The announcement that Michael Keaton would be joining the upcoming Flash movie was met with great shock. Keaton walked away from Batman ahead of Joel Schumacher’s Batman Forever (“[The film] just wasn’t any good, man,”), turning him into “The guy who used to be Batman” for years as he struggled to get away from his superhero shadow. That changed with Birdman, when his character seemed like a metacommentary on his own career, and with Spider-Man: Homecoming, when he returned to cape movies as the villainous Vulture, but by then, Keaton’s version was multiple Batmen in the past.
The grand return of Tim Burton’s Batman and arguably the best Bruce Wayne ever put to film was unexpected in the first place, and his placement feels absurd. Could Keaton be playing the same Bruce Wayne that he did 30 years ago in The Flash movie? Possibly, and the idea behind his character provides the most hope for the DCEU multiverse we’ve had on the film side maybe ever.
At this point, it feels almost certain that Keaton will be playing a Batman Beyond version of Bruce Wayne. To briefly summarize: there are an infinite number of Batmen in the multiverse. There’s Vampire Batman. There’s Green Lantern Batman. There’s Evil Joker Batman. Cyborg T-Rex Batman. And those are just the ones we’ve written about recently.
There’s also Atomic Knight Batman, Chibi Batman, Damian Wayne, Bat-Zarro, Leatherwing – an infinite range of possibilities. On one of these parallel realities (Earth 12, if we’re being comics accurate), Bruce Wayne, old and falling apart, built a cybernetically enhanced suit for himself, pushed all his friends and loved ones away, and was eventually saved by teenaged Terry McGuiness from an age- and stubbornness-related collapse. Terry then took up the Bat-mantle, juggling Batman problems with the problems common to being a teenager – girls, Christopher Walken dressed as a pumpkin, falling asleep in class – while Bruce coached him through how to be Batman from the computer in the Batcave.
In many ways, Batman Beyond became the template for shows that came in the future – Flash has his crew at S.T.A.R. Labs, Supergirl at the D.E.O. It also sounds like a viable model for this movie. Ezra Miller’s Flash was already the new kid in the cursed 2017 Justice League film. His awe at meeting Batman was one of the more memorable parts of the movie. He would be a natural fit in a similar Terry McGuinness, overwhelmed new hero role. But it would be odd to have old Bruce Wayne be his mentor when he worked with slightly less old Bruce Wayne in his first cinematic appearance. Doubly so if the movie is in fact based on Flashpoint.
Flashpoint was a fairly linear story, as far as DC events go. The Flash started in the present; ran back to his past; screwed everything up; ran back to the same point in his past; and then returned to an altered present. It was moving back and forth along the same line, with only minor branching for some alternate universe shenanigans. That would probably have to change to fit Keaton in as his old mentor, but it’s not much of a leap to have Flash bouncing around the multiverse.
In fact, the Flash was the first character to canonize DC’s multiverse. Waaaay back in 1961, Barry Allen figured out that if he vibrated at the right frequency, he could travel between parallel Earths, and visited Jay Garrick, the Flash from Barry’s old comics who inspired him to become a costumed hero, in Earth-2’s Keystone City.
From there, just about every important story dealing with the Multiverse has had a Flash at its core, from Crisis on Infinite Earths (where Barry died fighting the Anti-Monitor) through Final Crisis (where Barry returned from the dead) and in plenty of other places. The Multiverse is as integral to the Flash mythos as the Speed Force is. It’s even seeped over to the live action portrayals of the characters – Miller made a surprise, hush hush cameo in the TV Crisis playing movie Barry, meeting his television counterpart in the wildest moment of a bonkers crossover.
So we know there’s precedent, and we know there’s plenty of source material to put Michael Keaton on Earth-12. The only thing left to do, it seems, is hope nobody decides to make him Flashpoint Thomas Wayne instead.