SPOILER WARNING: The following article contains major spoilers for “Batman” #22 by Tom King and Jason Fabok, on sale now.
The previous issue of “Batman” – the first part of the current “The Button” saga – featured the sudden and unexpected return of Eobard Thawne, aka Reverse Flash, and just as suddenly and unexpectedly, his mysterious and grisly demise. Investigating Thawne’s death led Batman and Flash to where they end up in “Batman” #22: the alternate history of “Flashpoint,” a history that was unintentionally created by Flash when he attempted to prevent Thawne’s murder of his mother when he was a boy. Barry’s creation of “Flashpoint” had also inadvertently spared the life of another notable parent: Thomas Wayne, with whom Bruce is reunited in this issue, and their interactions serve as the issue’s primary focus.
Despite the seeming permanence of Thawne’s death, though, the classic Flash villain nonetheless plays a major part in the story, leading to additional speculation regarding the mysteries relating to the past continuities hinted at so far in “Rebirth.”
Thawne Is Still Zooming Through The Timestream
Death is just a matter of time, so to speak – Thawne might be dead in the present, but he remains alive and well in the past. Having left the “Flashpoint” history behind them moments before it ceased to exist, Batman and Flash find themselves back within the relative safety of the timestream, that is until Thawne himself unexpectedly passes them by. Thawne isn’t inexplicably back from the dead this time, though – rather, this is Thawne from some point between his departure from the Batcave, after absconding with The Comedian’s button, and his subsequent and most recent death.
Thawne has apparently experienced a lot in that time, though – he professes to have experienced wondrous but unexplained places and things, and as a result also claims to know who controls the button’s “power.” Uninterested in another confrontation with Batman and unconcerned with Flash’s warning about his fate, he audaciously races past them, anxious to confront whomever he believes to be behind the power of the button he still carries. Of course, everyone knows how well that will turn out for him, but hey – at least he gets to see God.
It’s Official – The Button Is Not Just Another Piece Of Flair
Throughout the original publication of “Watchmen,” and in the 30 years since, no one ever had any reason to think that The Comedian’s trademark smiley-face button was anything more than the cheap dime store trinket it appeared to be. Aside from Doctor Manhattan, and perhaps the genetically-engineered psychic squid monster that played a critical role in the series’ climax, the world of “Watchmen” was a relatively ordinary one, free of any kind of known objects or technology with the power to traverse time and dimensions. The story was largely a superhero mystery, so the science-fiction elements were applied judiciously, and among those elements, The Comedian’s button was not considered to be one of them.
Just because button wasn’t shown to have any special properties, though, didn’t mean that it couldn’t have them. Like a magical genie lamp sitting above Grandma’s fireplace because she simply thinks it looks good while unaware of its properties, the lack of any kind of origin for the button makes the idea of it containing a special power a distinct possibility. It was likely unexplained because series creators Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons gave it no such power in the first place, but that’s not to say that the button can’t now be inferred to have a more significant and interesting backstory.
So… Is That Really Even The Comedian’s Button?
Of course, all of this is built upon the longstanding presumption that the button found embedded in the walls of the Batcave in “DC Comics: Rebirth” #1 is the same button found by Rorschach in the gutter awash in The Comedian’s blood. It’s interesting to note that said blood still remains smeared across the front, surviving a presumed journey across the multiverse, and is now bouncing around through the timestream with The Comedian’s DNA still caked on it. Batman and Flash, ever the careful detectives, logically wouldn’t be the ones to tamper with the most puzzling piece of evidence they’ve likely ever examined, but the same can’t be said of Thawne, whose manhandling of the button has left it surprisingly unaltered. At the very least, one would think that all of the Speed Force energy the button’s been subjected to would’ve cooked it off by now.
Easily forgotten, however, is the fact that, in the original series, The Comedian’s blood was wiped off the button, likely by Dan Dreiberg (aka Nite Owl), and was last seen being tossed by Dreiberg into The Comedian’s grave during his funeral service. Unlike the iconic blood-spattered symbol that’s become a logo for the series, the button’s most recently known state was one that would have found it caked with mud, and likely rusted as well, had it been unearthed – a far cry from the stained but otherwise pristine condition Batman found it in. So unless the button was transported to the Batcave during the relatively short time between The Comedian’s death and his burial – and then somehow returned as not to impact the events of “Watchmen” – the original button was either inexplicably restored to a previous state, or it’s another item entirely.
And, the button looks a little larger now than it did in “Watchmen,” doesn’t it?
Does Doc Manhattan Hate The DC Universe?
Barry concluded from his investigation of Thawne’s death in “Flash” #21 that he had traveled to the same place as the button’s origin, and the nature of Thawne’s death points towards the possibility of him traveling to Earth-Watchmen, and being slain by Doctor Manhattan. Thawne observes in this issue that he’s traveling to a place where “they’ve never faced someone like me,” further hinting that he speaks of the world of the Watchmen – a world not known to have a speedster. The motivation for killing Thawne could be rooted in the same one Wally had related to Barry – that some other-dimensional force is looking to hurt the inhabitants of the DC Universe – but if that’s the case, it remains unclear how Doc Manhattan would even be aware of the DCU, let alone why he would want to take punitive action against it.
Doctor Manhattan was the only character in “Watchmen” with true superpowers, and those powers dwarfed stereotypical abilities involving things like strength and flight. His abilities included heavy-duty capabilities like teleportation, and there were not-so-subtle indications that his mind, at least, could traverse through time. If the character could indeed navigate through space and time, is it possible that he could travel between dimensions, as well? Such an ability could be one that he possessed all along, but one that simply wasn’t needed within the scope of “Watchmen’s” storyline. If so, this would conceivably have allowed him to become aware of the multiverse, aligning with the “Rebirth” revelation that the Watchmen’s world is part of that same multiverse.
As part of the DC Multiverse, would Manhattan’s world then have been a casualty of one of DC’s continuity-shattering events over the past few decades? Could “Crisis on Infinite Earths” have wiped the (then unknown) Watchmen universe from existence? When the multiverse was restored, did “Earth-W” perhaps not make the final cut of 52 worlds? Did some other crisis, whether infinite or final, or the events of “Convergence,” impact the state or very existence of that world? If such a calamity happened, then a case could be made for Manhattan to rightfully have a beef, as he would be the only one in that world who could try and do something about it – could the forgotten histories, lost time, and resurrected nightmarish timelines be the actions of an angry superbeing, or as Thawne might have called him, a god?
As Thawne speeds off to face whoever might be behind these machinations, the tease for next issue heralds “the hand of God,” hinting that the identity of this being just might be revealed in “Flash” #22, on sale May 17.