Written by Geoff Johns & Tom King
Art by Jason Fabok and Brad Anderson
Lettering by Deron Bennett
Published by DC Comics
‘Rama Rating: 10 out of 10
The connection between DC's "Rebirth" and Watchmen becomes clearer with this premiere issue of Batman and Flash’s crossover event, “The Button.” Batman #21 is a smart, action-packed story that caters to longtime DC Comics fans, and is a must-buy for readers following the overarcing "Rebirth" storyline.
The issue opens up in Arkham Asylum with Saturn Girl from the Legion of Superheroes, shouting at a hockey game playing on television. She predicts that one of the hockey players will die on the ice in a fist fight. She yells, “No one will stop it, no one will save us.” This scene plays as a parallel to the opening of Watchmen with Rorschach’s journal entry, [They] “will look up and shout save us… and I will look down, and whisper no.” This scene may give us a clue for DC's "Rebirth" and its connection to Watchmen.
This is not the only Watchmen reference in the issue - the story arc’s titular “The Button” plays a big role in the story as the classic Watchmen smiley face takes center stage in Batman #21. As Batman looks into the mystery behind the pin, the Reverse-Flash speeds into the Batcave, looking to find the mysterious force that woke him from his post-Flashpoint slumber. It’s this central conceit that particularly sells this issue, as writer Tom King breaks down this one-minute fight into a knock-down, drag-out brawl, as the all-too-human Batman has to stall for time until Barry Allen arrives for back-up. But it’s the conclusion of this issue that’s particularly intriguing, as the Reverse-Flash suddenly reappears from the great beyond, half his body burning, as he says “God… I saw… God.” It’s a nice wink to Dr. Manhattan’s quantum narratives from Watchmen, with the Reverse-Flash literally half-living, half-dead, a sort of morbid pun on Schrödinger’s cat.
The use of foreshadowing is another aspect Batman #21 does well, coinciding with the original Watchmen miniseries. Tom King seamlessly weaves the story of a hockey game throughout the issue. The game plays at the beginning of the story in Arkham Asylum, and continues to play as Batman fiddles with the button in the Batcave. This game foreshadows the battle between Reverse-Flash and Batman. The quote at the end of the hockey game also seems to be a clue to the "Rebirth" mystery, “This is just a game, Shuster knows that. We’re all just trying to have fun out here. I mean is this fun?” The “game” analogy is no stranger to "Rebirth"'s narrative. It has been mentioned previously in "Superman Reborn" with Mr. Mxyzptlk, and in Detective Comics with Tim Drake “taken off the board.”
Jason Fabok’s pencils are the perfect collaborator to match the tone of King’s script. Fabok hits every beat for making Batman #21 an action-packed, mystery story. He does a great job at making Watchmen feel present in every scene of the issue - with either a smiley face poster in the background or with the Watchmen button plastered on Batman’s computer screen. Brad Anderson also does this with his colors, especially during the fight scene between Batman and Reverse-Flash. The colors of Reverse-Flash’s suit and the blood from the fight are reminiscent of the Watchmen smiley face button.
Batman #21 is the perfect set-up for two of DC Comics’ best detectives (Batman and the Flash) unraveling DC Rebirth’s mystery. The best aspect of this issue is figuring out how the clues piece together and how they connect to the overall mystery of DC Rebirth and Watchmen. This gives reason for you not only to pick up the issue, but to analyze the story further through multiple readings.