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.

5 comments:

  1. Excellent analysis as always, Rikdad. What are you making of the Nathanial Dusk segments? Right now I believe they are serving as the "Black Freighter" portions of the story and may end up paralleling a significant aspect of the main narrative.

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    1. I forgot to add - I am very excited for the next issue because I think it may forward the 3 Jokers plot

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    2. Thanks, Jonny. There is no doubt, now, that the movie is filling a role similar to that of the Black Freighter. It obviously parallels the main story at times. But it has a mixture of similarities and inversions relative to the Black Freighter. I simply have to take a closer look to see if there's a clear, overall message. And, meanwhile, how the hockey fight during The Button may play a similar role.

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    3. I just heard the announcement of Geoff Johns upcoming "Three Jokers" series, that will be independent of Doomsday Clock. It seems like this story may actually take place AFTER Doomsday Clock, but I am not sure. I wish there was better quality control regarding publishing these stories closer to how they unfold in continuity rather than trying to patch the quilt together after the fact.

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  2. Rikdad, I look forward to your write-ups just as much as I look forward to these Doomsday Clock issues coming out! Thanks for continuing to do them. I’ve got a handful of observations…

    First, I'm genuinely surprised at how much material from 1987-88-ish that Johns references (in both the main narrative and supplemental portion of Doomsday Clock #5)—a lot of Outsiders stuff and Ostrander narratives from Suicide Squad and Firestorm of that era. I don't think it's a coincidence that much of it comes specifically from a period of time immediately after the publication of the original Watchmen series. And a lot of Johns' references are to stories featuring "alternate versions" of Dr Manhattan. There's Captain Atom, Firestorm, Firehawk, Pozhar, Metamorpho, Element Girl, etc. They all have similar power sets (able to manipulate matter) and similar origins as nuclear-powered government agents.

    Second, Doomsday Clock (and “The Button”) is a story about missing time (partly Johns' meta-commentary on reboots affecting canon), yet because it is being published so shortly after a reboot itself, much of what it’s referencing hasn't been mentioned in-continuity before now—certainly not in the Rebirth Era or in the New 52, anyway. For example, Johns—in this issue alone (including the supplemental end part)—has re-canonized old continuity pertaining to Firestorm, the Creeper, Global Guardians, Ultramarine Corps, Outsiders, Aruna Shende, Ostrander's Suicide Squad run, Black Adam, added Bloodlines material, Justice League Europe, Batman: Hong Kong, Kirby's Super Powers, The Zhuguan, added Great Ten material, parts of his own Modern Age Teen Titans run, and 52 (which he also co-wrote). None of this (at least, to my knowledge) had been canon since prior to 2011’s Flashpoint! (And some of it, like Super Powers, was never even canon to begin with.)

    Anyway, one could simply chalk the myriad references up to Easter Egging on Johns’ part. After all, it is the current style of writing that’s in vogue in comic book world—to simply throw in references left-and-right with reckless abandon now that anything can be Googled on Wiki-whatever. BUT, as is the case with everything else so far with Doomsday Clock, Johns seems to be including things for a reason. With issue #5, he just happens to include A TON (especially in the back material magazine section). Morrison always said that everything ever written was always canon (or, rather, could be canonized). Johns has taken this to the next level, or so it would seem.

    This issue was quite different than the others so far (and miles different from issue #4). Is there a particular issue of Doomsday Clock you’ve thought was the strongest thus far? Weakest? And how did all the references, “Who’s Who”-style listings, Easter Eggs—delivered in a way that was screaming and begging for annotation—impact your reading of Doomsday Clock #5? Also, I wonder how people responded to the single issues of Watchmen as they were released in the 80s. Most always (or only) think of it as a single stand-alone masterpiece, a complete graphic novel. Lest we forget that it, like Doomsday Clock, was a bunch of floppies that were released month-to-month as well.

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