Spoilers ahead for this week's The Flash #22.
It's a good thing DC has announced a follow-up story to the conclusion of "The Button" crossover, because - although the story reinforced the meddling presence of Dr. Manhattan and the existence of Jay Garrick - it left a lot of questions unanswered at its conclusion.
This week's The Flash #22 concluded the four-issue story that crossed between both The Flash and Batman titles. Echoing the ending of last May's DC Universe: Rebirth #1, The Flash #22 ended the journey of Batman and the Flash with a scene that confirmed that Dr. Manhattan is involved in the massive continuity-manipulation first reported by Wally West.
Readers have been given loads of interesting hints in the first three issues of "The Button" crossover. It was revealed that someone is keeping old timelines around (apparently in the Speed Force, although it looks different to Barry - and it's blue!). The story revealed a room in the Justice League headquarters that housed artifacts from stories before the "New 52" (confirming that the timeline is changing, particularly after the events of "Superman Reborn").
And the story checked in with Saturn Girl (who's in Arkham Asylum) and Johnny Thunder (who's in a home for the elderly, unable to summon his Thunderbolt). Saturn Girl claims that a death in "The Button" will lead to the end of the Legion of Super-Heroes, while Johnny thinks maybe he's responsible for the Justice Society of America no longer being around.
So how did this week's finale confirm Manhattan's role in "Rebirth"? And what ramifications of the trip might lie ahead for Batman and the Flash?
The issue starts with the Reverse-Flash (Eobard Thawne) racing through what appears to be the Speed Force, as the Flash (Barry Allen) and Batman (Bruce Wayne) follow behind him on the Cosmic Treadmill.
Reverse-Flash says he knows who holds the power of the Button, but Barry warns him that he's seen the future, and Thawne will die. After a "krakoom" of blue lightning separates them, Thawne races ahead to try to win the power of the Button, saying "they've never faced someone like me." He promises to ruin Barry's life even more, threatening to travel back in time to raise Barry as his own after the boy's mother dies.
Batman hears someone calling Barry, but Barry says the voices are from "moments that could have been but weren't." He says that among the voices are his mother, Iris, and "the siren calls of Hypertime." But he tells Bruce not to listen to the visions around them or he'll get pulled into an era where he doesn't belong.
Bruce argues that his father wasn't just a vision. "He was real."
The Cosmic Treadmill begins to "break up," so Barry and Bruce are unable to catch Thawne. Batman wants to land somewhere, but Barry keeps running ahead, trying to prevent Thawne's death.
Meanwhile, Thawne has landed on what appears to be a flat-topped asteroid (among many such objects) floating in starry space. "I have arrived," Thawne says.
The Reverse-Flash begins talking to the Button, stating that he feels the presence of someone, like "a wave of static electricity," like he's never encountered before. "You've done such strange things to the timeline," he says. "Things I won't begin to question. And you've remained hidden from all of them, but I am not like them."
Thawne believes that, because of his ability to travel through time, he "cannot be erased."
He demands, "Show yourself!" But when he sees a figure above him - one that readers don't see but can tell is huge, blue and apparently shape-shifting - he realizes he's miscalculated. He says "wait, I didn't know." And half his body is vaporized away in blue, as the Button shoots out of his hand.
Golden Age Flash
Back with the broken Cosmic Treadmill, Flash and Batman are floating, the machine falling apart. The voice calling "Barry!" grows louder and Batman demands that Barry listen and "grab onto" the voice. "We've got no other choice."
A voice says, "Right here! Just s-say my name…" and another voice says, "Jay…"
Barry looks at Bruce, asking, "Jay?"
"At last," the narration says. "I'm free."
Emerging toward the two characters is Jay Garrick, the silver-helmeted, formerly Golden Age version of the Flash. He grabs Bruce and Barry and says, "Hang on! Power enough to get you home!" He throws them into a white light.
With a "kraakooooommm," Bruce and Barry are back in the Batcave, with Thawne dead on the floor. "We're back at the beginning," Bruce says.
But someone came with them. It's Jay Garrick. "Who are you? Why did you kill Thawne?" Barry asks him.
"I didn't kill anyone, Barry," Jay says, introducing himself as a friend and "a Flash." He asks Barry to try to remember him, like he remembered Wally.
But Barry doesn't remember. "Someone did this" to his memory, he tells Jay. "Do you know?"
Jay says, "they took everything from me." He doesn't know how or why.
Barry tries to remember Jay's name, and he reaches out to touch his arm. But there's a reaction and Jay is pulled back into the blue-colored force that had apparently been imprisoning him.
Barry and Bruce are recovering, wondering what the heck just happened. Bruce thinks maybe the mysterious man (Jay) was from another timeline, similar to his father. Barry thinks maybe Jay needs a different "lightning rod."
Later, Bruce and Barry stand together at the grave of Thomas Wayne, discussing how they both suffered the loss of their parents and they both saw a "glimpse of the alternative." Bruce thinks "it's almost cruel." Barry thinks of it as "a gift."
The two discuss whether the mystery of the Button was all caused by Eobard Thawne. Bruce thinks the case isn't closed. Barry doesn't know who the primary suspect could be - the only clue they have to the murder of Thawne was that he said it was "god." As the two leave the graveyard, Barry says he'll do an autopsy on Thawne.
Bruce thinks maybe their trip toward the Button was by design.
"Being given the chance to see my father only to lose him again… that other Flash who said he was your friends… what Reverse-Flash said…"
"It can't all be by accident," Bruce says.
Readers are shown the Earth, with a flash of blue lightning reaching toward it from somewhere outside the panel.
In the next scene, Bruce is looking out a window from his home, reflecting on the words his father told him (the Flashpoint Batman). "Don't be Batman. Find happiness. You don't have to do this for me. Don't do it for your mother. Let the Batman die with me."
There's a Bat=Signal in the sky, and Alfred walks up to ask Bruce if he's going to answer the signal? Bruce doesn't answer, still not moving. "Sir?" Alfred says.
Made in Manhattan
The next page shows the spot where Eobard Thawne once stood, the Button laying on the rocky ground with floating debris and a dark starry sky behind it. A blue light begins to shine down on the Button from above.
The final page shows a giant blue human hand, picking up the Button. The camera goes into close-up on the yellow of the button's background and the red of the blood splatter. But the color of it begins to turn blue.
The narration says, "Why does my perception of time distress you? Everything is preordained, even my responses. We're all puppets, Laurie. I'm just a puppet who can see the strings."
The "Laurie" he mentions would be Laurie Juspeczyk, the second Silk Spectre - whom Dr. Manhattan had a romance with in the original Watchmen title.
Next, there's a page that says "Epilogue," in a familiar Watchmen title-type font, with yellow letters on a black background.
Then on the next-to-last page, there are nine panels. The first shows the Button floating in space, heading toward the camera (the reader) The next panel is black. The next shows the Button again, coming closer. The next black. This continues until the very last panel is an extreme close-up on the Button, with only red and yellow showing.
The final page has a similar juxtaposition of red and yellow followed by a black panel. Only this time, the camera is backing away from the red and yellow. And as it backs up, it become apparent that the shape is actually a Superman symbol.
The final panel has a quote: "There are poisons that blind you, and poisons that open your eyes" — August Strindberg.
And below the quote is the shape of a clock, its hands at 10 minutes before 12 (similar to the promo image for Doomsday Clock, but in black and white, without a Superman symbol, and not quite as "late").
A teaser says, "Doomsday Clock," with the promo image of a clock - this time only a few minutes before 12 - with a Superman symbol at the top of the clock. The tease gives details about the creators on the book and its November release.
That said, Batman writer Tom King told Newsarama that his series will follow up on the pain Batman feels after seeing his father from the Flashpoint universe. Batman #23 will pick up on that theme as the character helps Swamp Thing investigate the murder of his father.
"And all of that's going to play off some huge moments that are going to happen in #24, which then lands of in the 'War of Jokes and Riddles' for the next eight issues," King said. "Then we have another issue about his father and that pain. And that will put Batman in an emotional state to make some decisions that are going to shock the world."
As for the giant blue hand, see Newsarama's coverage of the Doomsday Clock announcement for more about how Dr. Manhattan will be explored, including his impending confrontation with Superman.