SPOILER WARNING: The following article contains major spoilers for “Flash” #22, the conclusion of “The Button,” by Joshua Williamson and Howard Porter, on sale now.
In Batman #22, the previous chapter of “The Button,” Bruce Wayne’s Flashpoint reality father told him not to continue in his role as the Dark Knight – a mantle Bruce had taken on because of his parents’ deaths – but instead to find happiness in life, like any parent would want for their child. While “The Button” is now completed, Thomas’ unexpected words still echo around in Bruce’s mind, and the aftermath of that adventure will give Bruce his first opportunity to test his father’s wishes, and decide whether to follow them or to continue on as Batman. While the current Bat-titles show that Bruce hasn’t decided to hang up the cape and cowl, at least yet, the final pages of “The Button’s” story in Flash #22 serves as the somewhat odd location for Batman to potentially face a major decision that he’s never faced before.
As Bruce and Barry Allen stand at Thomas and Martha Wayne’s graves, both men reflect on what they just encountered in the aftermath of Eobard Thawne/Reverse Flash’s unexpected reappearance, but with starkly different outlooks. Barry views the opportunity to have spent time with his alternate-reality mother as a “gift” – despite the otherwise grim nature of the Flashpoint Earth – while Bruce sees the similar experience he had with his father as “cruel.”
The two also ponder the mystery of both Thawne’s return and his demise shortly thereafter, as Barry doesn’t think twice about making the call to follow up, and is somewhat surprised by Bruce’s indecision regarding whether he wants to pursue the investigation further. The sequence points to the notion that it’s not just the role of superhero Bruce is considering giving up; he might actually be considering leaving behind the detective part of his persona, as well.
Once back inside Wayne Manor, a pensive Bruce stares out at the nighttime skies over Gotham, when the familiar sight of the Bat-signal appears as it has hundreds of times before. Unlike those previous occasions, however, Bruce doesn’t immediately head for the cave and launch himself into action. Instead, he remains still, eventually averting his gaze away from the signal as a puzzled Alfred questions whether Bruce is going to respond. That question is never answered, as the issue then gives way to its epilog featuring the first appearance of Watchmen’s Doctor Manhattan in a mainstream DC comic.
It is, in short, one of the most important and pivotal moments for Bruce outside of a Batman title, as the single-page sequence hints at a possible change pending to the Dark Knight’s future.
Other possibilities exist beyond Bruce giving up being Batman entirely, of course. He could adopt a different crimefighting identity, perhaps a brighter one that allows him to fulfill his father’s wishes of happiness, while still doing what he can to honor them. In conjunction with this, the mantle of the Bat could be passed on to any number of his proteges that make up the ever-growing Bat-family.
But the most likely outcome will see Bruce remain Batman, but perhaps one free of the darkness that has driven him for untold years, a Batman who finds himself motivated by his father’s final words, rather than his final breath. Whatever Batman’s future, it promises to unfold as part of the advancing Rebirth saga in the weeks and months ahead.