Last week on The Flash, an informational kiosk at The Flash Museum name-dropped The Red Death, implying that he was one of The Flash's most deadly and formidable foes.
Such references are worth paying attention to on The Flash, since characters like The Turtle and The Thinker got referenced before they ever showed up. Time travel is a hell of a drug. The reference to The Thinker almost immediately got fans asking whether he would show up as the series' next big bad -- and then he did.
A seemingly out-of-nowhere reference to The Red Death, then, is the kind of thing that should (and did) raise some eyebrows.
The Red Death is a fairly new character, introduced during last year's event miniseries Dark Nights: Metal. In that story, an army of evil, twisted Batmen called The Dark Knights emerged from the Dark Multiverse. The Dark Multiverse was, basically, what it sounds like: situated between the vibrational frequencies of the antimatter universe, the Dark Multiverse has ties to the Anti-Monitor...as well as to The Dreaming, allowing each of the Bruce Waynes who made up the Dark Knights to be a nightmarish reflection of the real Batman.
The Red Death is a homicidal Bruce Wayne who managed to connect with the Speed Force and effectively share a body with the Flash of his world. So to bring him in would be both a return to the speedster villains that fans bemoaned in parts of seasons two and three, and also an expansion of both the multiverse and the show's mythology.
How could it work, exactly? Well, we thought about that.
In the Arrowverse, Bruce Wayne has been gone for quite a while, and both he and the identity of Batman have been effectively replaced by his cousin Kate Kane, Batwoman.
One possibility is that Bruce Wayne learned, even before the Flash of Earth-90 came, about the impending danger from the Monitor and the Anti-Monitor, and he is out in the multiverse somewhere tracking down answers that will come into play during "Crisis on Infinite Earths." His explorations into the multiverse could open the door for the Dark Knights to become players -- maybe even supplanting the Anti-Monitor's shadow demons in the upcoming event.
After all, the Dark Knights are a lot more visually interesting than beings that are literally just living shadows who have to swarm anybody to be effective in combat.
Bringing Batman back in "Crisis," though, is a bit fraught: doing so would create a scenario where Batwoman, should it go to series, would be constantly bogged down with the same "Where is Batman?" questions that Supergirl got about her famous cousin on that show's first season.
An alternative to that would be to kill Batman in "Crisis." That would be a bold move, but since Batman looms larger than life, it would likely upstage whatever Arrowverse heroes sacrifice themselves in the story...something that network president Mark Pedowitz has categorized as very likely. Undercutting the heroes your audience has followed for years in order to give Batman yet another story that centers around him would likely not sit well with the writers of the shows affected.
So, how would the Dark Knights work? Is it even possible to introduce characters who are derivative of Batman, without creating a constant drumbeat of demands for Batman to appear on the shows?
In short, no. But that does not really matter, because in the Arrowverse, the Dark Knights should not be variations on Bruce Wayne.
They should be variations on Oliver Queen.
On The CW's Earth-1, the "World's Finest" heroes who set the tone for everything else are not Superman and Batman, but The Flash and Green Arrow. For years, fans have joked or complained that Oliver is basically Batman on Arrow, and while that is more or less true depending on the storyline, a loose adaptation of Metal is a case where the writers could make it work for them.
Alternately, perhaps you do not actually need all of the Dark Knights, serving under a being as powerful as the Anti-Monitor. Instead, maybe you just need the Red Death to tell a story of his own on The Flash.
After all, The Flash has been building to "Crisis on Infinite Earths" since the pilot, so it is likely safe to assume that most of the first half of next season will be preoccupied with setting up the mega-event.
With "Crisis" looming, Barry and company will have relatively little time to tackle a traditional big bad for the first half of the year, and anybody with a master plan is going to pale in comparison to what fans already know is lurking around the corner with the Anti-Monitor.
One possibility, then, is that The Red Death could become the season's big bad following the events of "Crisis on Infinite Earths." Maybe whatever the Anti-Monitor attempts to do is what is responsible for opening a door from the Dark Multiverse that the Red Death could use to get to Earth-1.
Imagine if, as a lot of fans are assuming at this point, Oliver Queen sacrifices himself to save Barry and the multiverse in "Crisis on Infinite Earths." It would establish him as arguably the greatest hero in the history of the universe, and be the culmination of the close, almost paternal relationship he has had with Barry over the years.
Now imagine if, a few weeks after that, a dangerous new big bad showed up in Central City and when he was eventually unmasked, it was an evil Oliver Queen, opening those fresh wounds among Team Flash.9comments
Obviously, this is a lot to extrapolate from a little information -- but it does not seem outside of the realm of possibility.
The Flash airs on Tuesday nights at 8 p.m. ET/PT on The CW.