It's been 20 years since Geoff Johns first started his seminal run on The Flash, exploring Keystone City, the Rogues, and the life of Wally West. In that time, he's expanded The Flash mythos for each iteration of the hero — reexamining Wally's journey to become a hero, bringing Barry Allen back from the dead, and recontextualizing the original speedster, Jay Garrick. That's not even mentioning modern stories like The Button and Flashpoint and their reshaping of the modern era of comic books at DC Comics. Simply put, Johns has earned his place next to Mark Waid, Gardner Fox, and John Broome, as one of the best Flash writers ever.
For Johns specifically, it's been a lifetime dream as he followed the adventures of Flash growing up. "I always wanted every issue of The Flash and growing up I'd go to flea markets, comic cons and second-hand stores looking for back issues. I do remembering finding this one Captain Cold cover, The Flash #114," Johns told SYFY WIRE this week. "It's this wonderful purple cover where Cold is fighting Flash and I found it tucked in back, literally wrapped in Reynolds wrap."
Now, with the release of The Flash #750, Johns and longtime Flash collaborator Scott Kolins are returning to their roots for a short story featuring Wally West and Captain Cold for the milestone issue. Ahead of the release on March 4, both Johns and Kolins spoke about their new story "Cold Comfort," explained why Captain Cold is the working man's villain and why Wally West is their favorite Flash.
Starting off writing and creating in the Wally West era of the Flash, could you talk about what makes that character so appealing?
Geoff Johns: I just loved that Wally was kind of new to being the Flash when I first read him. That he was coming into this legacy, that he was taking over for his uncle he admired and looked up to so much, and struggled with that. I always enjoyed reading the stories of his struggle and trying to find his place as a hero, facing off against the villains Barry fought and expanding his own Rogues galleries and discovering the Speed Force. There were so many wonderful and exciting moments in Flash's and Wally West's story that I grew up reading — particularly with Mark Waid — that made it magical to me. I first read Barry's stories and I loved his time travel, the different parallel worlds and the rogues. There were so many aspects of the Flash that were exciting, different and new and unique among all the superheroes, that no matter who it was, Barry or Wally, I just loved their adventures.
When I was really into Flash, when Mark Waid was writing the book, he broke open that mythology. When Scott and I had a chance to do the book, one of the things I wanted to do right away was dive into the Rogues. They had kind of been on the shelf for a long time and that's something we wanted, to bring them in and put them front and center. Redefine them and dig in a little deeper to their characters, while still trying to stay true to who they are.
Captain Cold isn't your run of the mill villain in that he's got a strict code. What do you like about writing him?
Johns: I just love that he's a grounded, blue-collar guy. He's not out to rule the world or slaughter people for fun, he's really living hand to mouth and he's got feelings and relationships with family and Keystone City. There's not a lot of ego there, he's got confidence in him but he's not trying to get his name on the front page of a newspaper. He's just a compelling character because his feet are so on the ground.
One of the things I've conceptually loved about Captain Cold, when I first read his stories, was that his gun absolute zero, which meant zero motion. When things are cold it's because on an atomic level they're moving at a very slow rate and absolute zero means nothing is moving. It was the complete opposite to the Flash and I thought it was so cool that was what cold was.
Working on the character, people thought he was a second rate Mr. Freeze. But one of Scott and my favorite issues, if not the favorite, was The Flash #182, which was the first of our Rogues spotlights. It's the story of Captain Cold and all he wanted to do was get revenge on the man that killed his sister. It was a really great story to work on. I'd love a Captain Cold monthly book. I think Scott and I could do that book forever. It would be a character-driven book. To me, he's a character in the same vein as a lot of other anti-heroes. He's this kind of cool, methodical and moral character. He's got rules too. With the Rogues, there are "Don't Kill Cops," "Don't Kill Superheroes," there's too much heat for that, "Don't Kill Unless You Have To," "No Drugs." He's got this moral code he adheres to and even in our short story that's coming through.
Scott Kolins: Geoff has such a great handle on Captain Cold, since we started that book. It immediately became apparent for us that whenever we're working on him, he just becomes real. He's so grounded, he's such a real, regular guy who's stuck in this world. He doesn't necessarily want to be in this world with Superman, Flash and the other galoots but he's just trying to get by with what he does.
Johns: Captain Cold had to adapt when the Flash was in the city. To go off what he's doing to pull off a job. That's really what the Rogues are, they're people who have had to adapt to the world of superheroes. But, Len Snart, he's a character in our world or could be. I guess we have a very specific viewpoint of who he is. We used him a lot in our run and we did stories that featured the Rogues for years after that. So, when they asked us if we wanted to do something for The Flash #750, we thought right away 'what if we did this cool Captain Cold story'. The whole story is that [Captain Cold] is out of beer. That's it.
Kolins: It's been honed in the sense Geoff and I can talk about things in shorthand these days. When we first talked about Flash and what we were going to do, he flew up to where I lived. I was in Oakland at the time and he was in L.A. He actually flew up to Oakland and we stayed the weekend and talked and talked and talked about Flash, Keystone City and the whole bit. He even made a map. I'd never had a writer fly to my city. We might get on a phone call but that kind of dedication, that extra leap and extra mile Geoff goes is symbolic of the way he works. That's the way he's always been, whether it's Shazam! or even this short story for The Flash #750, he's always there 100 percent.
Johns: In a creative business it's hard to find collaborators that you really connect within a big way. I did draw a map of the city of Keystone, because I wanted to redefine the city and make it a more blue-collar, Detroit-type place. We sat and had a great time and talked for hours about it, and we continued to. We were on the same page exactly about what we wanted to do with the book and tonally.
We did this issue where Gorilla Grodd tore through Keystone City and I'll never forget I wrote this double-page spread where I just wanted to see the path of destruction Grodd had created. They had done this JLA crossover where Grodd was kind of goofy and we wanted to show how dangerous he could be. The issue is only, he's in a prison transit, he breaks out and the Flash has to stop him. That's it. The damage he caused, you saw this path that cut across the city like a scar. I'll never forget calling Scott after seeing the drawing because it was so amazing and just telling him "You've screwed yourself. You showed me you can do big spreads like that." What happens, is that when you find someone you connect with so deeply on a creative level — and Scott's one of my best friends too — you start to be able to have a shorthand in creative. It's not because you're not working or thinking as much, it's just because the other knows what the other is thinking.
We've talked about Wally West, but I was hoping you could share your thoughts on Jay Garrick and Barry Allen as the Flash.
Kolins: Barry was great when I was a kid growing up. I loved the early Silver Age stuff when Barry would mix it up with Hal and there would be crossovers with those two characters. It was interesting too — Barry didn't have so much of a sidekick as he had a nephew, Kid Flash — that he became powered too. I loved reading those issues seeing Kid Flash run along with Flash.
For Wally, one of the reasons Geoff and I keyed into him so well was that we both have backgrounds coming from the Midwest and that's Wally. I don't know if that had been brought up strongly in the things he'd been in previously, but I thought that was a really key thing that we were naturally able to beam into the book because that was our background. I do like Wally the best, Dick Grayson too, they're the guys who were able to grow into their parents' shoes. They literally got these legendary jobs. You think about these amazing people, the Flashes, Superman, etc. they're everything you could never be — but then Wally, he actually did it. Dick Grayson did it on his own with Nightwing but Wally actually did the one thing that almost no one has been able to do. He grew into literally those shoes, took it over and made it his own. He had more ways of doing things than the Flash that Barry did before. He had different attitudes and maybe compassion towards villains. That's why I think Wally is the best and I think why we work the best with him.
Any closing thoughts?
Johns: I'm excited that people love the Flash. I always say superheroes are junk food that's good for you, because on the surface they're just entertainment, but I strongly believe that heroes like the Flash, in particular, have these wonderful moral messages that people desperately want and we need. These stories resonate with us because we want these aspirational figures to look up to. Just like in the comics, the Flash is at the forefront of that. I hope that character survives for a long, long time.
The fact that we're on #750 is amazing, I remember buying The Flash #350 on the stands and being sad it was the last issue, so I hope we're doing The Flash #1750 one day.