The holidays are over, school is back in session and kids across the world are about to learn from some of their favorite teachers—Superman, Batman, the Flash and the other heroes of the DC Universe.
“Flash Facts” is an all-new middle grade graphic novel that mixes valuable lessons in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) with thrilling adventures featuring some of DC’s biggest heroes. Curated by Big “Bang Theory” star and scientist Mayim Bialik, the book is a fun, lively collection of superhero stories from an all-star roster of writers and artists that presents crucial STEM principals in a way that’s exciting and approachable — the Flash introduces us to forensic science, Supergirl explores the mysteries of space, the Teen Titans have some fun with VR and more! The idea is to illustrate how the STEM principals that kids may learn about in school are applied in everyday life and used by superheroes in their pursuit of justice.
With his reliance on cutting edge gadgets and technology in keeping the streets of Gotham safe, it’s hard to think of a bigger STEM fan than Batman. His love of things like computer algorithms, aerodynamics (for his batarangs) and 3D printing is likely only rivaled by Varian Johnson and Darian Johnson, the twin brothers and, in Varian’s case, bestselling author who wrote “If You Can’t Take the Heat,” the Batman story in Flash Facts.The short comic co-stars Plastic Man, who aids the Caped Crusader as he relies on 3D printing technology to defeat an on-the-loose Firefly. Drawn by Vic Regis, the story balances humor and heroics with a quick overview of how 3D printers work that makes for some seriously smart fun.
We were curious how Varian and Darian, who both have backgrounds in engineering, got involved with Flash Facts and how they managed to create such an “edutaining” story. We sat them down for a few questions, but it turned out that they had plenty of questions themselves…for each other. So, we decided to let them conduct the interview. Take it away, guys!
Varian Johnson: Okay, so I just have to ask…what did you think when I first approached you about co-writing a short story—and one in comic form at that? Were you excited? Filled with dread? Worried about taking “orders” from your brother? All of the above?
Darian Johnson: Probably more honored than anything. We’ve talked about doing a project together for almost 20 years, and while we could think of catchy names (“Two Hyped Brothers and a Blog,” “The Bloggers Johnson” and “Cold Chicken Will Give You Worms”) we never seemed to get any momentum to make an idea real. So, having the chance to partner with you on “If You Can’t Take the Heat” was great in that it finally gave us an opportunity to work together. Plus, we got to write THE Batman. (Note: saying “Batman” is just too pedestrian for this character; I feel like you have to address or refer to him as “the” Batman).
VJ: SWEAR TO ME!!!
DJ: Anyway, how did you get connected with DC on this? Did they know that you were an engineer before you turned to writing full-time? And was the focus on STEM the reason you decided to participate in the project?
VJ: I had been talking to DC about some other projects and was really thrilled when they approached me about Flash Facts. They probably knew me more from my writing career (Twins, my first graphic novel, came out in 2020), but it was a happy coincidence that I could lean on my engineering background as well. That being said, even though I’m a civil engineer, I didn’t have any experience with 3D printing, which is why this felt like the perfect project to collaborate with you on. How did you get involved with 3D printing? What do you use it to create?
DJ: I got into 3D printing in order to become a better maker. “Making” is a mash-up of do-it-yourself, technical and crafting hobbies (such as electronics, software engineering, woodworking and robotics). 3D printing gives me the ability to create just about anything I can design. Now almost all of my maker projects involve 3D printing.
When I started 3D printing, I only needed three things: a 3D printer, a spool of generic filament and designs to print. I’ve since incorporated CAD software (to design custom components) and a bunch of specialty filaments (electrically conductive, flexible, heat resistant, sunlight resistant, wood filled…).
I really enjoyed writing this story with you—and I didn’t know how hard it was! Major kudos to you for helping us to find the right balance between fun and teaching. Is writing dialogue for a superhero a lot different than writing for a “regular” character?
VJ: No, it wasn’t that different. When writing dialogue for a character, whether they wear a cape or not, you really want to understand how that character thinks, and how they express those thoughts when interacting with others. Batman and Plastic Man may both be heroes, but they have completely different ways of talking. Plastic Man is more likely to crack a joke, while Batman—that is, THE Batman—is more serious. Using both of these characters actually worked well for the story, as it allowed us to create a comic that was both educational and fun. (And shout out to Vic Regis for his great art on the project and to Wes Abbott for the lettering.)
But back to Batman…I think it’s a dream for both of us to put our own spin on such an iconic character. But I’m curious, who do you think would win in a fight—him or Superman?
DJ: Batman wins that fight nine times out of ten. And he’d probably win ten times out of ten if he had a 3D suit made of Kryptonite.
VJ: Good point, bro. Good point.