Thursday, January 25, 2018

Doomsday Clock 3

Reading Doomsday Clock #3, like much of the earlier issues, is like examining a crime scene. Many things are out of place. The question is, why are those particular things out of place, and how did they get there? What are the rules of the game?

We get one direct answer when we see the Comedian get plucked, in mid-air, out of the fall that killed him before Watchmen #1, and teleported into a fall into water in the DC Universe. We know that Dr. Manhattan did this. We don't how – in terms of the sci fi nitty gritty details – this changed what we saw in Watchmen. One possibility would be that when Comedian has finished playing some role in the DCU, he will go back to his fall and then die. Or, perhaps he did die and Manhattan put the pieces back together. Or perhaps he made a duplicate. Or changed the timeline. The bigger question is really "Why?" Did Dr. Manhattan perform an act of mercy or does he simply need Comedian for a cold, utilitarian purpose? Some of the other events in the issue may indicate the answer.

And we face a lingering mystery from the end of DC #2, that the Mime's presumed-nonexistent lock pick worked. Sure, you can be crazy and imagine that you have invisible tools, but the Mime's seemed to have worked, and Marionette seemed to have expected it to. Or maybe he was able to pick a lock in some other way and pretending to have a tool was part of their shared gag. In #3, we get undeniable evidence that the Mime's (almost) invisible gun is real: People get shot and we see the light reflect off of it. And if an invisible gun is real, why not a lock pick? This says something about how illusion and reality are twisted around in this story. On a more pragmatic level, we might wonder what material those things are made of: Perhaps some unusually strong glass.

Glass and glass breaking are the overwhelming recurrent image in this issue. Mime's tools seem to belong to that. A broken bottle is on the cover. We find out inside the issue that it is the bottle from which Blake is drinking when Veidt assaults him. A few things are remarkable about the brand. First, this is Victory Gin, which is the brand from Orwell's "1984" and that is a work of yet another stature for Johns to tie in with his story. Presumably, we're not going to (nor legally could) see this story jump into the 1984 Universe, but it may provide a symbol of autocracy, particularly cogent given the Russia subplot in Doomsday Clock's moment in the DCU.

What's more important than the brand might be the drink. Linking Blake and gin makes four times in two issues that Doomsday Clock has referenced the same scene in Watchmen #2. In that scene, set in a bar in Vietnam in June 1971, Blake is told by a Vietnamese woman that she is pregnant with his child. He announces that he will leave her behind along with the country he disdains. She attacks his face with a glass bottle, giving him his trademark scar, and he shoots her dead while Dr. Manhattan looks on, and comments glumly. Blake points out that Manhattan could have stopped the violence by turning harmful objects into harmless ones, or that Manhattan "coulda teleported either of us to goddamn Australia." On that occasion, Victory in Vietnam Day, Blake is drinking bourbon but standing in front of a mirror advertising gin – thus "Victory Gin" is the setting of that scene. In DC #3, we also see a comedian hit in the face with broken glass – a subpar standup comedian in the bar full of Joker devotees. In DC #2, we saw Dr. Manhattan save the life of Marionette because she was pregnant, indicating a difference in his policies which is striking (thanks to Comic Book Resources poster robotman for calling attention to the scene for that connection). And DC #3 begins with Dr. Manhattan preventing/delaying violence to Blake by teleporting Blake to, metaphorically speaking, goddamn Australia: the DC Universe. That scene and the difference between Dr. Manhattan in 1971 Vietnam and Dr. Manhattan in Doomsday Clock is a tremendously important statement, but one that requires further clarification regarding timelines (is this the "now" Dr. Manhattan, or one stage, or some merciful Dr. Manhattan from some other slice of the timestream?) and motive (is he actually merciful or does he have some ulterior motive for saving Blake and Marionette, perhaps temporarily?).

The other big showdown in DC #3 is Batman and Rorschach, in which Batman gets the original Rorschach's journal and spends a long time reading it before deciding to leave the new Rorschach cooped up in Arkham. This is not such a surprising turn of events if one remembers how Geoff Johns wrote the encounter between Batman and an earnest visitor from another dimension back in Infinite Crisis, in which Batman took Kal-L's proposal for an alliance and friendship and responded with an (ineffective) attack using kryptonite. Rorschach, however, is not superpowered, and it looks like he's going to spend a little time in captivity. Remember, however, Arkham also contains Saturn Girl, who can read Rorschach's mind, and she can learn from him how important his and Veidt's mission is to save billions of lives, and facts necessary to carrying it out. I suspect that information is going to go from Rorschach to Saturn Girl to Superman and power the next part of our story. Meanwhile, we learn more about Rorschach's backstory: He is young, grew up poor, and lost his family in Veidt's New York attack. He is apparently nobody we saw in detail in Watchmen but is credibly the son or other relation of Rorschach's psychiatrist Dr. Malcolm Long (whose coffee cup read "DAD"). If so, Johns will likely use the generations to show the potential change between the Watchmen world's past and present.

There is a big subplot set in the DCU's past. Back in Rebirth, Wally West gave us some crib notes on a nefarious reality-bending plot that had changed the universe in a harmful way. As we've often been reminded since then, the difference may have been introduced with Flashpoint, but the timeline was changed at least as far back as 1938, with the Golden Age superheroes having vanished from prominence, but still they exist in other forms. We saw the Golden Age Flash, Jay Garrick in "The Button" and we see a Johnny Thunder who remembers his hero past. If we stick to the original timeline, Johnny Thunder would be approaching 100 years old now, and he mentions a great grandchild to that end. DC #3 gives us quite a bit of information, buried in Hollywood celebrity news from the 1950s, about some of those characters.

During the events of DC, a television station is playing a marathon of movies starring the deceased  Carver Coleman, an actor who played a detective named "Nathaniel Dusk" in several pictures before his untimely murder. The "DCU 1950s Hollywood" is a weird pastiche of the actual, real-world 1950s Hollywood, the post-Infinite Crisis timeline, and some unknown number of other fictional stories. The "Screenland Secrets" celeb gossip magazine excerpted in DC #3 mentions Norma Desmond, who was the fictional character at the center of Sunset Boulevard, as well as many real people and many DCU characters. Because of the timeline, we should expect this subplot to indicate how (and why) Dr. Manhattan removed the Golden Age superheroes from the post-Flashpoint timeline. Coleman's murder is a big clue: He was beaten to death with an award that had received. This is exactly how Hollis Mason dies in Watchmen #8. Here's the question: Is that similarity a creative act on Johns' part, or is it a creative act on Dr. Manhattan's part? Also, his watch was missing, and he had a secret roomful of clocks. At the end of DC Rebirth, we see someone examining a watch with a leather strap and inscribed, "Every second is a gift" on Mars. This once belonged to Wally West, having been given to him by his uncle and having been owned by generations before that. Is it Coleman's? Note the possible significance of the inscription, and the ambiguity of the word "second," and that Doomsday Clock is the second version of the Watchmen universe, and Wally West a second (at his time; overall, the third) version of the Flash. Either we have one watch or two; either way, they will turn out to be meaningful.

And what of the other Golden (or early Silver) Agers mentioned in "Screenland Secrets"?

• Rita Farr, here alleged to be the daughter of actor Frank Farr. Previously, the Doom Patrol's Elasti-Girl, debuting 1963, placing her birth in the Golden Age time frame.
• John Law, previously the All-Star Squadron's Tarantula, a writer in his day job.
• Frank Rock, Jackie Johnson, and Randy Booth, members of Easy Company. In his original bio, Johnson was a boxer, and Booth ("Tin Soldier") was an actor.
• Ted Grant, here on hand at Johnson's wedding. Previously, a boxer turned superhero as Wildcat of the Justice Society.
• Libby Lawrence, here Law's ex-wife. Previously athlete, turned superhero as Liberty Belle of the All-Star Squadron. In later incarnations, she married John Chambers ("Johnny Quick") and gave birth to the second Liberty Belle / Jesse Quick.
• Rachel Drake, here the actress who gave birth to Rita Farr. There is no Rachel Drake in DC continuity, but Rachel van Helsing was in a romance with Frank Drake, a direct descendant of Dracula, and it's possible that Rachel was or gave birth to the mother of Rita Farr.

Note that John Law's alibi for the murder of Coleman was his location across the city. That would hardly be an obstacle for many of the superpowered characters in our story, including Johnny Quick. Maybe the alibi only holds up because someone's superpowers are not taken into account, although Tarantula never possessed super speed.

If the Golden Age superheroes were removed from continuity but many of the individuals still lived, then there may be a backstory in which Dr. Manhattan or others connected to him arrived in the past and performed whatever actions necessary to prevent their lives as heroes. The ones mentioned in Doomsday Clock so far were born as normal people without superpowers. Perhaps a series of murders or other actions prevented the rise of the superheroes, one by one. For what it's worth, that was 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. Controlling the existence/nonexistence of superheroes is also a theme in the Supermen Theory that's lurking offstage in Doomsday Clock, now seen to involve Metamorpho and Kirk Langstrom. Are the two subplots related?

And in our story? Old Johnny Thunder claims to have sent the Thunderbolt away. Why is he the face of the Justice Society in our story? It's worth pointing out two correspondences, perhaps meaningful. One, the original Charlton character upon whom Adrian Veidt/Ozymandias was based was nicknamed Thunderbolt. Two, Johnny Thunder's Thunderbolt is one of the DC characters most similar to Dr. Manhattan in powers. It's likely that that similarity will play out. Did Dr. Manhattan take the place of the Thunderbolt? Did he sideline the Thunderbolt? Johnny Thunder was invented as a purely comic character in his original run, with Thunderbolt often having a laugh at Johnny's expense. If the Thunderbolt returns to challenge and defeat Dr. Manhattan in a head-to-head battle, that would be the ultimate victory of light-hearted storytelling over Alan Moore's grim vision in Watchmen


  1. Great Points! Looks like we're in it for the long haul with this series but I've enjoyed each new issue more than the last so I'm excited to see how it plays out.
    I'm curious about the Lindbergh Whiskey bottle. I'm assuming its referring to the flight across the Atlantic from the label picture but the year on the bottle is 1932, the same year the Lindbergh baby was kidnapped and killed.
    Lindbergh Spirit is also a bendable titanium frame they use to make glasses but I'm probably over thinking that one.
    I also wonder if replacement actress Hedy Lamarr in "A Killer's Kiss" could have some relation to Marsha Lamarr from "The Black Glove." She sort of fits in with the shady Hollywood underbelly stuff from ROBW.

  2. Ben, great points! We have a hostage child in the story, Mime & Marionette's. Maybe more than one, if we consider all the lost history of the JSA, etc.

    I always assumed that Morrison used the name Lamarr based on the real actress'.

    1. Wow, I completely whiffed on that reference. I had no idea that Hedy Lamarr was a very real and very interesting and influential actress!

  3. Yes, I have to say, I know her by name, but don't think I've seen her in anything. But that was a tip off of the era and style that Morrison had in mind, which we eventually saw in ROBW #5.

  4. The comedian who gets bottled bears a more than striking resemblance to Stewart Lee. A very good friend of Alan Moore's. Think on that what you will...

    1. We should keep track of Alan Moore digs in Doomsday Clock. Issue #2 has the Owlship crashing through (i.e defiling) Killing Joke's circus. Issue #3–as you’ve pointed out—has Moore's real life best bud Stewart Lee (the comedian in the bar) getting straight-up murdered. One can take the mere existence of issue #1 as a Moore dig.

  5. Between this and Promethea and Tom Strong popping up elsewhere it seems DC is becoming quite shameless in it's FUs to Moore, his creations, cohorts and collaborators. As if they trying to weave some bardic curse on a bard. Sure, to some it might seem edgy or cool. Karmically and magically? We will see.

    1. David,

      Thanks for those observations; I hadn't noticed as I'm down to a few titles lately.

      Those observations seem to track with what Wonder Woman says late in FC #7: "What used to be meaningful and significant… is LOSING importance… That's how it seems to me."