Joshua Williamson Talks Flash, Batman/Superman and More
Updated: Jan 25, 2020
Williamson has quietly become one of the most prolific writers in comics. He writes some of the most entertaining comic books being published today.
Whether it's his work at DC or his creator owned stuff at Image, you can always be sure you're getting your money's worth.
Ever since he helped relaunch FLASH for the "Rebirth" initiative, it has consistently been one of the best books in DC's lineup. As a lifelong Flash fan, I can't think of any other writer I would rather have chronicling his adventures than Williamson. He's about to wrap up the "Year One" storyline which leads into "Death of the Speed Force". It's an exciting time to be a Flash fan.
Not only is he writing FLASH, but he's relaunching BATMAN/SUPERMAN next month which is heavily tied in with what DC's "mega story" is all about.
We also can't forget all his awesome creator owned stuff. He's continuing to write one Image's best series, BIRTHRIGHT. He's also eluded to plans for more stuff, but we'll just have to wait to find out. No matter what he's got planned it's sure to be well worth adding to your pull.
Williamson is one of the most enthusiastic creators I've ever had the privilege of talking to. His love for the comic industry is evident in not just his work but how he talks about it. I easily could have talked for hours with this dude. I hope you guys enjoy this insightful convo I had with him, and be sure to check out FLASH #75 this week.
COMIC LOUNGE: First off, I wanted to talk about THE FLASH. You've long professed to being a diehard Flash fan. Having been on the book for a few years now, what would you say your overall experience has been like?
JOSHUA WILLIAMSON: Oh man, I would definitely say it's very surreal. It's super weird because I've been reading THE FLASH for almost 30 years. I was always reading the Flash book, I never stopped. To now be writing that character and guiding the future of that character, is very surreal. Like I don't believe it sometimes. It's been awesome! I love it. I work on THE FLASH everyday. Even though I do a bunch of other books, FLASH is something I work on every single day.
I like working with my editors. I love working with DC. I've been really lucky with all of the artists. I like all the fans. I love talking to all the readers and getting a chance to talk to other people who are big Flash fans. It's totally awesome and I love it.
I never would have thought I would do this.
I remember back in 2015, so 4 years ago, Scott Snyder was the first person to come to me and be like "you should write The Flash". I was like "DC would never give me The Flash". But I got lucky and they gave it to me.
COMIC LOUNGE: What were some of your favorite Flash stories growing up?
WILLIAMSON: I would have to say my favorite, is probably "Return of Barry Allen". That's the Mark Waid one. I started reading (Flash) around that time. I'm not sure if I was reading right when it was coming out, or if I was off by a few months. But I used to get a lot of my comics through Target or Costco. Costco had this thing, where you could get like a big pack for twenty bucks. You basically could get almost every comic that month. It was almost like a grab bag of stuff, it was a thick brick that was shrink wrapped. I use to always get that every time we went to Costco, which was like twice a month when I was a kid. I would go right to that. At the time there was no comic book shop near me, it was hard to get to. So that was all I had. Anywhere I saw comics, I would get em. I would kind of get things out of order.
So I started getting "Return of Barry Allen" and then I got "Born to Run", those are two of my favorites. I really like FLASH #0, which was the "Zero Hour" issue that Mark Waid with Ringo. That one is awesome. "Terminal Velocity", which I have the trade paperback of, signed by Mark Waid. I got that signed by Mark when it came out, so you're talking like the 90's. When I was a kid I would go to conventions and have him (Mark) sign my books.
I have an IMPULSE #1 signed by Waid, from back then. I love the IMPULSE book. That first trade's worth of Impulse by Waid and Humberto Ramos was awesome.
Then you get to the Geoff Johns period. My favorite Geoff stories are probably "Blitz". Which is cool because I get to work with Scott Kolins now. There's a couple times where I've gotten to work on stuff with Hunter Zolomon, who he and Geoff created in that "Blitz" storyline. I really like "Rogue War"also. Another one people don't really talk about is "Death of the Dastardly Rogues", which is one that Geoff did when he came back to THE FLASH after BRIGHTEST DAY. It was the one where Barry had come back after FLASH REBIRTH.
There's a few others enjoy, I mean there's a LOT. There are a few older ones I like too. Some of the early issues, like first appearance of Kid Flash, first appearance of Mirror Master, first appearance of Captain Cold. I really like this one Reverse Flash story that's after Barry finds out that he killed Iris. That one is really good.
I was just talking to somebody about "Trial of Barry Allen", I think that one is really great. It's weird to read it now because I think people, when they were reading it then, it was really long. It took about 2 years and was kind of dragged out as it was leading into CRISIS ON INFINITE EARTHS.
COMIC LOUNGE: You've expanded on the Flash mythos, while also honoring everything that's come before (like easter eggs in the Flash Annual), to this current arc "Flash Year One". I was wondering, what prompted you to do this retelling of Barry's origin while also changing things up a little bit?
WILLIAMSON: Before I got this job, I was doing a lot of research on it. I know the character really well,. like I said, I've been reading a Flash comic for almost 30 years. There's never really been a Barry origin. At first I was like "Oh, well they just haven't done one in the last 30 years, but they've done something". They kinda did stuff, but not really.
So first I thought "What if I did a little Barry origin?". There's some stuff out there, like a one-shot here and there, a short story (like in the SECRET ORIGINS book). But it really was, retelling it. So I started thinking about what I wanted to do if I had the opportunity to do it. Once I got the job, I started thinking about it more and more.
I don't know what hit me, I think I was just thinking about Year One a lot (BATMAN: YEAR ONE). So I started thinking about BATMAN: YEAR ONE a bunch, then I started thinking about DARK KNIGHT RETURNS a bunch and how they're connected but separate. So I thought, "What if I did both at the same time?". What if I did Year One and the Dark Knight at the same time, like a vision of the past with a vision of the future, in the same story. It's perfect for a Flash Year One because there's so much time travel shenanigans in the Flash mythology.
This was all before issue one of FLASH had even come out yet. I was already thinking about it. I just had this idea of what if I had Flash Year One meets Dark Knight, essentially. So I pitched it 3 years ago. I pitched it right after issue 2 came out. I pitched, "What if we did year one but he travels into the future and meets his "dark knight", We could do this crazy time travel story ", and they went for it.
At that time, it really just felt like an idea more than a story, which is why it took awhile for it come out. That's why we're doing it in issue 70, even though I pitched the idea for it way back at issue 1. I wanted to make sure that it was something fresh and new. It isn't exactly what you'd expect. I think when people come into a "Year One"now, they kind of go "Oh I know what this is gonna be". I kind of wanted to throw a curveball but also tell a story about Barry.
Barry was this person who was optimistic as a little kid and then when his mom died, he becomes pessimistic. It's one of the things that Geoff said, he was standing still. He was never moving forward in life, because he was so pessimistic after his mom's death. So caught in the past, he was letting it drag him down. Part of that, is what I always thought, made Barry afraid of the future. It made him afraid of tomorrow. That's what pessimism is in a lot of ways, like "Oh, tomorrow is gonna suck".
But the Barry we know, Barry that's in THE FLASH, that is THE Flash, is an optimistic person. That had to have come from some place. It isn't like he got hit by lightning and all of a sudden got hope and optimism, it had to come from somewhere.
So I wanted to tell that story. I wanted to be like "How did he become that? How did he go from being pessimistic, to getting these powers and that lead him onto the path of getting his optimism again?". So that's when it really started coming together for me. The idea of, "Well he's afraid of the future, he's afraid of tomorrow, he thinks tomorrow is gonna suck". Then he ends up being confronted with it, and he's right. The future is dark and horrible, the Turtle has taken over, things are bad. But then he meets this future version of himself, who's super optimistic and is ready to keep fighting even though things are dark. He still kind of rejects it, he's worried about it. But over the course of the story, you get to see how he gets to that optimistic place and has that hope.
Once I started figuring that stuff out, is when the story really started to take shape.
COMIC LOUNGE: With "Year One" leading into "Death of the Speed Force", what can you tease about that upcoming storyline? Also, how is "Year One" going to affect the present going forward?
WILLIAMSON: There are a couple things that he's forgotten about, that have kinda been erased from Barry's mind. He'll come out of it being in an optimistic place. He's gonna want to make amends. He's gonna want to try and fix things that he's messed up or have gone wrong. It takes work.
There's a scene in 75, it's a little spoiler here, it's a scene where he's repairing the Flash Museum. He's like, "I wish I could use superspeed to fix everything. I can use it to fix a building but I can't fix the things that have gone wrong in my life and the people that I've wronged. It takes more than that, it takes action".
So a big part of what "Death of the Speed Force" is about, is him trying to make amends with people and having it be difficult. But there's a lot going on in the book, there's a lot of challenges coming. Issue 75 sets up things for the next year. We tease out a bunch of different stories that are coming in the book. Along with the "Year of the Villain" stuff with Captain Cold. Cold is coming back and he wants to get the Rouges back together.
One of the things we set up in "Force Quest", is ever since "Flash War" and the Force barrier broke, Barry's been getting slower. Barry's aware of the fact that he's getting slower, he's really optimistic about it and be a hero, but he can tell he's slowing down and he finds out why. He finds out what's happening and why the Speed Force is dying.
That's what that big arc is gonna be about, him finding out why the Speed Force is dying and what he can do to save it. And he realizes he can't save it. It's gonna be a crazy story and I'm really excited about it. It;s definitely gonna be a lot of fun, but there's an undercurrent of these challenges ahead for Barry. It's gonna have the return of a couple characters, who you haven't seen in the book in a really long time, like a REALLY long time. That I've been able to hide from the solicits, thankfully. There's a Flash character that we haven't seen in a really long time, that we were somehow able to keep out of all the covers and keep off of the solicits. But I think people will be surprised.
There's a lot of cool stuff. I think 75 is a really interesting issue. We end "Year One", but then we tease out a year worth of stories, and you get to really see a glimpse of what's coming. I think people will be excited but also scared. Good stuff and bad stuff.
COMIC LOUNGE: Ok I wanna move on to Wally West. As a diehard Wally fan, he always will be "my" Flash. Even though I love Barry and what you've done with him. I've had mixed feelings with how Wally was handled in HEROES IN CRISIS, and was wondering what were your thoughts on how Wally was handled?
WILLIAMSON: I can't talk about that stuff too much, because it's really somebody else's story. But the most I can tell you, I mean I love Wally too, is I have a different perspective on stuff because I'm on the inside and know what's coming. So the most I can tell you, is that Wally's story is far from over.
It's all building a narrative, it's like a rollercoaster ride. This is what I always tell people, whenever they come to me about the Wally stuff, I always say "Listen, it's like being on a rollercoaster, sometimes it's up, it's down, it's scary; but when you get to the end you'll look back and think that was a lot of fun. Sometimes you're gonna have one of those moments when that rollercoaster is really scary and you just gotta stay on the ride".
COMIC LOUNGE: You kind of already teased this, but I was wondering if you could talk about any plans for Wally, Bart, Jay Garrick, and Max Mercury moving forward?
WILLIAMSON: All I can say is, keep reading. I don't like to give spoilers to much because sometimes things are just so far down the line, so yeah, just keep reading.
COMIC LOUNGE: OK, last Flash question. I was wondering if you could talk about any long term plans moving forward? Like maybe how far you have planned out or teases about any upcoming storylines, besides "Death of the Speed Force".
WILLIAMSON: Well... I feel like I have a bunch more Flash stories in me. They'll have to kill me to get me away from it. But, I know what my last issue is gonna be, in my mind. I don't know what the number is, but I know the story I wanna tell last. I know exactly what the last big story I wanna do with The Flash is. I know what I want my last 5-6 pages to be, like I KNOW it.
I know exactly what I want to say about Barry Allen, like I know all that stuff. It's gonna be a road to get there, but, I know what I want to do with the character. When that's gonna be, I don't know. All I can do, is keep coming up with stories, hoping they keep me on the book. They love it, they're happy with me and it sells well.
When it comes to teaser stuff, that's tough. We're doing "Death of the Speed Force", which takes into September. The Rogues are gonna do something pretty crazy, when they finally come back in the book. Issues 76=81, is "Death of the Speed Force" and the Rogues and kind of what they're up too, is the subplot of that story. When they finally come in and do their plan... it's PRETTY nuts.
So I think you'll be surprised and how crazy it's gonna be, when the Rouges really do attack.
It's interesting, because Barry is gonna get his optimism back in 75, so he'll go back to be hopeful, optimistic Barry again. He'll be the Barry we all love. But he's gonna go through the hardest time of his life. It's gonna be the hardest stuff coming at him. It's pretty crazy. I think the next year's worth of stories, is gonna be really hard on him, but it will really test the optimism that he got back.
COMIC LOUNGE: OK, let's talk about your new book coming out in August, BATMAN/SUPERMAN. I was wondering if you could talk about that book? How long is it planning on going for?
WILLIAMSON: Same thing man, I could write a Batman/Superman book forever if I could. I'm pretty lucky that Flash is my favorite character, Flash and Batman. Like you said Flash and Batman have always been neck and neck for me. If you came into my office, you would see that I have a bunch of Flash stuff and a bunch of Batman stuff. You know, I love Superman too, I have a bunch of Superman stuff in here too.
It's wild that I get to write these characters that I love. I've been wanting to write this book forever. Way back in 2009, I was doing these things called "Inventory Stories" for DC. What it is, is when you're first starting out, they hire you to do a one-shot but you don't know if it's gonna come out or not. It's a test route. So I did a couple short stories, really short stories, for DC. One day, one of the guys at DC pulls me aside and says "Ok you've done a couple short stories, let's see how you do with a whole issue". We were at a con and he says "I want you to write an inventory story, 20 page short story. Either a Batman or a Superman one. But don't say Batman because everyone always says Batman." So I said, "How about this? What if I did a Batman/Superman team-up?". He was like, "Nobody's ever said that before, Yes! You can totally do that".
My favorite thing to write about is team-ups. So they let me write a couple issues, that were like these little inventory things that never saw the light of day. One did come out though. It was the one with Damian and Supergirl, which was issue 77 of SUPERMAN/BATMAN. I was really happy about it. So I asked if I could write more Batman/Superman stories, like a full arc. But they were like "Oh that's interesting, but not right now".
I even had a story in mind, I had ideas not so much a story. Which is always like a sin, right. It's like we were talking about before, you have to have a story, you can't just want it. So it didn't work out, I didn't get to do it. Every once in awhile I would ask about it.
Flash forward to the beginning of last year, they came to me and asked what I wanted to do. Flash was doing well, METAL was just finishing and we were gearing up for NO JUSTICE and Justice League stuff. They said, "What do you really wanna do?". I said, "I really wanna write SUPERMAN/BATMAN, I've been asking about it forever, that's what I really wanna do". They were like, "No, you gotta wait". Tom (King) was working on BATMAN and gearing up for the "wedding" and Bendis was working on SUPERMAN. He had just started working on SUPERMAN, they wanted to give it a little room there.
I kept pitching and kept telling them my ideas for stories, and it finally worked out. So now that I have it, I wanna be on it for as long as I can. Our first arc is 6 issues long and I have a bunch of ideas after that. We'll see though, I'll stay on it as long as I have stories for it. I'm not gonna drag it out.
It's interesting, now that I'm on FLASH, at this point I've written 84 issues of FLASH at this point. I don't know if I'd ever do a run this long again. I say that now, but I could change my mind. I feel like I wouldn't want to stay on a book as long as I've stayed on FLASH. I'll be really happy when I'm done and I've told a really big Flash story that I wanted to tell, but I'm not sure I'd ever stay on a book that long again.
So, we'll see. As long as I still have stories to tell on BATMAN/SUPERMAN, that make sense, that are big and fun and are a big challenge for both of them, I'll stay on the book.
COMIC LOUNGE: How connected is the book going to be, to the Mega-Story going on in the DCU?
WILLIAMSON: It's crucial.
I was just thinking about it this morning. Scott was telling the story, building up the story, during the "New52" with his BATMAN run. That story led to ALL-STAR BATMAN and eventually built up to DARK KNIGHTS: METAL. Then you look at METAL, and that goes into NO JUSTICE which leads into JUSTICE LEAGUE. From there, JUSTICE LEAGUE leads into BATMAN WHO LAUGHS and that goes into JUSTICE/DOOM WAR.
THE BATMAN WHO LAUGHS leads directly into BATMAN/SUPERMAN and then B/S leads into some top secret book. That's how connected it is. It's picking up the threads, going all the way back to METAL. It carries through some of that stuff, leftover pieces, other parts of the mystery and carries that stuff forward to some really big stuff we have planned in 2020. This book is really gonna impact the entire DCU.
Issue 1 comes out in August, by the time we get around to December and start seeing what's coming in November, you're gonna see, it gets nuts. It will have a HUGE impact on the DCU going into 2020. I think people will be really surprised how big it gets.
COMIC LOUNGE: I couldn't do this interview with out talking about some of your Image books. NAILBITER was a personal favorite of mine. Do you ever see yourself returning to the town of Buckaroo?
WILLIAMSON: Yeah I miss writing that book, it's my baby. I like working with Mike (Henderson) a lot. Yeah, every time I watch a horror movie I get a bunch of ideas. I feel like I have to make sure I've got a good, solid story for it.
Mike and I talk about it all the time. We had lunch together, cuz he doesn't live that far from me. He moved recently but he used to live really close to me. I'm talking like a 10 minute drive from my house. The day that issue 30 came out, the last issue, him and I went and had lunch together. We were already talking about story ideas, things that we left over on purpose. So we started talking about how those threads could continue, out the gate.
We also have a couple other things we want to do. There's a couple other horror books, that I want to do also. I was just talking to an artist about one the other day. We were emailing back and forth about it today.
Even BATMAN/SUPERMAN has a little bit of horror in it, even FLASH does sometimes too. There's things that I learned on NAILBITER that I use in those books.
COMIC LOUNGE: With BIRTHRIGHT, you've really turned the fantasy genre upside down and put a unique spin on it. What can readers expect going forward? Do you have an endgame in mind for the book?
WILLIAMSON: Yeah, that's another one where I've always know how it ends. With NAILBITER, I always knew how it was going to end. Like, with BIRTHRIGHT, I know what the last page is like the back of my hand. It's all building to one thing.
The arc that we're doing right now, 36 just came out, if they don't fix the barrier between worlds, it will destroy both worlds. It's either, we open it or we close it. They have to figure out what to do. That's the obstacle we have. That's going to create some crazy drama and adventures. The next issue (37), has one of my favorite cliffhangers, I think it's awesome. This next arc is gonna be pretty nuts, it's kind of strokey stuff with fantasy that we haven't shown yet, that I think will surprise people with the direction the book goes in. It's balls-to-the-wall crazy. Issues 40-45 are very crazy. It's a lot of action, a little about fantasy, a little about the family stuff, but it's gonna change the shape of the book after that arc.
COMIC LOUNGE: Are there any other projects that you're working on, that you can tease or talk about? Not necessarily DC but maybe some creator owned stuff you have cooking?
WILLIAMSON: There's a couple creator owned things I wanna do. I have a creator owned notebook and I always write ideas down in there. I have a bunch of different stuff. I have a crime story I wanna do. I have a horror GN, it's kind of a short story, I only see it as a GN. It's a horror/western, it will be interesting to see how it goes. I have an artist I've been talking to about that.
Hold on, let me grab my notebook real quick. Let's see what else is in here.
I have a couple different creator owned books that I've had sitting around for a couple years, it just takes time. I have a superhero book that I wanna do on the side, that I think I'll eventually get to do in a few years. It's tough, because I do write a lot, there's a lot I want to do. It's just a matter of pacing it out and making sure I have an artist and we do it right.
That was always the thing with GHOSTED, NAILBITER and BIRTHRIGHT, those things took time. Issue 1 of GHOSTED I turned in June of 2011, but it didn't come out until June of 2013. Same thing with NAILBITER, it was in development for a really long time before it came out. I had the idea for BIRTHRIGHT in 2007, but it didn't come out until 2014.
I take my time with those projects, I really wanna make sure that they hit the ground running and are strong. I hate when I look at a creator owned book and can tell it was like "half measure". Like it's not cooked enough, you know. So I try to make sure that anything I'm working on, feels like it's "cooked". It's like measure twice, cut once. Just double check before you cut. It's just a way of being careful. That's always been my attitude about creator owned stuff. I just take my time on it.
Like with BIRTHRIGHT #1, the first draft was 20 pages long, the issue that came out was 30. After I developed it, I realized I needed more pages and needed to expand some stuff. I didn't want to rush anything.
I'm really excited though, I have a bunch of creator owned stuff I want to do. There's this one project I've been working on, like every time I have free time, I go to that one. I think about the dialogue, the scenes. I have it broken down, like I know all the cliffhangers and stuff. It's just a matter of me finding the time to actually write it, which is the hard part.
COMIC LOUNGE: One last question. What advice would you give to someone trying to "break in" to the comic business?
WILLIAMSON: I think the best thing to do is to start small. Start off doing one-shots.
When I was starting out, I was always trying to write "number one". The first two things I did were number one issues, but there are no number twos. The lesson I learned, was to try and do short stuff, self-contained. Even if it's 20 pages, or 8 pages, whatever.
Like if your a fan of "Outer Limits" or "Black Mirror", that stuff is all a self-contained story. That's the advice I have for people now, write those kind of things, produce those kind of things.
What happened to me, I would make these kind of comics and just give them to people. I would go to cons and hand em to people. My first job in comics, that i actually made money, was from Marvel. I would do little things here and there, and get little bits of money but it was just kind of a struggle. But my first "Big Two" job, I guess, cuz I had done some Image stuff was in 2008. It was from Marvel. I made a comic and I just mailed it to them. It was in the "slush pile", but Jordan White (editor of the X-Men books) who had just got that job maybe 6 months prior, he pulled it out of the pile. He read it, liked it, and then gave me like a 10 page short story.
That's what you gotta do. You just have to make the stuff and get it out there, so people can read it. Now, it's easier I think, because of the internet you can do web comics. If you can tell a short story (8 pages) and present it, and people like it, that's all it takes. Then you do 10 pages, then 20. That's how it worked for me.
So that's always the advice I give to people. Start small, because if you can do small, then you can do big.