Picking up from the grisly finale of “Batman” #21, Joshua Williamson and Howard Porter’s “Flash” #21 continues the saga of “The Button,” the four-part storyline spanning the two titles that purports to explain the presence of “Watchmen” character The Comedian’s infamous and iconic blood-spattered smiley face button in DC Comics’ Rebirth universe. DC’s two most famous super-detectives team up not to fight a foe, at least yet, but to instead use minds over muscle to try and unravel the mystery that has hung over Rebirth for the better part of a year, now. The issue is more of a straightforward continuation of the crossover than Tom King and Jason Fabok’s homage-laden introduction, but enticing glimpses of other pivotal moments from DC’s history go a long way towards carrying the story and make for a fun and approachable continuation.
If halfway through the storyline “The Button” can be said to have any flaws, its worst would be the lack of any real answers to the mysteries put forth and instead piling on more questions. In this issue, though, Williamson skillfully peppers the issue with more mysteries that add dimension to the original one without convoluting the story, and in doing so draws readers even deeper into it. The conundrum of an artifact from “Watchmen” appearing in the Batcave was enough to grab readers’ attention, but Williamson, and King’s, expansion of the mystery creates an environment that holds it. Williamson’s entry this issue in fact almost shifts the focus from seeking answers to simply exploring whether all of the right questions have even been asked in the first place – this depth only enhances the story, making any lack of answers at this point a non-issue.
Porter drives the fanboyish excitement with his interpretation of Williamson’s script, making it the kind of issue that’s all too easy, and way too much fun, to simply go back and admire all of the pretty pictures. Porter gets to illustrate elements of past histories, realities, and way-cool DC tech that many might have thought they’d never see again. There’s nothing like a storage room full of past superhero and supervillain relics to make jaws collectively drop, and Porter seems to revel in the opportunity to render exactly that. The familiar machine that Flash brings out of the basement alone is one that’s likely to evoke joy from longtime fans, and Porter’s representation in conjunction with Williamson’s reasons for its inclusion just add to the excitement already generated earlier in the issue.
Williamson and Porter’s issue carries a similar vibe to King and Fabok’s previous chapter, as well as many previous DC comics since the launch of Rebirth – it unabashedly honors the past while moving into the future, rather than avoiding it, or even apologizing for it. It heralds the promise of recementing at least parts of DC Comics history into the foundation of its future, instead of trying to deemphasize or disavow entirely elements that didn’t initially seem to work in a post-“Crisis on Infinite Earths” universe. At the same time, it doesn’t try to ignore continuities developed after “Crisis,” either, as witnessed by the issue’s cliffhanger ending.
The second chapter of “The Button” is the kind of comic that invites new readers into an ongoing storyline, welcomes back old ones, and walks that fine line between honoring the past without getting trapped in it. Anyone who wasn’t sure about Rebirth just might find themselves onboard after reading “Flash” #21.