 12 are the Speed of Darkness story, and a lot of that has to do with the relationship between Kid Flash and Barry. It’s sort of this new dynamic they have. There’s some really heavy emotional things coming with Kid Flash. We’re going to dig into his past, and I think it’s going to be really powerful.”
Kid Flash’s relationship with Barry was a significant part of Flash #7, in which Wally not only reveals his own speedster abilities to Barry but also establishes himself as a disciple of Barry Allen. Wally never wanted these powers; he never wanted to be a hero. But when he was hit by the Speed Force storm, he became part of something bigger. “I have to help you,” he tells Barry. “Because that’s what you do — you help people.” Kid Flash wants to use his powers for good. He wants to help others, and he learned that from Barry.
“I don’t think there’s anyone in the Justice League who likes being a superhero more than Barry Allen,” Williamson said. “They all have their own reasons for it, but I think that Barry genuinely likes it.”