Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Green Lantern 1

"Nobody panic. Chill. I've got this." Hal Jordan makes everything (besides holding down a steady job and a healthy relationship) look easy. And in many ways, so does Grant Morrison. What seems, on most pages, like a light-hearted comic to breeze through in a few minutes carries a lot of history behind it, with some foreshadowing and a bit of brutality.

The first panels of the run begin with a bit of numerology. Maxim Tox (seen for the first, and, apparently, last time) is a Green Lantern of Sector 2018, which is not so coincidentally our current year AD. So watch his story carefully, for therein lies a parable. As soon as he begins his fight to the finish against an arachno-pirate, Rokk and Sorban, gamblers from the planet Ventura, make a wager on the fight. Though Maxim Tox (= maximum toxicity, or toxic platitudes?) takes an initial setback (losing his ring finger) in stride, with three Green Lanterns backing him up, he does not survive the issue. Floozle Flem, a sentient GL virus infects the spider villain, making him beg for mercy, and setting up Tox with an "in Soviet Russia" joke ("You catch Floozle Flem!"). With characteristic and unbeatably succinct wit, Morrison has the crystal GL Chriselon respond to Tox's high-spirited rhetorical question with a curt "Yes." while a chicken-looking GL, Trilla-Tru, celebrates victory with a chicken-sounding "buck buck-AW!" In the very short time that we get to know Tox, we find out that he's a member of his home planet's nobility and all that Morrison, a non-noble Brit, brings along with it, and then Tox dies.

So, in just a few pages, and before the title character makes his first appearance, we find out so much about the direction of the series. First, Rokk and Sorban troubled Superman and Batman back in the Silver Age, making two real appearances before seeming to appear for the second Superman-Flash race back in Flash #175 (1967), though it was really a pair of other villains in disguise. So, we know that Silver Age lore (from the time that Morrison was 7 years old) is in play. The crystal Green Lantern, Chriselon, is apparently the successor to Silver Age Chaselon, from the same sector of 1416; Chaselon debuted in GL #9 (1961) and was later written into Final Crisis (with the single line, "Cease and desist!"), but later killed by Black Lanterns. We also see hubris and comedy suddenly give way to tragedy, which suggests that what starts off as easy victories for our hero(es) are apt to take a much darker turn. Finally, we see that another Silver Age creation, the Luck Lords who debuted to bedevil the LSH in Adventure Comics #343 (1966) are providing the substance of a larger threat that will carry well past this issue, as a Luck Dial allows the villains to beat and the other three fun GLs. Right there, we have the makings of a pretty good idea of how the multi-issue story arc will go: Hal Jordan's extraordinary skill and confidence will be put to the test – more than he knows – by characters who can manipulate the very rules of time and chance. Along the way, we're going to see some fun and some skillful use of Morrison's gift of creating wonderfully new, and sometimes disposable, side characters. And it will get dark, but who are we kidding: This is Hal Jordan – Hal Jordan! – of course he's going to win.

As Hal appears for the first time, staring at the skies before a quick date with "Eve" we are promptly shown where in Hal Jordan lore Morrison wants to take us. This is not 1960s test pilot Hal or early 1970s social justice Hal (and Ollie). This is late 1970s/early 1980s hitchhiking Hal, who is only magnificent when he's in costume, and fails at one job after another as he travels America like a beatnik from On the Road without the fun. Except that Hal, full of self doubt, is nowhere to be seen here. This Hal accepts his career setbacks as collateral damage. When reminded of his job failures, he shrugs it off with a smile. If this Hal is going to prove complex, it will not be due to anguish. But note carefully the recent items on his resume – a gas station named "52 Pick Up" (a reference to playing cards, games of chance), selling toys (befitting a superhero icon), and selling insurance (what makes everything right when bad luck turns against you). So when there's bad luck, a superhero comes and makes everything right. There are no accidents in these details.

Along the way, Morrison shows us the defining traits of Hal, and they're the same ones I highlighted in my review of Final Crisis: It's not Hal Jordan if he's not in hot water with the Guardians. When the issue begins, he's already had his lantern revoked for upgrades… a detail that is likely to be explained more later. Then, after saving Chriselon's life, the Guardians summon him to New Oa and it is revealed that the Guardians know that there is a traitor-to-be within the ranks of the GLs and they know who it will be… a mystery pending future issues, but who is it? Hal himself? Hal is also supremely self-confident, and when another GL, Chriselon thinks that he will die, Hal tells him that he won't, and Hal is right. Chriselon also tells us that three extremely dangerous space criminals are on the loose, and Hal, never concerned, goes to confront them alone. (The crashed ship with a dying GL inside, as Hal notes, is a deja vu to Hal's origin, but this time, the dying GL lives!) And part of his supreme confidence comes from his supreme skill: Nabbing the criminals is almost effortless. In fact, he has a laugh at their expense: When the criminal makes himself larger, and tries to threaten Hal, Hal's response is to say that he will "Laugh my ass off, probably." He's cool enough to say that and cool enough not even to chuckle when his estimate is right, and the criminal's leg bones shatter painfully under his own weight. And this shows us a trait of Hal that not all writers have asserted: This Hal is smart. He understands physics, and engineering, and mathematics, and he knows when a Luck Dial is fake, when a bunch of attackers is a colony creature with one brain, and when a "bum"'s reaction to guacamole pegs him as a Horminth Collective from Cluster World 3. (And I'm reminded that Morrison's response to Frank Miller's All Star Batman included the comment that Green Lantern is smarter than Miller wrote him.) Morrison's Hal Jordan is Hal Jordan at his best. He is easily worth more than three other Green Lanterns, and he knows it. He doesn't do scared, he doesn't rattle, he laughs off the "trouble" of his vagabond life and the cycle of disapproval and begrudging respect that the Guardians show him. He is the epitome of Tom Wolfe's The Right Stuff: An American male at the top of his game, with skill and confidence amplified to the extreme and intertwined to an extent as pure and intense as the unadulterated green of a green laser. This Hal is as good at what he does as Miller's Batman is good at what he does. Don't expect to see a complicated man in anguish, struggling with life's challenges. Hal is ready to beat and smirk his way through any such challenges, give or take a gigantic space armada or two.

A challenge worthy of him, however, is looming. We know that the villains of this story arc are trying to assemble five powerful artifacts and they already have two. We know that they are seeking to acquire control over reality itself, changing the predestined facts in the Book of Oa, and inevitably changing the rules of luck in their favor. And in a grotesque surprise, we see that they have a Yellow Lantern version of Hal, somehow related to the weaponers from Qward, and are harvesting the heart from its dead corpse. This subtly evokes the world of Sinestro, and it's as inevitable that Sinestro eventually show up in this run as Luthor and the Joker did in Morrison's runs on Superman and Batman. The only one missing for now is Carol Ferris.

But Morrison's plans are big. A final teaser page shows us Hal's verdant buddy Green Arrow and the Green Lantern of Earth-20 (a befanged version of Abin Sur). It looks already like the plan here is for a series that will run a couple of years, and the challenge for Morrison is how to make his Hal as purely skilled and confident as he's communicating here and for Hal's challenge still to be challenging.

Monday, October 1, 2018

Doomsday Clock 7

Something big happened. Now that Doomsday Clock begins its second half, some of the key meetings have taken place and the biggest one yet to come – Superman facing Dr. Manhattan in battle – has appeared in Dr. Manhattan's future-vision.

Early on, Johns added detail to the backstory of how Dr. Manhattan changed the DCU by deleting the Alan Scott Green Lantern from its history; this is something I sketched out in my review of DC #3 as matching "the subplot of a JLA/JSA crossover in which an evil Johnny Thunder on Earth One used the Thunderbolt to prevent the Justice League from existing." Just as the Thunderbolt in that story prevented, for example, the lightning that gave Barry Allen from striking his lab, Dr. Manhattan in this story prevented Alan Scott from obtaining his lantern (and, moreover, causing his death). We can be sure that most if not all JSAers were similarly interfered with.

With a scene that looked almost literally like a set stage, DC #7 was centered around a group meeting (after a brief, frantic battle) that put Mime, Marionette, the Comedian, New Rorschach, Veidt, Batman, and the Joker together with Dr. Manhattan. And what followed was, for the most part, talk. In the meantime, Dr. Manhattan teleported the Watchmen Universe members of the group to three different times and places, as significant backdrops of relevance that was not stated directly. First, they go to an idyllic nature scene by a waterfall. Then, to an anti-superhero riot at night in Washington, D.C. Finally, they enter a movie theatre in 1954, terrifying the audience seeing the final Nathaniel Dusk film, The Adjournment. And during this time, with a lot of talking and a couple of one-sided fist-fights, something big happens. What is not immediately clear is: What is that something big?

Dr. Manhattan says "No" to Veidt's request. That happens immediately, and seems obviously irrevocable. There is a little more discussion, including the revelation that Veidt was lying about his brain cancer in order to manipulate Reggie into assisting him. (In retrospect, this was foreshadowed by the Veidt jigsaw puzzle that Reggie was working a couple of issues ago. In one frame, Veidt's head had a piece missing. Then Reggie put the correct piece in place and said that it was in front of him the whole time.)

But this is a big scene for some reason besides those. We know this because when Veidt returns to the Owlship, he believes that he no longer needs Dr. Manhattan's help, and that he has a plan to save everybody. These thoughts frighten Saturn Girl, who believed at the beginning of the issue that everything would turn out fine, but at the end believes that Veidt's new plan will ruin everything. This is yet another turn in her demeanor as seen during "The Button" and makes the details of her mental state an important part of the picture.

Why? Whatever Dr. Manhattan said or did changed Veidt's plan is the mystery in front of us the whole time. It was cryptic for us, and we know things that most of the characters don't. We know that the Nathaniel Dusk movies are tied in some way to the JSA-era superheroes, but Veidt presumably does not know that. So what did Dr. Manhattan say that instantly changed Veidt's worldview?

Dr. Manhattan says a few things with a lot of implications, and some pithy but key statements of his concern the two children of Mime and Marionette. Those statements tell us a lot and tell Veidt a lot, too, but not necessarily the same things. First, we find out that Marionette is pregnant again, which means that the child was conceived in the past few hours in the DCU. Second, we find out that their first child will do or has done something that is so significant to Dr. Manhattan that it is for that child's sake that he spared Marionette's life during the bank robbery we saw in DC #2.

If the information that suddenly changes Veidt's worldview is this, then why? Very likely, because Veidt has some reason to suspect that that child would not have a valuable future ahead of him. And we can guess at several reasons why. First, there was a nuclear war happening on the Watchmen Earth when last we saw it, and that is reason enough. Perhaps Veidt even knows from the child's location that he is dead due to the nuclear attack. Also, the photo of the child that New Rorschach gave to Marionette was "a few years old": Perhaps the child died between 1987 and 1992. In any of these scenarios, Dr. Manhattan's statement may give Veidt hope that the entire timeline can be altered. And therefore, it gives Veidt hope that the past can be changed for the better. This is likely the information and motive behind his current plan.

Dr. Manhattan's comments and thoughts also tell us a lot about Dr. Manhattan's plan. First, we find out that he prevented the rise of the JSA through the murder of Alan Scott. In the same passage, introducing the issue, we find out that one of the events in Alan Scott's timeline of which Dr. Manhattan was aware was the JSA's surrender to HUAC, causing the superheroes of the DCU to disappear. Second, we find out that he was greatly dispirited by the death of Colman Carver, which led him to say that his comment at the end of Watchmen was wrong, and that "Nothing ever ends" has been replaced in his worldview by "Everything ends." Why? The connection here likely lies in the inconspicuous details of DC #3's end notes about Colman Carver and a simple panel at the beginning of that issue. According to those references, the screenwriter of Carver's 1947 movie went to prison for refusing to cooperate with HUAC. This was in fact a real man, Ring Lardner, Jr. who really was imprisoned and then blacklisted from Hollywood just as the fictional DC #3 says. Why include this information? This is likely the key as to why Johns has included the Colman Carver subplot in Doomsday Clock. Knowing that HUAC exists in the current DCU timeline, we also know that the same threat that caused the JSA to retire was not dissipated by Dr. Manhattan's alteration to the timeline entailed by the death of Alan Scott. We now know that killing Alan Scott was not a petty or malevolent act on Dr. Manhattan's part, but a calculated one intended to bring about a positive outcome. And this tells us a lot about Dr. Manhattan's and Johns' intentions:

The notion of an entire generation of Golden Age heroes retiring due to pressure from HUAC was introduced in 1979 as I noted in my review of DC #4. This is an idea that Alan Moore copied in Watchmen, with Hooded Justice retiring (like Alan Scott) and Mothman (a major focus of that issue) ending up in a sanatorium (like Lardner). Mothman remembers this when, after Veidt's scheme killing millions is revealed, he says "They're rounding them up" in reference to the events of 1992. Mothman remembers when his generation, also, was rounded up.

And Dr. Manhattan remembers, too. He was discouraged by the lack of hope in both the Watchmen and post-Infinite Crisis DCU timelines entailed by the surrender of the heroes to the political pressures of their respective times. Removing Alan Scott prevented the JSA from existing, and therefore from surrendering to HUAC. But the death of Colman Carver extinguished the hope that Dr. Manhattan found in that. Why? Here, I see two possibilities, not mutually exclusive. One, based on no more information than an offhand comment early in DC #3, that Carver was regarded by Johnny Thunder's fellow inmate Donald as a hero suggests that Carver resisted the political pressures but remained working and in fact subsequently won an Oscar. A second, as I mentioned earlier, is that Carver actually is one of the would-be JSAers, likely Hourman (obsessed with clocks), and his movies had inspired positive heroism, until his death (being beaten to death with his own trophy like Watchmen's original Nite Owl).

And this tells us what is driving Dr. Manhattan. He, too, is driven by hope. He has been altering the timeline of the DCU, trying to achieve a more hopeful outcome. He deleted Alan Scott's Green Lantern career, trying to prevent the surrender of the JSA (which resembled a sad occurrence on his own world), but it didn't work, culminating with the death of Colman Carver. And now, he is seeing how the events finally play out, with Superman, the current symbol of hope, in some future act of war against Dr. Manhattan himself. This is fated to fail, and at that point, Dr. Manhattan ends the current timeline. The post-Flashpoint DCU is an experiment that Dr. Manhattan is running and he (and Johns) deem it a failure, set to end a month from now. The now-explicable scene at the end of DC #1 showing the deaths of the Kents shows another Dr. Manhattan-triggered tragedy that edited the timeline for the sake of an experiment that turned out tragic. When Dr. M (and Johns) give up on the current timeline, some version of the previous timeline, with Alan Scott living and the JSA existing will prevail. And, by implication, we will also get the Kents back. The fistfight between Superman and Dr. Manhattan will not end with the punch making contact, but with the implied sense of malaise leading the entire timeline to come to a dour close.

In the background, another, probably far less consequential mystery concerns the "identity" of Dr. Manhattan in the DCU. We get three clues. One, Dr. Manhattan himself says that he thought he "might find a place among" the DCU. Two, he says that he stood (physically) on the set of The Adjournment in 1954. Third, Bubastis' eyes glow when he is staring in the direction of The Comedian. I don't see a clear resolution behind all these details, but I do see a misdirection. Veidt believes that his cat responds to The Comedian, but New Bubastis already faced The Comedian and had no such response in DC #3. Either the trace of Dr. Manhattan on The Comedian's body happened after that or Bubastis isn't responding to The Comedian at all but to the man who happens to be standing behind him – The Joker. But we see The Joker still standing there after Dr. Manhattan manifests, so The Joker can't be him, as I postulated earlier, but is possibly "on" him in some fashion, or has left his trace there. I don't see how the details shake out yet, but there is some connection between the old movie set (predating most or all of our current DCU adults) and The Comedian and/or The Joker.

Still, whatever the small details, the large details are now apparent. We know Dr. Manhattan's actions and motives and where they lead. We also know that Veidt has a different plan and it isn't the one that Saturn Girl is hoping for, no doubt leading to her horror in the opening scenes of "The Button." Veidt's new plan is supposed to fail, then, and hope lies elsewhere.

And on the note of hope, the theme I mentioned earlier is emphasized once again: Batman comes across very poorly in DC #7. Although he manages to show his competence in battle, it is with mixed results, as he is injured by Marionette and then sucker-zapped by The Joker. Dr. Manhattan takes us to an anti-Batman riot in Washington and, though Batman is the last man standing after the fistfights of DC #7, he comes across as a mere brawler achieving temporary victories while Superman is "the most hopeful." Veidt, Dr. Manhattan, and Johns are all seeking hope. And we hear again and again that Batman is not it; Superman is.

Saturday, July 28, 2018

Doomsday Clock 6

For the second time in six issues, Geoff Johns has dedicated an issue of Doomsday Clock in large part to providing the biography of Watchmen Universe characters of his own devising. Before, it was New Rorschach; this time, it is Marionette and Mime, but primarily the former. In it, we get a very recognizable origin story: The young costumed character suffers a traumatic event, and this gives them the overwhelming motivation to suit up and live a life driven by compensating for youthful suffering.

But, there's a twist. This trope, which originates with Batman, has been modified in many forms throughout comics history, often depicting the way in which the killing of one or both parents led a person turned their life into heroism (often, vigilante). Johns even took this Batman backstory and applied it to Barry Allen via time travel. And New Rorschach followed a version of this, with the deaths of his parents due to the plan of superhero-or-maybe-villain Adrian Veidt taking him on a path to adopt the vacant Rorschach identity. Marionette and Mime, however, are pushed down this path after each loses a parent to corrupt cops. And so, apparently, they begin to fight the law and never look back. This is made all the more painful as young Marionette's father is shown to be an inherently good man, kind to his daughter. Moreover, he embodies an intention very obviously the inverse of Watchmen as a whole: Whereas Alan Moore adultified and made tragic some characters that were invented to entertain children, Marionette's father takes some of the grim characters from his own world and makes them into entertainment for children. Symbolically, his fate shows that this spirit is not tenable in the Watchmen Universe, as payoff money for the corrupt police is hidden inside the head of a hero, and in turn, the puppet-maker himself is driven to suicide. Whereas Moore's grim characters like Comedian, Rorschach, and Veidt are dark figures injected into the world of superhero comics, Marionette's father, as her brief performance of Pinocchio's song highlights, is – as the crooked cops taunt – Geppetto injected into the Watchmen Universe. And he doesn't last. To make his suicide even grimmer, the way he hangs from a rope visually echoes his marionettes, seen behind him in the same panel.

The story arc of the youthful Mime and Marionette also echoes, in many places, the story of Moore's original Rorschach, from a traumatic childhood, a beating suffered from bullying kids who sling the insult "whore" turned into a particularly violent counterassault againstthose bullies, and the eventual use of deadly force against policemen.

This seeming aside, not involving the major players in the story, shows is in more detail Johns' intention. The Watchmen Universe is, in Johns' hands, something like the Crime Syndicate's Earth Three, a world that is not simply different from the main DCU, but a world that turns light and dark topsy-turvy. Seeing this, the eventual fate of the Watchmen Universe in this story will comprise Johns' ultimate statement: Will the Watchmen Universe die, survive dark, or be redeemed? In my last post, I suggested that the Nathaniel Dusk films may offer a big clue. If Johns is showing them in such detail, perhaps the reason is for us to see a Before-and-After in the DCU when the JSA comes back and The Adjournmentis therefore made in a different world, a world with heroes. But many options remain in play.

The JSA plot, and any possible onscreen presence of Superman and/or Doctor Manhattan are completely on hold in this issue, as is the Nathaniel Dusk series that pertains to the JSA plot, and we do not see Veidt, New Rorschach, Johnny Thunder, nor Saturn Girl. Instead, we get a focus on the Joker with his captive Batman and a meeting of supervillains who comprise two factions: Those who wish to join Black Adam in Khandaq and those who choose not to. As we learn in the end materials, Typhoon, the obscure villain who is murdered by the Comedian, is a product of the U.S. government and the Supermen Theory is thereby proven real (or a really tricky double fake).

The mystery that is being dangled before us is: Who is the creator of the program? Before, Luthor said that the person was a former member of the Justice League. This issue dangles some very superficial clues before us in the form of documents that cover the creator/director's name with black rectangles and coffee stains. The black rectangle corresponds in size to a word about 8 letters long. Around the coffee stain, we can see certain features of the letters, including a vertical stroke on the left side of the first letter. We could run many different names past these clues and narrow the candidates down, but that presumes that there are no other tricks going on, such as aliases. In all, the documents contain the names of three people from the Department of Metahuman Affairs: An admiral, the director/founder, and Brittany Brandon AKA Moonbow. One thing we see in recent Supermen Theory details is a large number of characters associated with Firestorm. With that in mind, the obscured versions of the founder's name is compatible with these names (and certainly various others) associated with science and/or government: Raymond, Luthor, Palmer, Magnus, and perhaps Waller. None of them is a straightforward solution to the mystery because each has some reason or another to doubt them. Perhaps Luthor is the favorite, but the overall list of candidates, meanwhile, remains large.

And who had a really bad issue in #6? Batman. The only DC superhero seen on-panel in the issue is reduced to a muttering hostage of the Joker, pushed around in a wheelchair. He's on a remarkable losing streak. After failing to anticipate New Rorschach's escape, Batman was outplayed by Veidt in the Owlship, beaten by a crowd, then drugged by the Joker, and treated as an object of ridicule in a room full of supervillains. The wheelchair and the Joker suggesting that he take "a few pictures" of the captive Batman are both subtle stylistic pointers to Alan Moore's post-Watchmen story The Killing Joke.

What happens next will prove to be defining for the series' direction. Many a Batman story would have the Caped Crusader suddenly and miraculously spring from the chair and take down the villains like bowling pins. So far, this series has shown no signs of this, and Batman's poor fortune has resulted not from being overpowered but rather from being foolish. Johns has apparently set the stage either for Batman to pull off a magnificent turnaround on his own, or for the story to end with Batman having been thoroughly shown up in a story which sees Superman, likely, prevail; this would, as I suggested after DC #5, make Doomsday Clock into a rebuttal of The Dark Knight Returns.

In fact, Johns pointedly and knowingly calls out DKR with paraphrases that turn the meanings in some respects reverse and an exact quote.

DKR: Diana went back to her people. Hal went to the stars.
DC #6: The Lantern's other adversaries have left for the stars. And there are rumors that the Amazons kidnapped Wonder Woman and dragged her back to Themyscira.

DKR (Batman, as Superman bursts into an underground chamber): Not him. Not now.
DC #6:(Riddler, as the Joker enters an underground chamber): Not him. Not now.

Intentional shout-outs to DKRsend a signal that Johns indeed means to make a comment on that series, and the state of Batman thus far makes it look like Johns may intend to conduct a hard reversal of the Batman-over-Superman dynamic that has held sway in pop culture since 1986.

As we reach the halfway point in the miniseries, the absence of Doctor Manhattan and Superman in most – nearly all – of the story so far heightens the tension considerably. While movement among those big players seems to have been absent, we still received possible clues about Doctor Manhattan:

One, for Johns to include the Joker in this opus story, years after one of his stories raised the "Three Jokers" mystery, suggests strongly that one of the three, the Joker in this story, will be revealed as an alternate Joker, however much he looks and acts like a standard version thereof.  And if this Joker isn't whom we think he may be, and we have the long-standing mystery of Doctor Manhattan's presence in the DCU, there would be some economy of plot if this Joker were a corporeal – and stunningly out of character – guise for the dull, humorless demigod from Watchmen. If true, then the final pages of this issue are achingly ironic, with the Joker zapping The Comedian with electricity much like the mosquito zapped by Doctor Manhattan at the end of DC#4. And why would Doctor Manhattan – photo of Jon Osterman and Janey included – be in Arkham Asylum in the first place? Perhaps because he has full memories of a life as the Joker, to whom Arkham is a kind of home? Then, when Marionette suggests that The Comedian might know the whereabouts of Doctor Manhattan, this Joker repeats the name and asks, "Who's that?" Unmistakably, having the utterly stoic Doctor Manhattan take the role of the least stoic character in the DCU would be deeply ironic; is that the punchline that Johns is going for?

And note also the curious arc of The Comedian. He is brought to the DCU by Doctor Manhattan, who is undoubtedly in his blue usual self at that point. Then The Comedian rather stunningly finds Ozymandias in Luthor's office, which would be nearly inconceivable as detective work in a world where Veidt had never previously had any trail to follow. But now he's trying to find Veidt and unable. Is this an arbitrary inconsistency to move the plot along, or is Doctor Manhattan toying with The Comedian?

Two clues run through the extended story. One, when the Reverse Flash sees Doctor Manhattan in the fourth chapter of "The Button," he is immediately terrified. Would Doctor Manhattan's usual appearance terrify Thawne? Even if DM meant to kill Thawne, why would that cause terror first, before the attack? On the other hand, if he appeared as a gigantic, glowing version of the Joker, the Reverse Flash's terror is immediately explicable. This is not explained if Doctor Manhattan appeared as his usual self or as one of the DC heroes whom we know. The moment that Thawne is killed, that manifestation of Doctor Manhattan draws the Comedian's button up towards himself, for no apparent reason. At the end of DC#6, the Joker also lifts the Comedian's button up towards himself. The irony is further heightened if Doctor Manhattan has adopted this tremendously off-type identity and ends the issue with the words, "It hurts when I smile." And it would further explain why this Joker takes such a fondness to Marionette and Mime. And, remember, Veidt brought Marionette to the DCU especially because he expected them to be bait that would attract Doctor Manhattan. The fact that they escaped from the Owlship did not concern Veidt – that was part of his plan, responding to the discovery of their absence with, "Perhaps now Jon will…" Now, consider how the Joker found Marionette and Mime in the first place – he had a plan to meet at the Bat-Signal. Why? He runs into Batman there – which an ordinary version of the Joker would have absolutely no way to anticipate – and his plan draws Marionette and Mime there, something Doctor Manhattan could anticipate by seeing it in advance.

Note the alternate cover of DC #5. The Joker – given curious prominence to be on a cover in a story that otherwise seems to concern him only tangentially – is painting a smile on himself, as though the smile is not part of his normal identity. Behind him? The mushroom cloud of a nuclear explosion. Coincidence? I think not.

Finally, if this Joker is Doctor Manhattan, then the Riddler's "Not you. Not now." has a greater impact and makes for a very fine counterpoint with DKR's use of the line in reference to Superman. Why use a line about Superman in reference to the Joker in a story that will feature a clash between Superman and Doctor Manhattan? The clues indicating that Doctor Manhattan could be hiding as this Joker remain a bit short of absolute proof, but the clues do abound, and seem too subtle to be red herrings.

At the midpoint, Johns has begun a very good story, one that has never sagged  or fallen short of a brilliant, compelling follow-up to a story that was incredibly ambitious for Johns to try to follow up. And now we await what has to be a busy second half.