For roughly a month now, DC Comics has sent their two best detectives — Bruce “The Batman” Wayne and Barry “The Flash” Allen — to investigate a mystery embedded within the very fibers of Rebirth. With “The Button Part Four” in this week’s The Flash #22, that investigation reaches its conclusion.
However, don’t expect any grand revelations or universe-altering developments. The Flash #22 ends with our heroes basically right back where they started: in the Batcave with the still smoldering remains of the Reverse-Flash. The adventure they’ve gone on hasn’t been all for naught — there was the cathartic meeting between Bruce and his father, Flashpoint’s Batman in Batman #22, and in this issue, Barry again facing the reality of loved ones he’s been made to forget — but as for the mystery surrounding why that bloodied, smiley face button first appeared? That remains as mysterious as ever.
What we do have in The Flash #22 is still momentous, just not in the way it was advertised. Jay Garrick/The Flash makes his first appearance since the New 52 began and it is downright joyous when he bursts on the scene. In very much the same manner as how Wally West/Kid-Flash was able to reach out to Barry through the void of canonical erasure, Jay is able to use his connection with Barry to break through into the Rebirth universe.
Unfortunately, where Barry and Wally’s reunion was triumphant, Barry and Jay’s is not. Theirs is a reunion steeped in suspicion and uncertainty. Where before reaching out and grasping Wally’s hand reignited memories in Barry, doing the same with Jay doesn’t. It’s… tragic. Just, painfully sad. And it only furthers the mystery around why these characters were removed from continuity.
“The Button” has been more emotional than surely anyone had guess it would be, and Williamson ends perfectly with some poignant reflection. As Bruce and Barry stand in front of Bruce’s parents’ graves, the two orphans muse on their similar circumstances, but it’s their reactions that paint the stark contrast between them — Bruce finding his brief visit with his father cruel, while Barry finds such possibilities hopeful. The comparison of the two has been the largest appeal of “The Button” and one that Rebirth will continue exploring, pitting despair against hope.
Interestingly, though Batman clings to his tragedy like a lifeline, making it the event which gives him purpose, there are the first inklings of him hanging up the cowl and moving on. In a page beautifully rendered by Howard Porter and again invoking that Watchmen-esque, nine-panel layout, Bruce contemplates his future. And in this briefest of moments, there’s a hint he may be willing to final let The Batman go. Now, there’s a roughly a 0.0000001% chance of that happening, not in any permanent sense, anyhow. But it is profoundly meaningful to see Bruce thinking back on what his father said and actually consider it.
Where “The Button” lands isn’t terribly surprising (DC pretty much spoiled it by already announcing Doomsday Clock), but there’s something to be said of the thrill in knowing Dr. Manhattan is the one responsible for the New 52, for rejiggering the DC Universe, and now, presumably, the Rebirth of it as well. It’s weird, it’s meta, it’s sure piss some people off (Alan Moore, especially), but it’s too intriguing to ignore. When Dr. Manhattan’s hand reaches in to panel — practically incandescent in glowing Hi-Fi color — and grasps the button, there’s a palpable excitement over where this could lead.