Johnny Thunder keeps saying it's his fault.
Justice Society of America' absence from the current DC Universe could be blamed on a lot of things - the "New 52" and Flashpoint, or even the timeline manipulation (suspected to be caused by Watchmen characters). But Johnny's taking full blame for the disappearance of the JSA.
Johnny Thunder, whose origin can be traced all the way back to the Golden Age of comic books, says "it's all my fault" at the beginning of The Flash #21, DC's second chapter of its highly anticipated April/May crossover "The Button." Johnny's admission of fault was also in the character's first "Rebirth" appearance, back in 2016's DC Universe: Rebirth #1.
"I'm sorry for what I did," he said.
Johnny's Friends Aren't Gone
The character, best known by modern comic book audiences for his time in the Justice Society of America, keeps showing up in "Rebirth" teases about the manipulation of DC's continuity by an unknown force - a force that is strongly hinted to be Dr. Manhattan from Watchmen.
Similar to Saturn Girl's imprisonment in Arkham Asylum, Johnny Thunder is imprisoned (via court order) in a "home for the elderly," where everyone thinks he's delusional because he reminisces about the JSA, who apparently never existed in current DC continuity.
But DC continuity is constantly changing thanks to "Rebirth." The appearance of post-Crisis Wally West in DC Universe: Rebirth #1 set off a chain of events that brought back previous DC continuity, sometimes completely overwriting "New 52" continuity and other times mixing the two timelines together.
Wally made it clear in DC Universe: Rebirth #1 that he knows who the Justice Society is. But Wally admits that his memories of "the universe before the Flashpoint" have slipped away. So they are being overwritten by the memories of this new, "Rebirth" world (similar to what's happening in the Superman title, now that Clark and Lois Lane Kent are an amalgam of both "New 52" and post-Crisis characters).
But even with this rewriting of memories, Wally said in DC Universe: Rebirth #1 that he knows something about the missing JSA characters. He appeared to Johnny Thunder - the current, imprisoned one - and hinted that the JSA can be brought back into the DCU.
"Their history may have been stolen, but your friends weren't completely lost," Wally said.
Although Wally knows who the JSA is, he calls them a "covert team" of "mystery men" that helped end World War II.
So it appears that in the new "Rebirth" continuity, the Justice Society are part of history (or at least the history that Wally and Johnny now remember) - it's just that they were undercover and unknown to the public.
Between their covert work during World War II and the present, something happened to make all the Justice Society characters disappear - all of them, that is, but Johnny Thunder.
In DC Universe: Rebirth #1, Johnny said to Wally that "McCarthy yelled, 'Take off your masks!' You know I was only trying to protect them.'"
The implication is that real-life U.S. Senator Joe McCarthy, who famously held hearings in the 1950s to investigate alleged communists, went after the covert "mystery men" in the DCU. He yelled for them to "take off their masks," meaning that they had to expose their secret identities - a theme that's been used in DC stories about the JSA before.
With Johnny now saying that he was only trying to protect them, and apologizing for causing the loss of the Justice Society, it appears that the character, who once controlled the all-powerful genie Yz (the "Thunderbolt"), might have sent the Justice Society away.
Could he have accidentally trapped them in the Speed Force, or some other inaccessible dimension, utilizing the Thunderbolt?
We already know that Jay Garrick's helmet is visible to Barry when he's inside the Speed Force. And Wally said in DC Universe: Rebirth #1 that Johnny Thunder is "connected to lightning" too (presumably because of his time mastering the Thunderbolt).
At the same time, we've also seen in "The Button" that alternate timelines - even the assumed-lost Flashpoint timeline - appear to be accessible through the Speed Force (or something like it anyway), even if they no longer exist in the current-day DCU. As Batman and Flash traveled on the Cosmic Treadmill in "The Button," speeding through an unusually blue version of the Speed Force, they saw alternate histories that aren't part of the current DCU, but were part of previous timelines.
At the end of The Flash #21, last week's chapter of "The Button," Bruce and Barry had traveled to the Flashpoint universe. If they can travel to that location - a timeline that really shouldn't even exist anymore - then it's possible they can travel to any timeline that existed before the change caused by past events.
Barry has a connection to the helmet of Jay Garrick - hinted about in The Flash #9 - one that gives him hope when he sees it. If Barry can travel to the Flashpoint universe, that means that if he comes upon Jay's helmet again, he might also be able to take himself and Batman to a universe where the Justice Society exists.
Or, if Johnny Thunder did exile the Justice Society into some other dimension, the characters that the Flash and Batman find (if they do, mind you) could be versions that exist specifically for the new "Rebirth" universe.
Wally told Johnny that he had "the power" to bring back his friends. "Find the Justice Society," Wally said. But the elderly Johnny is obviously having a problem doing that. At the end of his scene in DC Universe: Rebirth #1 and in his one-page appearance in last week's The Flash #21, he tries saying the magic words, "Cei-U," that brings forth the Thunderbolt.
Perhaps the key lies in the great-grandson that Wally mentioned in DC Univese: Rebirth #1. "He tells tales of his youth to everyone he sees," Wally's thought boxes say. "Except for his great-grandson, they all think he's crazy."
Many fans are hoping the great-grandson Wally mentions is a "Rebirth" version of Jakeem Thunder, a young hero who took over control of Thunderbolt in a more recent Justice Society stories.
Whoever rescues the Justice Society, DC has made it clear that they're coming back somehow. On the back cover of a Previews catalog last year that detailed "Rebirth" titles being launched by DC, the image showed two hourglasses - one featuring characters from a version of the Justice Society of America predating the "New 52" (and possibly even Crisis on Infinite Earths) and the other including characters from an '80s-style Justice League of America.
The Justice Society image included what appeared to be the original versions of Dr. Fate, the Flash, Atom, Dr. Mid-Nite, Green Lantern, Hourman, and Black Canary.
The architect of "Rebirth," DC Chief Creative Officer Geoff Johns, talked about the return of teams like the Justice Society of America and the Legion of Super-Heroes once "Rebirth" gets underway.
Now that "Rebirth" is about a year old, it looks like the appearances of Saturn Girl and Johnny Thunder are teasing those returns again. And if Johnny Thunder has the power - or Jakeem, or Batman and the Flash can make it happen - that may be the the key result of "The Button" once it ends later this month.