Breaking down the return of a Flash and the end of DC's The Button event

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May 17, 2017

Flash #22 comes out today, and it’s the conclusion of “The Button” that features the return of a lost hero in the Rebirth timeline and walks us closer to finding out how the Watchmen universe and some other storylines are aligned into the greater DC Rebirth Universe. It is written by Joshua Williamson and drawn by Howard Porter. 

We’ve seen in earlier chapters that showed artifacts in the Justice League Hall of Lost and Found that more stories and timelines are a part of the Rebirth storyline than originally thought when Rebirth #1 came out over a year ago. But in that initial comic, the Comedian’s bloody smiley face button appeared in the Batcave, starting a mystery of what else is tied into Rebirth, how and why? Some of the what has been answered, how and why remain to be seen, though we’ve been given hints here and there. We’ll look at what happened in this last part of “The Button” storyline, so beware of spoilers in case you want to read it for yourself.

In Batman #22, Part Three of “The Button,” Reverse-Flash, with the Comedian’s button in hand, appeared to get one step ahead of Flash and Batman, who were using the Cosmic Treadmill to get back to the present day in the Rebirth timeline. This after they re-visited the Flashpoint timeline (where Thomas Wayne is Batman and Bruce and his mother were the ones shot in the alley) and Bruce Wayne met his father Thomas Wayne as an adult, and was told by him to give up the Batman and find happiness. Flash told him not to pay attention or dwell on what Thomas said because that world ceased to exist once they boarded the Cosmic Treadmill, but Batman is convinced it was real and lets his father’s final words to him linger.

 

If Batman and Flash are unable to catch up to Eobard Thawne / Reverse-Flash, then he will continue on the path to his death, which was played out in Batman #21. Or is Thawne changing history as we know it? From the start of Flash #22, Thawne seemingly knows the source of the button and races towards it. He knows of the great power behind the button and threatens to ruin Barry Allen’s life once and for all. When he reaches it, he cradles the button and speaks of its power…

“I can feel your presence. Like a wave of static electricity. It’s powerful. I’ll admit. In fact, I’ve never encountered anything quite like it. You’ve done such strange things to the timeline. Things I won’t begin to question. And you’ve remained hidden. From all of them… but I am not like them. My existence is the only constant in a sea of possibilities. I cannot be erased by you. By anyone. Show yourself.”

And it does and Thawne realizes that he’s in over his head. As blue swirling clouds of energy show outside the frames of the panels and around Thawne, we begin to see who we will assume (for now) is Doctor Manhattan from Watchmen out of frame and acts out what actually led to his death that we saw back in Batman #21. Half of his flesh is just smoked off and his costume shreds into pieces like a broken eggshell. 

Flash and Batman are witnesses to it but from the start of the issue keep hearing a voice call out to Barry Allen. Barry ignores it, chalking it up to “siren calls of hypertime” passing visions of sound in the Speed Force. This is the same reasoning he uses to tell Bruce to ignore his recent experience with his father. However after seeing Reverse Flash die in front of them, they turn to the voice, who tells the Flash to say his name. To this point, the Flash has not thought to pinpoint who the voice calling out was, but when he concentrates, he says, “Jay.”

That of course, refers to Jay Garrick, the Golden Age Flash. Now, Batman #21 and Flash #21 hinted at the return of the Justice Society of America and a delusional Johnny Thunder in a mental hospital, but in Flash #22, Flash frees Garrick from the Speed Force in time, who manages to have enough power to push them to safety. Barry Allen doesn’t recognize Jay Garrick though and he must remind him,

“My n-name is Jay Garrick. I’m your friend… a Flash… If you r-remember me… like Wally…”

Barry Allen replies, that Wally told him that he forgot things and people.

Appearing to break up and consumed by the speed force, Garrick says “They took everything from me, Barry. I don’t know how. I don’t know why.” This could be calling back to Batman #21 where the 90-year-old Johnny Thunder screaming “Where are you, Thunderbolt?” before being carried off by two orderlies. As a reminder, he also says that “The lightning said we need to find my friends! We lost the Justice Society! It’s all my fault!”

Zipping back to Flash #22, below Garrick, who is now floating in mid-air, is a burst of blue-colored energy that looks like whatever took Eobard Thawne’s life, was taking Jay Garrick’s too, but unlike Reverse-Flash, there is no corpse left behind, which leads Batman to think he’s from a time that no longer exists, comparing Garrick to his father from Flashpoint

Flash thinks to himself that  maybe “he wasn’t the lightning rod he needed,” which could be referring back to Johnny Thunder / Thunderbolt reference again. The mystery as to why the Justice Society of America doesn't exist in the Rebirth timeline remains to be a mystery but whose makeup is reminicent of the types of heroes and the era that is the subject of Watchmen. Perhaps there's a connection there and could be a larger story to unfold in the summer months.

 

Flash #22 closes out with Barry Allen and Bruce Wayne stand at Thomas and Martha’s gravestones and they agree they don’t understand what happened to them but they’ve only scratched the surface. They still don’t know what it was that took Thawne’s life, but will run an autopsy on his corpse. Bruce is convinced that none of it was an accident, that it was part of some bigger plan put in motion. More importantly, his father’s final words are weighing heavily on him as the Bat-Signal calls for him. 

That sets us up for Doomsday Clock due out this November, with DC Comics Chief Creative Officer Geoff Johns writing, and Gary Frank and Brad Anderson supplying the art. If you didn’t catch our exclusive interview with Geoff Johns, then you missed him explaining that this delayed reaction by Bruce is exactly what Dr. Manhattan desired.

There’s a two-page epilogue that is laid out in the Watchmen signature nine-panel grid structure. We zoom in on the button, now floating in space, and the blood begins to separate from the button. We zoom out and the red from the blood is now the red from Superman’s crest from his chest, dirty and stressed from a battle. With as powerful as Dr. Manhattan is and Batman considering his father’s wishes, Superman will have the focus put on him, and again, Johns told us that is by design. Do read that before considering the following questions below. 

Finally we are left with a quote from August Strindberg at the end of the issue. "There are poisons that blind you, and poisons that open your eyes."

How does all of this relate to what Saturn Girl says at the beginning of Batman #21? Doomsday Clock also challenges the hope theme that Rebirth brought. What do we make of the ramblings of Johnny Thunder? Have we seen the last of Jay Garrick and the Justice Society of America? Is there a stronger connection between the JSA and the characters of Watchmen? Can the cynicism and grim outlook of the Watchmen world consume the hope? What will Dr. Manhattan observe and comment about the DC Universe? What will it reflect about our own society?