There’s Never Been Another Superhero Movie Quite Like Flashpoint Paradox
“Nobody wanted to touch it, which gave me a lot of freedom,” director Jay Oliva tells Inverse.
In the early 2010s, most casual superhero fans didn’t really care about The Flash. DC’s wisecracking speedster wasn’t a star. Instead, he was a supporting character best known in the comics for introducing the multiverse back in 1961 and for dying in Crisis on Infinite Earths (1985).
Enter: Jay Oliva.
A storyboard artist and rising director, Oliva had already made a name for himself helming the animated adaptation of Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns, but he saw a unique opportunity when presented with his next project: Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox, which made its debut 10 years ago on July 30, 2013.
“It was a blessing in disguise because nobody cared about it,” Oliva tells Inverse. “Nobody wanted to touch it, which gave me a lot of freedom. I was able to shepherd it in my vision without any big notes.”
The original Flashpoint, a 2011 comic crossover event written by Geoff Johns and penciled by Andy Kubert, is notable for just two things: rebooting the DC universe into the New 52 plotline and bringing back Barry Allen as Flash (Wally West had taken the mantle ever since Crisis on Infinite Earths). But for Oliva, Flashpoint represented something even bigger, a chance to redefine its hero as a leading man.
“When we first started the project, I got my team together in a meeting and I said, ‘Listen, my plan for this movie would be that if they ever did a live-action movie, they would reference what we do here for The Flash,’” Oliva recalls with a hint of satisfaction. (It’s well deserved, considering DC’s recent live-action movie The Flash borrows liberally from the Flashpoint story.)
“Because remember,” Oliva adds, “this was the first time The Flash was ever put forward as a main character in all of the animated stuff. And I love The Flash. I wanted to make my mark with this Flashpoint Paradox.”
For the uninitiated, Flashpoint Paradox follows Barry Allen after he uses his superspeed to travel back in time and save his mother’s life. However, he soon realizes this one action has changed reality, mostly for the worse. Superman is nowhere to be seen. Aquaman and Wonder Woman are fighting it out over a bitter feud (and threatening to destroy the entire world in the process).
And then, there’s Batman.
In the Flashpoint universe, it’s Bruce Wayne who dies on that fateful night, while his parents, Thomas and Martha, survive. Thomas becomes a twisted version of the Caped Crusader, with bloodshot eyes and a reliance on brute strength and firearms over martial arts. Meanwhile, Martha, traumatized by the loss of her son, becomes the Joker.
While much of Flashpoint makes it into 2023’s The Flash, this darker Batman plotline was swapped out in favor of Michael Keaton’s return. But for Jay Oliva, Thomas Wayne’s Batman was always a huge area of focus, right down to the character design.
“I wanted him to be hulking,” the Flashpoint director says. “I’d just come back from Frank Miller’s Dark Knight Returns, which is a big kind of boxy Batman. So for the Thomas Wayne version, I wanted him to be scary. He’s a big dude with red eyes.”
Oliva credits the entire movie’s unique design to another animated classic: Ninja Scroll, the iconic 1993 anime action film. Thanks to Japanese animation studio 4°C — and minimal supervision on a project nobody else cared about — the Flashpoint Paradox team was able to give their movie a unique visual style.
“Some of the people who first saw it were like, ‘Oh, it looks a little grotesque,’” Oliva says. “And I was like, ‘No, it’s stylized.’”
Thanks to its unique aesthetic (at least compared to the rest of DC animation), an all-star cast (a young Michael B. Jordan, fresh off Friday Night Lights, voices Cyborg), and a slavish devotion to the source material (Oliva says he read all 20 comics associated with Flashpoint along with “all the” internet forums to see what people liked or didn’t like about the story), Flashpoint Paradox was a huge success. The movie still has a 100% on Rotten Tomatoes, and its influence across both superhero movies and television is undeniable.
Oliva recalls a story he heard from Geoff Johns, who, in addition to writing Flashpoint, is also a major producer across DC movies and television:
“Geoff Johns told me how they used my movies as a testbed to greenlight the live-action. So I did a Suicide Squad, it did good, and that led to the David Ayer and the James Gunn films. Later on, I did Flashpoint Paradox, and Geoff told me that he took the Flashpoint Paradox, and he recut it with all the Flash scenes and the Barry scenes and the emotional stuff. He showed that to the CW to say, Barry Allen can be a leading man.”
In other words, you can draw a straight line from Flashpoint Paradox to CW’s The Flash to the 2023 movie (which is the one thing Oliva ironically had nothing to do with).
“Nobody called me for The Flash movie,” he says with just the slightest hint of disappointment. “So I haven’t seen it. Honestly, I haven’t.”
(For what it’s worth, Oliva did spend six months working with Rick Famuyiwa on a Snyderverse Flash movie that never came to fruition. But we’ll have more on that in a future article.)
You could also argue that Flashpoint Paradox paved the way for the multiverse stories flooding movie theaters and streaming services today. But Oliva isn’t ready to take the credit (or the blame) for that one.
“The multiverse has always been a thing in comic books,” he says. “Marvel. DC. Hell, Back to the Future. Terminator.”
“I think the audience is just tired of stories that are kind of the same,” Oliva says. “They want something that’s clever and executed well and doesn’t have an agenda. Just tell a good story, right?”
All these years later, Oliva makes it sound so easy. But as his story makes clear, creating a classic like Flashpoint Paradox was anything but.