When DC Comics promised to dive into the forgotten secrets of the "Rebirth" launch in "The Button," fans had more than a Flash/Batman team-up to look forward to. According to the cover of The Flash #21, the story would mark the return of Eobard Thawne, the first true Reverse-Flash... but fans weren't expecting him to return from the dead, and be shuffled off permanently in the very same issue. True to his form, even in total defeat, Eobard manages to add a new level of mystery to the forces reshaping DC's entire "Rebirth" reality.
The diehard fans have had some time to process this bombshell, with Eobard Thawne making a splash back on the scene of the New 52 since being killed in the Flashpoint event that spawned it. It was the first part of "The Button" in Batman #21 that Thawne returned, then died. But in The Flash #21 Barry Allen finally arrives to begin his investigation. Who killed Thawne? How did they kill him? Where did he disappear to before his death? And most importantly... why is Thawne's corpse covered in Barry's Speed Force radiation?
The Resurrection of Eobard Thawne
It was Issue #21 of both Batman and The Flash that jumped to the top of every DC Comics fan's reading list when the Watchmen smiley face button at the heart of Rebirth's mystery was placed on the cover, but technically, Eobard Thawne's "Resurrection" came back in The Flash #19. In the closing panels of that issue, the version of Eobard Thawne native to the New 52 Universe was blasted in his cell at Iron Heights Prison. He burst from his chains in the returned image of his pre-New 52 version - the one who had manipulated Barry Allen's life into a nightmare in Flashpoint, before that universe's Batman (Thomas Wayne) planted a sword through his chest. But this transformed Thawne didn't just look like his original version... he remembered every bit of that history. And promised to make Thomas's son pay for his father's crimes.
Cut to Batman #21, where Bruce Wayne stands examining that infamous button in his Batcave. A blast of lightning leads him to believe that Barry Allen has arrived to aid his investigation... but soon finds out that the Reverse is true. Before Thawne beats Bruce to a pulp, he muses that being forgotten in this new reality is understandable, since he has been for some time. And, in his own words, should still be dead for some time more. The Flash readers might assume that Thawne broke into the New 52 in that bolt of lightning - much the same way Wally West broke out of the Speed Force to start the Rebirth.
Not so, says Thawne. Something has called to him. And he has followed its call to this Batcave, and this button. Raising it to his face, Thawne is swallowed up in a burst of blue light. It's what happens next that fans will remember for years to come.
The Death of Eobard Thawne (For Real This Time)
As frame after empty frame shows Batman's unconscious body on the floor of the Batcave, Thawne's disappearance with a blue burst and a simple "BZZT" is repeated, bringing the speedster back to his starting point in only a few seconds. But the Reverse-Flash that returns has no button in his hand, and instantly collapses to his knees. With most of his body seemingly vaporized by the blue flames that continue to burn the edges of his body, Thawne falls to the ground, whispering that he has seen God... and it has cost him his life. Not a moment later, Barry Allen finally arrives to find Bruce severely beaten, and Eobard Thawne, the Flash villain too evil to die, reduced to a skeleton right next to him.
For newcomers to the series, that's about as intentionally ambiguous or mysterious as you can get. But for those who have been following DC Rebirth from the start, the evidence is hard to dispute. It all began when Wally West tore a hole between the New 52 reality and the Speed Force that stretched beyond it, in which he was trapped. Though it wouldn't be noticed until the end of DC Universe: Rebirth #1, that breach had allowed the famous button belonging to Watchmen's Comedian to fly into the Batcave. When Wally later warned Barry that whilst in the Speed Force, he could sense a powerful force watching over the world's heroes... the dots connected.
The button was meant to be the evidence of the Watchmen reality somewhere parallel to the DCU. But the blue energy monitoring or killing offending DC characters belonged to Doctor Manhattan. And while Eobard Thawne believed he was meant to claim that link offered by the Speed Force, touching the button led to his death at Manhattan's hand - perhaps too fast to be obliterated completely, but scorched to his bones, regardless. So... why does the evidence seem to point somewhere else?
The Evidence Points To... The Flash?
It's the follow-up in The Flash #21 that starts the real wheels of mystery solving turning, as Barry Allen dissects the crime scene as Bruce recuperates. Unfortunately, the physical evidence that is left behind is about as straightforward an inconclusive as it appears to the reader. At least... that's what Barry tells Bruce. Given that some of that evidence could incriminate Barry - or, given Eobard's time travel abilities, a future Barry - the speedster keeps the entire findings to himself. Thankfully, the readers are let into the loop on what can be discerned of Eobard Thawne's last moments.
Where Wally West was missing from reality, and returned in his physical form, that wasn't the case with Eobard. His DNA matches that of the New 52 doppelganger held in Iron Heights... leaving the same kind of reality-reshaping memories that returned Superman's entire origin story to the New 52 as one possibility. Beyond that, Eobard picked up the button, disappeared for seconds, and returned dead, covered in Barry's signature Speed Force energy, and drenched in the same radiation found on the button. Meaning no matter where Eobard went, or how much he traveled in those moments, he came face to face with a Watchmen specific radiation... then came back without the button.
If Manhattan is the guilty party, why did Thawne feel drawn to him? What did he show Thawne that could convince a man of science of a "capital G" God? How did Barry's Speed Force work into the equation? And is the danger of Manhattan over?
Those are the questions that Barry is setting out to answer in the next chapter of "The Button," appearing in Batman #22. Flash fans won't want to miss another issue, since there's a good chance that Eobard's body may be covered in the Speed Force of another fan favorite speedster st to return. And for some strange reason, we're not totally sure we've seen the last of Reverse-Flash...
Batman #21 & The Flash #21 are available now.