Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Heroes in Crisis #1-3: Signs and Contradictions

All I have to add are some observations from lining up, side-by-side, events where the three issues have given us at least two accounts. There are numerous inconsistencies. (That's not to say that they are all contradictory: There are various ways to explain these.) The location of Roy and Wally has been mentioned, but there are also these:

1) The trio of greeter androids inside the house is an older couple (who resemble the Kents) and a younger woman. In HIC #1, the younger woman is black. In HIC #3, she is white with red hair in a ponytail.

2) The cluster of dead heroes outside the house is considerably different in HIC #1 and HIC #3. Lagoon Boy and Hotspot are feet-together in #1 but heads-together in #3. Those around them include Commander Steel in #1 and Red Devil in #3. Basically none of the details match.

3) Wally's costume leg is ripped in #1. In #3, he's killed with a single blow to the head. There'd be no reason for his costume leg to become ripped.

4) Obviously, Booster and Harley contradict one another, each saying that the other did it.

5) Booster's memory and recordings are inconsistent. At the time he apparently sees Harley kill Wally, he says that it's his first day there. The session recordings are not the same, and in one, he says that it's his first day. If all of these scenes are real and on the level, then he must have made two recordings introducing himself on the same day. (There are many other explanations.) Harley says that she didn't know he was there and his explanation is that it's his first day.

6) Booster and Harley have scratches/cuts, and costume tears in #1, but none when they meet in #3. Perhaps we missed a fight between them, but it would seem odd for any of Booster's weapons or tactics to give Harley scratches.

7) The shadows fall in almost opposite directions when Booster arrives at the house in #3 and when Superman arrives in #1. This is probably just an error, but it could indicate sunrise vs. sunset.

8) Ivy's testimony in #3 involves a direct and immediate contradiction/correction/refinement of how long she's been there when she says "A week. Nine days." We don't know if that recording and the one seen in #2 are from the same session or not. It seems that the one in #2, coinciding with Harley's arrival, must likely be shortly before the murders. This makes it odd that she is still explaining her justification for being there, nine or more days after her arrival. There's no direct contradiction here, but it calls into question the soundness of Ivy's thoughts.

9) Booster's costume is intact after Skeets wakes him up, despite the tears and injuries earlier. Perhaps Skeets' technology includes costume repair.

10) Booster's memory of the session where he's talking to a virtual copy of himself indicates that the attack began when he was not present, another contradiction of Harley's assertion that Booster committed the murders.

Obviously, this is a lot of contradiction, and it's got to be resolved. A lot could be resolved in one tidy package if we simply find out that Booster is delusional. More could be resolved if we find out that someone rearranged the crime scene.

I think we're a long way away from answers here. Neither Booster nor Harley is the killer in the simplest sense: The solicits for #5 and #6 indicate that someone or something corrupted the Sanctuary AI and the Sanctuary AI, by giving the heroes counterproductive "therapy" made their problems worse rather than better, until one or more of them snapped. The villain stands a good chance of being someone we haven't even seen on-panel yet. A bug in the software owing to Batman's paranoia (see the kryptonite in the belt) would be a plausible explanation except that's just what the Brother Eye plot was.

I'm glad we've got six issues to go. There's a long way to go for the mystery, and we haven't gotten very deep into the psychology yet.

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.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Doomsday Clock: The Nathaniel Dusk Films

One structural similarity between Doomsday Clock and Watchmen is that each contains a prominent story-within-the-story. In Watchmen, that takes the form of the comic book series Tales of the Black Freighter, and in particular one story, "Marooned," from that fictional series. In Doomsday Clock, the parallel effort is a movie series starring an actor named Carver Colman as a detective named Nathaniel Dusk, and in particular the details of The Adjournment, one film from that series. This is potentially quite interesting, as a story-within-a-story can be quite revealing about the main story yet to come, and – even if not useful for forecasting – it says something about the way that Johns is crafting this story, and his overall message.

Part of what makes this interesting is the incredibly recursive nature of a story that has a story-within-a-story homaging an earlier story that also had a story-within-a-story. In fact, that understates it considerably. The layers are so numerous that it becomes almost maddeningly complex, a narrative equivalent to the visual phenomenon called the Droste effect, where an image contains a smaller version of itself that also contains a smaller version of itself, ad infinitum. To demonstrate the complexity of the situation here, let us consider the facets created by the story-within-a-story of Watchmen alone:

1) The main Watchmen plot (including multiple subplots)
2) The plot of "Marooned" and other TotBF stories
3) The fictional creators of TotBF.
4) Real people included on the fictional creative team.
5) Works of fiction in the real world that influenced TotBF.

Now, adding the equivalents from Doomsday Clock, double that from five planes of reality to ten, and instead of a handful of interlocked relationships, we have literally dozens. This is complicated yet more by the fact that the Watchmen Universe only consisted of a single work you can hold in your hand, whereas the DC Universe has been described in literally tens of thousands of works – and make no mistake – Johns is reaching into some fairly obscure old material in creating some such connections. There are effectively, therefore, six levels in the Doomsday Clockversion because creators of the Nathaniel Dusk series may be chosen from: (A) The real world; (B) Existing DCU characters; (C) Totally new characters debuting in Doomsday Clock. Moreover, we have multiple timelines at play in the DCU, and this is a fact that I am quite sure willprove relevant to Nathaniel Dusk. In duplicating Watchmen's use of a story-within-a-story (henceforth, for brevity, SWAS) Johns has something so remarkably powerful for its multiple layers that I can't readily recall a comparable device elsewhere in literature. Someone more avidly avant garde might let this SWAS take over the entire story; I do not think this is likely to be the direction that Johns will go, but I think he has devoted whole pages to it for a reason, and that it is going to get more interesting as it goes on.

Tales of the Black Freighter

Moore includes a considerable amount of text and art in conveying "Marooned" and I am not going to attempt, in this post alone, to reviewing that in detail. I will point out some high-level observations and offer just a few examples to back them up.

First, "Marooned" is a comic book, like Watchmenand other things upon which it comments are comic books. However, "Marooned" is not in the superhero genre but rather the pirate genre. It is quite full of horror, however, and in that regard TotBF certainly resembles to some extent Swamp Thingwhich has a horror element and whose writing duties, like TotBF, rotated from one writer to another, including Moore, who is the writer of Watchmen. The end materials for Watchmen#5 describe the history of TotBF and offer real world artist Joe Orlando as an artist on TotBF, and includes a drawing by the real Joe Orlando (portraying, in an interview, a slightly different fictional Joe Orlando). So TotBF has a lot of interplay with the real world.

Now, how does "Marooned," in all its detail, relate to the main Watchmenplot? The array of little clever details are quite numerous, and I will make no attempt to list them, but I will offer one example that shows that some of the plot mirrorings are fairly superficial and pointed in scattered directions: Someone taking a phone call inWatchmenmistakes the name "Rorschach" for the words "raw shark." Earlier in "Marooned," the protagonist has eaten raw shark meat. This is undeniably deliberate, but what does it mean? Perhaps we can note that Rorschach is as mean as a shark or that he is "eaten" because the phone call leads to his arrest and the main plot leads to his death, but none of that is very deep, or serves as useful foreshadowing. It's just a phrase that occurs in one story while the same idea (though not the exact phrase) occurs in the other.

What is the main story arc of "Marooned"? It makes one shudder to recall. A shipwrecked man meets repeated horror in his efforts to return home and save those whom he loves. The protagonist's associates, family, and even their dead bodies are devastated and defiled as he attempts to achieve some good outcome. Ultimately, he causes all of that devastation – everything would have been far better if he'd done nothing at all. And only in the final scene, when he realizes how damned he and his efforts are, that he surrenders himself to the infernal Black Freighter, climbing aboard as the newest member of its damned crew. Bleakness leading to greater bleakness leading to ultimate bleakness.

Is "Marooned" foreshadowing the main Watchmenplot? It certainly mirrors it in tone. Does it mirror it in plot, and if so, who is the protagonist? The doomed sailor from "Marooned" tries to do well, but fails repeatedly to make meaningful improvement in his situation, and ultimately, his act of violence that is meant to do good does the ultimate evil. He meets this fact with resignation. Who in the main plot does so? Veidt, the Comedian, Nite Owl and Silk Spectre, Doctor Manhattan – all these nominal heroes come to see that their acts of violence have done no real good. Even Rorschach, in his final moments, meets the futility of his predicament with resignation, asking Doctor Manhattan to go ahead and deliver the inevitable death zap. However, only Veidt plays the active role in making the final violent climax occur. If the protagonist closely represents anyone, it's Veidt. The looser tone of resignation, however, is certainly seen all over Watchmen. So, could a savvy reader have used "Marooned" to predict where Watchmenis going? Maybe someone can tell a story to that effect, but I doubt it. "Marooned" only reaches its conclusion a few pages before Veidt tells the details of his plan to Rorschach and Nite Owl. Perhaps if someone stopped reading Watchmen#11 mid-way, then put the issue down and spent a long time thinking they could have used their cogitations to predict what was about to follow three page-flips later. Even then, we'd have to trust that they hadn't finished the issue first. I myself read Watchmenin the single paperback volume and certainly don't remember setting it down to try to make predictions.

But I think Doomsday Clockmay be different. I will go out on a limb and make some specific predictions for things I think we're likely to see before the Nathaniel Dusk storyline is complete.

Similarities and Differences

First, one remarkable alignment that may indicate how closely Johns is following Moore's structure: TotBF was mentioned/shown in Watchmanissues #3, 5, 8, 10, and 11. Five issues into Doomsday Clock, the Nathaniel Dusk films have been mentioned in issues #2, 3, and #5, suggesting that Johns is following Moore's structure considerably, but not to the last detail.

On the surface level, we can see many similarities between the two cases: Both are fictional narratives in a visual medium. Both are serials. Both are genres – pirate and detective – besides superhero that were once very popular in comic books. Both have death and murder as prominent elements. And, in both cases, we are given not only the story-within-a-story's narration, but also its backstory, with information about the creators who are a mixture of real-life creators and those who are fictional. Both of them also have a limited autobiographical feel – TotBFis a comic book, Moore's own medium, and the backstory of Tales of the Black Freighterrotating from one main writer to another reminds me of Swamp Thingbeing passed on to Alan Moore, who was in the middle of his run when Watchmenwas written; meanwhile, Geoff Johns began (and continues) a career in film, the medium of the Nathaniel Dusk stories.

That is a good transition into the sharp differences between the two cases; they are in different media. They are aimed at different generations: TotBF is being read by one of Watchmen's youngest characters, a boy named Bernie; The Adjournment is being watched (primarily, that we see) by a man named Donald who is in Johnny Thunder's assisted-living facility, and is probably about 90 years old. We can already be assured that they have distinctly different plot structures: Adjournment is a film noir whodunit, with a complex structure – as many as four victims or would-be victims and at least two killers. Marooned, on the other hand, was an endlessly bleak horror story, a failed journey leading inevitably to tragedy, with events both within and outside of the protagonists' control always leading to greater horror. But, unlike Adjournment, there are no unknown identities in Marooned, at least none that last long.

The Motive?

So what is the point of Adjournment? I think there's a probable answer to that, but it's more likely that we can figure it out from what we can already guess about Doomsday Clock than vice versa.

In and of itself, Adjournment is a murder mystery. If it proves to mirror Johns' larger story, then we will find all kinds of parallels between them. The victims and killer in the movie will represent equivalent figures in the DCU.

Alternately – or additionally – there seems to be an important subplot in which the creators of Adjournmentwill have directly played a role in the DCU. We know that Coleman Carver had a room full of timepieces in his home, and these have been important to both Doctor Manhattan and victim of timeline manipulation, Wally West. Moreover, some Golden and Silver Age characters have been mentioned in the Nathaniel Dusk backstory; these characters' presence may be a throwaway, or may turn into something very important.

One thing that has been telegraphed to us already, as of DC Rebirth#1is that the New 52 reboot of 2011 and concurrent actions appearently taken by Doctor Manhattan if not others, is being portrayed as an unfortunate worsening of the DCU, removing the Justice Society and a decade of relationships such as Barry and Iris. Having passed that decree as truth, Johns must assuredly be on a path towards undoing those deletions. And so we have two major retcons to un-retcon.

That brings us to The Adjournment. Our murder mystery has two victims. It also has two killers, and one of the killers will turn their sights on the detective who is trying to solve the case. To tie the just un-retcons we expect together with the Adjournmentplot, I suggest this: The older murder victim represents the Justice Society. The younger murder victim (divorced) represents the lost loves and legacies that the New 52 retcon removed. The latter was, apparently, removed by Doctor Manhattan, and the former by a wish that Johnny Thunder made to protect the JSA. Johnny tells us this in Rebirth as: "McCarthy yelled, 'Take off your masks!' You know I was only trying to protect them. I'm sorry for what I did."

This is a very specific reference to a story published in Adventure#466 1979 with key scenes set in 1951. In that story, an unnamed Joseph McCarthy demands that the JSA unmask themselves. They do not comply and retire from crimefighting, even though they continue to live their civilian lives. Apparently, Johnny Thunder, in this timeline, made a wish to his Thunderbolt that protected them from McCarthy but removed them from ever having been the JSA  – perhaps even from ever having lived.

There may be a tiny Easter Egg confirming this. Early in that story, the leader of a gang of anti-JSA criminals tells his colleagues, "…having failed to come up with a plan to stop the JSA once again, I must declare this meeting adj…" The word that is cut off is obviously "adjourned," and the title of the Coleman Carver movie is The Adjournment. However, what was more significantly adjourned was not a meeting of a bunch of criminals, but the outright existence of the Justice Society. It is that which the movie symbolizes. The detective's last name is Dusk, signifying the end of a day and the beginning of night. The act by Johnny Thunder ended the "day" of the Justice Society and brought on a long, dark night.

And it's here that I make a prediction that goes to the core of the difference between TotBF and the Nathaniel Dusk films: The damage done in "Marooned" was complete, total, utterly bleak, and irreversible. That's what Watchmen was about, but is obviously not what Doomsday Clockis about. The Justice Society will be made to have lived again. And now, note the timeline. McCarthy's hearing with the JSA took place in 1951, before the last two Nathaniel Dusk movies. The current timeline, therefore, forked off from the one we previously (pre-Flashpoint) knew. Therefore,The Adjournment is from 1954 in a timeline that didn't use to exist, and will be somehow altered again. If the events of Doomsday Clockundo Johnny Thunder's errant wish, then the world in which The Adjournment was made will not have existed, and so I predict that by story's end, we will see a new version of the Nathaniel Dusk series. Perhaps there'll be different plots, in which the deaths of the older and younger man do not occur. Perhaps different actors. Perhaps the films will not exist in this form at all. This will be a stylistic flourish for Johns to reveal late in the story, and we'll see that the new/restored timeline is a happier and more optimistic one.

Behind the Scenes

A more complex situation is the behind-the-scenes one. The characters of older DCU stories are mentioned in the materials concerning the Nathaniel Dusk series. Up to nine of these are mentioned in Doomsday Clock#3. One more that I missed: Bruce Nelson, who is a detective who debuted all the way back in Detective Comics#1. (Nelson's story began in San Francisco but inexplicably moved to New York in the second issue, perhaps DC's first retcon. Doomsday Clockplaces him in San Francisco.)

We know that some of the individuals who, in the post-Crisis timeline, became some of the Golden Age's superheroes, are still alive in the current timeline, but did not become superheroes. We also know that Johnny Thunder did something to prevent the JSA from having their careers. Perhaps the explanation can be found in an older comic that went a lot like that. In JLAvol1 #37, an evil version of Johnny Thunder tells the Thunderbolt to make it so that the JLA would never exist. Going back in time, the Thunderbolt systematically makes one change after another to prevent any of the JLA members from beginning their careers – for example, stopping the lightning bolt that gave Barry Allen super speed, preventing the explosion of Krypton, and diverting Abin Sur from Earth and his meeting with Hal Jordan. If Johns is following that formula here, then all of the JSA's civilian identities should have lived normal lives with middle adulthood in the 1940s and 1950s. Carver Colman would have been 28 years old when the JSA debuted in 1940. He is suggested to have been an "American hero" in DC#3. His murder, in the current timeline, took place in June of 1953 or 1954, and he was murdered with his own award trophy, the same way that the original Nite Owl, Hollis Mason, was killed in Watchmen#8 with the trophy shown on the issue's cover.

Cumulatively, this builds suspicion that Carver Colman actually is one of the Justice Society members whose lives were rerouted by the Thunderbolt in its alteration of the timeline. How can this be? According to the end materials, Colman's purported mother was not his real mother, as claimed in a letter found after his death. If he was removed from one family and placed with another, perhaps this was the alteration made to the timeline to prevent his hero identity from emerging. Perhaps his real name is one that we know as the secret identity of a Justice Society member.

If so, who? The strongest signs point to Hourman. Above all, Colman had a room full of clocks, called a "ticktock room" in the celebrity gossip. Rex Tyler's nickname (yes, this would seem to give away his secret identity) was Tick Tock Tyler – this is surely not a coincidence on Johns' part, and is either the giveaway clue or a red herring. One more, subtler clue in DC#2: A present-day ad for a drug called Travodart is made by the "Bannermain Chemical Co." Bannermain, as other readers have pointed out, is very close to the name Bannerman, which was the name of Rex Tyler's boss and the chemical company for which Tyler worked until he eventually became the boss and named it Tyler for himself. If Bannerman remained the name of that company, then Tyler not only failed to become Hourman, but perhaps failed, also, to live any of his life as Rex Tyler. Yet another clue regarding his death: A woman in Johnny Thunder's retirement home calls him a "deviant" and part of the modern backstory of Tyler is that he battled addiction to the Miraclo drug that provided his powers. So, we may find out that a change made early in Tyler's life put him on the path to become Carver, and an untimely (no pun intended) death. If so, the restoration of the timeline to include the Justice Society will also save Tyler.

It is also worth noting that the name Carver Colman sounds a lot like the Carter Hall identity of the JSA's Hawkman, so perhaps that is who Colman was in the original timeline. If so, note that the older Carver Colman fan is named Donald. Don Hall, the Dove half of the Hawk and Dove duo, could conceivably be retconned as a relative of Carter Hall, which could explain why he is a fan of Colman, as an actual relative of his. However, the age does not seem to fit.

Then again, perhaps a Colman is just a Colman, but one who had significant ties to the Golden Age heroes; John Law and other Golden Age characters are tied to his story, and he may be more of a catalyst than a main player in the backstory of the JSA that was, now isn't, and will be again.

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Doomsday Clock 5

As Doomsday Clock approaches the halfway mark, we have several storylines, each of which contains some degree of mystery. Most characters in the story are profoundly unaware of what is coming. The two most central characters, Dr. Manhattan and Superman, have been seen rarely and sporadically. The subplots themselves seem highly disconnected. Explosive confrontations are about to take place. This is the point when complexity and confusion may be peaking, and the story will soon have to sort out the uncertainties and present some thunderous showdowns.

First, Doctor Manhattan is doing something in the DC Universe. We have hints about his purpose, but most clear is that he is responsible for the changes that took place with Flashpoint. Part of this is the removal of the Justice Society from the timeline, and we know that Johnny Thunder wishes to restore them; this will almost certainly succeed in some form.

Second, Veidt wants to retrieve Doctor Manhattan from the DC Universe and get him to return to the Watchmen Universe and stop – or reverse – the nuclear annihilation in progress.

Third, there is the Superman Theory which concerns an unknown number of masterminds; perhaps someone has been manufacturing superheroes and supervillains in America by activating people's metagenes and perhaps someone is seeking to reveal and stop this and/or turn public sentiment against all superheroes – perhaps most centrally Batman. Then again, this could all be the work of a single mastermind. Lex Luthor is certainly related to this, but how? And how is this related to the other plots at all?

As a backdrop to these and the larger story, there are a number of parallel subplots involving tension between Russia and the United States. Such plots existed in the original Watchmen, in the 1992 Watchman Universe, and in the present DC Universe, not to mention such history and fact in the real world. These plots are probably not logically connected, but the obvious thematic similarity seems a knot to untie.

With that, Doomsday Clock#5 explodes with many incipient and imminent confrontations.

The issue's first panel is the brain scan from February showing Veidt's tumor. This is his own personal "doomsday clock" as its growth, if left unchecked, will incapacitate and kill him at some time in the future. The (seemingly) sign of his inevitable death is ironically coupled with the text of Metropolis hospital workers who deem him "lucky" because he survived a long fall with minimal injuries. The overall effect is that common people are ignorant of coming danger. In this case, it is some background characters' and the danger is to Veidt alone, but this is suggestive of larger plots in which common people are unaware of disaster that is coming, while Veidt is, perhaps, uniquely aware. In a more immediate sense, everyone in the hospital is unaware of Veidt's origin and abilities, so he is easily able to free himself and make his way to the Owlship.

Meanwhile, there is a showdown transpiring in Gotham City, the sheer complexity of which is rare if not unprecedented. Batman has been injured by a crowd, and is now unconscious where a fallen Bat-Signal has killed someone. On the scene are the Joker and his gang, while Marionette and Mime are headed to the same location, and the Comedian is pursuing them. And, in an unfinished thought, Veidt suggests that the escape of Marionette and Mime was intentional, and will draw out Doctor Manhattan. This could lead to a complex brawl where, possibly, nobody is on anybody else's side. Then again, the Comedian could side with Batman or the Joker. Possibly, even, the Joker and Batman could align against the intruders from the Watchmen Universe. Seemingly the most likely outcome of the inevitable battle is that Doctor Manhattan will come onto the scene and through his vast powers, make the fight meaningless. But then what? Something that Veidt is planning?

Veidt himself seems to have a new objective. Learning in snippets of overheard conversation about Superman, and what he represents, Veidt will likely take the Owlship to Metropolis, and orchestrate a meeting between Superman, the DCU's symbol of hope, and Dr. Manhattan. But to what end, and to what intended end? Veidt sees the DCU in stark terms, and his only goal is to get Dr. Manhattan to return to his own universe and save it.

The other collection of major characters in the story is an Odd Couple that has become a trio and may soon become quartet or more. Saturn Girl, New Rorschach, and Johnny Thunder are in Pittsburgh, where the oldest of those has sought and now found what appears to be the last physical link to the Justice Society: Alan Scott's Green Lantern. There are lots of Easter Eggs along this path: We see Johnny Thunder's reading materials that include "The Mystical Land of Badhnisia" (only the first few letters of each line are shown, but there's nothing else that it could plausibly be), "Aladdin," and a newspaper story titled "Green Fire Consumes All-American Steel." Badhnisia is the country where a young Johnny Thunder was first connected to the power of the Thunderbolt. Aladdin is, of course, the real-world genie story which inspired the Johnny Thunder character, and as we learn, the Green Fire is the source of Alan Scott's ring power. Moreover, "All-American Comics" is the title in which the Golden Age Green Lantern first debuted. If the Green Lantern's lantern physically exists in post-Flashpoint/post-Rebirth continuity, this suggests that the Justice Society is not completely expunged from the timeline, and we will inevitably find out how they may return. Perhaps an old Alan Scott will be able to use this lantern. Perhaps someone else will. Somehow, Johnny Thunder will get his Thunderbolt back. Somehow, Jay Garrick will reemerge from the limbo into which he passed after his brief appearance during "The Button." The Justice Society is coming back, whether as young men and women, old men and women, or some other reincarnation. Their return will mean a lot to the timeline of the DCU, in whatever form it takes. They could also, at full power, help provide a serious check to Dr. Manhattan if any coming confrontation becomes a fight. As powerful as Dr. Manhattan is, he could perhaps be matched by the power of such figures as Green Lantern, Doctor Fate, the Thunderbolt, and most certainly by the Spectre. Then again, the JSA subplot may be primarily a vehicle for returning a team that Johns loves to DCU continuity.

Several of the storylines are now advancing a common symbol: A bright light that can attract someone powerful. Saturn Girl says that a bright light can easily attract Dr. Manhattan. It's not coincidental that in the same issue, we see the Bat Signal broken, because it is a bright light that attracts Batman. This also gives added meaning to the last issue, in which a bright light attracted Mothman in the Watchmen Universe, and bug-zappers attracted insects. We may soon see Superman serve as the (metaphorical) bright light that attracts Dr. Manhattan.

It is time to recognize that the Supermen Theory subplot in Doomsday Clockis taking us back to a place where we've been before. First, the Luthor in Doomsday Clock is far from the Luthor we've seen wearing the Superman symbol and serving in the Justice League. He's closer to the sociopathic businessman introduced by John Byrne than the post-Rebirth Luthor, as affirmed by his obvious affection towards Lois Lane. And, hearkening back to another Geoff Johns project that came later in that continuity, this plot of creating superheroes by awakening metagenes was also a subplot of 52. In that story, Lex Luthor had a widely-publicized method of creating superheroes, which he used to various evil ends, including the deliberate murder of most of them by switching their powers off suddenly at midnight on New Years Eve. In Doomsday Clock, we don't know who has been creating superpowered people, if indeed any centralized authority is doing so, but the bigger story is the fear and conspiratorial paranoia surrounding it. If Luthor is to be believed, a metahuman who has been a member of the Justice League is the one behind it. Or is Luthor's claim pure hype and lie? 

The international superhero story also references 52. When a terrorist is about to kill journalist Jack Ryder on video (in imitation of real-life incidents), the terrorist is himself torn apart by Black Adam; this resembles a scene early in 52when Black Adam kills the villain Terra-Man. Black Adam goes on to invite all superheroes to his territory in Kahndaq. The end materials to the chapter document teams of superheroes operating in several countries around the world, including Russia, the British Isles, France, India, China, and Israel. These superheroes draw upon many source materials, including 1990s Justice League titles, the League of Heroes and other old Batman stand-ins as resurfaced during Grant Morrison's Batmanrun, and even the Super-Friends (moreover, the publication which cites this information is called Trouble Alert).

At this point in the story, what might stand out most is how much is going on without anybody knowing for sure where this is going. With the possible exception of the offscreen Doctor Manhattan, who in this story understands what is going on? Veidt has a plan and his plan may still be on track, but he was surprised to see the Comedian, doesn't know the ins and outs of the DCU, and was apparently taken surprise by the collapse of peace on his own world. The Comedian is somehow twice finding the trail of other people from his universe despite their sudden appearance, and he seemingly must have assistance from Doctor Manhattan to find trails that appear out of nowhere. Saturn Girl is from the future and is also a mind-reader, so she may understand the big story, but her sudden freakout during the hockey game seen during "The Button" is at odds with her calm confidence seen at other times, and implies that something about her state of mind is somehow troubled.

Meanwhile, among the stars of the DCU, another dynamic is slowly taking form, which is likely to be more important as the legacy of Doomsday Clock. Superman is the nominal star, and will surely be seen more in the series' second half. But so far, we've seen quite a bit of an ineffectual Batman: His Batcave was found out by someone who's spent only months as an imitation superhero. He underestimated new Rorschach, who also knows his secret identity. Batman was surprised that new Rorschach escaped, but Veidt is shown to have a keener mind, saying "of course" when told of the escape. Batman furthermore underestimated Veidt, allowing him to eject him from the Owlship, and was pulled to the ground and beaten senseless by a crowd of ordinary people.

Meanwhile, Superman is what people can "believe in" and it is Superman as a symbol of hope that will be put up against Doctor Manhattan's nihilism while Batman's vigilante tactics have led to his popularity in Gotham City to collapse.

The original Watchmen series ran immediately after Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns. The two series were not logically connected, nor planned in coordination with one another, but they did build upon similar themes. Both replaced a shiny, smiling superhero with a Machiavellian vigilante who didn't mind breaking bones if the ends justified the means. Both showed the more powerful beings in their world as too detached, and ultimately unreliable. DKR was a powerful affirmation of Batman and both implicitly and explicitly beat down the idea of a Superman.

Doomsday Clock #5 may be sending the signal that this work is not only an anti-Watchmenbut also an anti-Dark Knight Returns. DKR changed comics. Whatever its general effect, it also had the specific effect of seeing Batman climb in popularity and Superman decline, as I've argued here. Perhaps what we are seeing is Geoff Johns' bid to boost Superman and undo the effect of DKR. We'll learn more next issue.

Saturday, March 31, 2018

Doomsday Clock 4

One of the dramatic elements of Doomsday Clock and the various prequels in the story arc is the way characters are brought onstage. This began with the very appearance of the Comedian's button and Dr. Manhattan back in DC Rebirth #1, and the appearance of Superman's logo at the end of The Button and continues into the current series. Perhaps the biggest surprise of DC #4 is the fact that it centers so completely around the new Rorschach, one of Johns' new characters. A series that is about the encounter between two worlds and only has eight more issues to do so is still setting things up, and if one of these issues is devoted to one character, there must be a good reason for it.

Readers may be tempted to find this issue – with no Superman, little Batman, little Veidt, and no Mime and Marionette – advancing the main plot comparatively little, but this only highlights a number of brief, intriguing connections to the main plot. Devoting an entire issue to the new Rorschach indicates in flashing red letters that he is going to become a very important figure. The remaining issues of Doomsday Clock are likely to feature a battle for this young man's soul.

As previously hinted, new Rorschach is Reggie Long, the son of Rorschach's psychologist, Dr. Malcolm Long. He was orphaned by Veidt's alien plot, and also driven mad by it. This issue has so many scenes that reflect other scenes, in itself or in previous works, that it can make you feel like you're looking down a hall of mirrors. We see Reggie twice spend time in mental asylums; once on each Earth. Both times, his placement there earns our sympathy, but is not without justification. Both times, he meets superheroes who are in there with him; both times, that superhero helps him escape. We should perhaps note the asymmetries where they occur: One, Watchmen's Mothman, is a figure out of the past, whereas the other, Saturn Girl, is from the future.

Another double-up in Doomsday Clock that is highlighted by the Mothman's story is the similarity between the Watchmen old-timers and the Justice Society. Both teams were driven underground by pressure from their respective governments. It is interesting to note that this plot development – copied many times in subsequent goverment-vs-superhero stories – began with a 1979 JSA story scripted by Paul Levitz. Why is this relevant? Both backstories name-check the real-life HUAC which advanced the anti-Communist witch-hunt of Senator Joseph McCarthy. In both cases, the superheroes are confronted by a McCarthyesque government panel and are driven into retirement or other unpalatable options. What makes this similarity relevant is the ongoing Johnny Thunder cameos, particularly in Rebirth wherein he implies that he chose to protect them by making them "go away" when the committee asked them to unmask. Placing this in the larger Doomsday Clock story suggests some complicated relationships between timelines. If Johnny Thunder commanded the JSA to disappear, and Dr. Manhattan is also manipulating timelines, then we have two forces altering history for the worst. That seems overly complex. Perhaps Johnny Thunder and/or the Thunderbolt are agents of Dr. Manhattan. In fact, the Thunderbolt seems like an appropriate candidate to be Dr. Manhattan given their similarity. In any case, this reflects on how events in the Watchmen universe may have served as a pattern for alterations made to the DCU.

A scene with striking overtones of older DC / JSA lore is the rooftop encounter in which Reggie and Mothman met. Reggie was about to commit suicide by jumping from a height but didn't because he coincidentally met Mothman, who also seemed to be jumping to his death. The original Mister Terrific, Terry Sloan, was contemplating suicide when he happened upon a woman who was also intending to commit suicide by jumping from a bridge. Later, Michael Holt was also contemplating suicide when the Spectre spoke to him, leading him down the path to becoming the second Mister Terrific. Reggie has a similar encounter but his path was already turned in a dark direction, and he became a new Rorschach.

So consider now the life of Reggie Long thus far, and the various origin stories it resembles. He loses his father and mother and seeks vengeance upon their killer. This is Batman's origin. He sees the gravest horrors and emerges from a fire to begin a life of adventuring. This is Rorschach's origin. He contemplates suicide but meets someone else and this saves him. That's Mister Terrific's origin. Look at the cover of this issue, also its first panel: The tall stack of pancakes and syrup remind Reggie of the wealth of Batman. That's not his story: Even the smallest bedroom in Wayne Manor feels too luxurious for him. This Rorshach identity surely isn't working out. Going forward, I think we're very likely to see Reggie turned by good influences from the DCU into something more akin to Mister Terrific.

Meanwhile, in the goodness-deprived Watchmen Universe, Mothman's life ends as a bit of a bad joke, as a moth kills itself by being drawn to flames. This is one of three times in the issue that we see an insect incinerated: The Mothman is one. The other two are mosquitoes, zapped by electricity. This pattern is also not coincidence, and readers who felt that this issue was too slow-paced were missing portentous hints as that pattern went forward. We (and Reggie) see a mosquito flying down the Arkham hallway, and into a bug zapper hanging in front of Killer Croc's cell. Later, we see the Mothman killed by fire. But the third time, looking very much like the first, the mosquito is not killed by the bug zapper. Just short of entering the device, the second mosquito is killed from behind by a white bolt that leaves a trail of smoke with Dr. Manhattan's hydrogen atom insignia: The second mosquito is killed by Dr. Manhattan. We also see the photo that reminds him of his past life as Jon Osterman floating in the breeze. Why – what does this tiny, insignificant event mean? First, it tells us that Dr. Manhattan is present at that point in Arkham Asylum. Is that a clue to his "secret identity"? Maybe. So far, if we find out that some Arkham resident is "really" Dr. Manhattan in disguise, it would be a hollow reveal: We've hardly seen any of them doing anything interesting. Perhaps more significant, it shows us that Dr. Manhattan is at work in the DCU, tampering with events. And more specifically, it shows us that he is in Arkham as Saturn Girl meets Reggie Long. This is something he wanted to have happen, or at least, condones.

That visitor from the future, Saturn Girl is smiling and cheery throughout her brief appearances in this issue. This leaps out as an anomaly. We first saw Saturn Girl's current visit to the 2010s in DC Rebirth #1. She is serene, saying that everything will be all right. Later, during the opening moments of The Button crossover, she is terrified and panicked, telling us that Superman will not arrive to help and everyone will die. Now, she's serene again. What is responsible for the whiplash turn in her demeanor? Is this mere emotional instability? Probably not, because she refers to knowledge of events that drive her responses.  But why the alternating responses? It's probably too soon for us to know, but Dr. Manhattan's manipulation of timelines seems a likely answer. Remember, Saturn Girl is not precognitive – she's telepathic, and happens to be from the future. What we're likely seeing at this point is an experiment that Dr. Manhattan is carrying out, and Reggie Long, a "mosquito" in comparison to the vast, indifference of Dr. Manhattan, is probably on a path towards the light (to use this issue's metaphor), from the darkness of Rorschach and Veidt's grand tragedy to the light of Mister Terrific, a character who, in both previous versions, turned from suicide to hope.

Nevertheless, we should remember what happened to that mosquito. Dr. Manhattan killing for no reason is chilling. Because he can just as easily turn that power to killing anyone else. But the photo of Jon and Laurie might give us hope. He's still clinging to memories of humanity. He is letting Saturn Girl take Reggie down a path towards the light, and we need that experiment to succeed so that Dr. Manhattan can believe in the light. Later, he's going to turn things dark again, as Saturn Girl's panic revealed. But later still in this series, he's going to meet the greatest representative of the light. He's going to meet Superman.