Review: Batman/Flash: The Button Deluxe Edition (Rebirth) hardcover (DC Comics)

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

When Geoff Johns spearheaded in 2009 the re-integration of Barry Allen into the DC Universe after almost twenty-five years of absence, one thing he established was the murder of Barry's mother by the Reverse Flash; another was a deep friendship between Barry and Batman Bruce Wayne. This was something we'd had no hint of post-Crisis on Infinite Earths in the years Barry had been away; it was a friendship, though logical, invented almost whole cloth by Johns, and given that at the time of Barry's resurrection, Bruce was "dead" (or lost in time), there was never anything to perpetuate or refute that friendship.

We would not see Bruce Wayne and Barry Allen on the same page at all, as a matter of fact, until the end of 2011's Flashpoint, where they meet "again for the first time" in the newly created New 52 universe, though neither one realizes it. Essentially, in the entirety of the post-Crisis era, the reader never actually saw Bruce and Barry have a significant present-time conversation despite that we're later given to know how much they meant to one another. This is one of my favorite aspects of Flashpoint, the way in which Johns makes true something that didn't exist before, a microcosm for the way in which everything was the same but everything was different in the New 52.

That 2016's Batman/Flash: The Button presents the next most significant meeting of Batman and the Flash since Flashpoint underscores how slowly what Johns established has actually evolved; Button is basically the culmination of a story Johns proposed almost a decade ago, as well as something of a mini sequel to Flashpoint. Other factors aside, Button is also momentous as potentially the first Batman title crossover with another title outside the Bat-family in at least 30 years; Flash has crossed over with Wonder Woman and Green Lantern and Green Arrow at least without an event miniseries being involved, but it's possible Button is the first inter-title, extra-family crossover for the Batman title ever, if not at least since Crisis.

All of that makes Button notable, despite that, depending on your perspective, there's not a whole lot here. There is importance, in one sense, from a purely character-driven point of view, which is how I recommend Flashpoint should be read, too -- if we're focused solely on the emotions of the characters, Button carries a lot, and especially if writers Tom King and Joshua Williamson continue these implications into Batman and Flash respectively. On the other hand, in terms of the overarching Rebirth storyline, Button does almost nothing, flitting and flirting with revelations that it ultimately backs off of because those are really meant to be saved for another story. Button calls an "epilogue" what's really just a teaser for a different book, indicative of some of the overarching Rebirth story's burgeoning difficulties overall.

[Review contains spoilers]

Had Flashpoint been perhaps just a "regular" DC Universe event, a fifth week story like Tangent for instance, where there was a bit of later fan interest in seeing the Flashpoint and main DC universes interact, Button would be a rather exciting "look back" five years later. We get some indication of what happened in the Flashpoint universe after the events of the miniseries and, moreover, our Bruce Wayne comes face to face with his father from Flashpoint. That reunion is emotional, in much the same way these aspects were emotional in Flashpoint, and this makes for a fun mini-Flashpoint sequel, especially as drawn so dynamically by Jason Fabok.

But Button is ostensibly about more than that, and that's where the jury's out about whether Button delivers. In the course of investigating the smiley face button found in the Batcave, Batman encounters his father only for his father to die again; the seemingly previously-destroyed Flashpoint universe reappears only to be destroyed again; and Golden Age Flash Jay Garrick arrives just to apparently be killed. The few lines from Watchmen at the end of the story suggests all of this is according to Dr. Manhattan's plan, but it's a particularly weird plan -- pulling back the curtain just enough to show Flash and Batman that something's up without explaining what.

Is this meant to be simple torture, giving Batman a vision of his father and Flash the knowledge that he might have killed the Reverse Flash? Surely Bane breaking Batman's back, for instance, trumps that. It's all so backward and weird that, as with Mr. Oz's varying appearances in the Superman books, I worry whether Geoff Johns and company will be able to tie these disparate threads together in the end. Not to mention why Manhattan would want the button to appear in the Batcave in the first place, or if he's omnipotent and it's not his doing, why he couldn't prevent it.

As much as Button has been played up with its lenticular covers and so on, there's not a lot here that moves the overarching Rebirth story forward. We already know Saturn Girl is in Arkham and that Johnny Thunder somehow made the Justice Society disappear. Given also our previous general understanding of Manhattan as the culprit, a glimpse of Manhattan's finger doesn't move me all that much; DC puts greater stock in these tiny non-moments than I think they should. The "epilogue," an image of the Watchmen button floating in space followed by an image of Superman's S-symbol, offers really no content.

About the only thing Button accomplishes that's new Rebirth-wise is to bring Jay on to the scene (drawn as John Wesley Shipp by Howard Porter), but he disappears so quickly and his presence holds such little consequence that it's as if it didn't happen at all. I can only hope that upcoming events in Batman are predicated by Thomas Wayne's pronouncement that Bruce should stop being Batman, and that the Reverse-Flash material in Flash's next volume builds on this; otherwise Button will be in part a curious exercise in running in place.


Batman/Flash: The Button is admirably drawn by Fabok and Porter, who also wonderfully gets to draw again both the Flash title and also the Justice League Watchtower. Tom King's first part to the story, a brutal issue-long fight between Batman and the Reverse-Flash that only spans a story minute, is a slice of dynamic storytelling for the ages -- I'd welcome King continuing to write the Flash title. All the writers and artists do well, and Button is a fun Batman/Flash team-up; I'd be equally happy to see the titles do this again or see something the same between another two titles. Whether Button delivers on its Rebirth hype, however, I'm not entirely sure, but at least it's a good read despite that.

[Collects original and variant covers, including both sides of the lenticular covers and international variants]

Summary
Review Date
Reviewed Item
Batman/Flash: The Button Deluxe Edition
Author Rating
4 (out of 5)
Collected Editions 2017 Comic Book Gift Guide
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20 comments:

  1. I think it works well as a development of the Rebirth saga, building on DC Universe Rebirth itself, and nudging the story forward without making it feel like you've got to read a ton more to appreciate it. Essentially, it's an affirmation, not just of Rebirth's commitment to big moments, but that the old stories really haven't gone away. It's a sequel to Flashpoint, building on its most affecting moments. I loved Flashpoint for precisely that reason. I didn't necessarily care that it featured an alternate reality; it was a Barry Allen story that justified his new context, arguably better than any story before or since.

    And yeah, King continues to use Batman's doubt about his continuing purpose. This was a nice way to reflect stuff we'd seen in, say, I Am Bane, where Martha (how did I know that name???) is there at the end having a kind of conversation with her son. Here, it's more literal. I think it's artful in ways that's rare in comics. In a sense, the brevity of the story increases the emotional impact. If we don't get all the answers, we're all least assured of having experienced something. Isn't that what Alan Moore was saying with Watchmen, that there's a point to these silly comic book characters, if only they stopped to consider it once and a while?

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    1. Wise as always, Tony. I think I went in to this one thinking, what am I going to find out about Rebirth here? When I re-read it eventually solely as a Batman/Flash team-up in the spirit of Flashpoint, I'm sure I'll enjoy it more.

      There's a fine line between not making a book required reading for the Rebirth saga and hyping your story more than actually doing something in it, and I do think DC's having trouble with that line despite that overall the quality of their books right now is great. Just looking at what came out this week, there's so much I want to read -- Action, Detective, Suicide Squad, Metal, and on and on.

      With Thomas Wayne here and Martha Wayne in I Am Bane, I think King just got lucky (since everyone was reminding me in the Bane review that King didn't write this story's ending) -- however, coincidence doesn't change that there's a thematic connection on the page so I'm just going to choose to believe it's intentional.

      If we don't get all the answers, at least we're assured of having experienced something.

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  2. Didn't Lonely Place of Dying cross between Batman and New Teen Titans?

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    1. Yes! You know I knew that as soon as I said that, someone was going to think of one. Is that it, though? (Besides like the War of the Gods tie-in issue.) The exception that proves the rule?

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    2. It's but a two-parter, but there was the time Lois teamed up with Batman to recover the Kryptonite ring from President Lex (DC 756 / Superman 168).

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    3. I was going to mention this two-parter, too, but then I realized CE was talking about crossovers involving the main Batman book, not Detective Comics.

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    4. Right, yeah, I was thinking of the Batman title specifically. Detective crosses over with Green Arrow in "Brotherhood of the Fist," for instance (though that maybe doesn't qualify exactly for what we're talking about). But I could think of almost no extra-Bat-family crossovers with the Batman title, with "Lonely Place of Dying" with New Titans indeed being one of them.

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    5. I thought that too, but since it all had such input by Denny O'Neil, and it's basically about the Nightwing/Robin stuff, I think it counts as "Bat Family." I wonder how that will be collected when the new-New Teen Titans omnibuses catch up.

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    6. Does 'Knightquest:The Search' Count? The first two issues were from Justice League Task Force

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  3. The Button was a weird event. On the one hand, it teased a bunch of stuff - Dr Manhattan, the return of the JSA, the end of the Flashpoint timeline? - but I'm not sure the narrative moved forward. We really don't know anymore about what's going on, do we?

    I'm also unclear about how much Bruce and Barry remember/know from the four issues. We know they won't remember Jay's appearance. They can't know what actually happened to Reverse Flash. As we alluded to in the comments for I Am Bane's epilogue, the meeting between Bruce and his father thematically worked really well with his conversation with Gotham Girl, but he never referred to the events of The Button as being part of his motivation/thought process. Is that because those memories faded, too, or just an effect of the timing of when the various issues were written? Can you really call something an important story if none of the protagonists are moved forward by it?*

    I'm curious whether there was a different plan for The Button when they started teasing it - it seems like there was supposed to be more to the story (see, e.g. Bleeding Cool stories about Tim Drake/'Tec), but I don't know if those are minor details or a whole cloth change.

    It wasn't a bad story by any means (and, hey, Batman wasn't turned into a Nazi), but I definitely think DC's hype machine went a little overboard making sure we all read it.

    I'm not a Flash reader, so I acknowledge I don't know how the Reverse Flash story plays out there.

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    1. That last sentence should have an asterisk next to it to denote it's the footnote from the end of the second paragraph.

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    2. As I'll address below, and I think you understand, it's really not that I disliked Button. Tom King and Jason Fabok on Reverse Flash vs. Batman? Check. Finding out what happened to the Flashpoint universe after Flashpoint ended? Check. Batman teamed up with the Flash? Check.

      But, at this point in the narrative and as you said, I'm hard pressed to find anything in this book that seems really essential to my understanding of Doomsday Clock, for instance. Things changed character-wise (but then we have to say, "or did they?"), but things didn't really change story-wise.

      Now granted, Button does have the button and Dr. Manhattan and lenticular covers, so we couldn't say, "Oh, this wasn't even a Rebirth book." But for instance, over in Justice League they're beating to death this idea of "something coming," which is all hype and no substance, essentially riding Rebirth's coattails just by incessantly repeating "something's coming." It's like the "red sky" books in Crisis on Infinite Earths or similar usages of Infinite Crisis's four strands. At its heart, I'm not sure Button is much different.

      I mean, this is comics, do what you're going to do to sell books and bless you for it, but again, I can't flip for a book because it's got Dr. Manhattan's pinky toe in it. These are some well-trained writers and I know they know that's not how you build depth into a story. Like, OK, let's set Button against Superman: Sacrifice shortly before Infinite Crisis, or even Geoff Johns's JLA: Crisis of Conscience -- these were books that plot-wise, killed Max Lord and wrapped up some of Identity Crisis's storylines, and also character-wise continued to drive the wedge between Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman. That was modular storytelling, that was each part building on the last over time. Here, I'm not so sure.

      You think Batman and Flash won't remember Jay's appearance? That wasn't what I took away from it.

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    3. I'll have to re-read the Rebirth special and The Button over again, but I thought the whole Wally/Jay parallel between the two was that the speedster was trying to, for lack of a better phrase, break back into reality by being remembered. Wally got remembered, so he got to break through. Since Jay didn't get to break through, he wasn't, "remembered." I may be off - I'll have to re-read to be sure, though.

      I was actually thinking about the lead up to Infinite Crisis, as well, while reading this and again while reading JLA v0 and v1 this week. The lead up to Infinite Crisis is maybe my favorite time in the DC universe as a whole (I've liked stories from other parts better, but not the whole universe simultaneously). I think Geoff Johns is either playing this one closer to the vest or the ideas of how Rebirth would "end" were more nebulous because the hints/plots leading to Doomsday Clock (and probably more importantly whatever happens in the DC universe next November when Doomsday Clock ends) have been pretty underdeveloped. The JSA and Legion will probably return in 13 months, but we're no closer to knowing how or why they disappeared or what is going on with the members who are here already.

      Oh, well. Metal is insanely awesome so I won't complain too much about the DC universe. You can't hate a story who has a plot point revolve around the music to the '66 Batman tv series.

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    4. I eminently respect Johns's intention, if DC can stick to it, to make Doomsday Clock a self-contained 12 issue series with no tie-ins or etc. I think this is going to be exceptionally hard for DC to stick to, but if they can do it, it's another indication of how remarkably mature this company has become going in to Rebirth.

      To that end, however, Doomsday Clock has to do a whole lot of non-Watchmen things to tie up Rebirth -- bring back the JSA, bring back the Legion, dip its toe into Oz Effect, clear up the new DCU timeline -- or else Doomsday Clock is not the end of Rebirth. And that would be fine with me, if Rebirth itself gets cleaned up in thirteen months or so, because I'm really eager for Doomsday Clock to work and for that I think it needs to stand on its own feet.

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  4. Parsing out a few Rebirth threads:

    1) I think the button found its way to the Batcave as a result of Wally West busting out of wherever Manhattan put him. I don't think Manhattan knew the button had moved universes until Reverse-Flash brought it to him, and so I wonder how Johns will use it.

    2) I don't believe Mr. Oz and Manhattan are working together anymore. No spoilers beyond what you've reviewed already, though - it seems Manhattan is invested in tearing down the emotional ties of the DCU, but Mr. Oz seems to be building them back up. He tips off Superman in the Rebirth special, leading to the Swamp Thing annual and ultimately Superman Reborn. Manhattan went to great lengths to pull Superman in twain, so for Oz to join them back together suggests tension. Here I think Manhattan is banking on Thomas Wayne convincing his son to drop the cowl, and it certainly seems like it's rattled Bruce. As for how Oz's abduction of Tim, Doomsday, et al fits in... to be continued?

    3) As for the last page leaving you somewhat cold with the Manhattan reveal - to me, that's huge. Everything up to this point could have been red herrings and misleads, but seeing that glowing blue hand on panel (with the Doomsday Clock tease) is big news for this reader!

    Outside the Watchmen/Rebirth stuff... Tom King is a genius. As a convert to floppies (or a junkie looking for a quicker fix), King's issues frequently leave me breathless. I get chills from his stuff. I come away from each issue feeling like I've just read something monumentally important, that it's spoken to me in a way most comics don't. His Mister Miracle is a modern, chilling classic, and I can't wait for your review of that. So whether or not "The Button" ends up being significant to the continuity of Rebirth, it's immensely powerful for its moments of humanizing Bruce, of showing how he reacts to the world of Flashpoint, and for that stunning page where he's staring at the Bat-signal and we realize, over the course of a few panels, how much has changed for him. Just... wow.

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    1. It's a shame that King wasn't able to write the third chapter like he was slated to, because I thought the first chapter stood head and shoulders above the rest of the crossover. Can't wait to see what he and Fabok are collaborating on next.

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    2. Obviously we'll have more to talk about Oz later, but "building them back up" is not what I'm getting from Oz (I caught up on Action Comics rather than be spoiled down the road). Reborn I didn't think we could attribute to Oz, he just happened to be there, and tipping off Superman in Rebirth and etc., I think that's all a part of what he's trying to accomplish in "Oz Effect," which I wouldn't call "building up." That said, neither do I think Oz is working with Manhattan either.

      As for the last page of Button as a confirmation reveal, I get that. And I grant this is all from the perspective of a trade-waiter, where by the time I'd read Button I pretty well already knew all the revelations that were coming. If I hadn't known Jay Garrick would be there or Manhattan was on the last page, maybe this would all carry more weight for me (that the depth I think it lacks is because spoilers stole the depth from it). So maybe confirmation's the thing. Somewhere around here I thought I speculated that Watchmen wouldn't be involved in this at all and DC was just having a go with us, but well before Button I'd seen enough interviews for those doubts to be put to rest.

      I'm excited for Mister Miracle; I expect some Omega Men-level work on our hands. And I agree, I'm enjoying King. He's painting this giant Batman portrait but we only get to see little corners at a time, and I'm not sure everyone's able to appreciate a fraction for the whole or even if that's the best way to conceive a serial comics run. But I admire how King has made the Batman title his own so quickly.

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  5. Hm, well I'm sorry you didn't like it. Although, while I do think The Button story line is great I will say that it's the most hyped story line out of Rebirth at the moment (Oz effect may over take it depending on the next few issues).

    The reasons I love The Button were the little moments and teases to the overall universe rather than what the Button was actually for and how it got to the cave. I never cared about that, and saw it as a plot device to tell the readers that the Watchmen are connected, and the ending of The Button just solidifies that with satisfaction from me.

    The stuff I geek out about in these issues are Batman vs Reverse Flash (I was super happy that Batman didn't win and was beaten to a pulp...even though that sounds strange) the return of the Flashpoint universe was shocking and teased a greater power that be. Batman meeting his Dad was very emotional, and I loved how his dad told him to stop being Batman, and so much more. For me the Button was about establishing this freakin' awesome friendship that I never considered before between Bats and Flash, while also uprooting thoughts about these characters that will change their lives (i.e. Batman giving up the mantle) and telling us that there's still more story out there past Doomday clock with Jay Garrick (who was badass!!) (also, I don't believe Jay died in the end, I think he's like Wally and is just jumping everywhere)

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    1. I wouldn't say I didn't like it -- if I felt it didn't deliver or parts of it didn't deliver, there's still plenty about it I did appreciate. Reverse Flash vs. Batman is a definite highlight; Thomas and Bruce is another. Whether any of that will actually have a lasting effect -- which I think is important -- remains to be seen, but most assuredly I think there's value to this tale.

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  6. I remember reading this as it came out, with the end result just feeling like it was a lengthy recap of the Rebirth storyline.

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