Saturday, December 22, 2018

Doomsday Clock 8

A Crossroads

I've paused considerably before posting thoughts on DC #8. While the narration in the issue is considerably action-packed and the physical events that occur are presented in a clear fashion, there is a disorienting degree of uncertainty surrounding the hows and whys of these actions. The majority of the issue is devoted to a two-phase catastrophe in Moscow, but some events that get less coverage are still striking and mysterious. It's clear that some very important events took place off-panel and/or inside someone's mind between the meeting between Veidt and Dr. Manhattan in DC #7 and Firestorm's arrival in Moscow in DC #8.

To be succinct, the framing scenes with Veidt that start and end DC #8 strongly imply that he is directing all of the major events in Moscow, making moves behind the scenes and from a distance to give Superman, many Russian citizens, and apparently Firestorm one very bad day. His stated goal is to save everyone and everybody, and apparently, and in keeping with his master plan in Watchmen, he is quick to sacrifice many individual lives along the way. But what is happening, and why?

Moscow: Superman, Firestorm, and (?) Dr. Manhattan

What happens in Moscow? Firestorm arrives, which is to say that Ronnie Raymond has decided to confront those he perceives as his tormentors who have aimed the Supermen Theory against him and other superheroes. His temper and his powers get out of control and this leads to many Muscovites being turned into glass. Firestorm flees the scene. Later, Superman gives Firestorm a pep talk after which Firestorm succeeds in changing one of the glass people back to normal. When Firestorm and Superman arrive in Moscow seeking to restore the many other glass people, Russian superheroes and Russian military forces under the command of Vladimir Putin respond with force rather than give Firestorm a chance. This escalates rapidly into Superman losing his status as the world's one, truly universally respected superhero. Immediately thereafter, an explosive blue flash leads to Superman (and Firestorm) disappearing and damage done to many of those in and near Moscow, including a rapidly-approaching Batman.

As others have already noted, this structurally resembles Veidt's surreptitious plans in Watchmen: Firestorm's angry outburst, followed by the use of his powers, resembles Dr. Manhattan's angry outburst when a talk show guest accuses him of having caused many people's cancer. Second, a large explosion in the middle of a city resembles Veidt's master plan creating mass casualties in New York.  We may further note that Firestorm is one of the DCU equivalents of Dr. Manhattan (Captain Atom may fit the bill better, but Firestorm is the one who's on-panel here). However, the similarity with Watchmen only goes so far: Superman seems to be the main target of all of this, and Firestorm seems to be more of a weapon used to place Superman in this situation.

This leaves us in search of an understanding of why and how Veidt is making all of this happen. We should moreover be wary of false assumptions, because there are some inferences made at many points in the discussion, and some anomalies that are surely setting up some major reveals.

Perhaps the biggest clue to all of this is the alternate cover that shows Veidt's hands manipulating marionette versions of Superman and Dr. Manhattan on Mars. It seems like a good bet that the blue flash at the end of the Moscow crisis consists of Dr. Manhattan's powers teleporting Superman and himself to the surface of Mars, a getaway that Dr. Manhattan also chose in Watchmen. Veidt tried, unsuccessfully, to get Dr. Manhattan to return to the Watchmen universe, and that is still his goal. His plan may be as "simple" as believing that a face to face meeting between Superman and Dr. Manhattan will produce a conversation in which Superman, as the paragon of hope, talks Dr. Manhattan into doing the right thing, which will be what Veidt wants, to save everyone and everybody. We may also predict that this won't work: Saturn Girl already disapproved of Veidt's plan, Dr. Manhattan's vision of the future shows him and Superman in battle, and both the art and the dialogue cast Veidt as the same sort of would-be-hero-but-villain role that Alexander Luthor played in Johns' Infinite Crisis.

Even if this successfully describes the aim of Veidt's plan, it is unclear how he goes about it. He seems to have engineered the following events that seem to be the product of others' choices, or by chance:

• Ronnie Raymond decides to go to Moscow as Firestorm
• Many citizens are turned to glass – apparently by Firestorm
• One glass citizen is turned back
• Dr. Manhattan's powers send Superman away, probably to Mars

Some of this seems to require superpowers, and some does not. Veidt is hyper-intelligent and skilled at manipulating others into doing his bidding while they think they are utilizing their own free will. Veidt could probably trick Ronnie into going to Moscow with something as simple as a forged text message or handwritten note. Turning people to glass, however, is not part of Veidt's skill set, so he apparently accomplishes this through one of the following:

• Bubastis has some version of Dr. Manhattan's powers and is capable of using them as Veidt desires.
• Veidt uses some DCU power such as Alan Scott's lantern or a kidnapped superbeing such as Zatanna, the Martian Manhunter, or Psycho Pirate to make the glass transformations occur or Firestorm to cause the transformation.

Finally, the teleportation to Mars may be performed by Veidt or by Dr. Manhattan himself, as a response to events in Moscow.

I will note a (literally and figuratively) glaring detail on page one: The lighting in the Oval Office scene switches from bright (white) to dark (blue), which may symbolically indicate that Veidt is creating a darker reality, or may mean that Bubastis is glowing blue as we've seen before. This is also echoed symbolically in the next scene when Perry White refers to Clark Kent's "blue suit" and Kent says that it's navy (a darker blue). Of course, Kent's more famous blue suit is that of Superman.

Given that list of options, it is perhaps not so important as to how Veidt manipulates events: There are plausible means at his disposal for doing so, and his choice seems like a mere detail. That gives us a broad explanation for much of the Moscow scenes. But, we have a puzzle piece unmatched and a hole where a puzzle piece should go: Where is Dr. Manhattan, and why is Martin Stein referenced so much in this issue (but unseen and unheard)? In the broader story, we have a major puzzle piece yet to fit and a hole regarding the Supermen Theory and the unobserved plan of Dr. Manhattan. It is likely time for all of these to fit together. I can't cite everyone who has previously posited that Martin Stein is the DCU identity of Dr. Manhattan, but the evidence stacks up pretty deeply now.

Martin Stein and Jon Osterman have similar enough careers. Both were nuclear physicists and both were given nuclear transmutation powers because of a nuclear accident. Luthor said that the head of the Supermen Theory conspiracy was a metahuman and a former JLA member, and Stein qualifies as both. Dr. Manhattan was likely present for the events in Moscow, and Stein – as the subordinate personality inside of Firestorm – was known to be present. The Supermen Theory produced many new metahumans and we know that Dr. Manhattan at some point manipulated the number of superheroes in continuity by allowing Alan Scott to die. And, there has to be a good reason why the Supermen Theory subplot is part of Doomsday Clock, which has not yet been completely explicit.

And, there's one more subtle detail way, way down in the weeds. In the end materials for DC #6, the file for the supervillain Typhoon says that his metagene was deliberately triggered by exposure to radiation, and that he was named "Typhoon" by the Director of the U.S. Government's secret Department of Metahuman Affairs. Typhoon first appeared in a Firestorm story as a backup feature in Flash #294 (1981), a story I happened to buy off the newsstand. Johns uses the introductory issue as a code name for three metahumans, including Typhoon, Moonbow, and Puppet Master, with Typhoon as FL294-1981. With just a few pages per issue, the Firestorm story played out over multiple issues, and the name Typhoon was first thought and then said in Flash #296 by Firestorm, who is both Ronnie Raymond and Martin Stein. Though technically this indicated the will of Ronnie, that seems to be a knowing clue that Martin Stein is the head of the Supermen Theory conspiracy. Furthermore, the director's name is blacked out in the end materials of DC #6, and it appears to start with a vertical stroke (as 'M' does) and be of about the right length (this depends upon the font, which may or may not be Arial Narrow) to be Martin Stein.



Let's examine Martin Stein's wishes as relayed by Ronnie in the issue:

• Didn't want to come to Moscow
• Get back in the sky
• Give up trying to restore the glass boy
• Don't trust Superman
• Can't restore the glass people
• Wants Superman to leave
• Says thanks to Superman
• Tells Ronnie to leave Moscow

Stein is constantly striving to prevent or end the situation in Moscow by having Firestorm and/or Superman quit and/or leave. Seven of his eight comments are to that effect, while the remaining one thanks Superman. The likely explanation for this is that, as Stein, Dr. Manhattan is forced to go where Ronnie wishes. Knowing what will occur, Manhattan/Stein would naturally be upset about the deaths of bystanders and, perhaps more important to him, the tarnishing of Superman's reputation. It is essential to this that Veidt's plan arose in response to a small number of comments in which Dr. Manhattan identified the hope in Superman and Colman Carver as something to which he responded and apparently seeks.

The question is, is that all Veidt's plan? Veidt knows, as of DC #7, that Dr. Manhattan seeks hope, and that Superman is the ultimate representative of hope. By ruining Superman's reputation, Veidt ruins Dr. Manhattan's quest for hope, and thereby eliminates Dr. Manhattan's stated objective for refusing to return to the Watchmen Universe. Now Dr. Manhattan is motivated both to fix the DCU and also the Watchmen Universe. But does Veidt actually know that Dr. Manhattan was present inside Firestorm, or is that by happenstance? It depends what he means when he looks through the files in the White House and says "Yes. Yes, this one will do nicely." If he's selecting Firestorm as an arbitrary weapon to frame Superman, then maybe his plan didn't depend upon Dr. Manhattan to be present for the tragic events. If he knew that Firestorm included Dr. Manhattan, then "should do nicely" may mean that he was selecting some other DCU individual to assist him in the control over events.

Dr. Manhattan's course of action, then, seems to be one in which he has continually tinkered with the timeline in search of some outcome he finds desirable, and then using his powers to reboot the timeline, with changes, when the last version did not work out. This is, also, like the role that Alexander Luthor played in Infinite Crisis. The sequence of timelines he has experienced or witnessed may include:

• The Justice Society as originally seen in All Star #3
• The Justice Society with Dr. Manhattan as a member (seen on a cover for DC #9)
• The DCU without a Justice Society (described on the first page of DC #7)

And causes of his disenchantment, making him give up hope may include:

• The JSA surrendering before HUAC
• Colman Carver's murder after he stands up to HUAC
• Superman losing his status as a universally beloved hero (at the end of DC #8)

The Justice Society

A  brief, but weighty, event early in DC #8 shows Lois Lane receiving a package that Reggie/Rorschach sent last issue. This contains a keychain drive with newsreel footage of the Justice Society in action, dated 1941 like the corresponding story in All Star Comics #4, the first in which the JSA went into action together as a team. The underlying fact is not new to us – there is a timeline, since banished into oblivion by Dr. Manhattan and/or Johnny Thunder's Lightning Bolt, in which the JSA existed in the Forties. But we have no explanation how Reggie obtained that imagery. We know that Johnny Thunder told him about the JSA, but where did the pictures come from? Something cosmic is working on Reggie's side. Maybe Alan Scott's lantern. Maybe Dr. Manhattan. Maybe the Thunderbolt or some other JSA-era force with cosmic powers has returned. A clue may be in the fact that someone rummaged through Lois' desk before the mail arrived. It seems like someone who knows a lot about what's going on is working at cross purposes with Reggie. Veidt? Someone else?

Superman v Batman (and Black Adam): Where's the Hope?

One of the episode's surprises is the flight of Batman (almost certainly towards Moscow) as he monitors the situation and calls out to Superman. He has learned some things during his painful brush with the Watchmen Universe characters, and he seems to have made some important inferences, getting ahead of the readers. As he shouts out desperate orders contradicting Superman's intentions, orders that Superman does not heed, the final tragedy and explosion seems to indicate that Batman is informed and wise while Superman is uninformed and foolish. The dynamic also looks bad for Superman when Black Adam tells him that the Supermen Theory is correct (which documents in DC #7 already showed us).

This is news because the first seven issues of Doomsday Clock were unrelenting in showing a Batman who was unprepared for the challenges that faced him, from being outplayed by Rorschach and Veidt, subdued by a crowd, and shocked by the Joker. The series had begun to look like a polemic against Batman while Superman was elevated to the embodiment of hope. Here in the final pages of DC #8, the dynamic reverses, with Batman's perspective seeming to prove correct as Superman, by taking sides, leads to catastrophe.

But was Batman correct? He certainly seems to have tactical knowledge of the situation, including the fact that Superman's words would anger Putin and the fact that the pending explosion was not due to Firestorm (but rather, it seems, due to Dr. Manhattan, although it could be more complex than it seems). But perhaps Superman was on the right moral track, saying, correctly, that Firestorm was not to blame. Batman says that Ronnie is a reckless kid who has too much power, but perhaps both Ronnie's rashness and the tragic events in Moscow were due to Veidt's manipulations, not Ronnie's decisions or actions.

As action escalates, this is still a confrontation primarily of beliefs and ideals. There is likely to be little pause in the final issues of the series now that Superman and Dr. Manhattan have, apparently, met. It'll be fun to watch the action, but Johns' big message is probably going to come across in the speech balloons, not the art.

6 comments:

  1. A friend of mine said he stopped reading DC with #6, because he saw "editorial edict" in adding DC characters. I'm thinking it might be #1-6 concentrated on WATCHMEN, while 7-12 will be the same, only with DC characters. Fine with me, either way.

    I slapped my head when I realized Firestorm in the JLA and that Manhattan had replaced Stein. When Firestorm turned everyone to glass, it made me think of a scene in PAX AMERICANA, which was the Earth-4 issue of MULTIVERSITY. There are men turned to glass on the grass in a park and a reference was made to them having been transformed by Captain Atom.

    (I don't think it matters, but Justice League Detroit was around during CRISIS ON INFINITE EARTHS, which intersected publication with WATCHMEN. Dr. Manhattan left his universe in 1985. Which would have been 1985 in the "New Earth" of DC. So there is the possibility that Dr. M. has not just been hiding in the DC universe, but that he has been inside Firestorm most of the time. Thoughts?)

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    1. I wonder which additions your friend had in mind? I think the collision between DC and Watchmen characters was always the design.

      I fondly remember the addition of Firestorm and Zatanna to the JLA. Those were two characters who really added to the mix of personalities and had powers that made them belong alongside the likes of Superman and Green Lantern. But to the point, I think Luthor's clue of JLA membership was a bit heavy-handed (why would Luthor know *that*?) but it zeroes in on Stein.

      Interesting point about the timelines. But Veidt left 1992 Watchmen Universe to arrive in 2017 DCU, a leap of exactly 25 years. There was a time when the difference between Earth One and Earth Two was posited to be 20 years, implying some cosmic importance of the round number (and the Earth that Batman visited in To Kill A Legend being 20 years behind that). So I might expect 1985 WU to correspond to 2010 DCU… but of course time travel is possible in these worlds, so the correspondence could be meaningless.

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    2. My friend wasn't even buying DC and then I gave him a copy of the first issue. So I think he might have eventually stopped reading, regardless. For the average reader, I'd guess that the abundance of Batman comics and Joker appearances could play a part in an about-face. And the Joker IS needed, though I find myself having fatigue with Zod appearing in Superman when a nice Brainiac story would be fine. I might end up getting him copies of 7 and 8 because I'm curious as to if he'll think differently with a non-Batman/Joker issue. And I am confused by how Luthor knew about the JLA membership, but I still like that Johns pulled one over on us. Maybe it is because we are expecting the Golden Age characters that we were meant to think of the Silver Age characters and not the Bronze Age characters. So that was more my surprise, one I hope my friend will jump on as Johns not being bound by what he sees as editorial-edict. So it is fanboy Wayne thinking, well, why would I think Dr M would have just walked into the reboot of 2011? (Oh, and yes, I thought there was a little pocket of JLA coolness in the Detroit-era that a lot of people miss.)

      You are right about the importance of the round numbers, and while I started thinking of Firestorm as the perfect 1985 choice when it came to JLA members, it was more, I dunno, symbolic of both books being out at about the same time. 2005 would be too early for the newest heroes to have been around, with the sliding timeline and "lost decade", 2010 would have to be right.

      If it hasn't been brought up elsewhere, in the last issue of the Before Watchmen series with DR M and SILK SPECTRE, Dr. Manhattan creates a small black puddle and thinks of it as his own new universe, curious as to what it might become. And so there are people who think that this was DC's "out" if the 2011 reboot went bad. I'm not in that group, as it was simply the easiest ending for that particular character's story.

      I continue to find this book worthy of being a bookend to WATCHMEN, and appreciate the care Johns and Frank are putting into their work. One example being the color of the gloves you mention in your other comment.

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  2. I don't think that it was Reggie who mailed the flash-drive to Lois Lane. Reggie's gloves were seen to be a brownish/red color, while the gloves mailing the letter were white.

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    1. I accept your skepticism regarding the identity of the mailer. However, the fingers that mailed the package were blood-spattered, and Reggie's fingers were, as well. That doesn't prove anything, but it is at least a really convincing red herring connecting the two.

      I have been burned by paying attention to colors as clues in the past, as different lighting can suggest different colors, and colorists just plain make mistakes from time to time and/or the script doesn't specify such things. In a perfect detective story, the storytellers would make no mistakes, but colors can fly below the radar. Indeed, Reggie's gloves show different colors in different panels of the final pages of DC #7.

      Maybe a key thing to note is that Batman picks up the Rorshach mask that may have Veidt's blood on it. Maybe some DNA analysis is going to be significant.

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  3. I think it's fair at this point to say that issue 9 being delayed an additional three weeks is frustrating.
    I love this story, but am I alone in feeling that the rest of the comics DC is publishing are moving forward with their post-Doomsday Clock story ideas? The storylines going on in titles like Justice League or Young Justice are creating their own DC Multiverse secrets, twists, and omnipotent cosmic characters and don't reference Dr. Manhattan at all so far. I guess I just miss the cohesiveness of the storytelling across the line.

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