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 #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.

Doomsday Clock #3, or, Rampant Speculation: Totally Cool and Totally Normal

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When it’s not Blanton’s, AMIRIGHT BOYS!?

Spoilers ahead for Doomsday Clock #3…

If Doomsday Clock #1 is an exercise in evoking powerlessness and Doomsday Clock #2 is a primer in a spectrum of reality and fiction, the third issue of Geoff Johns and Gary Franks’ Watchmen/DC crossover series is a marriage of the two. This third chapter bounces back and forth between a number of narratives, calling back to the intermittent Tales of the Black Freighter portions of the original Watchmen. But where those interludes represented a single work of fiction within a fictional “real world” the traversal of fiction within Doomsday Clock is less a game of pong between two works and more a frenzied exploration of a densely layered onion of narratives.

Piggybacking off of my writing on Doomsday Clock #2, there’s a penetration of the fictional spectrum in this issue that brings with it at least the implication of an increased ability to harness and exert power over the world the more fictional a character gets.

The outer most layer of the onion in question is the world. Our world. Us. The readers. Holding a comic book. We are so often the masses portrayed in Doomsday Clock’s first issue. Inundated with dreadful headlines we are so often powerless to effect. We are not fiction. We are reality.

The Watchmen Universe, while a fiction, is only truly separated from our own world by one aspect: Doctor Manhattan. That’s that grit I mentioned in my first Doomsday Clock post. That grit implies realism, or invokes a sense that something fiction is at least “more real” than other less gritty works. The surrounding dystopia is obviously a fiction but the element of fantasy separating the Watchmen Universe from our own is just one big blue dude. In this sense the Watchmen are more fictional than us, but more realistic than…

The DC Universe: where fiction runs rampant, where some things are gritty but others actually smile once in awhile. Super powered aliens, space cops, metahumans, multiverses, one inter-dimensional Crisis after another. You can’t pinpoint just one fantastical element responsible for the divergence between us and the world of Batman and Superman. Even to the characters of the Watchmen Universe the DCU appears fictional, with Ozymandias stating last issue that certain heroes within the DCU are characters in he and Rorschach’s world.

Ozymandias, Rorschach, the Marionette and the Mime travel deeper into fiction, and with that traversal there appear to be side effects. Last issue we saw the Mime use a pantomimed lock pick to escape his bonds. This issue, we see him actually use the pantomimed gun we’ve only ever seen him brandish in the Watchmen Universe. It fires and a head explodes. It works. And not only that, Frank’s depiction of the gun in the DC Universe lends it a hint of shape and form, the presumably make-believe gun now becoming real when brought in to a comparatively make-believe universe. Similarly we see possible side-effects of the aforementioned traversal of fiction in our new Rorschach, who we learn in this issue is in all likelihood basically just some guy. He talks of having blood on his hands and then, as he showers, we see that blood appear as he clutches his head. Now, is he clawing his head open and making it bleed? Like, a lot? Maybe. Or perhaps the metaphors, the make-believe, in which he speaks are given more power, more potency in the DCU.

With that wild speculation in mind, I can’t help but feel the text implying an increased power, and increased ability to affect change, the more “fictional” an entity becomes.

We, the readers, have no superheroes or caped crusaders. The Watchmen Universe has a smattering heroes but only one is truly super-powered. In the DC Universe everyone and their mother is a superhero, even, perhaps, the formally less remarkable refugees of the Watchmen Universe.

But there’s a hiccup in that theory because the DC Universe is not the farthest Doomsday Clock penetrates into fiction. Within the DCU we’re given continued allusions to an actor, Carver Coleman, and the grizzled gumshoe he’s most famous for portraying, Nathaniel Dusk. Coleman is of the same fictional stock as Batman and the lot, a denizen of the DCU, but Nathaniel Dusk, a character in a movie within the DCU, is a layer deeper.

Throughout Doomsday Clock #3, we’re show scenes from the final Nathaniel Dusk film, The Adjournment. It’s as deep as the fiction goes in this issue and yet it’s the most realistic story in the book so far. It’s a detective, a cop and a murder mystery. No powers, no vigilantes, no nothing. Nothing but the characteristic grit of noir. So where has that power gone? That power that seems to grow and grow the more fictional it becomes?

If nothing else, it certainly rebounds and penetrates back out toward reality, as we see some old-timers in a retirement home hailing Carver Coleman as a hero, presumably because he was Nathaniel Dusk. Perhaps there’s a law of diminishing returns in regards to this perceived increase in power. Perhaps that power can only penetrate so far into fiction. Perhaps the power is not affected by how many layers of fiction it is bundled in, but by the amount of excessive grit it is saddled with.

Whatever the case, there is some shit going on with this Coleman fella, and there is most definitely some shit going on with Nathaniel Dusk.

(Reveals bulletin board of color-coded thumb tacks and torn up portions of comic books)

 

No, you’re “a bit much!”

What’s more, is Rorschach’s journal, as an artifact from a “realer” universe, now imbued with a yet unseen power? It’s already been revealed that after the events of Watchman the original Rorschach’s journal became a powerful document in its own universe.

All this, and Doctor Manhattan still hasn’t even shown up yet! Or has he? I’m just saying, is Batman Doctor Manhattan? He previously spent time on the Mobius Chair, an object that got Manhattan’s attention once before, shortly after Batman relinquished it. And the button showed up in Batman’s cave. And it makes little sense that Batman would walk a man who know’s his secret identity into Arkham Asylum and lock him up. So, you know… what is going on?

Doomsday Clock #2, or, How to Keep it Real in a Fictional Universe

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Ah yes, my favorite Watchmen character: Box of Assorted Clothing and Cosmetics

And now back to our regularly scheduled programming. Spoilers ahead for Doomsday Clock #2…

The second issue of writer Geoff Johns and artist Gary Frank’s Watchmen/DC Comics crossover event Doomsday Clock spends very little time exploiting the sense of dread and impending doom so masterfully curated in the debut issue, instead seeing those nuclear fears realized and moving on to an examination of a  spectrum of perceived reality amongst superheroes.

In the opening panels we’re introduced to the concept of a sort of identity vendor within the Watchmen Universe who sells costumes and monikers, which, Doctor Manhattan aside, is all a superhero really is in the Watchmen Universe. Rorschach, the Comedian, Ozymandias, names and costumes the lot of them. And yet, even within the world of Watchmen there is a spectrum of realness and legitimacy which those characters have and so many others who buy monikers and costumes do not.

The new villain introduced last issue, the Mime, is a personification of this sort of nebulous discrepancy between real and fake superheroics in a world that only actually has one real superhero. Last issue we saw the Mime retrieve his pantomimed “guns” from a storage locker and this issue we see them in action, so to speak. Watching security camera footage of a bank robbery carried out by the Mime and the Marionette, we see him successfully coercing information from a bank teller by miming pointing a gun at her. We never see him fire psychic bullets or whack anyone with an invisible pistol, but the gun is perceived by the bank teller nonetheless. There or not, in effect the gun is real.

Perhaps then, in the Watchmen Universe, the reality of a superhero or supervillain is a matter of imposition of will, a scale of how deftly one can wield their own imagery and mythos within the world around them, their true power being influence. We see this influence reflected in the same bank robbery in a picture of the bank teller’s son, who we see cradling an Ozymandias action figure. Ozymandias is not only a moniker and a costume, it is a moniker and a costume that penetrates the surrounding culture, that means something to the world around it.

In crossing over to the proper DC Universe, Ozymandias, Rorschach, the Marionette and the Mime enter a world in which that influence and legitimacy might just translate to something more, something palpable. In the DC Universe, the Mime’s pantomimed lock pick works.

DC’s universe has always carried with it the weight of myth, their characters less a reflection of the world outside our door than monuments to ideals and beliefs. It’s fitting then that Doomsday Clock seems interested in exploring the potency of myth as its narrative moves across universes more and less like our own.

In its inaugural issue Doomsday Clock concerned itself with very real world fears. Its second issue sets up an exploration of what effect, if any, very unreal world stories have on those fears. When Batman saves Gotham, what effect does that have on the DC Universe? What effect does that have on a separate fictional universe in which Batman is a fiction? What effect does that have on our world, here and now, and how real is the effect of that fictional salvation, particularly in the face of very real dread?

And to think at this point Doctor Manhattan hasn’t even gotten involved in the proceedings. Two issues in Doomsday Clock promises to be one wild ride.

Doomsday Clock #1, or, True Grit

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That guy who’s way to excited for the Justice League movie.

When the intermingling of Alan Moore and Dave Gibbon’s comic book classic Watchmen and the rest of the DC Comics universe was first teased last year in the comic DC Rebirth it was immediately framed as a battle between hope and grit, between the wholesome hope of old school Superman and the intellectual grit and despair of Doctor Manhattan. After 30 years, the Superman of yore was finally going to stick it to the grime and misery that has pervaded superhero comics since the heralded arrival of The Dark Knight Returns and Watchmen and bring back hope and color and fun.

Enter last week’s Doomsday Clock #1, the first issue in the aforementioned crossover, written by Geoff Johns and illustrated by Gary Frank.

Much of the first issue of this twelve-issue limited series is concerned with setting up the status quo of the world of Watchmen after the events of the original series, and it’s a status quo that is a slog to internalize. Set in 1992, the world we’re shown in Doomsday Clock is a frightening one. It’s funhouse mirror reflection of our world today make it particularly upsetting and paranoia-inducing. I found myself becoming more worried about the real world and what could become of it while reading the pages of Doomsday Clock. And then I found myself wondering, “is this what it was like to read Watchmen in 1986?”

One of the first comic books I read, I encountered Watchmen on a summer vacation in 2008, after having seen the trailer for the then-upcoming film adaptation during repeated viewings of The Dark Knight. It blew me away and still does every time I read it, but for me it will always be something of a period piece. The world it satirizes and discusses is one that predates me and so while I can read it and understand that it is gritty and grim, that grit and grim has always been mostly aesthetic rather than directly indicative of the world around me.

And perhaps that’s the problem. Perhaps that’s why so many were quick to sick a colorful, smiling, curlicued Superman at the patient zero of grit and grime like a cheerful attack dog. Where the vein of bleakness in Watchmen was a direct reflection of the world that produced that work, in many works since then that darker tone has become an imitation of Watchmen itself, a reflection of a reflection that loses its poignancy somewhere between mirrors.

Doomsday Clock #1 isn’t the condemnation of grit some might have expected, rather it’s a recontextualization of it. A reminder of why Watchmen was the way it was. Doomsday Clock is more a reconstruction of the equation behind Watchmen than the end result. The darkness in this first issue isn’t an imitation of its predecessor, it’s an imitation of its own time and place, which makes it incredibly effecting.

As a reader, by the end of Doomsday Clock #1 I felt more concerned about the world than I had before I read it. That’s a vulnerable and unpleasant journey to be taken on by a story. After Doomsday Clock’s first steps I’m left to wonder about what I suspect will make or break this story: what will the issues to come do with the vulnerability the first issue elicits from me, and how authentically will it be done? One expects some semblance of hope to prevail, but would that hope ring as true as despair does here?

Classic funny books!