Riding the Lightning: Robert Venditti and Van Jensen on Writing Flash's 75th Year

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DC Comics Flash 75 Robert Venditti Van Jensen

Anniversaries. They have a nasty habit of just sneaking up on you without notice. Some of them seem to come faster than others, and even The Fastest Man Alive has to eventually succumb to them.

While much has been made of Batman's 75th anniversary, we're now leaving behind the year of the bat and entering the era of the lightning. And with a hot new television show burning up the airwaves, it's never been a better time for fans of The Flash. So we sat down for a little conversation with current FLASH scribes, Robert Venditti and Van Jensen to get some insight into being at the helm of the Scarlet Speedster at this pivotal point in his history.

How fun is it -- or how scary is it -- to be at the helm of THE FLASH at what has to be his most visible point in 75 years?

Rob: Definitely very fun. It is a little intimidating because of the visibility of the character at this point, but even it just being THE FLASH, that's one of the characters that has an extremely long history that's been written by many, many talented individuals. But you just try not to think about that so much and have fun with the job, because when taking on any of these characters, there's so much history and talent involved over the decades that you just kind of cripple yourself if think about trying to compete with all that. So you just have fun with it, sit down and tell the best stories that you can.

Van: I find that there's just something about sitting down to work on a script, and type in the words "THE FLASH." Every morning when I do that, there's almost this sense of disbelief. It's like "All right, this is what I'm doing with my life!" Like Rob said, it's a really iconic character. I think this is just a cool point in time, because I think most of us who grew up loving comics have known how great The Flash is, but now there's broader awareness of how great the character is. It isn't like the character has suddenly gotten more compelling, there's just more familiarity with him.

The one advantage you have is that your first paragraph is always already written for you: "My name is Barry Allen, and I am the fastest man alive."

Rob: There is something really nice about The Flash in that sense. Some comic book characters' continuities and power sets can get a little confusing, but The Flash is a guy with a lightning bolt on his chest and he runs fast, so a lot of that heavy lifting has already been done and you don't have to concentrate so much on establishing those things, because it's already very intuitive.

Speaking of that power set, we learned in the framework of DC's New 52 that a side effect of The Flash's power is that he keeps time moving forward. That implies to me that there always has been and must always be a Flash to do this -- or is this just a by-product of Flash being the "big bang" of the New 52 continuity?

Rob: That's something that was introduced during the Manapul/ Buccellato run. They're the ones who came up with that great high concept. But as far as where we're taking the character... I don't know, van, have we even talked at all or even thought at all about the fact that there might have been other Flashes, and that there might be a character that has a lot of history, and there were Flashes in the past? Have we discussed that at all, I can't really remember.

Van: Yeah, it's something we're going to be exploring in the next arc. It's kind of the everlasting nature of the powers of The Flash. It's one of the cool things -- you go back to the creation of the Speed Force by Mark waid, and even before that. Flash has always been this character that, as much as his power's incredibly simple -- he runs fast -- it's also this power that ties into the very nature of time and space and reality in that way. Pretty much every story line in DC history that has involved time and space changing or warping or has weird things happening -- people coming from the future, or across universes -- Flash is always involved in some way, and usually pretty prominently. So that's something that we've really been aware of. It's not like we're necessarily writing stories about universes collapsing and changing, but still you want to be aware of just how great and cosmic this power is, even in its simplicity.

Rob: That was an attempt to be funny, and Van just gave me a real hard "No Sale" on my joke. But yeah -- we do talk a lot about the history of The Flash.

Van: (laughs) You were a little too sedate on that! You've been off on vacation and we haven't talked in a while. I didn't see the softball sitting on the tee.

One of the things I've always loved about THE FLASH series, going back to when I was in second grade, is the "Flash Facts." Everything had a scientific principle thrown in there -- I was passing tests from Barry Allen's lectures sometimes. Do you guys get into science minutiae to have Barry Allen -- who is a CSI, after all -- be able to talk the talk?

Van: Both of my previous jobs, one was that I edited a science and technology magazine, so I have a pretty good grounding in that, and it's something that we talk about all the time. And I think Rob, too, a lot of his previous writing has been about technology, and it's just something that's a big interest for both of us. Also, I was a newspaper crime reporter, so I was dealing directly with police and CSI stuff. So as much as THE FLASH is just a fun book to write, it kind of hits a sweet spot in terms of personal expertise. It's one of very few books where every bit of my experience I could really bring to bear on it.

Time travel is a big part of THE FLASH mythos. Is it necessary to tell a good Flash story? Can you tell a big Flash story without having to manipulate the time stream?

Rob: Oh yeah, absolutely. There have been so many of those stories that have been told. While we've dealt with time travel with Future Flash and what we've done with our arc coming back after...issue #40, and then coming back with issue #41, we're going to have a lot of things that are different about the book and we have a pretty long term plan in place in terms of what this next story arc is going to be -- who the villains are going to be, what it's going to mean to Barry personally and to the rest of the supporting cast, and none of it deals with time travel at all. It is something that's fun about the character and sort of baked into the character's history, so it was something that we wanted to do because you don't get a lot of characters who have those opportunities, but it's certainly not something we're going to do all the time. We're getting ready to step away from that in a pretty big way.

You have a story arc kicking off toward the 75th birthday. Do you have some kind of big event that people should be looking to have happen on the 75th anniversary of the character?

Rob: Gosh... How do I answer that?

Van: I would say 'specifically targeted at that," you know, but yes we are doing a big new direction for the book. We're cognizant of the anniversary. In terms of the changes that we're going to be making, it isn't going to be some kind story where Jay Garrick and Barry Allen are hanging out together, or anything like that. It's more just how the story arc worked out and what we already had planned, and the anniversary happens to fall around the same time that we've taken those breaks.

Flash and Crisis are two things that don't get along together. Now, back in the original CRISIS ON INFINITE EARTHS, Pyscho Pirate was the sole character who remembered how the universe was beforehand. I've postulated that there's one character who remembers the universe prior to the New 52 continuity, and that's Eobard Thawne, the Reverse-Flash. If he reappears, it could all come crashing down. Is he going to reappear?

Rob and Van: (long pause)

Rob: Woo...

Van: Boy...

Rob: Where is Thawne?



Van: He's another one of those characters we have not thought about at all in any way, shape or form.

Rob: Yeah, we should consider doing something with him.

Van: Yeah, we should. Yeah.

Rob: Thanks for the tip on that one. We'll look into that one.

Hmm, okay... I think I get the drift on that one. Nuff said, right gents? So moving forward (and still touching on another version of "The Man in the Yellow Suit"), with the television series being such a hot show right now, do you guys plan anything in your writing to capitalize on that audience of potential new readers, to get them and keep them?

Rob: We try to approach every issue, regardless, from the stance that there's going to be a new reader on the book. No matter what it is I write, I want it to be new reader friendly, because every issue is somebody's first issue. I'm somebody who didn't start reading comics until I was in my late 20s, so I very much understand what it's like to walk into a shop and want to be able to find an entry point so you can get into a story and not feel like you're missing a decade of history. So we concentrate on that all the time, and it's more for me just a sense that we know the TV show is out there, we know it's bringing in a lot of new fans. I watch the TV show with my kids, and we have a great time with it. So we know we're in a good spot in terms of the visibility on the book and all the great work the TV show is doing that we will definitely keep doing those entry points and being new-reader friendly, and try to capture as much of those people as we can, and not only make them FLASH readers, but make them comics readers, too. They watch THE FLASH TV show, and then they come to the comic and they like what they see, maybe they go to another book as well, and then we've brought somebody into the industry through the TV show. So it's a good spot to be in, and have an opportunity to capitalize on this sort of thing.

Van: And we've had conversations about the show in terms of... It's not like we're going to look at the show and say, "We're going to start drawing Barry to look more like Grant Gustin," or anything to try to replicate the show in what we do with the comic, or tell the same stories. They're different things, even though it's the same character. But we have looked at the show, and it clearly has resonated in terms of audience -- it's doing really, really well -- so we've looked at that just in terms of what is it about the show that works, what is it that people are responding to. As with any kind of successful thing, you can learn lessons from it in that regard.

Can you tell me what is The Flash's role -- if indeed he even has what one might call a role -- in the upcoming CONVERGENCE event?

Rob: CONVERGENCE is... We are aware of some of the things that are going to be happening in CONVERGENCE, but the writers on the main series -- we're actually not writing the CONVERGENCE issues. We're using that time to get really far ahead on scripts for what our new direction is, and likewise Brett Booth can get far up ahead and we can put really long runs together on books before we need to have a fill-in artist or something like that. In terms of what the story is going to be over there, we are aware of it to some extent, but it's not really our place to speak to it, because we're not writing those books. That would be something you'd want to get from DC directly or from the writers that are handling those specific issues.