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.
DC Comics' four-part crossover "The Button" races to a close in Flash #22, but the saga connecting the publisher's Rebirth event to the decades-old Watchmen is only beginning, as Flash and Batman return home but are possibly changed by the experience. The story officially confirms the involvement of a character that many had long suspected was manipulating events from afar, and teases what the next chapter might hold in store for the DC Universe.
The issue also features the welcome return of another classic hero in the form of Justice Society of America member Jay Garrick, aka the original Flash. And while the significance of this well-known and much missed hero to the storyline's future is foreshadowed, plenty of questions remain and are planted as seeds that leave room for a lot more speculation over the next several months.
Yes, Doctor Manhattan Has A Role In Rebirth
When the DC Universe: Rebirth one-shot established a connection to the world of Watchmen, cryptic references and familiar-looking energy signatures ignited speculation that one of powers behind many, if not all of Rebirth's mysteries was Watchmen's most powerful character, Doctor Manhattan. While the Watchmen's own version of Big Blue isn't featured in the main story, the issue's epilogue kicks off immediately by featuring his familiar, powder-blue hand retrieving the very button the arc is named after, lost by Thawne after his murder. There's also a familiar looking passage of text overlaying the sequence – namely, the words of Doctor Manhattan himself, first spoken to Laurie Juspeczyk (the second Silk Spectre) by Manhattan as scripted by Alan Moore in the original series, with lettering by Steve Wands that mimics the style of Watchmen artist and letterer Dave Gibbons. The relatively few people who haven't read the original series might be confused by what's going on here, but no one else will miss that the blue hand in question belongs to the reality-manipulating, clothing-eschewing Watchmen character.
Interestingly, the text reproduced here features Manhattan speaking of himself as a mere puppet, incapable of changing or impacting future events despite his ability to foresee them. His words imply a couple of potentially significant aspects of his impact on Rebirth; one, that his actions, whatever they've been or will be, are at the behest of someone else, and two, that these actions are unable to change anything he knows about what's to come in the future. That future, presumably, includes that of the DC Universe, and any manipulation of it could very well be under the direction of an even more powerful entity who does wield the power to change it. Whether this entity is someone who's been seen already, such as the still-mysterious Mr. Oz, who's undertaken his share of manipulation of DC characters, or someone else entirely (Superboy Prime, perhaps?) is, of course, a mystery of its own.
Prior to Manhattan's official reveal, the moment of Eobard Thawne's murder is reached during the course of the story, though the identity of his murderer isn't shown. While this could simply be structured storytelling to avoid spoiling the story's epilogue, it could also be inferred that despite the evidence presented, it was not Manhattan who murdered Thawne. His death could have been at the hand of another – perhaps by someone known to him, as his reaction could be interpreted, or maybe by the hand of the theorized presence who's ultimately responsible for the machinations seen throughout the DCU since the advent of Rebirth.
Superman Will Be Critical to Rebirth – So How Will Doomsday Factor In?
As the story's epilogue wraps up, The Comedian's button is shown drifting towards the reader through what appears to be deep space, juxtaposed with alternating panels of black laid out in a nine-panel format, as artists Gary Frank and Brad Anderson homage the approach used by Gibbons throughout the original series. When the viewpoint pans back, the red and yellow color scheme of the button transitions to the very same colors, but used in the iconic S-shield of Superman, revealing his slightly battle-worn crest in closeup in the comic's penultimate panel. The following pages officially announce the November-launching Doomsday Clock, implying not only Superman's involvement in the Geoff Johns-scripted series, but suggesting that his deadliest nemesis, Doomsday, will play a significant part in it.
Doomsday, of course, was taken prisoner by Mr. Oz following his last battle with Superman, so the character has already been established as having a critical role in the events of Rebirth. With the above-mentioned Superman shield prominently featured in the doomsday clock associated with the teaser ad, things do not bode well for Superman, as you would expect from a storyline involving Doomsday. The weathered look of the Man of Steel's chest emblem implies battle damage, and the alternating black panels in the epilogue sequence may well indicate another fatal ending for Superman at the hands of a foe who's best known for killing him already. Mr. Oz's capture of Doomsday could also be an indication of his own intent, and the character who's demonstrated no small amount of interest in Superman may very well have a motive for protecting him.
In addition to officially revealing Doctor Manhattan as a major player in Doomsday Clock, the epilogue begins tying together some of the seemingly disparate aspects of the notable events that have occurred in the year since DC Universe: Rebirth -- the appearance of the button in the Batcave, Mr. Oz' past acknowledgements of Superman's importance, and Doomsday having been shown as a relevant player now at least all have the barest of connections. After presenting question after question and mystery after mystery, the final pages of "The Button" shows that answers are forthcoming -- even if they're still a few months away.
Doomsday Clock, by Geoff Johns, Gary Frank and Brad Anderson, begins counting down in November.