SPOILER WARNING: The following article contains major spoilers for “Batman” #21 by Tom King and Jason Fabok, on sale now.
The shocking mystery that capped off last year’s “DC Universe: Rebirth” #1 finally begins to get addressed in earnest in “Batman” #21. Fans have spent the past year wondering about and speculating on the circumstances behind the connection between DC’s “Rebirth” universe and “Watchmen,” as established by the presence of The Comedian’s still blood-spattered smiley-face button found in the Batcave. The four-part arc entitled “The Button” alternates between this title and “The Flash,” and fittingly features the return of one of Barry Allen’s most notorious rogues, while raising even more questions centering around the mystery of that iconic but strangely misplaced piece of flair.
Eobard Thawne Is Alive… For Now
Just because series writer Tom King has wrapped up “Batman’s” current storylines doesn’t mean they have no impact on this one. After defeating Bane in the conclusion of “I Am Bane” last issue, where he prevented the villain from kidnapping The Psycho Pirate, the Pirate’s mask seems harmless enough sitting in the Batcave. That is, until Batman routinely tosses the aforementioned button in the mask’s proximity, prompting an unexpected reaction between the two in the form of crackling energy that appears to originate, oddly enough, from the Speed Force. Batman notifies The Flash of this occurrence, but doesn’t get the opportunity to mention the subsequent and abrupt appearance of a villain who we saw killed by none other than Thomas Wayne in “Flashpoint” — Eobard Thawne, aka Reverse Flash, aka Professor Zoom.
King and Fabok give a further nod to “Flashpoint” in the form of the letter Thomas had written to Bruce, and delivered to him by Barry, at the end of that storyline. As Thawne pummels Batman faster than he can react, he also destroys said letter before ultimately prevailing over Bruce.
When Thawne turns his attention to the button, though, he disappears as quickly as he had appeared, albeit with a lighting effect that’s decidedly out of the normal, for him or any other Speed Force-manipulating speedster. Here, his seemingly clean disappearance in a flash of blue light is evocative of Doctor Manhattan’s energy signature, seen multiple times in “Watchmen.” As witnessed later, the reason for this similarity just might be deliberate.
Eobard Thawne Is Dead… Again
Of course, King didn’t bring Thawne back just to dispatch him so simply – Thawne returns moments after disappearing, albeit in far worse shape than when he left. Reappearing in a similar manner, and in one that simultaneously recalls Doc Manhattan’s “Watchmen” origin, a grossly injured and disfigured Thawne gasps, “I saw God,” before collapsing alongside the unconscious Batman. Thawne’s injuries, which appear to be life-ending, also evoke The Flash’s own sacrifice, as seen in the classic “Crisis on Infinite Earths” #8 – a demise, coincidentally or otherwise, that also occurred in Batman’s presence.
Both Thawne’s original return and “redeath” raise some major Rebirth questions – was Thawne somehow resurrected, as he seems to believe, despite the sword in the back he took from Thomas Wayne in “Flashpoint?” Or was he somehow shunted to the Speed Force, allowing for his return? The “God” he claims to have seen could have been Doctor Manhattan, given the seemingly, albeit unexplored, inferred nature of Manhattan’s powers, or could just as easily have been another entity entirely, perhaps even the enigmatic Mr. Oz.
Yes, That’s Saturn Girl – And Thomas Wayne Pops In, Too
As “The Button” pays homage to important classics like “Watchmen” and the original “Crisis,” it also (as expected) makes “Flashpoint” an equally important component of the storyline. A seed planted by King himself in one of his past stories starts to take root here – readers might remember the cryptic appearance of a woman many believed to be Saturn Girl within the walls of Arkham Asylum back in “Batman” #9, who then re-appeared during the opening chapter of the “I Am Suicide” arc. That same character is featured prominently to kick off this issue, and her identity is all but confirmed, although not directly stated, by way of her knowledge of future events and mention of The Legion.
Saturn Girl’s appearance serves as a rather innocuous acknowledgement of the Legion of Superheroes’ presence in the “Rebirth” universe – or lack thereof. Her statement “The Legion will die” implies some kind of place for The Legion within “Rebirth,” even if it’s only to facilitate the team’s demise, as Saturn Girl seems to believe will happen. Her other statements – “Our friends will die” and “Superman won’t come” – foreshadow some kind of dire knowledge of what’s in store, either within the confines of “The Button” or beyond, though they ultimately provide little in the way of speculative clues.
Another all-but-forgotten character makes a brief cameo early on. Prior to Thawne’s sudden appearance, Batman catches a glimpse of the man who killed him: namely, Thomas Wayne, the Batman of the “Flashpoint” universe and Bruce’s alternate-reality father. Unfortunately for Bruce, that reunion is short-lived, and Thawne’s successive entrance is a far less pleasant experience for the Dark Knight.
The Button & The Mask: Kitschy Adornments, Or Keys To The Multiverse?
The momentary intrusion of the senior Batman into this reality, as well as Thawne’s own subsequent arrival, are both already continuity-bending curiosities, but become even more curious by way they unfold – both interacting artifacts instigating their arrival are objects that have traversed the multiverse. The Comedian’s well-traveled button is the obvious focus of the story, but Psycho Pirate himself played a key role in “Crisis on Infinite Earths,” and was arguably the only, or at least the first, character to recall the crisis, as shown in Grant Morrison’s late-80s run on “Animal Man.” The Comedian’s defining symbol might also potentially turn out to be something far more than a cheap prize won in the game tent at a local fair, as it appears to have been imbued with powers far beyond any exhibited by it or its previous owner, the Comedian.
Ultimately, the first chapter of “The Button” raises far more questions than it answers. Some of these answers, and perhaps even more questions, stand to be addressed in the story’s second act “The Flash” #21, on sale April 26.