It would be a stretch to claim that Jay Garrick’s big return to the DC Universe in the final issue of the Watchmen-centric storyline “The Button” is a spoiler. After all, the Golden Age hero’s Rebirth debut has been teased as far back as October 2016 when the his iconic winged helmet was revealed to be adrift in the Speed Force. And if there was any doubt that the continuity-erased hero was well on his way to making a return to the comic book page, it was erased months ago when he was revealed outright on the cover art for The Flash #22.
That said, the original Flash’s return to the DC Universe does bring with it a few twists and turns readers may not have seen coming. The final chapter of the four-part Batman/Flash crossover, it was hoped by fans, would include the next step in the road to the return of the Justice Society of America to DC continuity. And so it did — but not without throwing a bit of a spanner into the works, so we’re giving you a chance to look away now, in case you’d prefer to read the issue spoiler-free.
SPOILER WARNING: The following article contains major spoilers for The Flash #22, the final chapter of “The Button” by Joshua Williamson and Howard Porter, on sale now.
As many fans suspected, Flash and Batman’s pursuit of Reverse-Flash/Eobard Thawne through Hypertime results in the pair stumbling across the existence of Jay Garrick, the original Flash. Throughout the issue, the two heroes hear a disembodied plea, “Barry! I’m Here!” though neither recognizes Jay’s voice. Things get rocky following Thawne’s confrontation with an unseen entity we presume to be Doctor Manhattan, and the Cosmic Treadmill begins to fall apart. With Hypertime breaking apart around them, Batman urges Barry to “grab” onto the disembodied voice as an anchor. Barry gives in and says his name, and we get a splash page Justice Society of America fans have waited five years to see:
Alas, while Jay’s return harkens back in many ways to that of Wally West’s in last summer’s DC Universe: Rebirth one-shot that kicked off the current Rebirth events, the end result is very, very different. Jay is met with skeptical anger and confusion from Barry. Rather than recognizing his old friend and mentor, Barry accuses Jay of murdering Thawne. More upsetting than that, Barry is certain the original Flash is the mastermind behind all of the New 52/post-Flashpoint revisions.
At this point, Williamson and Porter twist the knife just a little more. Barry reaches out to Jay, grasping his arm much as he did Wally’s a year ago, an action that led to the first realization from a New 52 denizen that something had changed the very fabric of their reality. However, where Wally and Barry’s simple interaction resulted in one of the most emotionally uplifting moments in recent DC Comics history, this time the results fall firmly into the “upsetting” category.
Rather than bookending DCU: Rebirth‘s fan-favorite Wally/Barry scene, resulting in a second tearful reunion between Flashes, upon touching his former protege Jay is blasted away from Barry and Bruce in a conspicuously blue burst of light. In the wake of the mystery speedster’s explosive departure, the pair remain suspicious of Jay and the role he played in the unfolding Rebirth mystery. However, the heroes seem open to the consideration that perhaps, like Wally or Bruce’s father, the Batman of the Flashpoint universe, Jay Garrick (dubbed “that other Flash” by Barry) is an ally after all, even if they cannot remember him. It makes sense that after things calmed down Barry’s suspicions would be somewhat curbed, considering the first time he saw Jay’s helmet in the Speed Force/Hypertime way back in Flash #9, he commented “I don’t know what it was but… it filled me with hope.”
It’s clear that there are a few things the original Jay Garrick has to do to get his personal house in order before he can even think of taking the fight to Doctor Manhattan and whomever else might be behind his and the JSA being erased from existence in the first place. The final chapter of “The Button” didn’t swing back around to the opening chapter’s scene featuring Jay’s fellow JSA member Johnny Thunder, for example. Odds are good that that may well be one of the major threads to be pulled at when the Rebirth mystery kicks into its next gear when Geoff Johns and Gary Frank’s Doomsday Clock arrives later this year, though it’s certainly possible we’ll revisit Jay and Johnny even before that event arrives. Indeed, the fact that the final pages of “The Button’s” closing chapter features a Doomsday Clock teaser written by Johns and illustrated by Frank would indicate that the mysteries left unsolved here will play an important role in the November-debuting event series.
And then there’s the matter of the New 52 version of Jay, and of the rest of his teammates in the JSA, who starred in Earth 2 and Earth-2: Society. The latter series came to a close in March, clearing the way for the original JSA’s return to DC’s main continuity, where they’ve been mostly absent since the dawn of the New 52 in 2011. What role the rebooted incarnation may play in the ongoing Watchmen mystery remains to be seen, if they play a role at all.
The Flash #22, by Josh Williamson and Howard Porter, is on sale now. DC comics’ Rebirth mystery, particularly how the Watchmen’s Doctor Manhattan figures into the continuity-altering storyline, will be further explored in Geoff Johns and Gary Frank’s Doomsday Clock, which debuts November 2017