Marc Guggenheim on Flash #13
by Matt Brady – courtesy of http://www.newsarama.com – posted 07-04-2007
The reverberations of Bart Allen’s death as the Flash are still being felt, both throughout the DC Universe, where his public funeral is shown in this week’s issue of Countdown (#43), as well as throughout the fan community, where reaction to the death swings between the extremes.
And of course, in all of this, is DC’s plan, now revealed, to replace Flash: The Fastest Man Alive #14 and #15 with All-Flash #1, and then Flash #231 picking up on the numbering of the previous series, with Wally West back in the yellow boots as the Fastest Man Alive. All along, according to DC, this was the plan – lull readers in, establish the character, and then kill him.
We caught up with the writer who was handed the figurative gun and had the target pointed out to him – Marc Guggenheim.
Newsarama: Marc, not to make this sound all Watergate, but I think a lot of the whole Bart/Flash talk as far as the fans see it is: what did you know, and when did you know it? When you came on the book, you talked about long-term plans, Bart is the Flash, etc…But at that same time, were you being told by DC, “Okay – you’ve got five issues, and then whack him”?
Marc Guggenheim: Yes, I guess. Taking things in reverse order, I was told that my run would be five issues; I was told that it would end with whacking him, and I was even told that the Rogues had to play a pivotal role in being responsible for his death.
As far as what I said in the past, I don’t think I ever used “cold dead fingers,” but I did lead people to believe that my involvement would be open-ended, but that’s pretty common in comic books these days. For example, when I had my first run on Wolverine, Marvel was the one saying that my commitment was going to be open-ended, when my run was only slated to be six issues. I think that’s just common practice among both major publishers these days because of solicitations. And it’s just better for sales if they don’t publicize arcs being closed-ended.
As far as the statement that my job was establish Bart as the Flash, yeah – that I did say, and said it repeatedly, and it’s 100% true. My job was to establish Bart as the Flash. It just so happened that my job was to establish him as the Flash and then kill him.
My goal was that, if I was going to kill Bart, I was going to make sure that Bart died as a Flash. In fact, that’s the whole reason for page 13 of issue #13, with Bart screaming “I am the Flash!” I really wanted to try to establish Bart as a legitimate Flash before we killed him. And I was very careful in all the interviews and all the message board postings I did to not lie – I repeatedly said that I was not bringing Wally back, and that’s true. I wasn’t going to do it. No on asked me if someone else was going to do it, though. Although there were a couple of very smart posters on Comic Bloc that actually asked me that question, and I just didn’t answer, because I wasn’t going to lie. I never lied about the story, and I never lied about where the story was going. In fact, leading up to the publication of issue #13, I was posting a line of dialogue per page, and then a line of dialogue per two pages from the issue. So – while I may not have been up front, I never lied about it.
NRAMA: And to get into some of the further specifics of the care with which you presented yourself in interviews and how it all played out in the end for Bart, you made it very clear as to who was doing what in the final pages of #13 when it came to the Rogues literally beating Bart to death. Now, for the record, was Piper involved in that?
MG: If you look carefully, you’ll see that Piper doesn’t deliver any of the killing blows, and he spends a good chunk op #13 trying to distract everybody from Bart – “No, no, don’t beat up on Bart, beat up on Inertia, instead!”
Basically, I think what you’ll find, and this is really for other writers, specifically in Countdown to focus on is how culpable should Piper feel in Bart’s death? Someone asked me if I felt Piper was culpable, and reasonable minds differ on it, and I hope they will differ on it, because I think that it will make for interesting debate. From a legal standpoint, Piper could be charged with Bart’s murder under the Felony Murder Rule, which states that if you participate in a crime which is a felony in most if not all states, and if that felony results in someone dying, then you can be charged with murder, whether or not you intended for that person to die in the first place.
NRAMA: And likewise, as a separate issue, Piper will now have to make his peace with Wally, if that peace can ever be made…
MG: Exactly, and I think that makes for some really great stories. In Bart’s death, one of the reasons why I agreed to the gig was that DC presented it to me as the first domino in a long chain of dominoes that will lead up to DC’s next big event. One of the things that’s great with what DC is doing these days is that things are plotted out very far in advance with a great deal of intricacy between the various books. A year from now, or two years form now, you’ll be able to go back to this book, and say, “Oh yeah – that’s where it all started.”
NRAMA: Backing up from Piper’s involvement in the death, was part of the suggestion from DC to amp up the Rogues? Prior to this, yeah, they were bad, and yeah, they would kill, and as Geoff Johns worked with them, they were three dimensional, but still, this just seemed to be over the edge for them as a group. To put it in crime terminology, you had them “make it personal” with Bart – they saw his face as they were killing him – looked him in the eye – even after they realized this wasn’t Wally, but was a child…that was cold.
MG: On this one, I’ll take sole responsibility. The directive from DC was that the Rogues kill Bart. In thinking about that, there were various dramatic requirements that I had to write towards that stemmed from that directive. In other words, if you’re going to have the Rogues kill Bart, that has to be up close and personal, dramatically, otherwise you diminish Bart’s death. There has to be a certain degree of culpability, and yet at the same time, you have to stay true to their character.
One of the things that I tried to get across with the Rogues was that they were acting out of a pattern. So while it is up close and personal, it’s a little less malicious than a premeditated murder plot. I tried to balance the way they’ve always been portrayed in the past, with the dramatic requirements of the story. Again, in the aftermath of this, I think that there’s a lot of interesting story to be told in terms of the world’s reaction and the Rogue reaction to their action here.
NRAMA: It’s put them in a new place, in a way…
MG: Right. Whenever I take on a book, I always take inspiration from writers whose work on the character I really liked, and one of the things I liked about Geoff’s run was the way he made the Rogues three dimensional. Geoff is really, really good at taking characters whose portrayals have been…not lame, but let’s say not living up to their full potential, and he makes them realize their full potential. I was drawing some inspiration from that when Inertia’s going around and recruiting the Rogues. I tried to tip my cap a little bit to that – to reveal that, rather than Inertia going around and having his ass handed to him that he’d been fighting so his opponents could reveal all of their tells.
NRAMA: Like the thing with Weather Wizard and the wand?
MG: Exactly – I broke the connection between him and his wand, literally, and, through Inertia, revealed that his powers were more psychologically based. I just felt that was consistent with what Geoff had established with Weather Wizard’s kid during his run.
I just tried in general, to give the Rogues an agenda that was a little less passive and less comedic, and more serious. It’s often said, and it’s always true that your protagonist is only as good as your antagonist. If you go back to my original mission statement of wanting to turn Bart into a legitimate Flash, then to do that, he would have to go up against the Rogues in a very legitimate way to make that happen.
NRAMA: Along with the fight being emotional and of itself, you took a few pages at the end of the issue to show the impact around the world. Was that your idea as well?
MG: Yeah – I just felt that it had to be done. To me, a death, dramatically, is only meaningful if you show the reaction of the people left behind. That’s where you get the real drama. In many ways, I think it’s why The Sopranos finale left audiences unsatisfied. It was strongly suggested (to me at least) that Tony is dead, but the audience member in me really wants to see the reaction of his family to him being gunned down in front of them.
To me, it’s always not the tree falling in the forest, but rather the sound that it makes when it does that’s interesting. That’s where you get your great drama. I had a small number of pages left to me – in fact the issue ran an extra pages, juts because I didn’t have enough room to fit everything that I wanted to fit, but I wanted to see Jay’s reaction, and Tim’s reaction, because those were the two people- with the exception of Max Mercury – that were closest to Bart.
NRAMA: And the last page?
MG: With that 23rd page…in the process of writing the script, I thought about an appropriate ending visual, and thought about how the Flash was unique in that he has a whole city and a museum that’s dedicated to him. What would happen in that city and at that museum when a Flash dies? I figured that there would be a spontaneous candlelight vigil. Once I hit on that idea, I knew it had to be the last page.
NRAMA: Speaking of the large picture with the death, obviously, this came out the same week as Justice League of America #10 where Wally returned. Was that the plan all along? You knew Wally was coming back, but did you know that it would be keyed to the same week as Flash #13?
MG: I knew it would be in the same period in time, and suspected that it might be the same week. I don’t get too much involved in scheduling, but when I wrote issue #13, I had Brad’s [Meltzer] script to work off of, and we did as much coordination as humanly possibly.
NRAMA: When you did all of this as well, did Mark Waid ask you to put anything in place for him, or leave anything so he can pick some things up, or is he looking to start with a clean slate – aside from the Rogues new direction?
MG: He’s really just starting with a clean slate, or a pseudo fresh slate, as there is, as you pointed out, some business to take care of in the wake of Bart’s death. But apart from Mark reading my script, there wasn’t much interaction.
NRAMA: What did you have Mark looking for in the script?
MG: One of the things I wanted him to look at was how we opened the issue, inside Bart’s virtual reality childhood. We wanted to make sure we weren’t doing anything that contradicted what he had done on the past, and my recollection is that he liked the idea.
NRAMA: Speaking of that – Bart’s past…you’re a comic fan as well as a writer, and as such, “grew up” along with Bart from his first appearance until now, his last…what was your gut reaction when DC gave you your marching orders to kill him? Did the fan and writer inside you have two different reactions?
MG: I definitely realized that they were asking me to do something that was going to have an impact. It’s funny – and people may not believe me when I say this, but I actually accepted the job so I could kill Bart for his own good.
MG: Bart was going to die anyway, whether I pulled the trigger or not, and I was at least able to give him the send off that I wanted to give him. There were numerous reasons to take the gig when it was offered to me, but one of them was actually Jar Jar Binks.
NRAMA: Again, whaaa-at?
MG: [laughs] Bear with me. Before I get into it, I need to set the record straight and take us back in time to when Bart first became the Flash – there was a lot of backlash, and there were a lot of people screaming for him to die. In fact, one of the things that I find both humorous and gratifying in his death is that there are a lot of people saying that he shouldn’t have died. Doesn’t anyone remember how many people wanted him to die?
Where Jar Jar comes into it is, after Episode I, and everyone hated Jar Jar and everyone wanted him to die in the second movie, I thought it would be really cool if, through the course of Episode II and III, turned Jar Jar into the coolest character ever. Made Jar Jar Han Solo and Boba Fett combined, and then have Darth Vader kill him at the end of Episode III. People would scream, but Lucas could then say, “What? You all wanted him dead, and I killed him.”
I thought that, with Bart, there was an opportunity to do that. He was going to die anyway – the decision had been made. So I decided to do whatever I could over the course of those five issues to make Bart as cool as possible so that all the people who were screaming for his death were saying exactly what they are now – Bart didn’t have to die.
So, there you go, Jar Jar inspired my story for these final five issues.
NRAMA: Stepping back a little, and looking at the life of Bart…and admittedly, this may be a skewed perspective, but it seems…sad, bordering right on the classically tragic. Here was someone who didn’t have a normal childhood, and even what he had was pulled away from him. His father figure, in Max, was pulled away from him, he found some friends in the form of Young Justice and the Titans – and he kinda fit in with them, but not entirely; but those were pulled away from him when he was aged into his adult role, he stepped into the role of his mentor, and in the end, wasn’t good enough to do the job, and was killed. I mean – that’s Willy Loman as a superhero, right there. Bring us a ray of sunshine, here…if there’s anyone who deserves to come back from the dead and be just pissed, it’s Bart…
MG: I think it is a tragedy – the story in itself is more tragedy than comedy, but even some of the best tragedies have the hero dying at the end. Just because he dies doesn’t mean that his life was a waste, the character was a waste, or that he didn’t die a hero. I think that with Bart, there’s a very interesting metaphor – he literally lived fast and died young. It’s a story that has some visceral appeal to it – at least to me. There’s something interesting to me in looking at a character like Bart who takes on the mantle of a well-established figure, and lives up to the responsibility, but doesn’t live at the end.
I think there’s an interesting morality tale there, and interesting drama there. If you look at comic books, there are a lot of really great, bittersweet stories that are part of comic book history – and I’m not saying that this issue is necessarily one of them – but if you look at the first death of Phoenix, the death of Supergirl in Crisis, Bart’s death fits nicely into that thread in the fabric of comic book history, with Superboy being the most recent example prior to this.
NRAMA: But at the same time, with both Superboy and Bart, in a sense, there was a distinct feel that they went up against something that was much too big for them to handle, and they didn’t realizes it, or realized too late that there was no way out. At this point, give than he’s lost two friends, you almost have to wonder if Robin would have a moment’s pause at going out by himself, or has a crisis in confidence say, when the Joker’s out and Batman’s not there, and he’s the only one around to stop him…
MG: I think that would make for one hell of a story. What if Robin faced these fears and couldn’t go out at night, and in true superhero fashion would have to overcome them to keep being Robin. Again – like I said earlier, that’s where the drama in a death lies. Robin’s seen so much of it lately – how is it affecting him. You could almost imagine that he has some kind of survivor’s guilt, after all, he’s just a well-trained kid, and here, his friends with powers were killed doing essentially the same thing he does, nightly.
But I think there’s a really glass half-full/half empty way of looking at these stories. They were mature enough to make the ultimate sacrifice would be the half-full way; while the half-empty way is that they weren’t mature enough to realize they were going up against something that they had no business going up against.
I’m a big believer that stories don’t live in my head – they live in the reader’s minds and the interpretations that the readers give to them. It’s really up to the readers in my opinion, to decide which of those two instances we’re talking about here with Bart.
NRAMA: Wrapping things up on a hypothetical – say you had one more issue left, with everything else having happened as it did. Wally’s back, Bart’s dead. What would Flash: The Fastest Man Alive #14 be about?
MG: I think by virtue of the scenario that Wally is stepping into, I think the story would have to be about Wally going after Piper and the rest of the Rogues. I would hope that I would be able to come up with a way of doing it that you haven’t seen before and that was original and that speaks to who Wally is as a character. But, off the top of my head, I don’t know what that way would be – after all, my job was to kill off Bart, and Wally was someone else’s problem.
It is fun to think about what might have been – honestly, I would’ve loved to have spent a whole issue on what I did on those final three pages of #13. That’s where the real drama is. But I made a very specific decision when I started writing comics – I always wanted to be criticized for trying to do too much in any given issue than trying to do too little. I always write with all the complaints of the reader in mind – like a lot of them, I hate decompression. My goal is always to pack as much story as I can into as few pages as possible.
With respect to my run on the Flash, I had five issues to cover a lot of ground, and looking back on those, I think they were pretty dense, and in the end, I’m pretty happy with them.
Bill Walko is an author and artist and the man behind titanstower.com. He's been reading and drawing comics since he was 5 years old and hasn't stopped since.