Superman and Doctor Manhattan! Batman and Rorschach! The Joker and The Comedian!
The… Marionette? And the Mime?
Geoff Johns’ and Gary Frank’s DC Comics/Watchmen crossover Doomsday Clock promised a slew of thrilling face-offs, many of which have already happened six issues into the twelve-issue series and some have yet to come. But amongst those fandom-shaking meet-cutes we’ve been introduced to two new characters, the face-painted wife and husband crime duo The Marionette and The Mime, whose presence amongst these titans of comic book literature has thus far seemed inconsequential.
Doomsday Clock #6 explores the background and history of these new additions, focusing specifically on Erika Manson, The Marionette. More so than Doomsday Clock #4’s dive into the history of Rorschach II, this issue has offered more heart than any previous chapter in this delightfully cerebral series and it places a character that had previously teetered on the brink of being some sort of off-brand Harley Quinn front and center, revealing her to be an enthralling personification of many of the ideas and themes the book has explored thus far.
As a child we see Erika playing with the marionette she will one day model herself after, acting out that relationship between levels of fiction that has been a focal point of the series thus far, instilling life into the imaginary via thin, invisible threads, embodying the violent effects we’ve watched so many invisible forces reap on the Watchmen and DC universes alike. Marionette’s relationship with her namesake is as effective an illustration as we’ve gotten so far of the tunneling, reverberating nature of reality and fiction. Erika instills the marionette with life and the marionette in turn inspires Erika, who becomes a reflection of her childhood plaything, strings and all.
The character’s use of razor-sharp thread as a weapon is overwhelmingly appropriate, a symbol of her defiance of the system of intangible concepts dictating her life, evoking a reclamation of the means of subjection, a weaponizing of the myriad threads connecting the few powerful with the many powerless.
More fascinating still is that The Marionette never reattaches those strings. She no longer dangles impotently from them herself, and rather than dragging someone else along like a puppet, she reorients them, turns them perpendicular to their intended use to inflict violence. Violence, the implication and fear of it, is so often the means of control between the powerful and powerless, that thread so often indicative of permissions on behalf of the holder to yank up and hang the held. Marionette disrupts the socially-accepted monopolization of violence, doling it out swiftly, effortlessly.
Erika Manson, then, winds up feeling like the most organic character in the story thus far, the most relatable point of entry for us, the readership. Hers are motives spurred not by insanity and psychic squid attacks and super powers, but by the diabolical pressures so masterfully conveyed in that first issue of Doomsday Clock, the everyday horrors of living in the modern age. She is a little person in a sprawling multiverse who has shirked subjugation and grabbed power where she can. She is not all-powerful, she is not utterly free, but she has upended the traditional interactions between the variables of her world, tilting them 90 degrees to sever heads with an air-thin thread.
As Doomsday Clock #6 concludes, Marionette is established as the most human, the most real, the most “us” character in the series thus far. The question then becomes, why has Ozymandias freed her and insisted upon her joining his voyage to a strange, new universe? Why was her and The Mime’s child ripped away at birth? The answers we receive in Doomsday Clock #6 regarding The Marionette may have lent humanity to a mass murdered, but a god-sized question mark still looms over her head.