Button, Button: What is The Button? Batman #21
Climb in and buckle up, boys and girls. This is the event we've been waiting to kick off ever since DC kicked off their Rebirth line with REBIRTH #1. That ended with Batman finding a yellow smiley-face button with a blood streak that was immediately familiar to comics fans as the iconic badge (and plot driver device) of WATCHMEN.
For months now (years, it seems) that plot has been left out there, supplemented in drips and drabs in various titles. But now, the team of Tom King and Jason Fabok have honed in on the main mystery, and it's a fun ride!
Yeah, I'm going to be walking smack through spoiler territory here, so you've been warned.
BATMAN #21, the opening chapter of the long-awaited "The Button," kicks off in Arkham Asylum, where former Legionnaire Saturn Girl is an inmate. She begins to flip out when watching a hockey game, because she knows the outcome -- one of the players will be beaten to death on the ice. Why does that tragic but cosmically insignificant sporting event resonate a thousand years later to the Legion of Super-Heroes? That goes unanswered, but it definitely sets the tone for a WATCHMEN mood.
How? Panel one is a tight focus on a circle symbol -- center ice. The scene pulls back to show it's on a television screen, just as a hockey stick crosses into the circle at the familiar angle of the clock hand motif of watchment befure pulling back further to show that we're in Arkham viewing this television. Turn the page, and there's an unbloodied smiley face poster promoting the logo "Arkham is for Healing" right next to Saturn Girl's word-balloon burst, "They're going to kill him!" That's the kind of juxtaposition we got used to with WATCHMEN, and the final panel is a close shot of Saturn Girl's face, tears streaking it not unlike the shot of a young Rorschack after he had produce shoved in his face by bullies.
As she cries out "No one will save us!" we transition to a full page of Batman in the cave, the hockey announcer's voice calling out, "Here we go," a meta-reminder that fans have been waiting for this main event, as Batman is surrounded by screens of the smiley face button under various angles and running various tests.
As the story continues with Batman's investigation, the pages adapt to the 3x3 panel style used in WATCHMEN. The callbacks are there at every turn in the story. Batman is obviously frustrated by his investigation, and discovers pretty much by dumb luck -- something extraordinary. When he tosses the button onto the counter, it lands in close proximity to the recently acquired Medusa Mask of the Psycho Pirate. Recall that Psycho Pirate played a pivotal role in CRISIS ON INFINITE EARTHS, and was the only person who retained memories of that other universe. A spark passes between the two objects, and Batman is suddenly face-to-face with Batman -- Thomas Wayne, of the FLASHPOINT universe. It's a brief moment, and when it passes, Batman puts in a call to The Flash.
This transitions the book to countdown mode -- again, very WATCHMEN-like, as the entire series counted down the minutes to midnight -- as it will take The Flash one minute to finish up his current business and make it to the Batcave. The rest of this issue takes place over the course of that single minute, in 3x3 paneled pages except for the intermittent splash page. And who is it that makes a splash? Eobard Thawne, the Reverse-Flash! The spark that brought Thomas Wayne into view momentarily also called out to the dead Eobard. And like any resurrected villain, he wants to beat the crap out of Batman -- and proceeds to do so. At least, until he discovers the FLASHPOINT relic -- the letter from Thomas Wayne to Bruce that The Flash carried from the FLASHPOINT timeline. Eobard has a serious mad-on at Thomas Wayne, what with him having been the one who killed the Reverse-Flash in the first place!
Of course, Batman being Batman, the Dark Knight discovers a way to fight back against a speedster -- a painful way, to be sure -- and does his best to survive this unforgiving minute. But The Flash --
-- is late.
Eobard Thawne then picks up the smiley face button to examine it -- and blinks out of existence. And then he is back, but not as we saw him before. No, Eobard Thawne is decaying, his suit in tatters, and he is screaming in pain. In fact, he looks exactly like the inverse of the image of The Flash in CRISIS ON INFINITE EARTHS when he appeared throughout time, calling for help and going full skeletal on the readers. What happened to Eobard Thawne? He tells us.
"I saw... God."
Kudos to Tom King and Jason Fabok. This issue couldn't have gotten more retro or more exciting if they had decided to intersperse the panels with images from a pirate comic.
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