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How Flashpoint changed the DC Universe - and how it could do the same for DC movies

(Image credit: DC)

For the last few days, DC fans have been buzzing about the potential inclusion of Michael Keaton's Batman in Warner Bros. planned Flashpoint movie – a character Keaton hasn't portrayed since 1992's Batman Returns.

Though fans have often dreamed of Keaton returning to the Bat-franchise, the actual ramifications of what Keaton's inclusion in the movie could mean if it comes to pass may come straight from Flashpoint's comic book source material, which put its own still-enduring spin on Batman – and changed the entire DC Universe forever.

If that sounds like a hell of a lot, it is – even just the actual Flashpoint limited series holds dozens of mysteries and twists on the established DC order to unpack, let alone the fallout from the story. But we're here to follow the clues to figure out which aspects of the Flashpoint mythos may come into play in the film, and even which may already be in place in the DC Extended Universe.

The Plan

(Image credit: DC)

In 2010, DC was facing some narrative stall-outs. All but its biggest series were facing tepid reception from critics and fans alike following a stretch of some of the publisher's most acclaimed stories in decades.

To right the ship, then-DC Publisher Dan DiDio and his editorial team came up with a plan – one that had worked for the publisher before when DC was in a similar rut, resulting in 1985's Crisis on Infinite Earths: a line-wide reboot, with new roles, and in some cases even new origins for all of its characters, great and small. To get there, DC planned to go back to the Crisis mythos by focusing their reboot on Barry Allen, the Silver Age Flash who had perished at the end of Crisis, and who had returned to life in a high-profile story from writer Geoff Johns a few years earlier.

To wit, they came up with Flashpoint, a story by Johns and artist Andy Kubert in which the DC Universe would reach a "flashpoint" – a moment of change that sparks much bigger rippling effects. In this case, that moment of change was caused by Barry Allen traveling back in time and preventing his arch-enemy Zoom from murdering his mother, causing widespread changes to the entire DC Universe which made it all but unrecognizable to readers, and to Barry – who suddenly found himself the only person who remembered the world before he changed it.

The Paradox

(Image credit: DC)

In the new world, Barry finds dark reflections of many of DC's biggest heroes – most notably Wonder Woman, Aquaman, Batman, and Shazam (a familiar line-up, no?). But these are not the heroes he knows from the Justice League. To start, Wonder Woman and Aquaman are locked in a war between Themyscira and Atlantis which consumes most of Europe, with the two mythical nations carving up territory throughout the continent while Cyborg, America's greatest hero, tries to find a way to end the conflict.

In the midst of all this, Barry travels to the Batcave, hoping Batman will be able to help. And indeed he finds Batman – but not the one he expects. In the Flashpoint universe, Bruce Wayne was killed alongside his mother, and Thomas Wayne becomes a much older, darker Batman (keep that in mind). Eventually convincing Thomas that he is responsible for fundamentally changing the timeline in which they exist, Barry sets about trying to restore his powers and get to the bottom of the mystery of the new timeline.

Teaming up with Cyborg, Barry and Thomas attempt to free the Flashpoint timeline's Superman from government captivity – a plan which ultimately fails, as the now freed Kal-El simply runs away in fear, powerless. The trio eventually recruit Captain Thunder – Flashpoint's version of Shazam!, in which each of his powers are controlled by a different kid, who all combine into one fully-powered hero – and Element Woman, a version of the mainstream DC character who has elemental powers akin to Metamorpho. Traveling to Europe to intervene in the growing Amazon/Atlantean conflict, the team learns they also have to stop Zoom from ending the timeline entirely before Barry loses his memory of the old world.

Phew.

Ultimately, the team succeeds in both missions – the world is saved and Zoom is defeated. But when Barry Allen enters the Speed Force to prevent the formation of the Flashpoint timeline, he encounters a mysterious woman who uses Barry's power to combine the DC Universe, the WildStorm Universe, and the Vertigo Universe, resulting in the birth of a totally new timeline closer to Barry's old one, rather than the restoration of the original DCU. The new world combines characters and plot points from all three of its component worlds – but with totally new contexts that start the whole thing over from scratch.

The New World

(Image credit: DC)

The aftermath of Flashpoint's impact on the DC Universe almost can't be overstated – remember that line-wide reboot we talked about? 

Following the limited series' completion, the DC Universe was brought back to the way it was... sort of. Almost all the old stories and relationships that had been established since Crisis on Infinite Earths and even before then were dropped, with DC relaunching every single title – including Action Comics, which launched their entire superhero universe in 1938 and had continued unbroken numbering since then – and redefining the roles and adventures of their heroes. The resulting line, comprised of 52 titles (though that number eventually fluctuated), was dubbed the "New 52" continuity.

The New 52 lasted around five years – between 2011 and 2016 – when DC course-corrected once again with 'Rebirth', a one-shot and line-wide branding that relaunched everything with #1 while restoring the classic numbering of Action Comics and Detective Comics. And with the renumbering came a new commensurate philosophy of keeping the best of the new world and bringing in the core ideals of the old DCU which had been lost in the reboot. 'Rebirth' restored many of the classic DC stories and relationships while also balancing elements of the New 52 – and has even brought in other side-universes to the core DC Universe with stories like Doomsday Clock which pitted Superman against Doctor Manhattan and tied the Watchmen mythos into the DCU proper.

DC is technically still in the Rebirth era – though a new initiative called 'Generation' that defines the actual history and timeline of the DC Universe may still be in the works, and that could add new wrinkles.

The Big Screen

(Image credit: Warner Bros.)

Given the complexity already at hand, it's unlikely Warner Bros.' Flashpoint film would be a one-for-one translation of the story (there are way too many side stories, moving parts, and twists to set up in one film). However, all the pieces are in place for Flashpoint to receive the Captain America: Civil War treatment – an adaptation that includes the same themes and many of the same major players while adjusting the story itself to fit the continuity it's building on.

DC Films also already gave Flashpoint a more direct adaptation in the animated movie The Flashpoint Paradox.

The DCEU contains many of the core Flashpoint cast; Wonder Woman and Aquaman are the critical and box office darlings of the film series, with Shazam! a close contender for the top of the crop. Meanwhile, there's a new Batman coming to film with Robert Pattinson as Bruce Wayne – and of course the whole Michael Keaton thing.

Speaking of which, while there's a chance that Keaton could be playing an older version of his Bruce Wayne/Batman (which opens the door to a whole host of implications for other DC movie veterans), it's important to consider the possibility he's playing the Flashpoint Batman, Thomas Wayne – a character who made it out of the Flashpoint universe and into the mainstream DCU as part of Geoff Johns and Josh Williamson's 'The Button' which led to the incorporation of the Watchmen mythos into the story of the core DC Universe. 

The Multiverse

(Image credit: CW)

So what does all this mean? Well, DC's comic stories have often revolved around the idea of a Multiverse – a panoply of worlds that exist in odd reflections of each other, based around core concepts and characters that appear throughout. It's an approach DC TV shows have also taken, with CW adapting 'Crisis on Infinite Earths' to resolve some of its own Multiversal quandaries – and CW's Flash even adapting a version of Flashpoint in which Barry Allen visits an alternate history of his own making, caused by preventing his mother's death. And, if that's not enough, Ezra Miller's movie Flash showed up in an episode of The Flash during CW's 'Crisis On Infinite Earths', hinting at a much bigger connection between DC's various media.

Could the DCEU take this approach as well? With Justice League: The Snyder Cut coming up to revise history (though it's unclear if it will 'count' toward the overall narrative), a whole new and separate Batman on the way, a completely standalone Oscar-winning Joker in the wings, a handful of characters and concepts to carry on, and even a popular and prevalent new adaptation of Watchmen – and a movie primed to not only incorporate but resolve these different film worlds and allow them to interact while maintaining their own identities – well, that sounds like DC and Warner Bros. finally finding a way to have their cake and eat it too.

Newsarama staff writer who learned to read from comic books and hasn’t shut up about them since.