29 March 2010

Running Mates: Will DC's FLASH Follow in GREEN LANTERN's Footsteps? !! EXCLUSIVE !!

Confident in the abilities and aspirations of in-house writer Geoff Johns, DC Comics' EIC Dan DiDio placed the never-stellar Green Lantern franchise into Johns' hands for him to recreate.  That was 2004-2005, and Johns had only been with the company since 1999. Yet inside of a half-decade, Johns had not only assumed writing duties on both JSA (with co-writer David S. Goyer) and The Flash, but also spearheaded the very successful relaunches of  two other struggling  properties, Hawkman and Teen Titans.  Green Lantern, however, posed an even bigger challenge; the series was not only floundering, its main character had fallen out of favor (as chronicled in the 1994 series Zero Hour: Crisis in Time), and as a result, had relegated to the sidelines ever since.

Today, the Green Lantern franchise has become DC's most popular, an unprecedented event.  The character's tidal wave of success has sent  the Green Lantern series - and its spin-offs including Blackest Night - to the top of the industry's monthly sales charts while also rippling through the rest of the publisher's line. In addition, an overwhelming new demand for Green Lantern product has given rise to numerous toys, tee-shirts, new comics, and even an animated feature film with a potential second one on the horizon.  All of this, mind you, was not the result of some grand stratagem or business plan; Green Lantern's success was fueled by the fire of a good writer's  imagination and his ability to see story on a grand, unlimited scale, the canvas of comics.

Even before Warner Bros. Entertainment formed their newest division, DC Entertainment, to proactively focus on the development of DC Comics' creative properties last September, the company had already been building upon Green Lantern's momentum since 2007, when they announced that a Green Lantern feature film was in the works with director Greg Berlanti.  (See below for the rest of the story!)  While changes have been made since, Green Lantern starring Ryan Reynolds  began filming mid-March, under the direction of Martin Campbell in New Orleans.

Green Lantern's triumph wasn't achieved by good fortune, but by good writing. Still, as the pieces have fallen into place since Johns' began the character and title revamp with Green Lantern: Rebirth in late 2004, some measure of serendipity seems to have been involved. For the uninitiated, 'Green Lantern' is a title given to an entire corps of intergalactic space cops, much like 'Special Agent' is given to FBI officers. While the name is most often associated with Hal Jordan, DC's Silver Age hero who first appeared in 1959, there have been several Green Lanterns over time, each well-differentiated from the others and most of them still active characters in DC comics. Johns not only succeeded in taking the rather flat character of Hal Jordan and made it round, but immensely fleshed out the world to which all Green Lanterns belong. 

Conceivably, were Ryan Reynolds not to return for a theoretical second Green Lantern film, another actor (or actress) could assume the lead rather easily without having to revamp the franchise.  The same couldn't be said if Reynolds had been cast as Batman or even as DC Comics' Scarlet Speedster, The Flash. [And he had been, if only in the minds of fans hungering for a feature Flash film!]
There have been four incarnations of the the Flash since the first appeared in 1940, yet as with Green Lantern, its the Silver Aged second generation Flash (and his alter ego, Barry Allen, who debuted in 1956) most people think of when they hear the word.  Accompanied for most of his 'career' by his young sidekick Wally West aka Kid Flash, Barry Allen was the primary Flash in the DC Universe.  As the power to run fast wasn't exclusive to his character, the Flash and many of the other fast runners in DC's stable evolved to be characters able to tap into 'The Speed Force,' the mysterious source of their similar super speed talents.

But Barry Allen was the preeminent speedster of DC's comics, until DC elected to end his adventures heroically in Crisis on Infinite Earths #8 (1985) and pass the Flash mantle on to the now-adult Wally West. In 2006, storytelling magic allowed for Wally's Flash to be removed from the scene so that his protege, Bart Allen, could succeed him. A less than popular move, Wally returned to his role a year later.
Warner Bros. desire to keep DC Comics' characters competitive across multiple media platforms and playing the same merchandising game as the heroes of Marvel Comics required that DC's most recognizable properties - the Flash being one - be consolidated and streamlined, essentially to be made as familiar as possible for the marketplace.  That business need, among other factors and preferences, paved the road for Barry Allen's return from the grave to once again become not a Flash, but The Flash.

Aside from being both the obvious if not best man for the job, Johns had penned the adventures of Wally West as The Flash from 2000-2005 (and had developed a deep love for the hero) so the honor of returning Barry Allen to comics - and to popular acceptance - became his.

With his Green Lantern at full throttle and his limited series event Blackest Night breaking sales chart records, Johns ambitiously tackled The Flash's return.  Aside from making the character one of Blackest Night's protagonists and therefore hedging its popularity on Green Lantern's 'star power,' Johns followed what he didn't have before - a business plan - and launched Flash: Rebirth in summer 2009.

To Johns advantage, The Flash has by and large been DC Comics' 'Number 5' hero (after Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, and Green Lantern) since the late 1950's. But unlike the top three, DC's holy Trinity, Flash's popularity has carried no matter who wore the character's red and yellow tights.
The challenge for Johns and DC Comics is to make Barry Allen / Flash and future The Flash comics both matter.  Like Green Lantern's ring and the 'Green Light' which gives it its power, the Flash has the Speed Force, the elusive well of speed that is wide-open to explore narratively - and we expect that as he did with the 'Light' in Green Lantern, Johns will find a way to make the Speed Force relevant to many of DC's characters and not just its speedsters. 
It's almost essential that he does, because the world of The Flash is nowhere near as big as Green Lantern's outer space. Similarly, Flash has no Corps, and only a small supporting cast of similarly powered speedsters, most of whom are related to the  main character. Also, the majority of Flash's villains - known as 'The Rogues' - play second fiddle to DC's most popular Rogue's Gallery, the Batman's. Johns has already worked hard to develop the Rogues as worthy adversaries during his first run on The Flash, and though he definitely gained them some ground, their ability to demand respect as true villains or even foils hasn't yet been accomplished.

The Flash, at least for today, doesn't appear offer the storytelling freedom inherent in Green Lantern.  Since he began working on Rebirth, Johns has emphasized his focus will be on  the character of Barry Allen, but it's pretty much what he has to do.  But Johns' was DC's busiest writer last year, and Flash: Rebirth suffered serious delays as a result.  In the span between issues, readers forget, and characters dissolve. Very recently, as part of Warner Bros' reorganization efforts at DC, Johns was promoted in February to the new position of DC's Chief Creative Officer.  Though he has no intention of leaving Green Lantern or abandoning The Flash, it's far too early for Johns to predict where his focus, or his responsibilities, will eventually lie.
For now though, DC is sticking with the plan and betting on success. Joined by his former Adventure Comics artist Francis Manapul, Johns' new run on The Flash begins with next month's Issue #1 (14 April) and The Flash: Secret Files and Origins 2010 (07 April).  Then, the 'wait to see' if success happens will begin, and for a guy like the Flash, waiting around is not an easy thing to do.

Indeed, Johns submitted to Warner Bros a treatment for a Flash motion picture within the last couple years, as the character's name has been bandied about as a potential film property for quite some time - even before fans playfully cast Ryan Reynolds as its star. With his new role at DC Entertainment, he'll undoubtedly be on board with any Flash project the studio moves forward with. As of late last month, that move may come sooner than later.

Several comics news and film sites reported the week of February 25th that Warner Bros had returned to their first-named Green Lantern director, Greg Berlanti, to take charge of a new Flash film franchise. Berlanti, who also co-wrote Green Lantern and is a producer on the film, does seem an excellent candidate to do so, and as a life-long comics fan, obviously has passion behind his involvement.  

Our experience with (and disdain of) the Rumor Mill keeps us from proclaiming Berlanti as Flash's helmer, especially considering that  he's now the fourth director whose name has been attached to the potential project. With everyone waiting on Warner Bros to make good on their promises of big movie announcements this year to coincide with DC Comics 75th Anniversary, any plausible rumor will be greeted by enthusiasts as fact. As even Berlanti's most recent public interviews a week ago found him talking Green Lantern but dodging Flash, there are few facts to be had.

But happily, there are some. Berlanti said in one interview we found that Warner Bros is starting to think in the same way as Marvel, i.e., developing their superhero film franchises to be in continuity with one another, allowing them to share characters, stories, and a common world like their comic book counterparts.  We'd figured as much ourselves, and Berlanti's comments make us think we've been on the right track.

Although Marvel's new model for their films has yet to succeed or fail, it's plausible, and seems to be sound. And as Marvel's film properties currently belong to several studios, coordination and likelihood of making the 'big picture' work would appear to be in Warner Bros. favor. Which is a very good thing, because once Green Lantern is flying high, it only makes sense for The Flash to be the next DC hero running towards the box office.

Green Lantern is scheduled to premiere 17 June 2011.

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