As teased in the trailers for Andy Muschietti’s The Flash, the film is—at least in terms of the basic premise—a loose adaptation of Geoff Johns and Andy Kubert’s 2011 comic book event Flashpoint, and while that’s mostly academic (most superhero movies are loosely based on some big comics event or storyline), Flashpoint in particular is noteworthy because of its aftermath: It blew up the entire DC Universe, it ended every ongoing title in DC’s library, and it introduced the publisher’s generally derided (somewhat unfairly) “New 52” lineup. Coincidentally, the Flash movie seems to be following a similar path, since it is one of the last dying gasps of the old DC movie universe before James Gunn and Peter Safran’s new DC Studios label relaunches the DCU.
But what happens in Flashpoint and how did it lay the groundwork for The Flash? Well, unsurprisingly, it’s pretty complicated. It all goes back to Crisis On Infinite Earths by Marv Wolfman and George Pérez from the ’80s, arguably the greatest comic book crossover of all time, during which Barry Allen—technically not the original Flash, but the most famous one at the time—is killed trying to save the multiverse. DC allowed Barry to stay dead for over 20 years before Johns and artist Ethan Van Sciver resurrected him in 2009’s Flash: Rebirth, a book that rebooted the Flash comics of the time.
For the purposes here, the most important part of Rebirth is that it introduced a clichéd comic book backstory for Barry Allen that is all-too familiar for DC superheroes: When he was a child, one of the Flash’s villains from the future traveled back in time and murdered his mother, and because that’s a crazy thing to happen, the police assume that Barry’s father was the real killer and he spends the rest of his life in prison.
That was the status quo for another decade, until Flashpoint, which takes place in a twisted and different version of the DC universe where Wonder Woman’s Amazons are at war with Aquaman’s Atlanteans, nobody has ever heard of Superman, Bruce Wayne was murdered in an alley by a mugger, and while Barry Allen remembers the way things are supposed to be, he doesn’t have his Flash powers. It’s eventually revealed that Barry himself broke the universe by going back in time and preventing his mother’s murder, which caused some kind of time ripple that broke everything.
Ben Affleck’s Batman predicts a similar outcome in the final trailer for the Flash movie, but even he couldn’t have predicted the fun little twists that came with Flashpoint: Over the course of the series, it eventually comes out that Bruce’s father, Thomas Wayne, has become a brutally violent Batman who kills criminals to make up for the death of his son (and Bruce’s mom, the famous Martha, actually becomes the Joker!), and Kal-El has actually been a prisoner of the U.S. government since his spaceship crashed when he was a baby.
The Flash directly calls back to those plot points, but with its own new little twists: After Ezra Miller’s Barry Allen goes back in time to save his mother and accidentally breaks history, he creates a world where Michael Keaton’s Batman is the only Batman and, again, nobody’s ever heard of Superman. But instead of finding an emotionally disturbed and physically stunted Superman hidden in a government black site prison, he finds Supergirl, played by Sasha Calle.
The ultimate dark reveal in Flashpoint is that Barry can’t fix reality. He has to go back in time and let his mother get killed, but in doing so he doesn’t restore things to how they were, he creates a brand new universe—the aforementioned New 52, a more or less total clean slate reboot of DC’s entire line of comics. Hilariously, Johns—who went mad with power at some point in there—later explained in his Doomsday Clock series that Doctor Manhattan from Watchmen created the New 52 universe as part of a twisted scheme to make the DC superheroes worse (possibly the funniest meta nonsense to ever happen in comics).
The Flash movie won’t go that far, though making Zack Snyder’s Watchmen movie canon to some version of the DC movie universe would take some impressive guts, but it is at least poised to actually blow up the universe just like Flashpoint did. That’s not something a mega-budget comic book movie gets to do very often, but based on all the stories about The Flash having a Top Secret ending that Warner Bros. is going to absurd lengths not to spoil, it does seem to at least be relishing the opportunity to do something very silly.