WARNING: This article contains MASSIVE SPOILERS for Batman #21
DC Comics promised that “The Button” would send Batman and The Flash into the mysteries of the DC Rebirth, returning old characters into the fold… and the first issue didn’t disappoint. The action begins in the pages of Batman #21, and continues back and forth through the Dark Knight’s own series and that of The Flash. The central mystery, as mentioned, is the strange power and people responsible for the manipulation of the New 52’s heroes – centering on a certain yellow button tying the DC Universe to the central players in the Watchmen graphic novel.
Readers still don’t know what Doctor Manhattan is up to, but writer Tom King and artist Jason Fabok made good on the promise of returning the Reverse-Flash Eobard Thawne to the DC Universe. It wasn’t in the story most expected, but it’s undeniably unforgettable. A massive, shocking moment kicks off the ongoing mystery of “The Button,” and we really can’t stress enough: this may be the story DC fans hoping to see the Watchmen mystery investigated have been waiting for.
We would recommend fans READ the issue before having it SPOILED, but for those simply looking to see the bombshell explained, read on.
The Button Begins
For those who may not recall, the introduction of the signature Watchmen smiley face button, once worn by the Comedian, came as something of a shocking end to DC Universe: Rebirth #1. That issue (which kicked off the DC Rebirth) was mainly focused on Wally West’s return, having been lost to the Speed Force where he came to realize an unseen, incredibly powerful figure had stolen a decade from DC’s universe. The idea was to weaken the heroes before… something, but the reveal came only in the final pages, when Batman discovered that unmistakable button had been expelled from the Speed Force into the Batcave.
The readers were led to infer that the unseen figure – the one going around, detonating people in a blast of blue light – was Doctor Manhattan, having presumably ascended to an even higher, more isolated level of existence. “The Button” returns to Bruce Wayne studying that very button, when the unthinkable happens. A careless toss of the button leads it to spark with the Psycho-Pirate’s emotion-manipulating mask, triggering a memory of Bruce’s father (at least, we think it’s a memory). But before Barry can arrive to help Bruce investigate this new instance of cross-dimensional phenomenon, a new player arrives.
One promised to return long before this issue was released… and one who makes his return known in most violent fashion.
The Return of Eobard Thawne
Casual fans may not see the significance in Eobard Thawne’s return, since he’s remained something of an ever-present, always-looming villain in the DCU for the past decade. But if you recall the conclusion of DC’s Flashpoint, Thawne wound up with a sword through his chest courtesy of Thomas Wayne – the Batman of the Flashpoint timeline Barry Allen created. It was assumed that it meant Eobard’s death for good, since he was, at that time, completely removed from any specific timeline or universe. That wasn’t the case, as Batman so brutally realizes in this issue.
The specifics of exactly how Eobard Thawne was brought back to life when the New 52 was created aren’t known, and as is usually the case with matters involving the Speed Force, an answer would be easy to invent. What matters to this story is that according to Thawne, he actually has “been dead for some time. I should be dead for some time more.” But that spark of energy from the button has called to him, “resurrecting” him through unknown power – perhaps connected to the lightning firing between items from differing realities, personally touched by the Speed Force.
Whatever the explanation, Batman responds as you might expect to an unseen intruder in his Batcave (despite him not actually knowing who Thawne is, since he has been absent from the New 52). And the fight… doesn’t go well for the Dark Knight.
In his defense, Batman does get in a few solid shots, simply trying to keep Eobard occupied until Barry Allen can arrive. The real triumph of this single issue is in the form and structure: King’s confinement of the entire story to the “one minute” Barry needed to wrap up a mission and come to the Batcave, and Fabok’s commitment to Dave Gibbons’s Watchmen panel layout and composition. Not to mention a hockey game on the Batcave TV providing the beautiful juxtaposition used so well in Alan Moore’s work. In the end Barry doesn’t arrive in time, allowing Eobard to brutally subdue Bruce Wayne.
With the immediate threat handled – having crushed Thomas Wayne’s son both physically and emotionally in this strange new reality – Thawne turns his attention to the button that called him there in the first place. The object that led to his resurrection, as he believes. The single object which ties the entirety of the DC Rebirth directly to the mystery of the Watchmen, and Doctor Manhattan. The one concrete clue Batman and The Flash have to unravel the forces at work.
Eobard picks up the button, and blinks from existence in the now-extremely-familiar burst of blue light, departing the Batcave in a blink. And at this point, we really need to remind readers that the MASSIVE SPOILER has arrived. So read on at your peril.
The Death of Eobard Thawne
After a triptych of panels shows nobody but Batman laying unconscious on the Batcave floor, Eobard Thawne blinks back into existence. The button is gone, and the egomaniacal speedster stands with half of his body consumed in blue flame, burned clean down to the bone. Dropping to his knees, the supervillain famous for mastering the forces beyond human comprehension and weaving reality in the manner he wishes states that he has finally been humbled. He has seen God. His unblinking eye dominates the frame as he collapses to the ground.
The Flash arrives just a second later to find Bruce Wayne beaten to a bloody pulp, unconscious, and the half-skeletal Eobard Thawne right next to him. Bruce will have some explaining to do when he wakes up, but for now, the readers are left wondering just what they’ve witnessed. And with the button now gone (along with all its mysterious energies), the reader may have more leads and answers than the characters leading the investigation.
It would appear on the surface that Thawne’s resurrection – apparently unintentional – led him to the device that triggered it. That single piece of evidence led him straight to Manhattan, who dealt with this new, unpredictable, chaotic player in decisive fashion. The question of exactly where Manhattan is seems an obvious one to ask (with simply “Mars” as the leading theory). But more importantly, what form has Manhattan now taken that could obliterate Thawne while forcing him to believe he has seen the face of God?
Those questions are exactly the ones that DC’s storytellers wish us to be asking. With The Flash #21 continuing the story next week. Any theories are more than welcome in the meantime.
Batman #21 is available now.
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