SPOILER WARNING: The following article contains major spoilers for "Flash" #21 by Joshua Williamson and Howard Porter, on sale now.
Picking up where last week’s “Batman” #21 left off, part two of “The Button” features The Flash’s arrival at the Batcave, moments after Batman suffered a beatdown at the hands of Eobard Thawne, who was brought back to life and drawn to the Comedian's smiley face button before meeting another, grislier, demise. As Flash and a somewhat-recovered Batman piece together the clues that not only led to Thawne’s latest death but also other continuity-related mysteries, there are numerous glimpses of some familiar moments in DC Comics history that continue to put forth more questions than answers.
The issue also contains direct mention of a team believed to be long gone, and a possible appearance by one of its members, bringing fondly-remembered elements closer to the reality of Rebirth, even if the hows and whys remain unclear.
Who Murdered Eobard Thawne?
While Barry Allen takes some small comfort in the death of his mother’s murderer, the nature of Thawne’s demise nonetheless troubles him. Lab tests on the corpse reveal not Thawne’s energy signature, but Barry’s own, leading Barry to speculate on whether Thawne had traveled to the future and was killed by Barry himself. This, of course, plays directly into the classic 1980’s “Trial of The Flash” storyline, where Barry was placed on trial for Thawne’s murder. This was also the final Flash story before “Crisis on Infinite Earths,” hinting that elements of pre-“Crisis” DC continuity are indeed being readied for inclusion in Rebirth for charters other than Superman. Uncertain of his future self’s guilt, Barry keeps his concerns to himself.
Barry also self-confesses another discovery he made in Batman’s lab – significant amounts of radiation emanating from Thawne’s body match those found on the now missing button that once belonged to The Comedian. Though Barry has no way of knowing this, readers will realize that this would indicate that Thawne did not travel into the future, but instead to the reality of The Watchmen, where Thawne claimed, with his literal dying breath, to have seen God. Doctor Manhattan remains a likely candidate as the “god” observed by Thawne, as the character is the most powerful in the world of The Watchmen, and his body is teeming with radiation that could be the same as that found on the button and Thawne’s remains.
Given the apparent violent nature of his death, murder at the hands of Doc Manhattan is a distinct possibility – the method of his homicide could have been along the lines of Rorschach, as seen in the final issue of “Watchmen.” Rorschach’s death appeared to be especially bloody, but no body was seen – indicating that Manhattan might have teleported Rorschach elsewhere as part of the same act as his killing, a la Thawne, demonstrating a capability he had used on himself and others earlier in Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons' series. If Manhattan is responsible for Thawne’s death, then this would mean that Manhattan’s powers allow him to not only transport others between locations, but between realities, which begs the question: might the body of Rorschach turn up somewhere in the DC Universe any time soon?
Return to Flashpoint – With Some Forgotten Sights Along The Way
Barry then brings out of the mothballs a long-unused device with a little-known capability: the cosmic treadmill, which according to Barry can track a radiation signature to its source. The last time Barry used the machine was to go into the past and try and prevent Thawne from murdering his mother, which as all readers know by now, succeeding in unintentionally creating the alternate “Flashpoint” reality. Joined by Batman, Flash traverses through time and dimensions, encountering a kind of cosmic turbulence that reveals moments throughout DC history that had long believed to have been wiped from continuity.
The glimpses include a pivotal scene from “Identity Crisis,” and the formation of the original Justice League of America. The latter is of particular interest, since Batman erroneously believes the vision to be an inaccurate representation of how his Justice League was formed. Citing past discussion with the once-forgotten but now-returned Wally West, aka Kid Flash, The Flash suspects that the visions aren’t moments from another reality, but instead more forgotten ones theirs, a theory he espouses when he and Batman experience their pre-New 52 incarnations' interactions during Barry's iconic, reality-saving sacrifice in “Crisis.”
The pair subsequently encounter a time storm that appears to be suspiciously similar to the Anti-Monitor’s anti-matter wave, also from “Crisis.” The treadmill is destroyed in the storm, thus Batman and Flash find themselves in seemingly familiar territory: the Batcave, but not Bruce Wayne's – instead, the cave is that of Thomas Wayne’s, as the “Flashpoint” version of Batman comes face to face with his alternate-reality son to conclude the issue.
Does Anyone Remember Johnny?
In “Batman” #21, “The Button” kicked off with an unexpected appearance by Saturn Girl, formally acknowledging her presence in “Rebirth” continuity and also affirming the one-time, if forgotten, existence of The Legion of Super Heroes. Williamson and Porter take a similar approach this issue, starting things off with a 90-year-old “Mr. Thunder,” who calls out the familiar “Cei U” cry of World War II hero Johnny Thunder. The phrase is meant to summon Johnny's best friend, the magical Thunderbolt, but as expected in the current DC Universe, his call goes unanswered.
The old man makes specific mention of the Justice Society, though, indicating that the classic superhero team, like the Legion, has a place somewhere in Rebirth continuity, but one that has yet to be uncovered. The mention not only teases the return of the traditional JSA, but by extension Earth-2 and the classic incarnation of the multiverse that they inhabited. Indeed, Flash has already encountered WWII-era Flash Jay Garrick's iconic winged helmet (described by Barry as the helmet of the Greek god Mercury), and cover art for "Flash" #22 indicated that Garrick will make his return at the end of the crossover.
The reunion of a father and son who don't know each other, and perhaps more acknowledgments from the DC Universe’s history, stand to be explored in part three of “The Button” in “Batman” #22, on sale May 3.