I’m not a fan of “the darkest timeline”-style plot devices. They’ve been in comics for ages now, but have cropped up a lot in TV shows recently. It’s a way for a show that’s sort of out of ideas to do something drastically different that has no real bearing on the central plot.
Good guys are now bad! Bad guys are now good! But all of this is some parallel universe or prophesied future and by the end of the episode, some catastrophe has been averted and none of it will come to pass. It’s a more extreme version of “It’s a Wonderful Life” syndrome, which has a character see how crappy (or sometimes good) things would be without them in a given episode of a show. Usually around Christmas.
All this said, I think the concept can work, and it does here in Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox, yet another Unreality reader recommendation from the DC animated mini-movie universe. As a one-off eighty minute feature, rather than an interstitial episode of a show, it’s not as jarring as say, Heroes, throwing in a darkest timeline episode just to “mix things up,” with no real lasting consequences.
“I’m you, but tackier.”
Also in this case, the alternate reality present is just so damn fascinating that you don’t even care that it’s all going to be changed back by the end. The ride is too good to pass up.
The Flashpoint Paradox focuses on The Flash, a JLA member who rarely gets his due in pop culture, other than a new CW series and a promised blockbuster movie with the delivery date of “someday.”
This film opens with nearly every villain Flash has ever fought converging on the Flash Museum to try and draw the hero out. It’s revealed they’re all pawns of Reverse Flash, or Professor Zoom (god these names), who promises revenge on Flash after he’s captured.
The next day, the Flash wakes up and everything’s different. The world is about to be consumed in war, the JLA doesn’t exist, and the Flash isn’t the Flash, he’s just Barry Allen. The Flash never existed, and we get a combination of “It’s a Wonderful Life” AND the darkest timeline. And yet, it works.
Allen learns that the war threatening to destroy the world isn’t just any war, it’s being fought by a bloodthirsty Aquaman, leading the armies of Atlantis against WonderWoman’s Amazons. The two had an affair, and WW killed Aquaman’s queen, sparking a war involving massive floods and huge battles and that are killing millions of people, Atlantian, Amazonian, and human alike.
Cyborg works for the government, and has a loose collection of heroes that are JLA-ish, but not quite, and they’re none of the Flash’s former partners. Hal Jordan never got the Green Lantern ring. Superman never landed in a Kansas cornfield. Big and little things have been changed all over this dark world that have made everything worse, the non-existence of the Flash included. But at least his mother is alive!
Allen seeks out Batman, who is indeed still patrolling the roofs of Gotham, but wielding pistols instead of batarangs, indicating there’s something very wrong with him. In one of the cooler parts of the entire dark timeline, Allen learns that it’s not Bruce Wayne under the cowl, but Thomas Wayne. In this world, it was Bruce who was gunned down by a robber, and he was survived by his parents. His father swore vengeance and became a murderous various of Batman. His mother? She went insane from grief, and it’s implied that she’s the Joker in this universe. Whoa.
Don’t mess with Aqua-bro.
Allen convinces Thomas Wayne that there’s a better world out there where his son survived. One where Allen has superpowers and a stalwart team of heroes mostly keeps the planet safe. It’s not perfect, but it’s better than the apocalypse that’s about to happen. The idea is that all of this was caused by Reverse Flash somehow, who went back and time and changed things for the worse. Allen recreates the experiment that gave him his powers, and on the second attempt, he’s got his speed back. The Flash lives again, and he must assemble a team to fight his old friends and fix everything.
It really is an incredibly well-told story, and a fascinating alternate universe. The “real” reason as to why everything is so different doesn’t quite make sense when it’s revealed in the end, but it’s a nice twist all the same. The Flashpoint Paradox is filled with a ton of awesome DC cameos, and has some pretty heavy content. There’s a hell of a lot more violence than you’d see in a Saturday morning cartoon, and this is the first DC animated feature I’ve seen where they really didn’t hold much of anything back.
Though I normally hate this sort of plot device, the darkest timeline really works well here (and I assume in the original comic which this is adapting). Someday, when Hollywood gets tired of rebooting the same superhero franchises, they will make a movie like this. I hope they make this one specifically, actually, as I think it could work really well as a blockbuster.
This may have been my favorite DC animated movie of them all, and I think I’ve finally come to the end of the recommendation list. If you have any more I should watch, please suggest them in the comments (non DC suggestions welcome) and watch The Flashpoint Paradox for yourself.