There’s trouble in the DC Universe. For a variety of reasons, Warner Bros. is struggling to keep its superhero movies safe from turmoil while direct rival Marvel, backed by Disney, marches forward with its self-termed “Phase Three.” That Marvel is marketing its strategy into “phases” must be salt in DC’s wound: That whole schtick just sounds like methodical world domination. And Marvel’s in their final stage while DC/Warner, three movies in, feels like it’s barely started. But as always, comics offer a solution to harness creative energy, and it’s called Flashpoint.
The latest talk right now is Ben Affleck’s rumored intent to leave superheroism for good. After stepping down from the director’s chair for The Batman, Affleck (allegedly) wants out of the role. In the age of the cinematic universe — again, forged by Marvel — Affleck is guaranteed to stick around. But while Affleck reads the fine print of his contract, maybe there’s another way to not only send Affleck off but to reset a troubled continuity too.
In 2011, DC Comics rebooted its comics for the third time in an initiative dubbed the New 52. To transition from the old universe into the new, DC enlisted writer and now Chief Creative Officer Geoff Johns. Johns unleashed Flashpoint, a huge storyline in which Barry Allen, aka the Flash, is pushed by his archenemy Reverse-Flash to erase his superhero identity by going back in time to save his mother. Nora Allen’s death empowered Barry to pursue forensic science, which is how he’s doused with chemicals one fateful night to gain superspeed.
Barry’s actions create a dystopian present: Superman never landed on Earth; Thomas Wayne, Bruce’s father, is a gun-toting Batman; and Aquaman and Wonder Woman are engulfed in a war that’s destroying Europe. The book ends with the Flash once again going back in time to undo his mistake, resulting in the new rebooted universe. The point was to welcome new readers that introduced characters from their very beginning. (Except Batman.)
Good or bad, the quality of Flashpoint was inconsequential because it had a job to do. (It was also pretty good, for what that’s worth.) Its job was to renew the whole universe in one swoop, which it did admirably. That’s a move DC’s films could benefit from, which is always welcoming in unfamiliar audiences by their inherent nature as shiny spectacles.
But DC’s films haven’t been all that shiny. Opinion can never be accurately gauged no matter the Rotten Tomatoes score, but it is telling how the DC movies — Man of Steel, Batman v Superman, and Suicide Squad — all scored “rotten.” 2017 will see the release of Patty Jenkins’s Wonder Woman and Zack Snyder’s Justice League, but at this point, it’s generously optimistic to anticipate those will be good.
So a “Flashpoint” in DC’s movies could save Warner Bros. from trying to keep a limp franchise from running entirely on fumes before there’s simply no more fuel to keep going forward. I’m not Geoff Johns, so I can’t sort out the logistics piece by piece. But the man himself once hit the reset button in comics, and as the current head of DC’s creative direction, it’s not unreasonable to think he could maybe do it again.
Or, maybe, they could just kill Batman.
Justice League hits theaters this November.