Written by Joel T. Lewis
Issue 21 is the very first Flash comic I’ve ever read, and while it’s choked with exposition and flashbacks to the more important components of the Flashpoint and Rebirth events that have led to the mystery of the Button, the charm of pairing up Flash and Batman shines through. When brought together for cosmic level capers that warrant the might of the Justice League, Flash and Batman are often paired off so that the plucky optimism of the former can bounce off the stern seriousness of the latter, but the pairing often feels forced. Flash 21 reminds us that though the ranks of the Justice League are populated by Amazons, Martians, and Kryptonians of supreme power, there are only two true investigators on that team. As Barry’s internal monologue takes us through his analysis of Batman and Reverse Flash’s brawl, he ruminates over the comradery that he and Batman share when it comes to the deconstruction of crime scenes. Though his internal commentary is heartwarming, Barry is troubled by the implications of Reverse Flash’s appearance and takes little solace in the death of his mother’s murderer. The strange topsy-turvy world of Flashpoint looms so large in his mind that it’s possible resurgence overshadows his arch nemesis’ demise.
As Barry comes to the end of his lightning fast investigation he turns to a particularly battered Dark Knight for further insight into the reappearance of Reverse Flash. Batman reveals that his father, the Flashpoint Batman, appeared just before Reverse Flash as a result of the mysterious button’s reaction with Psycho-Pirate’s mask. Bruce’s frustration with their lack of progress unravelling the mystery of the button causes him to second-guess Barry’s thoroughness in the lab. This leads to a rare moment of Bat-humility as Bruce apologizes, indicating his respect for the Flash’s instincts as an analyst. This tense moment is actually quite sweet as Bruce reminds himself that Allen is no rank amateur. Barry runs off the continue his investigation leaving Batman to recover and rest.
Barry makes his way to the Justice League Watchtower in pursuit of the infamous Cosmic Treadmill which allows those who can run fast enough the ability to travel through time and space. A decidedly silly contraption, much maligned by comic book fans, the Cosmic Treadmill was a pleasant splash of levity (at least to me) in an issue that had been mostly grim until this point. As Barry prepares to travel back to the Flashpoint reality, he is surprised by the appearance of a still-recovering Batman who insists on coming along. The unlikely duo’s journey through space and time is where Howard Porter’s artwork truly shines, depicting classical representations of the Justice League from continuities past while colorist Hi-Fi sends our heroes tumbling through a technicolor thunderstorm of vibrant blues and yellows. The two heroes arrive in an eerie echo of the Batcave and issue 21 of the Flash ends when Thomas Wayne Batman and Bruce Wayne Batman finally meet.
Author Joshua Williamson and his creative team do a masterful job of picking up the Button storyline from Tom King and company and portray a well-crafted and compelling Barry Allen. I was nervous being so new to the Flash coming into issue 21, but Williamson does a great job of filling in the details of Flashpoint and Rebirth so that you quickly understand the horrors Allen has seen and the responsibility he feels as the cause of the Flashpoint deviation. In many ways the Rebirth event felt like DC hard-resetting after the chaos of Flashpoint, but it is very important for the character of Barry Allen, as the critical participant in both events, to bear the weight of that terrible alternate reality. The maturity that comes from navigating that cataclysmic shift in reality is quite refreshing to see in a relatively light-hearted (as light-hearted as DC gets) hero.
What happens when the Dark Knight meets the twisted foil his father became in an alternate reality? Will the Batmen and the Flash be able to uncover the mystery of the button? What did Reverse Flash encounter that burned him down to the bone? All I can say is that I’ll be reading Batman 22 'The Button Part 3' desperate to find out. Until next time, Geek On!