The kick-off of DC's crossover story "The Button" was filled with nasty, brutal, bloody fist-fights (seriously - almost every page). But the meaning behind the battles - and the deaths that resulted - is still a mystery.
Warner: Spoilers ahead for this week's Batman #21.
But DC is still hinting that Doctor Manhattan from Watchmen is behind all this "Rebirth" stuff, as several clues at the end of the issue point toward his involvement.
And although Professor Zoom was expected to be a key player in the story, which takes place over four issues of The Flash and Batman, Zoom is already dead by the end of the first issue of "The Button."
But an unexpected character also shows up in Batman #21 - Saturn Girl, the Legion of Super-Heroes member who was teased months ago in Geoff Johns' DC Universe: Rebirth #1, the issue that kicked off the "Rebirth" era and hinted at an important Legion-related tie-in.
Batman #21, scripted by Tom King and drawn by Jason Fabok, follows a plot that was given to King by Johns, the architect of "Rebirth" and DC's Chief Creative Officer/co-President.
What does Saturn Girl's appearance mean? How did Zoom die? And should you be watching the current Stanley Cup playoffs to understand this comic book? Well, we honestly don't know the answer to any of those things at the end of this issue… but let's take a look at what we do know.
Imra Likes Hockey
Saturn Girl is watching a hockey game on television among her co-inmates at Arkham Asylum in the first page of Batman #21. (DC has established that Imra has been a prisoner there since "Rebirth" began.)
The hockey game between the Gotham City Blades and the Metropolis Mammoths is down to the final minute, with the two teams tied.
The two teams are about to face off at center ice.
Saturn Girl suddenly shouts, "Wait, wait, wait. This is the game. Where they kill him. They're going to kill him!"
She keeps saying, "Stop it!" and grabs her head. "Can't you see?" she says. "Superman won't come. Our friends will die. The Legion will die. No one will stop it. No one will save us!"
The announcer says, "Shuster and Taylor in the face-off. Remember. These two have a history. You never know what will happen."
That's the extent of Saturn Girl's appearance, but it seems important.
Scenes from the hockey game are peppered throughout the rest of the issue, as the two hockey players drop their gloves and start a fist-fight. Even though the two players fall onto the ice, nobody stops their brawl until too late.
By the end of the issue, Taylor has been killed by Shuster. (No first names were even given, but the nod to Superman co-creator Joe Shuster seems clear).
The importance of the hockey game may be tied to the Flash. By the end of the issue, we learn that the Flash went to the hockey arena to try to save Taylor, and that's why he arrives late to the Batcave.
And Barry arriving late to the Batcave not only put Batman in danger, but possibly contributed to Zoom's death.
OK, before we get to the Zoom-Batman battle in the Batcave, we've got to talk about the Button itself.
Yes, that Button - the smiley face button with a blood splatter, the symbol of the legendary Watchmen story. This is the Button that showed up in the Batcave when Wally West returned at the end of the "New 52."
As an aside - remember that Wally says someone stole 10 years from the DCU, and he knows that someone's been messing with time. Clues were given in DC Universe: Rebirth #1 about who did it, with most readers assuming the character messing with time was Doctor. Manhattan (not only because of the Button, but also because a blue hand was shown, dialogue of someone on Mars sounded like Manhattan, and somebody was vaporizing people. Vaporizing and being on Mars are both Manhattan M.O.'s.)
OK, so Batman's holding the Button while watching the aforementioned hockey game.
Lots of hockey fans tonight.
After holding the Button for a bit, thinking, Batman tossesit onto a desktop. It just happens to land next to the "Medusa Mask" worn by Psycho-Pirate. (The Pirate has been part of the Batman storyline since way back when "Rebirth" started. And yes, Psycho-Pirate is the character who can remember other timelines, although he apparently hasn't said anything to anyone yet about the "Rebirth"-related time manipulations.)
As the Button and mask sit next to each other, a bit of yellow-red lightning flashes between the two. Lightning jumps from the Button and smacks into Bruce, knocking him down.
Suddenly, standing in the Batcave - looming large in front of the fallen Bruce - is Flashpoint Batman.
Flashpoint Batman, the Batman of another timeline, is Thomas Wayne. And Thomas, of course, has been dead since Bruce was a wee-little boy. Sniff sniff.
"Bruce?" the impressive Thomas looks down and says to his son.
"Father?" Bruce asks, reaching out his hand.
(I know. I know. Just swallow down those tears.)
A panel shows their fingers barely touching.
Then Thomas is gone.
Batman calls the Flash/Barry Allen to tell him the Button had "some sort of reaction to Psycho-Pirate's mask." He says the radiation on the Button seems to have spiked, and it ripped a hole in the Speed Force (aaaah…so that's the reason for the yellow-red lightning).
"I saw," Bruce says, pausing as he talks to Barry, "there was … something wrong at the bottom of the hole."
["I saw Daddy!" he's thinking. Sniff sniff.]
Flash tells Bruce that's he's currently busy (punching "samuroids"), but he estimates that he'll arrive at the Batcave in one minute.
Batman's looking at the Button and hears the Flash arrive. Early.
Wait a minute. Barry? Early? Batman's surprised.
Yeah, it's not Barry. It's Eobard Thawne, a.k.a. Professor Zoom, a.k.a. the Reverse-Flash, a.k.a. the guy who said at the end of March's The Flash #10 that he remembers Flashpoint and he wants to kill Batman for killing him there.
They duke it out. Batman realizes he can't beat this guy.
But Batman realizes he only has to survive one minute until Barry arrives to help him kick Zoom's yellow butt. Right?
About 30 seconds into the fight, Zoom notices the letter on the Batcave wall - the one Barry brought back from the Flashpoint universe. The letter is from Flashpoint Batman, who helped Barry Allen eliminate his universe (and himself) during Flashpoint so the timeline could go back to having Bruce alive. (And of course, that's when the "New 52" was created.)
"Oh, Thomas," Zoom says as he looks at the letter. "Is this what you did after you killed me?" He's ticked off and destroys the letter.
Bruce, his face all bloody from the fight, yells "No!"
The two battle some more. Batman actually gets in a few punches, but he's clearly outmatched. He is counting down to the Flash's arrival, but when he gets to zero, there's no Flash.
Zoom punches Batman one last time. Bruce is done, slumped onto the floor of the Batcave (knocked out, we assume, although …. hmmm… could be dead? Nah, this is Batman, right?).
Zoom walks over to the Bat-computer where the Button is on the floor. He picks it up.
Zoom disappears. This time, the flash of light is blue and fills the area. A short time passes (about five panels) and "Bzzt!" Zoom reappears in another enormous flash of blue.
"God," Zoom whispers as he reappears, much of his body vaporized. "God … I saw … God."
Zoom is half gone. Like, literally. He's been vaporized down the left side of his body.
The Flash shows up and apologizes for being late, but he "stopped at the Blades game to see if I could save Taylor."
But Taylor died from that last blow.
"I was just too… late."
Flash sees Batman and Zoom on the floor of the Batcave. The final page makes it clear that Zoom is dead, half vaporized. No sign of the Button that Zoom was holding when he disappeared.
The teaser at the bottom of the final page says, "Next: Who killed Reverse-Flash?"
So there are some key things to notice about the issue.
1.) The hockey game. Despite its prominence in the issue, the hockey game appears to only have a couple meanings:
First, it reminds Saturn Girl of "them" killing someone - an event that leads to the death of "friends" and the Legion itself. (When she says "they're going to kill him," does she mean the hockey player? Or Zoom? Or someone that hasn't died yet?)
Second, it's why the Flash was late. He stopped by the hockey game and doesn't make it to the Batman-Zoom battle in time to save Batman from getting that last punch. And of course, the Flash is too late to capture Zoom before the dude got zapped.
2.) Saturn Girl. She's been popping up from time to time in the DCU, but only in cameos that don't reveal anything. Is this just another brief cameo? Or will she be part of "The Button"? The fact that she's in Arkham certainly points to a Batman tie-in.
3.) The Button. Is it gone now? Will it help Batman and the Flash locate Manhattan? Or was it just a way to set up a reunion between Bruce and Thomas?
4.) Psycho-Pirate's mask. Finally! Now Batman and the Flash know something's up with Psycho-Pirate. Batman writer Tom King has already confirmed that Psycho-Pirate remembers other timelines, but is he also aware of who is messing with time?
5.) Dr. Manhattan clues. Eobard Thawne disappeared and reappeared in a blue flash. And he was half vaporized. And Eobard said that he saw "god." These all sound like clues pointing toward Dr. Manhattan.
If the tease at the end of the issue means anything, DC might be revealing who killed Thawne. Maybe. And we can only hope that this leads Batman to realize Tim Drake's still alive, although that seems like a long shot.
At the very least, we'll see Flashpoint Batman again (have tissues ready) and our heroes will become more aware than ever that someone Watchmen-related is up to no good in the DCU.