Joshua Williamson is the current writer of DC’s THE FLASH, a position he’s held since the beginning of the DC REBIRTH relaunch. Prior to that, Williamson built his robust comic book portfolio by writing original titles GHOSTED, NAILBITER and BIRTHRIGHT for Image Comics, as well as CAPTAIN MIDNIGHT for Dark Horse. Since arriving on the scene for THE FLASH, Williamson has taken Barry Allen on an emotional thrill-ride, with memorable arcs that turned his best friend into costumed killer Godspeed, took Barry on a trip through time with Batman to find “The Button,” and saw Barry’s arch-nemesis Eobard Thawne (AKA the Reverse-Flash) meet his apparent shocking demise at the hands of Barry’s girlfriend, Iris.

Since Barry’s run-in with Thawne, he’s attained dark new powers from the Negative Speed Force, which have contributed to an overall decline in Barry’s health — both psychically and mentally. The most recent arc, “Bloodwork,” saw Barry’s social life disintegrate and his work relationships untangle as he came up against a new enemy, Ramsey, a quiet morgue doctor at Barry’s crime lab who was revealed to have hemophilia. Sick of being a victim, Ramsey decided to experiment with the blood samples from the crime lab and discovered a way to make himself invincible. There’s a side effect though — all that blood in his veins eventually has to clot. When it does, it turns him into the hideous villain Bloodwork, a red, pulsating vein of a creature who is, by any measure, a living blood clot.

ComicsVerse sat down with Williamson on the floor of New York Comic Con 2017 (literally, we sat on the floor). We discussed “Bloodwork,” both the storyline and the villain, and Williamson revealed his rationale for pitting Negative-Flash against Bloodwork. We also talked about Barry’s ruined emotional life, the challenges of making Barry interesting, Williamson’s personal connection to the character, and what might be in store for the future of THE FLASH. 

Image courtesy of DC Comics

ComicsVerse: Tell me a little bit about the current arc “Bloodwork.” Why was the Bloodwork villain necessary to use at this point in Barry Allen’s life?

Joshua Williamson: Well there was a lot of motivations going into this character and this particular arc. I really wanted the book to have kind of a roller coaster ride in terms of the content but also in terms of what Barry is going through emotionally. Barry has just come out of “The Button” and the “Running Scared” arc where he went up against Thawne… so I really wanted Barry to be in a negative spot. It worked because we were going to give him the Negative Speed Force powers, [which are] clashing with his [original] Speed Force powers…

I really wanted to do a story about Barry being in a negative — no pun intended — a negative spot in his life. Part of this story is Barry being self-destructive, starting to push away his friends. He’s starting to think ‘if these people are around me they might get hurt. I don’t want these people around me.’ So instead of being mature about it and trying to find ways of talking it out with people, Barry isn’t doing that. He’s being a jerk to people — he feels like people are better off if they don’t get close to him because of the kind of person he is. Part of that story is Barry coming around to realize he’s not being himself, he’s being self-destructive.

Now, where Bloodwork comes in is, I wanted to create a character who’s always about self-preservation. Everything is about saving himself, it’s all selfish acts. Every decision [Bloodwork] makes is about protecting himself — protecting his body, protecting his career, protecting his life. So I wanted him to be the opposite [of Barry]. The best villains are always mirrors, they’re always opposites. I had actually created the Bloodwork villain when I was a little kid. So I’ve tried to get him into a couple books. Since I’ve come back to DC there’s been moments when we talked about him and I pitched him to people and they liked him.

Originally it was gonna be one “Negative” issue and Bloodwork was gonna be another one-issue character. But then we were moving some things around in the schedule and decided “let’s make two issues into four issues and give the artists some room to breathe and do some double-page spreads.” And we let [THE FLASH artist] Neil [Googe] do this awesome sequence with Bloodwork — all of that came into [the conception of the “Bloodwork” arc].

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CV: There’s something really interesting about placing Negative-Flash, who is this gross distorted version of himself, against a villain made entirely out of blood, and then the visceral impact of watching a walking blood clot literally explode onto people. There’s such a gut-punching, grotesque quality unusual for a DC comic book here. Tell me about that.

JW: I mean everything you just said, that was kind of what we were talking about doing. But we didn’t want it to be so Grindhouse. Flash is a teen-plus book in terms of ratings so we wanted to make sure we stayed within a certain line, but we wanted to do something different. That was part of the Negative Speed Force arc, was about doing something different with Barry, showing different stuff, and then showing a villain you had never seen before and doing something a little different with him. Then letting Neil Googe — I had actually talked to him about a year ago [about “Bloodwork”].

Often when you’re working with artists you ask them “what do you wanna do? what do you wanna draw?” He was like, “oh I wanna draw these things” [such as exploding blood vessels], and I was like “I can make that happen.” The stuff you’re talking about [the visceral effect of the art], that was all stuff that Neil wanted to draw. So I was “hey I have this villain. It can work [for what you want to draw],” and Neil drew it and was happy with it. And we were like yeah, [Neil] looks like he’s having fun with this.

CV: So much of what I saw with Barry really struck a chord with me. The language I see him using has to do with psychology and twelve-step programs. I think this can really resonate with the readers in terms of Barry taking responsibility for himself and moving forward rather than blaming others. It’s a great lesson for so many of us.

JW: I mean you hit the nail on the head right there. That was part of my motivation too. I mean I didn’t want to run him through a twelve-step program or anything like that, but Barry’s gone through a lot of hard stuff. As much as Barry Allen is eternally hopeful and an inspiration and able to deal with this stuff, whenever you go through something like dealing with Thawne and going up against the things he’s gone through recently, [it’s difficult].

I wanted to have a moment with Barry when we were able to show that sometimes this is hard, and build up to these big stories we want to do next year. [But first], I felt like we needed to come around on some of this. And I love happy Barry, I want happy Barry to be happy and hopeful and inspirational, that’s his core — but you have to run him through the rigor, you have to test him, you gotta push him and throw these things at him that almost makes him crack — but he never cracks all the way.

The reason we’re doing that is to come back around to what makes Barry Allen special. We come around that corner and present to you: he went through this and this is him. At the end of the last issue, Barry said: “I’m not being myself. I know who I’m supposed to be and I want to be that person but I need to work to get to that.” I wanted Barry to confront those ideas and then come to [them].

He still has work — you can’t just go from Thawne who murdered his mother, [then went on to] beating up Kid Flash, taunting Iris, separating Barry from Iris, giving him the Negative Speed Force and Barry confronting the fact that he was afraid to be alone… For Barry to just flip a switch and be like “I’m happy again!” — I didn’t want that. I wanted him to actually earn it. So we’re almost there. I feel like we’re coming around this corner and I think people are gonna be happy when we get where we’re going.

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CV: I love that. I read comics because they’re awesome, but at the same time, when I can read something touching in a comic, something that reminds me of my own struggles and other people’s struggles, there’s something really special about that.

JW: I feel a personal connection with Barry at this point. I’ve been writing him for two years, and even before that. I started working on [THE FLASH] in Spring of 2015, so I’ve been thinking about Barry every day for two and a half years, and I feel very personal with him in a way that I only feel about characters I created. And obviously I didn’t create Barry Allen but I do feel a connection with him in a lot of ways.

So when we’re having him go through that [difficult] stuff, I’m just trying to make it more personal. You look at that Thawne story, that was personal. And I want [Barry] to be a real character… I think a lot of people think about Barry as being boring. They think about him being stiff… I was talking to Grant Morrison [about this] the other day. We talked about Batman and Green Lantern, Hal Jordan and Barry Allen. And we talked about how people perceive Barry as [boring].

So we had this really nice conversation about [Barry] as a character and the challenges of writing Barry as a character because he can be really stiff and he can be that character who is very much the straight man… One of the best things about Barry is that [writing Barry] is about who you can bounce him off of. And [those characters] bring the best out of him. So when he’s around Kid Flash, he brings stuff out of [Barry], when he’s around the original Wally West, that guy brings stuff out of [Barry].

When he’s around Thawne, in particular, it brings stuff out of him. Then you have someone like Godspeed who really knows how to push Barry’s buttons, that also bring things out of him. I mean, I think Thawne pushes his buttons the most, but those are the best ways of telling that character, [Barry Allen], those are the best stories for him. [Bouncing him off other characters] are the ways to bring stuff out of him. There are challenges there, but I really think the best way for me to do it is to make [the stories] personal.

Image courtesy of DC Comics

CV: So tell me about Thawne and finishing his arc in “Running Scared” in terms of him revealing a final motivation that was so simple and horrid, boiling it down to this idea of “he was just jealous of Barry.”

JW: I didn’t make that up though. If you look at “The Return of Barry Allen” Thawne said, “Oh I just wanna be his friend.” And [past THE FLASH writer] Jeff [Lemire] would do a lot of work with [Thawne], and it was the same idea of him being bitter and angry. The idea that Barry chose other people to be his friends [instead of Thawne] really upset Thawne. The fact that Barry had other people he would accept as his friend, that drove [Thawne] crazy.

Don’t get me wrong, Thawne was already crazy before that. And he tormented himself — If you go back and you read Flash #8 from Jeff’s “Brightest Day” run, Thawne himself had gone back to torment himself. It’s a weird cycle of “why he’s crazy is because of all these things but also because of what he did [to himself]…” I love writing him, it was the same thing [as writing Barry] where I felt a connection writing [Thawne]. I don’t miss writing him cuz he was a crazy person, but yeah, it was really fun writing him. I’ll say that.

CV: “Running Scared” did feel like this climactic thing though. Obviously, other writers have tackled Thawne, but this felt like the culmination of something that had been building and building for years. If it’s not the end for Thawne, where does it go from here?

JW: Yeah I mean I was trying to really build this thing up [with “Running Scared”] but that’s the end of a chapter in a really big story we’re building. I will leave you with this: next year we have a really big story with the Flash, we have a lot of really cool stuff coming up in the book. The original Wally West is gonna come in the book more often now. There’s a lot building and I feel like people will see that all these pieces we’ve been building up this whole time are gonna explode.

Our thanks to Joshua Williamson! “Bloodwork” can be found on the stands now in THE FLASH #30 and THE FLASH #31. The next issue, THE FLASH #33, will be released on 10/25.

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