The upcoming Flash movie may be Ezra Miller’s first solo outing as the Scarlet Speedster, but for many DC fans, the real selling point is seeing Michael Keaton back in the Batsuit after 30 years. Director Andy Muschietti gave us another tease of Keaton’s return with a blood-splattered glimpse of the classic Batman Returns suit.
It’s not exactly a full trailer, but this new image does give us some important clues as to the role Keaton’s Bruce Wayne could play in the new movie. Could this classic Batman be headed down a dark path? Let’s break down what this image tells us.
Blood on Batman’s Hands
The most obvious takeaway from this image is that Keaton’s Bruce is dealing with the aftermath of a violent tragedy. The blood may suggest someone close to him has died, whether that’s the late Michael Gough’s Alfred, his old sidekick Dick Grayson or a lover like Kim Basinger’s Vicki Vale. Could the death of a loved one have pushed Batman into retirement?
Or does this blood signify Batman himself has taken a life? It’s widely assumed this older version of Bruce Wayne will be inspired by the elderly Bruce seen in Batman Beyond. In the DC Animated Universe, Bruce hangs up his cape and cowl after his aging body begins to fail him and he finds himself forced to rely on a gun. In that universe, Bruce stops short of actually shooting a criminal, but maybe Keaton’s Bruce crosses an unforgivable line.
DC’s upcoming Batman ’89 comic will probably give us some insight into these missing years of the character’s life. The series appears to be set in between the events of Batman Returns and The Flash, at a point when Bruce is going gray at the temples but not yet old enough to be forced into retirement. The series will include plot points that director Tim Burton never got around to before exiting the franchise. That includes the debut of a Dick Grayson inspired by Marlon Wayans (who was originally meant to appear in Batman Returns) and the Billy Dee Williams version of Harvey Dent becoming Two-Face. If Batman is forced to kill Two-Face or mourn the death of Robin, that tragedy may feed into the character’s arc in The Flash.
The Watchmen Connection
This Batman teaser is also significant because it clearly evokes the imagery of Watchmen. The image of blood splattered across a yellow and black superhero emblem is one of the most iconic elements in Watchmen. We can only assume this was an intentional move on Muschietti’s part.
Why the callback to a completely different superhero franchise? Watchmen’s Doctor Manhattan has an interesting connection to Flashpoint, the story upon which the Flash movie is reportedly based. 2016’s DC Universe Rebirth #1 revealed Manhattan actually created the new version of the DC Universe that sprang up as a result of Flashpoint. He interfered with the DC timeline as part of a grand cosmic experiment. 2017’s The Button follows up on that revelation, showing Batman and Flash teaming up to investigate the mysterious, bloodstained pin that appeared in the Batcave, and encountering the Batman of the Flashpoint timeline along the way.
None of this is to say The Flash will be delving into the Watchmen universe or including characters like Doctor Manhattan. The movie clearly has enough characters to juggle already, between the traditional Flash supporting cast, Sasha Calle’s Supergirl and both Keaton and Ben Affleck’s versions of Batman. But the teaser may be hinting at certain basic elements from The Button working their way into this movie. It could be a clue that The Flash will play with the continuity of the DCEU in the same way Flashpoint, The Button and other follow-up stories did for DC’s comic book universe.
A Dark Turn for Keaton’s Batman
While The Button set the stage for 2018’s Doomsday Clock, a full-fledged Watchmen sequel, that story also set a very different ball in motion for Batman specifically. And it’s one that could be very relevant to the plot of the Flash movie.
In the Flashpoint timeline, a young Bruce Wayne is killed by Joe Chill instead of his parents, which causes Thomas Wayne to become Batman and an insane Martha Wayne to become Joker. The miniseries Flashpoint: Batman – Knight of Vengeance shows the tragic final confrontation between these versions of Batman and Joker. Thomas, having learned another reality exists where their son is alive and well, tries to impart the good news to his wife. But Martha, realizing Bruce is destined to go down the same road as his father, finally snaps completely and commits suicide.
That tragedy weighs on Thomas when he crosses paths with his son in The Button. He implores Bruce to give up being Batman and find happiness before it’s too late. Though Thomas is seemingly destroyed along with the Flashpoint universe, he later resurfaces as the overarching villain of writer Tom King’s Batman series. Having lost everything – his family, his crusade and his entire world – this tormented Thomas Wayne becomes obsessed with forcing Bruce to give up being Batman. Even if that means forming an alliance with Bane to physically and psychologically destroy his own son.
Based on The Hollywood Reporter’s original story about Keaton reprising his role, we know the character will continue to play an ongoing role in DC’s movies after The Flash.
THR writes, “If a deal makes, Keaton wouldn’t just return for Flash but possibly for several other DC-oriented film projects. Sources tell THR that the role being envisioned for the veteran actor is akin to the role played by Samuel Jackson as Nick Fury in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, something of a mentor or guide or even string puller. Batgirl is one of the projects in development that could fall under that win.”
That report suggests Keaton’s Bruce will continue to play the hero role in old age, but what if that’s not actually the case? Could this teaser be hinting at a darker turn for this version of Bruce Wayne? It’s not difficult to picture Keaton’s Bruce drawing on the Thomas Wayne of Flashpoint and The Button – a fallen, embittered hero who regrets the course his life has taken. He could wind up becoming an antagonist in future Batman or Batgirl movies rather than just an aged mentor.
That’s certainly a risky direction for Warners to take, especially in light of the divisive reaction to Luke Skywalker’s portrayal in The Last Jedi. Can fandom stand seeing another beloved childhood icon become a disillusioned recluse?
Still, this could result in a very interesting take on a cinematic Batman. We’ve never seen an actor age alongside the Batman character quite like this. Affleck’s Bruce gives us a taste of a Batman who evolves from idealistic crusader to morally compromised antihero, but that Batman (like Luke Skywalker) is ultimately redeemed and has his faith rewarded. Keaton’s Batman may not be so lucky.
This approach could even be why Keaton agreed to return to the Batman role in the first place. Between Birdman and Spider-Man: Homecoming, Keaton is clearly intrigued by darker, more off-kilter superhero roles at this stage in his career. What better reason to return to Gotham City than to embrace that deranged darkness that’s always lurked just beneath the surface of his Bruce Wayne? Why else risk tarnishing the memory of the best live-action Batman there is?
Jesse is a mild-mannered staff writer for IGN. Allow him to lend a machete to your intellectual thicket by following @jschedeen on Twitter.