The news that Ben Affleck is likely moving on from his role as Batman in the DC Extended Universe is slowly sinking into fans' heads. Justice League has underperformed, and there are reports of Matt Reeves' The Batman possibly going with a different actor in the cowl, leaving little room for hope of Affleck continuing.
Now comes word that Ben Affleck's Batman will have a role in The Flash solo movie Flashpoint, but not in The Batman. That news opens a new door for the DCEU, and it's one that the studio, and Affleck, definitely need to walk through. Because Flashpoint is the best exit that Ben Affleck's Batman will get from the DCEU.
The Flashpoint Paradox
The DC Comics "Flashpoint" storyline sees Barry Allen / The Flash travel back in time to prevent his mother's death at the hands of Eobard Thawne, aka The Reverse-Flash. That one change creates a butterfly effect that changes the entire continuity of the DC Universe. All of the heroes end up living very different lives, and in the case of Bruce Wayne / Batman, the result is no life at all.
In Flashpoint continuity, the night that the Wayne family is attacked, it is young Bruce, not his parents Thomas and Martha, who is fatally shot and killed in Crime Alley. That tragic event sends Thomas and Martha Wayne down very different paths: Thomas becomes a darker and more brutal version of Batman, while Martha becomes The Joker. When Barry eventually rights his wrong, he creates a new timeline that's a lot like the original DC Universe, but with a few big differences. The story ends with a poignant scene in which Flash brings a heartfelt letter from Thomas Wayne back to Bruce Wayne.
How Ben Affleck Can Exit the DCEU
The opening for Ben Affleck's Batman exit in Flashpoint is clear: Flash and Batman's conversation about their shared experience with violent loss is a powerful theme of "Flashpoint," and it could be the perfect launchpad for the movie version's story. Batman v Superman pretty clearly established just how badly Bruce Wayne was traumatized by his parents' deaths, and Justice League quickly introduced the theme of Barry Allen being too focused on his tragic past instead of the future he could have.
Having the two characters open Flashpoint with a meaningful conversation about what could've been would bring Affleck's Batman to the close of his character arc while also providing the emotional catalyst for Barry Allen to play god with history, using his power to alter the entire DCEU. DC fans everywhere want Flashpoint to introduce the Thomas Wayne Batman and Martha Wayne Joker -- especially if they're played by their Batman v Superman actors Jeffrey Dean Morgan and Lauren Cohan.
The New Batman
Once Flashpoint is over, the DCEU could go down one of two easy routes:
- Make Jeffrey Dean Morgan's Thomas Wayne Batman a permanent fixture of the "fixed" DCEU timeline.
- When Flash returns to his "fixed" timeline, reveal that a different Batman now wears the cowl, making it a lasting consequence that Barry Allen has to live with thereafter.
The beauty with the second option is that it doesn't disqualify Affleck's Batman from making an appearance in a future DCEU project, if so desired. Even if a different Batman is introduced at the end of Flashpoint, the story of how he got the cowl -- a subject for Matt Reeves' The Batman, perhaps? -- doesn't have to involve the death of Affleck's Bruce Wayne. He could have simply retired or been injured, developments which have both occurred in DC Comics lore.
Justice League already set the stage for the retirement option: throughout the film, Ben Affleck's Bruce Wayne makes reference to the fact that he's aging out of his crime fighter days, especially in a world where superheroes, metahumans, and aliens are becoming more prevalent by the day. It would be the easiest thing in the world to have that foreshadow progress to a full-blown changing of the guard, giving Affleck a graceful exit.
Return of The Bat-Affleck
Yes, Flashpoint is the exit that Ben Affleck's Batman needs to take right now, but that doesn't mean he needs to be gone forever.
There are many, many fans of Affleck's portrayal of both Bruce Wayne and Batman, and those fans will keep the fires burning for him if he every wanted to make a comeback. The most obvious scenario would be be one day having Affleck return for a Batman Beyond movie, a story which sees an elderly Bruce Wayne train a new young protege in the use of an Iron Man-style Batman armor.
Let's be clear: what's described above is about as good as it gets for DC/WB, for Affleck, for hardcore fans, and casual viewers alike. Anything else begins to get more messy, with the cumbersome recasting of the Bruce Wayne character, or contrived explanations of the Batman mantle being passed. For once in its run, the DCEU may want to take the easy route.
Justice League is now in theaters; Aquaman arrives on December 21, 2018; Shazam on April 5, 2019; Wonder Woman 2 on November 1st, 2019; Cyborg on April 3, 2020; and Green Lantern Corps on July 24, 2020.