When DC Comics published Geoff Johns and Andy Kubert's "Flashpoint" event miniseries in 2011, it led into the biggest initiative in the company's history: reinventing the entire DCU from the ground up as the New 52. With the publisher's commitment to its new status quo, it came as little surprise to fans that a DC Universe Animated Original Movie would adapt Johns and Kubert's miniseries into an animated feature as "Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox," and much like its comic counterpart, the animated film may very well be the event which launches a whole new continuity for a DC Animated Cinematic Universe.
The announcement of "Justice League: War" (adapted from Geoff Johns and Jim Lee's first arc on the New 52's "Justice League") as the next DC Universe Animated Original Movie left many wondering if "The Flashpoint Paradox" was an opportunity to build a whole new continuity for the animated features -- and it looks like that's very much the case.
"When we were doing 'Flashpoint,' we knew that this might lead to a New 52, but we didn't quite know until towards the end," director Jay Oliva told CBR during a press roundtable at Comic-Con International. "One thing I will say: Stick around after the credits. We do have something that leads into the next movie. We do have something, and it was only afterwards that we realized this is a new twist on the New 52.
"The nice thing is, because James Tucker is kind of taking over from Bruce [Timm], it was kind of a way for me to do things a little differently than Bruce does," Oliva continued. "'Dark Knight Returns' was kind of like Bruce's farewell, and it was my love letter to Bruce Timm. With James at the helm, I had a lot of ideas. Because this is so different, what if we did the action differently? It's a different feel because it's the New 52. What you'll see in this movie and the next one is that the action is very different than we've done before."
"We are creating our own continuity," added designer Phil Bourassa. "I wouldn't say 'Flashpoint' is directly connected in the sense of we're not using all the same elements, but it is a continuity. There is a continuity there."
While to date Warner Animation's DC Universe Animated Original Movies have been largely standalone, long-time DCU Animated casting director Andrea Romano indicated that the intent moving forward is that of connectivity.
"There is that intent, there absolutely is," Romano said. "There will be some exceptions to that, but yes, I believe there is that intent of the powers that be, to keep some kind of continuity going as we go through."
While "Justice League: War" is still some time away from arriving on store shelves (though Bourassa indicated to CBR that pre-production has already wrapped on the film), "The Flashpoint Paradox" is scheduled for release on July 30. And according to the film's writer Jim Krieg, part of the draw in adapting "Flashpoint" into an animated film came from the originality in the core concept that Johns and Kubert put together.
"I was working on 'Green Lantern: The Animated Series' and I got called into Alan Burnett's office. Alan is a legend. He's very casual and off the cuff and relaxed. He's like Andy Griffith, but he knows everything about superheroes. He said, 'You know, Jim, I've been doing this a long time and there are about 10 different superhero stories. Geoff [Johns] found an 11th way.' I was in," Krieg said. "The series hadn't come out yet, and they had to explain to me what it was. In some ways, I benefited from the fact that I didn't know how big a thing it was. It was just -- literally pages of script, pages of drawings of the art without words. Half the time, I had to match the script to the pencils, which was a little bit of a puzzle."
In many ways, "The Flashpoint Paradox" is an animated love letter to Flash fans everywhere, as Krieg included a number of special references to the legacy of the Fastest Man Alive.
"I got to go to the Flash museum and see all the Rogues, and those are just burned into my head from reading comics as a kid, so I love seeing Mirror Master and Captain Cold and all those wonderful Rogues," he said. "It was also a huge thrill to do it for the Flash. There are a lot of Flash fans, and I think the ones who don't hate me after this will appreciate the fact that they got to go to the Flash Museum and see Iris and have the tragic moments as well."
"The Flashpoint Paradox" marks director Jay Oliva's fourth DC original animated film, and it's a responsibility that the "Young Justice" veteran takes seriously.
"I do a lot of research. Before I start a project, if I've never read the comic book, or if I did read it, I'll read it again, but I'll look at it from a filmmaker's point of view," Oliva said. "Sometimes, I'll even check out the message boards and check out what the people were talking about. Normally, the script has some of those benchmarks in there, but sometimes I have to massage it in. Maybe a backstory on Thomas Wayne that wasn't quite covered in the script, but I knew, in order to keep it in this faithful universe, [I needed to] interject that in a flashback. James Tucker and I discussed what we liked about these crossovers and what we didn't, and tried to pick and choose so it still kept the story flowing and keeping it organic."
Obviously, fans shouldn't expect every element from the series to make it into the 1 hour, 20 minute film. But while many elements had to get cut for time, some may be surprised at what remains.
"Some of the things in the comic like Element Woman and some of the twists that work because you're doing a weekly or monthly title just didn't quite play out, because, suddenly, a character changes," Oliva said. "There wasn't time for character interaction or development, so a lot of those things were cut out. I was grateful that Grifter stayed in the script, because I'm a huge Jim Lee Grifter fan."
For Krieg, the hardest cut was not including all the background of Thomas Wayne as "Flashpoint's" Batman, but the end result worked so well, it even surprised him.
"Hats off to Jay, because he took that story and compressed it to about seven shots," Krieg said. "You get the whole thing and it's tragic and you're stunned at the end of this moment. In some ways, it's almost better, because you're like, 'Wow, that was a strong story to tell in fifteen seconds.' The same with the Aquaman/Mera story, which could have been its own DTV that I could've written and gotten paid for. But as just a little montage, it's really strong. Knowing that all these things happened in this alternate DC Universe adds a richness to the story that you do get to see."
In addition to directorial duties for "The Flashpoint Paradox," Oliva worked as a storyboard artist for Zack Snyder's "Man of Steel," a position he brought an animated sensibility to.
"Zack is a great collaborator and we liked to pitch ideas," Oliva said. "We were in a room pitching ideas and I was just taking notes, but Zack would then say something like, 'Is that cool? What do you think about it?' I would say, 'That's cool, Zack, but you know we did that in 'All-Star Superman.' I'd pop it in, I'd show him and he's like, 'Oh, okay.' I said, 'If you want, I can come up with something that I would have never done in animation because we don't have the time or the money, but I've only seen in Anime. Let's do that. Let's try that for this new reboot.'
"We're not trying to just do guys with wirework. We're trying to elevate it to the next level, which is what Marvel has been doing with their films," he continued. "Why can't we do it? Why do we have to stay in the '80s or '70s or '60s? Why can't we just push it forward if it is a reboot?"
Of course, it's the Flash and not Superman who plays the primary role in "The Flashpoint Paradox," and a hero is only as good as his villains. In this case, it's the Flash's arch nemesis Professor Zoom, played by veteran actor (and first-time voice-actor) C. Thomas Howell.
"I'd been told that it's the first time [Zoom's] been voiced in a [DCU Animated Original movie], so there was something cool about that being the originator," Howell said of the character. "I really have been playing some villains lately and I've really grown to love playing a villain. The better the villain, the better the good guy. Really, that was my responsibility in this piece -- to try and make the superhero look as good as possible."
In addition to Howell's portrayal of Zoom, Cary Elwes tackles Aquaman, who takes on a far more sinister role in the "Flashpoint" universe as the ruler of Atlantis.
"Villains are always more fun to play. He's not so much a villain as a guy who -- I like to look at him as conflicted. I never like to label the characters I play," said Elwes. "That's just too easy. I think he's a deeply conflicted guy that's going through a lot of deep personal issues. He had a spat with his ex, and it got blown up out of proportion.
"It's a pretty violent piece, a pretty intense piece," Elwes continued. "I love the concept of it, the whole thing of Flash going back in time. It's a very unique perspective on the Justice League, I think that's why Warner Bros. got excited about it."
Indeed, there's a reason the "Justice League" prefix falls before this movie's title: there are a lot of characters in the film.
"If you take us to comic book court, every member of the Justice League is in the movie -- I think every member of the League in every decade and their sidekicks," said Krieg. "There are so many characters in this movie."
The vast array of characters showcased gave the production team a chance to sneak in some fun Easter Eggs for fans of the DCU -- especially for "Young Justice" fans, as both Oliva and Bourassa worked on the show.
"At the time, 'Young Justice' had just been canceled, and I love those designs so much," Oliva said. "I thought, 'You know what? The only thing I didn't like about the original storyline -- I didn't buy the fact that it was Aquaman and Ocean Master taking over the world. What if it was their rogues gallery?' All the guys associated with Wonder Woman and them took over the world."
Expanding the Atlantean team meant Bourassa had the chance to bring "Young Justice's" Aqualad into the film. "Me and him go way back. It was cool to be able to introduce him," Bourassa said. "Actually, Jay, when he read the script, Aqualad wasn't even in the script. Jay was like, 'Let's get all the Atlanteans in there!' He knew it would be a design challenge, but he was appealing to my desire to draw [DC characters]. I'll draw in all the DC characters. He totally played me. He knew I would go for it. When I asked him which Aqualad he wanted to use, he said, 'Let's do Kaldur, so you can do a new design based on your 'Young Justice' design." Bourassa ended up using both Aqualad and Garth, who both have the same outfit, but reversed and in different colors."
And Aqualad isn't the only character from another animated reality making an appearance. Oliva reached way back to one of Warner Animation's early DC Universe Animated Original Movies for a cool callback.
"I'm a big fan of Lauren Montgomery's 'Wonder Woman.' I actually worked on it with her," Oliva said. "She has an honor guard that's always with her, so I used some of the characters -- like Persephone, etc. -- we changed them up a bit, but those are the character's you'll see. These are the super amazons and you get a better idea of how the Amazons were able to take over England."
For his part, Krieg was most excited to get Etrigan the Demon in the film -- for a single reason.
"When writers procrastinate, we go to the writing bookstore and you get to have this moment where you go, 'A rhyming dictionary! You know what? I really need this rhyming dictionary, because who knows? I might turn around somewhere and there might be a character that speaks completely in rhyme. And this was the day!"
"Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox" hits stores July 30.