WARNING: This article contains SPOILERS for Batman #21
His story may have seemed to be wrapped up back in Flashpoint, but DC Comics teased he would play a role in the DC Rebirth/Watchmen mystery. Finally, Flashpoint Batman has returned - but not at all as fans might expect, and not for long. Yet his emergence in the main DC Universe at all marks the coming of a larger crisis, and the same mystery that Batman and The Flash are going to be solving in "The Button"... a storyline that's already kicked off with the return of Eobard Thawne's Reverse-Flash.
But for fans of the Dark Knight in particular, this mystery goes all the way back to the days of Flashpoint, when Thomas Wayne played the hero of the universe, sending Barry Allen back in time to set things right. In hindsight, Thomas's sacrifice wasn't all fans, or Bruce, hoped it to be. The remaking of the DC Universe that followed allowed for Doctor Manhattan (we think) to weaken its residents. There may be reason to hope, since the first chapter of this new story from Tom King and Jason Fabok shows the Flashpoint Batman hasn't disappeared at all.
And now, Thomas and Bruce Wayne may not need handwritten letters to communicate at all.
The Button Blasts The Bat
We're skipping ahead a bit with that introduction, but to make sure fans know exactly what King and Fabok have revealed, implied, or hinted at, we'll start from the beginning. Technically, that beginning lies in the pages of DC Universe: Rebirth #1, when the barrier between the regular world of the DC Universe and the mystical forces beyond it was violently breached, multiple times. Wally West was simply trying to return from the Speed Force, but in the process, launched a mysterious object from another dimension, plane, or possibly universe directly into the DCU's Batcave.
That object was a bright yellow smiley face button - the one worn by the Comedian in Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons's Watchmen. In the days following Wally's return, Bruce and Barry Allen began to investigate that button, noting that it possessed radiation from another universe but little else. Yet as Wally noted that his time in the Speed Force allowed him to sense a powerful enemy, one meddling with the fabric of reality, both Bruce and Barry agreed to keep this evidence quiet until some progress was made.
In part one of "The Button," that progress is achieved... though not at all on purpose. Batman simply flips the button onto a nearby table, allowing it to come a little too close to the Medusa Mask - famously worn by the Psycho-Pirate (currently in Batman's custody elsewhere). A spark of Speed Force lightning catches Batman's attention, but before he can react, that lightning unloads upon the Dark Knight, sending him flying backward... and leading to a truly unexpected visit.
A Glimpse of Flashpoint Batman
Without warning, Batman finds himself standing before his father, Thomas Wayne, in his complete Batman suit from the Flashpoint Universe - a universe thought to have been written out of existence when Barry Allen created the New 52. Bruce Wayne was once again the only survivor of his family's run-in with a Gotham criminal, and he grew up to be the same (albeit younger) version of Batman. Before Bruce can reach out to touch the extended hand of his father, who has recognized him instantly, Thomas dissolves back into nothingness, leaving Bruce alone in the cave once more.
The first instinct of many readers may be to write this all off as a hallucination, a mirage, or a mental image of Bruce's made manifest before he regains his faculties. But that's not what the evidence suggests. For starters, Bruce never knew what his father's Batman look like: Barry simply informed him that his father was Batman before he set the timeline right (in the closing scene of Flashpoint). In fact, it's unclear if Barry or Bruce still even remember that scene taking place, or the memory faded as the New 52 timeline set in. Barry has shown little awareness of the fact that he changed reality, and even Bruce seems to stop short of attributing the letter Thomas wrote to him as in any way tied to Flashpoint.
But most importantly, it's the lightning drawn from the Speed Force - the extradimensional energy that powered Barry's re-writing of reality, and transported the button to this universe - that reached out to Bruce, encompassed him, and has now receded. What's more, both Bruce and Thomas recognize the other instantly, suggesting that this Thomas is the one who sent Barry back... or he has an unexplained ability to suddenly understand that he's witnessing an alternate reality where the Batman vigilante was still created, only this time played by his son.
It's also worth considering that the Medusa Mask has been known to manipulate emotions, create illusions, and even make a person's dreams come true (or at least, in their mind). That's the first conclusion Batman turns to - which is a good sign that it isn't the explanation - but even for Bruce, the hole torn through the Speed Force is something unique. And again, the typical use of the Medusa Mask isn't what we're being shown.
For one, the Medusa Mask simply triggering feelings of longing, desire for family, or a chance to return his father's message isn't how it works. And again, Bruce doesn't know what his father should look like, making the perfect recreation of his Flashpoint costume impossible (not to mention Bruce's acknowledgement that he's looking at his father). No, this is almost certainly a case of the Medusa Mask allowing alternate universes to be glimpsed, as they are, or currently exist. it's not the first time the Medusa Mask has shown that ability, but Batman never gets the chance to learn that for himself.
At least not yet, anyway. The appearance of the resurrected Reverse-Flash, Eobard Thawne will distract any investigation, but hopefully, it can continue in The Flash #21. And those hoping for more Flashpoint Batman can rest easy: the cover art for Batman #22 includes Thomas Wayne, so whatever the truth of this mystery... Batman is on the case.
Batman #21 is available now.