WARNING: This article contains SPOILERS for Batman #22
The mystery of DC's "Rebirth" has tossed Batman like never before - so much, that he may actually hang up the cape and cowl for good. But before comic fans throw their hands up in outrage over manipulative, meaningless teases of a comic book twist that will NEVER happen, it's important to understand exactly why Bruce Wayne is considering retirement. Consider who it is that's telling him to live his own life... and who desperately needs Batman out of action for the next stage of their secret Watchmen plan...
The seeds of Batman's possible change of career were planted in the recent issue Batman #22, where Bruce Wayne met his Flashpoint father, Thomas Wayne. It was a meeting that shouldn't have been possible, but one that gave fans of the Dark Knight the kind of reunion and father-son conversation they had dreamed of. Apparently the encounter worked as well as the mastermind behind it hoped, as Geoff Johns confirms that Doctor Manhattan - the man set to take on Superman in Doomsday Clock - is looking to sideline Batman for good.
Flashpoint Used To Shake Batman's Belief?
The beats may be difficult to follow, so we'll set the stage for readers who missed out on "The Button"s shocking death and twist, or simply forgot the details contained within. When The Flash decided to use his patented Cosmic Treadmill to travel to the source of the radiation covering both the infamous Watchmen button and Reverse-Flash's corpse, Bruce Wayne decided to tag along. Though the two expected to travel through time on Reverse-Flash's trail, they were soon struck by a brand new storm of energy within the Speed Force.
As a result, the Cosmic Treadmill was destroyed, stranding the two heroes in a version of the Batcave that DC readers first glimpsed during the Flashpoint series - still occupied by the Batman of that alternate timeline, Thomas Wayne. And as the father-son Batmen fought off enemies, Barry Allen was left to rebuild the Treadmill... and wonder as to how their visit was even possible. Reiterating that Flashpoint wasn't an alternate universe or reality, but a different version of the universe they still live in, it should have ceased to exist when the New 52 overrode it.
Yet the Flashpoint remained just long enough for Bruce to meet his father, further beaten and broken by this nightmare future. Barry postulated that someone, or something was forcing the alternate world to keep on living so as to "haunt" the heroes, but he couldn't have known how right he was. Somebody wanted Bruce to meet his father, and that same glowing, blue somebody did it so that Thomas could give his son a single piece of advice...
Doctor Manhattan's Endgame Revealed?
Yes, Thomas Wayne refused to accompany Bruce and Barry as the reality of Flashpoint began to collapse in on itself, its purpose clearly served, so that the person holding it together against the forces of reality could allow it to die. Barry Allen had finally made good on his promise to save Bruce and the world from this terrible future, and in his brief reunion with the son he never got to see become a man, Thomas learned he had also become a grandfather. Which left him to utter a simple command to his son, given they now truly stood the same ground: "Don't Be Batman."
It's not the first time that someone has suggested Thomas and Martha Wayne would never have wanted their son to become Batman, and cast off any chance at happiness for himself. But coming from Bruce's father directly, having lost his wife and son, and having followed his own path towards decades beneath the cowl... the comments carry added weight. Bruce never got the opportunity to consider Thomas's words in the remaining pages of the issue, but in the next chapter coming in Flash #22, he will. And giving up the cowl isn't so easy a notion to ignore anymore.
The issue doesn't release until Wednesday, May 17th, but with the announcement of the Doomsday Clock series from Geoff Johns setting most of the "Rebirth" mysteries to rest, Johns confirmed Bruce's doubts about continuing his career. We'll keep the spoilers to a minimum, and say only that in an interview with Blastr, a panel was brought up depicting Bruce Wayne gazing at the Bat-Signal from his home... and hesitates. Having crossed over to Flashpoint and looked his father in the eye as he told him to be only a father, and not a hero, Bruce must give pause.
And according to Johns, that is exactly why the Watchmen mastermind constructed this entire event before Doomsday Clock accelerates his master plan:
"That’s exactly what Manhattan wanted. What he wanted was to get Bruce out of the way."
The idea that Bruce Wayne may take a step away from his cowl when he is needed most is a headline in itself, but it won't be the only one coming as "The Button" storyline concludes. There' still Jay Garrick's return to the DC Universe to take care of, and what's guaranteed to be a bombshell ending.
Flash #22 will be available May 17, 2017.