Doomsday Clock #8, or, The Attic is Flooded

Spoilers ahead for Doomsday Clock #1-8

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KITTY CAT ATTACK

“Superman’s going to clear this all up and everything will be okay.”

“I can trust Superman, Professor. Because everyone can.”

“Superman speaks not for America, but for all people on this planet.”

Thus far, reading Geoff Johns and Gary Frank’s DC Comics/Watchmen crossover Doomsday Clock has been akin to watching a slow leak steadily flood a subterranean house with an above-ground attic. As the DC Universe has steadily filled with increasingly dire, real-world horrors over the course of the series’ first seven issues only Superman has remained dry, above it all. But that leak has intensified in Doomsday Clock #8, with Syrian refugees, detained children and a war-declaring Vladimir Putin seeping into the DCU and finally, three quarters of the way through this sprawling event, Superman’s socks had been sufficiently soaked after fiery tempers and clumsy misunderstandings lead to tragedy in Russia.

At the end of last issue, after meeting with and being dejected by Doctor Manhattan, Ozymandias violently declared he could save everyone and everything. At the start of this issue we find him having broken into the oval office, absconding with mysterious files. Are Ozymandias’ actions here and his scheming in general to blame for Superman’s collapse into unforgiving grit and reality, or are his schemes still pending, desperate attempts at altering or avoiding the future Manhattan cannot seem to peer beyond?

And what of Manhattan’s machinations? He has references a cataclysmic moment in the future which he cannot see beyond. Does his “experiment” in the DCU seek to avoid or assure that moment? In Watchmen readers are led to believe Manhattan experiences all of time at once, but has no ability to affect or change it. That doesn’t seem to be the case within the DCU, but just how much more powerful has Manhattan become in burrowing into the less realistic DC Universe? And will the increasing realism the DCU is being subjected to in Doomsday Clock affect that power?

The clandestine actions, ambitions and motivations at play in Doomsday Clock #8 and the distressing outcome they bring about reflect some semblance of the weariness the series’ first issue conjured so well – a feeling of utter helplessness in the face of powers seemingly so beyond the scope of any single human being. Here, though, the dread of that first issue takes a backseat to confusion, as there is still so much yet to be divulged eve as we approach the story’s homestretch.

Every  issue of Doomsday Clock thus far has proven to be a delight to read and reread, but the pacing this far into the proceedings has left me wondering if this book’s finale will ultimately prove to be a prologue to something else, rather than a true ending.

Regardless, we seem at least to be taking definitive steps towards Manhattan’s (and marketing’s) promised brawl between himself and Superman. That that brawl’s apparent inciting incident only just now occurred, 75% of the way through the story, is perhaps perplexing, but nontraditional pacing has always fascinated me and Doomsday Clock is no exception. With the Man of Steel finally entering into the global discourse of the Supermen Theory fists first, it would appear the entire DCU has at last been flooded with the grit and grime of the Watchmen universe, closer to our world and its overwhelming problems and evils than ever. At last the stage is set.

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Doomsday Clock #7, or, That Sinking Feeling

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“Chaaaaaaapstick…”

At long last, on the outset of the back half of Geoff Johns and Gary Frank’s Doomsday Clock, Doctor Manhattan has been revealed, as has the site of his intrusion into the DC Universe. In Doomsday Clock #7 we learn that in 1950, Manhattan moves a magical green lantern six inches, causing the death of the otherwise would-be original, mystical Green Lantern, Alan Scott and creating untold temporal ripples (a.k.a. The New 52) from there on out, to include some mysterious involvement with actor Carver Coleman.

The long awaited arrival of Doctor Manhattan did not disappoint, but I found the most fascinating aspect of Doomsday Clock #7 to be the exploration of Manhattan’s influence on the DCU (and thus the metatextual influence of Watchmen on DC Comics), through the juxtaposition of his effects on Batman and Superman. It’s an exploration that proves fascinating for Doomsday Clock, and conjures thematic tendrils between this DC Comics event and other recent and concurrent DC Comics events, namely Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo’s Dark Nights: Metal and Tom King and Clay Mann’s Heroes in Crisis.

Throughout Doomsday Clock #7 we’re barraged by news footage from across the globe. Metahumans breaching international borders. Metahumans engaged in political espionage. Metahumans being called to task for the political implications of the actions of their peers. The real world, our world, has come to roost in the DCU as we’re given examples of superpowers being used not in the fantastic and colorful ways we might expect in a comic book, but in the calculating and cynical ways they might be applied here and now. Much like the multiverse being weighed down and sinking into the dark multiverse in Metal, here we’re shown what should be a resplendent comic book world sinking down to our level, as if Manhattan’s passage from his world to this one left a hole for the grit and grime of Watchmen to seep through and weigh down the fantastic, the spectacular, the astonishing.

Our heroes are being forced to grapple with issues not of their world, but of ours, not unlike the basis for the recently debuted Heroes in Crisis, in which the heroes of the DCU come face to face with the psychological effects a decades-long war on crime and villain might have on an individual.

As eluded to in previous issues, with the riots in Gotham and the familiar effigies burned in protest of the Supermen Theory, Batman is perhaps the most susceptible to Manhattan’s presence, just as the character within literature is one of the most susceptible to gritty aesthetics. It’s no coincidence that the first title released in DC’s new “mature-reader” line, Black Label, is a Batman book. Colorful as his 60s exploits may be, few characters can be counted on to slip into darkness and despair quite as reliably as Batman, and within his own universe he proves no different. As the ever-perceptive Ozymandias asserts, Batman is “the cornerstone of the ever-growing problem your world is being swallowed up by.”

Inversely, as that aforementioned barrage of news reports illustrates, Superman fares far better against Manhattan’s influence. Despite an increasingly-insular world closing its borders he still crosses them freely, his selfless actions speaking for themselves. He is globally trusted, that “S” still meaning something beyond any one flag. Where Batman is a character who almost insists on being dragged into the muck and filth of crime-infested allies, Superman is one who resists it without effort, simply by virtue of being a colorful boy scout. But, as Doctor Manhattan explains, “I saw a vision of the most hopeful among them. Heading toward me. Now hopeless.”

It appears there will come a time in the near future where even Superman falls to the imposing dread, fear and cynicism Manhattan and his source material represent.

Doomsday Clock #7 sets up the end game. A knock-down-drag-out brawl between an omnipotent infection that has influenced the DCU and DC Comics for decades and the original, septuagenarian Man of Tomorrow. And if Manhattan’s visions, or lack thereof, of the future are any indication, it will be a bout with wide-reaching effects on the DCU.

Doomsday Clock #6, or, Master of Puppets

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It’s like that song from Age of Ultron, “I’ve Got No Strings!” Except the opposite!

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.

Communication Skills for Multiversal Salvation, or, Dark Nights: Metal

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(C) The Devil

Dark Nights: Metal is at once a Batman story and a Justice League story, a mystery and an adventure, a fragile, intimate drama and a sprawling, cosmic epic, and the mission of writer Scott Snyder and artist Greg Capullo’s latest collaboration (with Jonathan Glapion on inks and FCO Plascencia on colors) seems to be bridging those very sorts of fictional polarities. Metal is a story that posits that perhaps detectives and swashbucklers are one and the same, that perhaps the barrier distinguishing cosmic infinity from the sprawling expanses of any single individual’s imagination is far thinner than we might think.

Metal concerns the invasion of the DC Universe by the Dark Multiverse, a realm of raw imagination, comprised of the dreams and nightmares that on the rarest of occasions are forged into existence within the living, breathing DCU proper. Essentially, the world of Batman and the Justice League is an ark of existence, of reality, adrift on an unimaginably vast sea of could-have-been and should-never-be. Someone or something has breached the hull of that ark, which is now taking on sick water in the form of nightmare Batmen conjured from Bruce Wayne’s worst fears and insecurities. What follows is a desperate attempt to plug the leak in the DCU before the entire existing multiverse sinks into the Dark Multiverse.

It’s a mystery and an adventure, at once terrifying and exciting, a sentiment captured in the narrative’s dual focus on Batman the Detective and Carter Hall, the missing adventurer Hawkman.

Questions and clues abound: why is a covert ops team surveilling Batman? Why are strange metal artifacts around the globe reacting strangely to some unknown force? What secretes lie within the secret journal of Carter Hall?

Spectacle and bombast abound: the Justice League battles interlocking mechs in an alien gladiatorial arena. A demonic Bat-God clings to the apex of a dizzying spire that punctures a stormy sky, flanked by dual Joker-dragons.

And yet, whether it’s an army of villainous Justice League doppelgangers or a furrow in Wonder Woman’s brow as she prepares for battle, Capullo, Glapion and Plascencia never miss a beat, the attention afforded both to the smallest detail and the loudest spectacle alike indicative of Metal’s continued interplay between the intimate and the immense, the mysterious and the adventurous.

But the disparity between those two seeming opposites never feels jarring or disorienting, as Metal is, at its heart, largely concerned with that which unites them: communication.

Sound is a fascinating and prominent motif throughout DN:M, be it battle cries, devilish bellows, power chords, or good old-fashioned banging two pieces of metal together. Again and again importance is placed on sound, the difference between the life and death of all existence hanging on one character’s willingness or ability to create it and another’s ability to hear and comprehend it. It’s telling then that just before it hits the fan in the story’s opening issues, Batman refuses to communicate with his peers. His failure to communicate, his decision to withhold information, reaps dire consequences and the rest of this epic is largely concerned with not only discovery in the face of the unknown malevolence brought forth, but the communication of those discoveries with others.

Across the galaxy, in the depths of the sea and deep within the distorted bowels of the Dark Multiverse itself, the Justice League find themselves investigating any thread that might lead them to a plug for that leak in the ol’ aforementioned reality ark that is their entire known multiverse, but separated as they are those answers mean nothing without the willingness and ability to communicate that information, to share it, to come to a common understanding through detection and adventure.

For all its mystery and all its spectacle, Dark Nights: Metal ultimately revolves around communication, that which links the dreams and nightmares of our minds with the vastness of the universe. It’s a story about coming together, about living and experiencing and sharing those experiences to the betterment of all involved.

It is one hell of a comic book.

Doomsday Clock #5, or, Real Fictional Resources

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Valentine’s Day is right around the corner Ozy!

The fifth issue of writer Geoff Johns and artist Gary Frank’s Doomsday Clock explores the previously alluded-to Supermen Theory, a particularly potent vein of political discourse that has taken the DC Universe by storm. The theory, its true origins shrouded in mystery, posits that the overwhelming majority of superheroes, or “metahumans,” are American because they are being created and proliferated by and for the United States government. The accusations have torn apart the sociopolitical climate of the DCU, from Gotham City to Russia. Nations are amassing metahumans, closing their borders, withdrawing troops, holing up with their caped prizes and awaiting a spark that seems all but inevitable. In Doomsday Clock #5, the likes of Superman and the Justice League are more than heroes or vigilantes or symbols, they have become national resources.

That they’re treated as a resource is no surprise within the confines of the DCU. Superheroes can mean safety and protection for the denizens of their fair cities, they can mean justice or even propaganda, a canvas on which to plaster regional morals and value. Green Arrow says don’t do drugs! So don’t, Star City youth! But as with every idea presented in Doomsday Clock, the concept of superheroes as a resource reverberates across the spectrum of reality and fiction Johns has woven between our world, Watchmen and the DCU.

Just as superheroes are an American monopoly in the DCU, they’re a monopolized resource of sorts in, you know, the regular U. The here and now. In our world, as in theirs, superheroes reflect the philosophies and ideologies of the cultures that produce them. And in our world, as in theirs, superheroes are pretty much exclusively American. Here those heroes may not actually protect us, but they are a healthy economic resource, intellectual properties perpetuated across the globe in films with billion dollar grosses. Even in Watchmen, that gritty work of fiction buffering our reality and the balls-to-the-wall fiction of the main DCU, Superman is a comic book symbol of certain values that springs an ordinary citizen into extraordinary action, a social and commercial resource.

In Doomsday Clock then, superheroes become, for lack of a more pretentious term, a metatextual resource, fulcrums of communication between the real and the make-believe, bright, loud points of contact where ideas flow between levels of reality easiest. And it would appear, based on a hypothesis posited by Ozymandias in Doomsday Clock #5, as though that resource is perhaps what Doctor Manhattan is looking to exploit in traveling deeper into fiction, from his native Watchmen to the metahuman-swarmed realm of the Dark Knight and the Man of Steel.

When Geoff Johns lobs an idea through layers of fiction, through Watchmen into the DCU, deeper still into old detective movies being rerun on TV within the DCU, that idea bounces back, finds me back in the real world and inspired this piping hot take of a blog post. Perhaps Doctor Manhattan seeks to similarly lob ideas, ideologies, morals, values into fiction in hopes that they echo not only within the DCU, not only within his own abandoned world, but perhaps outward still towards the only superior beings he is like to meet: the reader in the real world.

Why yes, I did just read Grant Morrison’s autobiographical history of comic books, why do you ask?

Doomsday Clock #4, or, Making a Rorschach

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Pancake batter in alley this morning…

Doomsday Clock #4 narrows the narrative to focus in on the mysterious second Rorschach, Reggie, and how the vigilante’s mantle was remade and taken up again after the events of Watchmen.

In its early pages it reintroduces us to that distressing sense of dread that permeated the pages of Doomsday Clock’s first issue as we see a family watching a mushroom cloud erupt on a nightly news broadcast. At the same time we’re introduced to a young boy tasked with living in that dread, with growing up in the shadow of that mushroom cloud. We meet Reggie as a boy whose strategy is to keep his head down and power through, who doesn’t fight because it never occurs to him to fight.

Reggie, as a boy and later as a young man, is a passive being, one who doesn’t engage with the world around him, one who can hardly be made to impose his will on anything, even when he is clearly in the right. He is not an invader, a conqueror, an aggressor. He’s a good kid. Perhaps a harmless kid. Perhaps not. He may not be an aggressor, but Reggie is not a protestor, an objector or a defender either. The world is imposed upon him, leaders, laws and institutions are imposed upon him and Reggie continues to keep his head down. He may mutter, he may grumble, but he never engages with the forces of antagonism, instead content to be quietly antagonized.

This passivity, extrapolated outward, paints the picture of a populous that allows itself to be brought to the brink we see in Doomsday Clock #1.

In becoming Rorschach, in being taught how to fight, Reggie becomes an active participant in the world around him. Through Reggie’s transformation into Rorschach II we get insight into the original Rorschach and that character’s place as an agent of action in Watchmen. Rorschach, then as now, was a questioner, a participant. On its face, the entire first issue of Watchmen is an introduction to a cast of characters committed to remaining passive in the face of mysteries and questions, Rorschach the only among them willing to grab hold of the dangling thread.

And yet, with mosquitoes and Mothman alike, we see in this issue what that pursuit can lead to and we’re given the impression Reggie himself knows what fate may befall those unwilling to ignore questions and mysteries.

We know Ozymandias. We know Bruce Wayne. We know Lex Luthor. Now we have an idea of who Rorschach II is and what he’s bringing to the table as the mysteries of Doomsday Clock thicken at the close of its first third.

CW Years, or, Black Lightning

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ZAP ATTACK

If the CW’s stable of DC Comics-based television shows are good for one thing (they’re good for many but bear with me) it’s gaggles of attractive young Canadians wadding through seas of dead parents and betrayal towards inevitable mac-attacks with other attractive young Canadians, undoubtedly breaking the heart of a third gaggle of attractive young Canadians.

So imagine my surprise when I saw that the protagonist in the CW’s latest superhero show, Black Lightning, is played with instant gravitas by Cress Williams, who is a 47-year-old man, which basically makes him 1,000,000 in CW years. At 47 years old, Williams’ Jefferson Pierce is the DCW’s equivalent of Frank Miller’s aging, crotchety, Dark Knight Returns Bruce Wayne. Which actually turns out to be a pretty apt comparison when considering the show’s pilot.

At the onset of Black Lightning, Pierce has hung up the titular moniker for some time, opting instead to improve his community, Freeland, as a high school principal. But a rise in gang violence perpetuated by the growing threat of The 100 Gang. It’s a problem that effects the entire community, to the chagrin of both Jefferson and his two daughters.

Kind of like how in The Dark Knight Returns Bruce Wayne isn’t Batman anymore and instead he improves Gotham by driving race cars while contemplating suicide, but a gang called the mutants is wreaking havoc on Gotham and it pisses Bruce Wayne off, much as it annoys young Cary Kelly, daughter of two local deadbeats.

The Dark Knight Returns is a worthwhile point of comparison when considering Black Lightning as the disparities between the former, a staple of 1986, and the latter, a show that is ever so 2018, reflect a changing attitude towards heroism.

Frank Miller’s Batman is a dick. Always has been, always will be. He is essentially and old, rich, white guy who disagrees with the direction the world around him is taking and in response uses his economic resources to beat the culture around him to death with his personal ideology. Cary Kelly, the kindling of a youthful, feminine power in TDKR, does not have opinions of her own in the narrative. She’s an acolyte. The culture around her is more her own to inherit than Batman’s to cling to, but despite the fact that she actually lives in Gotham, rather than in a mansion, she’s indoctrinated rather than consulted.

While Jefferson Pierce certainly wouldn’t shirk the opportunity to align his daughters’ worldviews with his own, that isn’t the cards he’s dealt. Black Lightning is less a show about deciding to engage in heroism and standing up to villainy than it is a show about deciding how to stand up to that villainy.

Enter a white guy blogging about race.

Jefferson Pierce and his family are confronted with everyday evils, little treacheries like being pulled over by the cops based on the color of their skin. In many ways, they don’t have a choice as to whether or not they react to the world’s ills because more than Barry Allen or Kara Danvers, the world’s ills seek Pierce and his family out. But how to go about reacting and combating those ills is a topic of open debate in the show. Vigilantism? Protest? Social media? Education?

Spoilers, Black Lightning becomes Black Lightning again in Black Lightning. And when he does so, he doesn’t saunter down the middle of the stage to the bowed heads of a subdued, formerly directionless youth. Black Lightning takes a trope we’ve seen before, the grizzled, retired hero called back into action, and confronts it with a youthful eye that is not worshipful, but skeptical.

He might be 1,000 CW years older than the likes of The Flash, Supergirl, or the Green Arrow (who himself is getting into his CW 80s) but make no mistake, Williams is just as charming and engaging as CW’s established superhero protagonists, and the world around him has the potential to provide a show that is just as philosophically engaging as it is ludicrously-costumed.