As the World’s Greatest Detectives continue their investigation, questions need to be answered and it isn’t the ones you’re thinking of.
Written by Joshua Williamson
Illustrated by Howard Porter
Colored by Hi-Fi
Lettered by Steve Wands
“THE BUTTON” part two! The cataclysmic events of DC UNIVERSE: REBIRTH #1 continue here! The Dark Knight and The Fastest Man Alive, the two greatest detectives on any world, unite to explore the mystery behind a certain blood-stained smiley button embedded in the Batcave wall. What starts as a simple investigation turns deadly when the secrets of the button prove irresistible to an unwelcome third party—and it’s not who anyone suspects! It’s a mystery woven through time, and the ticking clock starts here!
What is this story about? Issue 21 of “The Flash” puts us halfway through the overall ‘Button’ story arc and that’s what springs to mind having read this issue several times. Yes, I know, what it is about from a plot perspective: Bruce and Barry’s investigation into the mysterious button takes the DCU one step closer to DC v Watchmen: Dawn of So Much Money. It is this, and the various mechanisms writer Joshua Williamson, working off a plot by Geoff Johns, use to propel this arc forward are not that enticing to consider. That is all macguffery fluff which in several years won’t mean much outside of trivia. So, I return, what is this story about? How are Tom King and Joshua Williamson using this framework to explore their title characters? What is the point?
I have a slight idea of what this story might be about, two of DC’s greatest orphans through their investigation get one more chance to come to grips with their traumatic origins, but being two issues into a four issue arc a clearer picture should’ve been developed by now.
Williamson appears to be saddled with giving the “previously on” and exposition duties for the DC Rebirth story thus far. When he isn’t writing an expository internal monologue—which anyone whose read modern Flash or watched the CW knows by now—for Barry (which also clutters the page) and simply lets the fastest man alive slow down and react to the charred skeletal remains of his dead nemesis the book manages to land an effective emotional beat. Sure, it’s Eobard Thawne and he’s going to be back eventually, but it’s still an unexpected moment for Barry and one that Williamson and artist Howard Porter rightly let hang on a page turn. These kinds of moments are few in this exercise of plot development. Which isn’t to say plot driven narratives can’t be fun and entertaining, Ocean’s Eleven is as much an exercise in stylish plot driven filmmaking by Stephen Soderbergh as it is character. But all that style reinforced or begged a question of character, “can Danny be trusted that this isn’t a personal job?” ‘The Button Part Two’ doesn’t have that cohesion.
The two motifs that pop up consistently when dealing with the meta Rebirth narrative have been surveillance and nostalgia. Surveillance is mentioned this issue by Wally, that something is out there watching them and covertly acting against them. Nostalgia plays a dual role in this narrative. For the reader, there is the referencing and accessing of past moments and place which reawaken the original experiences had with that material. For the characters, the Flash in particular due to his thoughts of the Helmet of Mercury, it elicits a feeling of warmth and hope feelings that are part of some unconscious memory. For the characters, unlike the reader, there is the failure of nostalgia and memory. In the previous issue, Tom King and Jason Fabok used the nine-panel grid associated with “Watchmen” creating an extratextual frame to articulate surveillance, as well as use that form to reinforce the deadline plot it was working under. How Joshua Williamson and Howard Porter go about articulating these motifs is cumbersome and blatant, all but pointing and asking, “remember this?” No such stylistic unity exists here. As the Flash and Batman travel through the speedforce and witness moments from the Silver and Modern ages of comics they are not affected by this history, though Porter gives Batman quite the reaction to this uncanny sight. These moments exist for the reader to go “I remember that” and feel smarter for getting the reference. The disconnect between reactions is not used for something greater, merely a byproduct of production. There is a slight cleverness to howHoward Porter works in a scene from “Crisis of Infinite Earths” using the stormy speedforce to recreate the paneling of the original comic.Continued below
If there is one major positive in this issue, it would be Howard Porter’s art and Hi-Fi studios coloring. I was a fan of “Justice League 3000” at first largely because of Porter’s art, so it’s nice to see him get a chance to draw some original Leaguers. In a lot of ways, Porter with Hi-Fi’s colors feel like the synthesis of the 90’s overwrought detailing and smoothness contemporary of digital production. The journey through the speedforce is the best overall sequence in the book, mainly because it is powered by their art. While not super experimental, Porter’s use of vertical page layouts in order to orient the reader for the disruptive travel through the storm is smart. The use of basic shapes for contrast in the vastness of the speedforce make the images readable. Our detectives are horizontal lines while the amorphous world around them is circular. The contrast makes it quite clear, they do not belong there. While figures are defined by Porter’s detailed line work, the color blending Hi-Fi put in accentuates these definitions and make for well-defined but not obtuse figures. While this issue feels rote, Porter’s facials are still expressive. The image of Batman staring into the speedforce images elicits the madness of cosmic horror. Barry gets a bit more of a comedic bent to his facials, but they play off nicely to the always on inquisitive gaze of Bruce. This art is the kind of stuff that divorced from this issue would make for a nice photo set on Tumblr.
“The Flash #21”, like episodic storytelling can be at times, is caught in the trap of necessary plot movements superseding more unified storytelling. While not individually all that remarkable, the good news is the next issue of ‘The Button’ is less than a week away and the readership can quickly move on. The quick pace of these events by DC has made issues like this manageable in the bigger picture, as opposed to interest killing with the more languid schedule of monthly floppies.
Final Verdict: 6.5 – We’re on this ride and there’s no getting off it, nothing is bad about this issue it’s just not interesting.