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.


  1. I don't think the Joker is Doctor Manhattan, because Johns is going to write the story "Three Jokers" later, unless this is a 4th Joker who is exclusive to this story.

    Amazing analysis, as always.

  2. Alejandro – Thanks for the observation, which had slipped completely past me. It certainly changes the context, and four Jokers sure seems like a lot.

  3. To play devil's advocate, could DM have created one of his multiple selves to look like the Joker? I do think this is THE Joker, but I like your write up, as well. Perhaps the Joker in DC will be one of the Three Jokers.

    Out of curiosity, why do you think it is the original Nite Owl on the cover. My immediate thought was a nod towards the JSA, but then saw no mention of any them (or the others you brought up) in the story.

    And, hey. Firestorm is two people, though I don't know how many people know that (JLA members, etc.), so Prof. Stein...?

    1. There are a lot of loose ends to tie up here. One is that the Joker just happened to have a plan, at least hours in advance, that put him into the same time and place where Batman would be incapacitated. Just a coincidence to ignore? The Joker's underling also commented that nobody knew where the Joker was before that plan: Seems like a loaded comment driving some unrevealed plot point. But, both of those could come to naught and just be quirks of the plot.

      There are lots of possibilities but it stands out to me that the photo in Arkham narrows things way down, as does the unseen vision of Dr. Manhattan that the Reverse Flash saw. I suppose that the Reverse Flash's particular form of death and the Arkham photo may point, also, to Two Face. Dent is one of the few names we see on Arkham doors in DC #4. It's inconclusive for now, but the Joker clues do seem to abound.

      I hadn't really focused in a conscious way on why I thought it was the original Nite Owl, but as I check now, the costume seems to nail that down. You can check Watchmen #2 to compare. The costume of the second Nite Owl is very different.

      I happened to buy Firestorm's origin when it was new off the shelf, so I sure know it, although I'm not sure how the Rebirth era may have left Firestorm.

  4. Very interesting theory Rikdad, I haven't considered before that this Joker may be Doctor Manhattan, but you make a compelling argument. I really appreciate all the connections you made to DKR, particularly the "not him. not now." line which HAS TO BE intentional.
    I fell in love with the characters of Mime and Marionette this issue. Do you think Johns' will kill them off before the end of the series? I have a feeling he might, but I really hope he doesn't because I think they are great characters who I would like to see remain a part of the DCU moving forward

    1. There are definitely suggesting clues pointing to the Joker as Dr. Manhattan. The irony of him asking "Who's that?" at the end and a whole cover dedicated to the Joker definitely highlight him, but that's all circumstantial evidence. The fact that there is an entirely separate Three Jokers work coming out later seems to complicate things a lot, but there is no limit to the number of complications that could exist in the story.

      Mime and Marionette are certainly memorable. (I liked the mime Pierrot Lunaire in Morrison's Club of Villains, too.) It seems like Johns is investing hard in the new Watchman Universe creations. And he would get a royalty check every time they are used, so I suspect that they and New Rorschach will all survive for capitalist reasons if not creative.

  5. Seriously good analysis, Rikdad. Very impressive.

    Are we maybe limiting ourselves in suspecting that Dr. Manhattan has only assumed one identity in the DCU? Certainly he would not be hampered in such a way.

    There’s no reason at all he can’t be Joker, Captain Atom, and anyone else he’d like to be, right?

  6. There's been so much discussion about the Three Jokers thing and how that will play out—and whether it will play out in Doomsday Clock or in the Three Jokers series. But what about an equally important pair of questions that have been overlooked: Why did Dr. Manhattan save Jor-El? And why did Jor-El briefly capture and imprison people, including Tim Drake and Doomsday?

    1. I agree. Jor-El (mr oz) has shown up again in Superman lately, this time taking Lois and Jonathan with him on a trip through the far reaches of space. I wonder if this appearance is at all relevant to Doomsday Clock or his connection to Doctor Manhattan, something tells me it isn't, but hopefully this all connects.

      Additionally, I wish there were more signs that the various comics at DC are lining up lead into the status quo of Doomsday Clock. The "Superman Theory" should be a plot point cropping up the background of comics now, but it's not. Batman's costume should go to the yellow oval sometime before Doomsday Clock. The current events happening in Justice League are seemingly completely irrelevant by the time Doomsday Clock takes place, robbing the Justice League series of some of its import and drama.

    2. Jor-El said he imprisioned Doomsday, Mr Mxyzptlk and Prophecy because they were a threat to Superman. He also said that Tim was similar to him, but I don't think it was said why he imprisioned him.

      Actually, I didn't understand if he was working for DM but it looks that way

  7. I think the creator of the Superman Theory is Captain Atom. Consider:

    - He is a former member of the Justice League.
    - He is the basis of Dr. Manhattan.
    - His 1987 (post-Watchmen) origin involves being created in a secret experiment by the US military, and then having a cover story as a traditional superhero with a traditional, accidental origin. Just like the Superman Theory says.
    - He got a mini-series just after Rebirth that restored his 1987 origin, and has been conspicuosly absent since then.