Doomsday Clock 1: Discussion

By Spencer Irwin and Michael DeLaney

This article contains SPOILERS. If you haven’t read the issue yet, proceed at your own risk!

Spencer: I wasn’t even five years old when the Cold War officially ended, so I can’t really comment on what it must have been like to live under its omnipresent dread. I have plenty of first-hand experience, though, living in 2017, a year where each and every moment has felt like it may be the world’s last, a year which has seen a constant struggle against tyrannic forces just to keep vital freedoms alive. If Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ classic Watchmen channeled the Cold War’s constant unease into its narrative, then Doomsday Clock does the same thing with the chaotic political battleground of 2017, creating a fraught, tense world that feels mere moments away from ending.

Geoff Johns and Gary Frank lay their allegories on thick and make them obvious, especially when it comes to President Robert Redford, a clear stand-in for Donald Trump.

A President who is busy playing golf as the world burns around him should feel familiar to any (clear-minded) American nowadays. Although set in 1992, other elements of Doomsday Clock‘s world feel just as prescient. There’s the nuclear threat of North Korea, a wall separating the US and Mexico (although, ironically, Americans seem to be fleeing over the wall into Mexico), and even a collapse of the European Union that, at least on some level, recalls Brexit.

The fraught political landscape Trump’s election has created is reflected all over this issue. When a random citizen, in the process of evacuating his home because of nuclear threats, refuses to go pick up his hysteric mother-in-law because he “told her not to vote for Redford,” I can’t help but to think of all the strife and divisions Trump’s election has caused. Justified or not, inevitable or not, a lot of cracks within families, relationships, and friendships have been revealed because of it. That interpersonal strife has been felt on a massive, country-wide scale, creating a nation that feels more divided, more bitter and spiteful than ever before.

Nothing captures the bitter despair so many have felt better than the issue’s opening page, featuring the new Rorschach’s narration.

I like to think of myself as an optimist, and although we know very little of the new man who has taken up the ink-blot mask, I recognize that it’s probably a bad sign to find myself agreeing with anything Rorschach says. Still, it’s hard not to find some sympathy for his perspective here. Probably not his take on the “undeplorable” liberals, which sounds like typical right-wing rhetoric, but his prediction that the moderates will be the first to go, torn apart by evils they indirectly supported, his observation that the “good old days” were never as good as the right thinks they were, his fear that maybe humanity doesn’t deserve to be saved, they’re all thoughts and fears I myself have considered at one point or another. Whether or not this issue says anything new about these issues is another issue entirely, but Johns and Frank certainly paint a tense and familiar picture with this world they’ve thrown readers back into.

The issue’s greatest scare, though, is a more subtle, yet also incredibly prescient one.

It’s a play straight out of any totalitarian playbook: shut down all independent sources of news and replace it with one government-controlled channel. It’s scary because it allows the government to lie while leaving almost no sources for citizens to discover the truth from, and it’s prescient because, with the Trump administration’s bold-faced lies and emphasis on “Fake News,” it seems like a move that might not be too far off. The world of Doomsday Clock may only be moments away from ending in a fiery nuclear holocaust, but it’s the smaller terrors that hit closest to home because they also seem the most likely.

This is the aspect where Doomsday Clock finds the most success as a Watchmen sequel — in replicating its political focus while also updating it. In every other respect, it really feels too early to tell what this series is trying to be or what it’s trying to say. I do appreciate that Johns and Frank mostly focus their debut on new and/or legacy characters, not trotting out Watchmen‘s greatest hits just yet, but I also still feel wary about whether we need this title at all. I don’t worship at the altar Watchmen the way so many do, but it still feels like a waste to give a concrete answer to Watchmen‘s open ending.

The one place where Doomsday Clock seems to be departing from Watchmen is in its view of heroes. Watchmen didn’t seem to think much of the concept of superheroes. Meanwhile, the main thrust of Doomsday Clock so far is Ozymandias’ quest to find Doctor Manhattan (or “God,” as Rorschach calls him); there’s a reliance here on heroes to fix the world’s problems that didn’t exist in the original story, and I’m curious about how much of that is a purposeful departure, and how much of this attitude will carry over to its treatment of the DC heroes. After all, the narrative shifts to Superman as soon as Doctor Manhattan’s name is finally uttered, explicitly linking the two. Is Superman the god who can save Ozymandias’ world instead of Doctor Manhattan, and if so, what does that even mean, both for the Watchmen characters and for those of us reading along at home and the world we live in?

Mike ol’ buddy, I’m really excited that I get to share this piece with you. This is such an unusual and divisive title, and I’m genuinely curious to see what you thought of it.

Michael: Spencer, I gotta say that I really dug Doomsday Clock 1. It’s been nearly two years since the last published comic by Geoff Johns and Gary Frank, which makes me appreciate the time they have taken to craft this tale. After DC Universe Rebirth 1 was published, Johns said he was a little wary of its Watchmen connection, but all of that changed following Trump’s electoral victory. I’m sure that witnessing the very worst our country has to offer made it a whole lot easier to enter the bleak world of Watchmen.

Doomsday Clock‘s mere existence begs for it to be compared to Moore and Gibbons’s Watchmen, but I don’t believe that it should be measured as a sequel, necessarily. As Spencer mentioned, it looks like Doomsday Clock‘s introductory issue might be trusting the platonic superhero more than Watchmen did. On the one hand, it might be too soon to make that claim, as we are just getting (re)acquainted with this world and its characters. On the other hand, I still believe that Johns is using Watchmen in a more meta way to explore how we can take the wrong lessons from these seminal tales of the 1980s.

Rorschach and pals are trying to “find God” but what they’re really looking for is hope. And who do we know that embodies hope? Everyone’s favorite Man of Steel! Do I think that, by finding Doctor Manhattan, Ozymandias and Rorschach will restore hope to their world and everything will be all Watchmen Babies? Not really. The implication is that Doctor Manhattan messes with the continuity/history of the DCU; that he left Watchmen’s universe for Superman’s. At the very least then, Rorschach and Ozy’s goal can be condensed to getting something (Doctor Manhattan) and putting it back where it belongs. Arguably both Watchmen’s universe and Superman’s are worse off for Manhattan’s meddling.

Doomsday Clock 1 suggests that Doctor Manhattan orchestrated the car crash that killed Martha and Jonathan Kent — “God’s plan.”

Superman’s history is already pretty muddled, with interference from not one but two imps from the 5th Dimension. By altering the Kent’s death as a design of Dr. Manhattan, Johns emboldens my hypothesis of the negative effects Watchmen has had.

Spencer mentioned his unease at agreeing with anything Rorschach has to say — something I can relate to, even in the original Watchmen. It’s also important to note, however, that this is not the original Rorschach, so we can’t be sure of what he actually wants or believes. Rorschach proves to The Marionette that he is not the original inkblot bastard by removing his glove and revealing a black hand.

This illustrates that, among other things, this is a different Watchmen tale for a different time. I don’t want to go so far as to compare it to having the first black president, because it’s not — the character of Rorschach is a conservative, blood-thirsty maniac. But by having one of the most recognizable Watchmen characters be a black man, Johns and Frank are saying that there are more voices to be heard than the Dan Dreibergs and the Walter Kovacs of the world. Were there any black heroes in the original Watchmen? I want to say no but I can’t fully recall.

Doomsday Clock 1 also introduced us to two new characters: The Marionette and The Mime. Modeled after Charlton characters Punch and Jewelee, I’m not sure if they are heroes who went nuts or just straight-up bad guys. I love those names though — with their silly circus names they fit right in with Moore and Gibbons’s parable of masked heroes.

The Mime himself is a joy a to watch in action. Gary Frank has a knack for making characters that are charming as well as those who are all kinds of creepy; Mime is a bit of both. The sequence of Mime going to the weapons locker and getting his imaginary weapons was a delight. Frank emphasizes the “weight” of each item as Mime straps on his belt and clutches his gun. This is only topped by a later scene when Rorschach tells him “Don’t point imaginary guns at me.” I would absolutely love it if Mime could actually kill a man with an imaginary bullet.

I’m glad that Spencer pointed out that “President Redford” is actually Robert Redford, because that went completely over my head. Let’s be honest though, even evil Robert Redford from Captain America: Winter Soldier would be preferable to Trump. The panel where the reporter is waiting on a comment from the president and all we see is a golf bag and clubs was simultaneously hilarious and depressing.

Adrian Veidt himself is somewhat of a Trumpian figure. After he’s proven to be the one behind the the death of millions, Veidt is a wanted man and the figure of the public’s anger. While Trump hasn’t committed genocide and people aren’t vandalizing his buildings, there are definitely echoes of those who wish to resist the orange tyrant. Doomsday Clock is the perfect book for this terrifying moment in our country’s history. At best, we might be able to find some hope along with the characters of the book. At worst, we might get to see a world fall apart faster and more disastrously than our own.

For a complete list of what we’re reading, head on over to our Pull List page. Whenever possible, buy your comics from your local mom and pop comic bookstore. If you want to rock digital copies, head on over to Comixology and download issues there. There’s no need to pirate, right?


7 comments on “Doomsday Clock 1: Discussion

  1. How about the lettering in this issue? I don’t have enough of an eye for fonts to comment on those choices, but I can’t believe how effective Rob Leigh’s choice to “hand draw” the balloons was — they just looked so irregular and organic that they really captured the feel of the work Gibbons did for Watchmen. It goes a long way to making this series feel like it’s part of that same world, even if it’s not a detail we’re even consciously aware of.

  2. Well, Scott Snyder can sleep easy, as he is no longer the writer of the event defining completely and utterly missing the point.

    So this is a disaster. The biggest question is just why is everything so trite and unimaginative? If you went back in time five years and said the sequel to Watchmen would have the entire world hunting Ozymandias while he gathered a team of superheroes and supervillains together in a last ditch effort to save the world by finding Doctor Manhattan, even as he struggles with a brain tumour that is destroying his intelligence, you’d be laughed out of the building. And for good reason, because it sounds like generic pulp.

    Not that there is anything wrong about pulp, but that’s not Watchmen is. And this isn’t about Watchmen being a sacred cow. But it is about taking the text as it is, and honestly engaging with what it is.

    Because Watchmen is not a realistic superhero comic with real world political elements.

    Watchmen is an alternate history specifically about the way that history would diverge with the appearance of superheroes.

    This is an important differentiation. That’s why we have the pirate comics, or the worldbuilding around the synthesising of lithium. An existence of real life superheroes makes supercomics comics redundant THEREFORE pirate comics become popular instead. Doctor Manhattan’s power create a cheap method of acquiring lithium THEREFORE all cars are electric. Watchmen is a reasoned extrapolation of what effect superheroes would have on the world.

    Quite simply, there should be no 2017 elements because the book is set in 1992. More importantly, it is set in a 1992 whose history has been radically altered by how it reacted to Action Comics 1, and of the appearance of two superhuman figures (OK, I don’t believe Ozymandias is technically superhuman. But his intelligence is supposed to be far beyond normal human intelligence) and the events of Watchmen.

    To go for the most nitpicky approach, there is no way that Robert Redford would waste his time golfing instead. IF we assume that Robert Redford would win the presidency and would be a bad president who, like Trump, wastes his time with his hobbies instead of engaging with the crises in America, he would be skiing. Because, as any film critic who curses the fact Redford doesn’t love surfing while they fight their way through the cold at Sundance, that’s what Redford likes to do. Though this is ignoring that Redford actually has legitimate activist credentials and would be more invested in politics than Trump. This is nitpicky as hell, but it makes the point. Everything is Watchmen is a reasoned extrapolation of how the events would affect real world. You can’t just throw in an element from 25 years in the future without context.

    And yet, that is what Doomsday Clock does. It doesn’t care about the fundamental building blocks of Watchmen. Otherwise, things would be very different.

    I mean, here’s a question. Why isn’t the Earth suffering a nuclear winter? Watchmen was a setting so close to nuclear war, because of how Doctor Manhattan inflamed the Cold War. If Russian Intelligence believes that the US President was a willing ally of Ozymandias, why hasn’t Russia responded yet? Surely, the last thing that Russia would be doing is following Putin’s playbook, because regardless of the exact nature of Russia (is the Soviet Union still in power? Did they dissolve anyway ?), the Russia of Watchmen’s 1992 will be nothing like the Russia of 2017

    How the hell does North Korea have a missile program that can reach America in 1992? Russia could, but not North Korea.

    Oh, and I am impressed at how the European Union collapsed so quickly. Considering it only formed in 1993, the year after Doomsday Clock…

    That’s what makes Watchmen, Watchmen. Moore put the work in, to specifically achieve his goal of showing his vision of a world with superheroes in it. When Moore said America won Vietnam, it made sense. Johns, just taking the surface level elements and throwing a bunch of meaningless 2017 signifiers over it, serves only to cheapen the canvas he is using. If Johns actually wanted to pull this off, he should actually engage with Watchmen

    But to actually engage with Watchmen is the antithesis of what Johns is trying to do. The Marionette and the Mime are perfect examples. What the hell are actual supervillains doing here? A key point of Watchmen was there are no ‘supervillains’. Characters like Moloch were supposed to be jokes. There were no real supervillains. Just ordinary crime that did not require superheroes in the first place. And now we have Hannibal Lecter types running around? Villains that belong more in pulps than in Watchmen?
    Basing them on Charlton Comics characters really does show how empty the choice is. Watchmen was, of course, not planned to use an original cast of characters. Instead, it was going to use MLJ Comics’ Mighty Crusaders. But then, DC acquired the Charlton Comics characters, and so it was going to use the Charlton comic characters, until everything changed again and original characters were created instead. And in the process of creating these original characters, Moore and Gibbons realised they had created characters that had so distinctly originated with them, that they got DC to sign a contract that essentially realised that fact. Hell, Silk Spectre is inspired more by Black Canary and Phantom Lady than any particular Charlton Character
    Which is to say that Charlton Comics is not some essential part of the Watchmen DNA that needs to be built upon, merely a means to an end of a story that neither begun nor ended with those Charlton characters. If you are creating new characters for Watchmen, you should not be finding a Charlton character to riff on. That is just cheap fanservice that goes against Watchmen’s ethos that comics should be literary. Instead, you should root the characters in Watchmen itself and in the ideas and themes you wish to explore.

    But this comic always takes the trite choice. The first Watchmen posited that in a world where superhumans exists, superhumans would singularly be able to influence events. Doctor Manhattan bent global geopolitics around his very existence, while Ozymandias successfully masterminds his plan simply because he is so much smarter than everyone else that people are unable to stop him in time. Moore specifically assaults the idea that you can just get the right gang of people round and change everything. That’s what happens, except they are 35 minutes late. And yet, that is what Doomsday Clock does. How trite and predictable.

    And how trite and predictable is Ozymandias’ brain tumour. In Watchmen, Ozymandias was compelling in how his supergenius disconnected him from everyone else. We as normal people could not understand his logic. Merely hear him state his conclusions, no matter how monstrous they were, with the knowledge he truly is so much smarter than us that critique is impossible. Like Doctor Manhattan, a scary look at what a superhuman would look like. So far above us, that we ceased to matter. Let’s strip that away and go for the comic book cliché of ‘I have a sickness robbing me of my powers’. I mean, Marvel is doing that exact same plot in Royals. It is a well-worn trope, and that is the last thing Watchmen needs.

    This isn’t about Watchmen being a sacred cow. I don’t actually believe that (though I do believe that not every story needs a sequel. Many stories, good and bad, have endings that should be the end. And Watchmen is one of those stories). But if you are going to engage with Watchmen, do it properly. Engage with the comic you got, and put the effort into it. Especially when engaging in a comic with as much thought put into it as Moore put into Watchmen.

    Don’t just throw a bunch of pulp tropes together to create a banal, generic plot, throw in a bunch of nonsensical 2017 references that you ‘get’ it as you fundamentally misunderstand every point and celebrate the unethicalness of the entire project by dedicating it to Len Wein*

    I’m reminded of the fantastic animation parody Saturday Morning Watchmen. Just taking Watchmen and turning into a corporatized, plastic joke of itself


    *Len Wein deserves to have books dedicated to him, but there are a million better choices. Most obviously, a Swamp Thing book, but anything would be better than the sequel to the book that he has admitted he mostly kept out of the way of while editing it, then spent the rest of the time casting himself as the villain in one of the biggest creator rights stories in the industry. Dedicating Doomsday Clock to the guy who said that the company that refused to pay Moore and Gibbons the merchandising revenue they were entitled DIDN’T cheat Moore and Gibbons is laughable.
    Len Wein deserved a book dedicated to him. And other book would have been better.

    • It’s a comic book. Relax. You obviously thought alot about this and you make good points but ultimately you are in the minority. Most everyone likes Doomsday Clock. If you don’t like it all I can say is don’t read it.

      • Relax? This is what I do. I write my opinions about comics in the comments here. Sometimes they are praise worthy, sometimes they are harsh. And since you apparently think I am making good points, I can’t see anything wrong with me giving apparently , well reasoned points on why this is a complete and utter disaster. Especially in a comment section designed to give others the space for their own comments. It isn’t even my angriest comment by far. There are plenty of comments on this site I have been far angrier about. This was harsh, but relatively calm.

        If you think that I’ve thought a lot about this and that I make good points, isn’t a better response to state your own well reasoned opinion, instead of saying my supposedly good points don’t matter merely because I’m apparently in the minority? If you honestly think Doomsday Clock is good, surely you have a better defence to my points than ‘don’t read it?’

        Also, I wouldn’t be so confident in the idea that most everyone likes Doomsday Clock. My experience has been that once you leave the fanboy set and start reading comics critics who approach things from outside the fandom bubble (this isn’t a criticism of the fanboy set, merely an acknowledgement of their blind spots. I am certainly part of the fanboy set, and I have the exact same weaknesses), you get a very different reading. I’m seeing lines like ‘But there are at least ways to do this that are entertainingly shite’. I think Doomsday Clock is going to get a very different, very negative response by those whose love of comics don’t include obsession over shared universe connections and overarching metaplots and deep investments in the characters and worlds of the Big Two.

  3. Being an event comic, this is probably the best place to talk about the Justice League movie. Going to be very brutal at the start, but actually have some surprisingly positive things to say, once I acknowledge all of that.

    First and most important thing to say is that, if Justice League was going to pretend Batman v Superman was a completely different, much better movie, they should have just fully embraced alternate reality and pretended Superman always had a giant moustache. Because Superman with a giant moustache would make the movie ten times better. And Henry Cavill’s digital face looks atrocious*

    Secondly, the movie is a complete and utter disaster. But it was never going to be anything else. Between Zack Snyder’s personal struggles (and I give him and his family all the best in a difficult period), the two directors and the already chaotic behind the scenes, I don’t think the movie could have been anything else. Reshoots aren’t a bad thing – many, including Marvel Studios, build reshoots into their production pipeline by design – but any strategy to reshoot at least 20% of the movie is going to suffer from the fact that reshoots are a tool that can only do so much until it can only cripple.

    This means basic production mistakes abound. Every so often, shots will just look wrong as they use dodgy digital editing to try and patch together scenes that were shot on set and scenes that were shot on a greenscreen in reshoots. Or many other similar issues.

    And I would suggest the attempt to try and salvage/change the movie with reshoots and editing is why it is a structural disaster. Payoffs often come before set ups. The inciting incident comes after the Batman decides to gather the Justice League to deal with… the inciting incident. The Justice League come together in an equivalent of the ‘That’s my secret, I’m always angry’ moment that takes places after the fight celebrating the formed League. I saw some mention that every character is revealed in the third shot they are in, instead of their first, and they probably aren’t wrong.

    That isn’t to say that every problem with the fundamentals come down to the plagued production. Some is just good old fashioned bad decision making. If you thought the first Avengers was sluggish and overwrought with how it introduced the team (and it was), Justice League makes Avengers’ first act look breezy and well-constructed as you slave yourself through everyone getting crappy Refusal of the Call arcs in what is a torturously padded start for a movie that has been hacked apart to fit a relatively breezy 2 hour runtime compared to the longer movie it was designed to be. Justice League is no better proof of why Refusal of the Call is such a terrible narrative device. And it is made worse by additions like Wonder Woman’s fight scene at the start, that so obviously added in reshoots because her movie was so well received. Despite the fact that it has nothing to do with anything and serves only to distract from the story and stall momentum, it is there.

    At least it is a good action scene. Now that I think about it, that may be the only functional fight scene the DCEU has put to film (actually, Steppenwolf v the Amazons is also pretty good. Better, both as an action sequence and as a functional part of the plot). The rest of the action scenes are almost Wonder Woman level terrible, very nearly the worst DC have put to screen. The easiest comparison is to Wonder Woman’s atrocious Amazons v Germans fight. It is more tonally controlled than how that fight jumped between tones with every shot, but the same complete absence of storytelling abounds, where characters just teleport into new contexts with no narrative for whatever a specific beat requires, before disappearing again. Cyborg begins in the middle of the melee, then just appears to be managing the crowd control for no reason at all. Hell, the ending fight scene compounds these issues with the sharing of issues from Wonder Woman’s other atrocious action sequence, and what has probably been my cinematic year’s low point, the trench/village fight scene. It isn’t that bad – I think Justice League is too bad of a movie to be that bad. That Wonder Woman fight is specifically horrible because of just how well it ritualistically murders every piece of goodwill you have for a movie that had, until that point, recovered from its very rocky start to become a near masterpiece –but it is a similar assault on everything the movie is about.

    And then there is the fanservice, the way that so much of the post production decisions are basically ‘I surrender’. The fact that the John Williams Superman and Danny Elfman Batman themes are actually used is a travesty. It as a complete lack of imagination, a surrender to the idea of the movie having its own identity or functioning on its own. Especially as the Danny Elfman theme just doesn’t work in such a different context. Though the big saving grace is Wonder Woman’s theme. I still have no idea who decided on Wonder Woman’s bafflingly stupid theme, but Elfman wisely rearranges it to get rid of the out of place metal elements (it was an electric cello originally, I believe) and replaces it with a more classical string composition that keeps the fantastic tune but sounds appropriate. Mythic, classic, and heroic. Wonder Woman finally sounds like Wonder Woman.

    Honestly, that last sentence is the best way to describe the strengths. Because at the end of the day, the DC characters finally sound like themselves. And there is a real sense that while Justice League is a complete disaster, DC may have finally turned a page. This movie was never going to be good, but they managed to at least use it to show they’d learned their mistakes. After four movies that, with the exception of the great half of Wonder Woman, were dedicated to grievously failing on character in just about every level imaginable, DC can finally say they have characters we want to see in movies. This does no redeem Justice League, or any of the previous movies for their sins. Bad is bad, and a future movie cannot fix the flaws of a previous movie. But, considering that characters are THE biggest element that will be moving forward, the fact that the characters work is important.

    Now, it isn’t entirely perfect. As much as I love JK Simmons (and I truly love him), I really didn’t like him as Commissioner Gordon. Maybe it is because Gary Oldman’s portrayal was so legendary, but Simmons did very little to stand out, and Simmons has done a hell of a lot with little before. He’s basically exactly the Gordon you see in the comics, and nothing more. Feels empty and flat (on the other hand, I liked what little I saw of Amber Heard’s Mera. We don’t get to see a lot, but I think she’ll really get to show the fire that I love so much in the character, especially in the hands of a good director like James Wan. Billy Crudup is also instantly sympathetic and compulsively watchable as Henry Allen). But as we enter the League itself, I’m actually pretty happy.

    Cyborg is probably the biggest problem. Ray Fisher’s performance is specifically designed to be internal as a counter point to the rest of the League’s more external performance. From a franchise perspective, this is a wise choice as it helps different Cyborg from the others. And, it is fitting for a character whose primary drama comes from his relationship with his own body to have a very internal performance. The problem is that in a movie where characters arc… don’t exist, this sort of performance doesn’t work. The subtle intricacies of Cyborg’s arc is hard to get across when half of the key scenes are missing. The other problem with Cyborg is he looks terrible. Were it not for Superman, who haunts my nightmares, he would be by far the worst CG effect. Still, Fisher’s performance suggests that he could be great in another movie.

    With Batman, that question of whether he could be great in another movie is much harder to answer. Batman is written really well, but Ben Affleck obviously doesn’t care anymore. Affleck gave a great performance in Batman v Superman (it didn’t save anything, but it was a great performance), but he obviously is tired and just wants to escape DC. And this kills the chemistry between him and Ironside’s Alfred that was Batman v Superman’s strongest element. I hope the rumours of recasting are true. Still, Batman is written well. Here, the idea of an aged Batman actually matters (qualifier: the movie is so poorly assembled nothing matters except on a scene by scene basis. The idea of an aged Batman matters in many individual scenes). Batman is a veteran facing the fact that the world has changed on him. The threats escalated to show a world completely new and completely beyond the scope of a man who used to fight mobsters. And his actions are a response to that reality. He knows he can’t stop fighting, but he knows he is also facing annihilation and is trying is hardest to make sure that something exists to replace him. And unable to meaningfully save the world, he wants to, essentially, inspire a new, superpowered generation to do so (there have been rumours that the early plan was for Affleck to leave the DCEU early and have the Batman mantle passed down from Bruce to Terry McGuiness, until the failure of Batman v Superman changed plans. That really would have worked, especially if you embrace the high tech Batman Beyond suit). And there are several scenes that really, really sing. The ending idea of taking the hollowed out, decayed Wayne Manor (one of those Batman v Superman ideas that would have worked so well in a competent movie) and transforming it into the Hall of Justice is amazing, and I love the Batman/Wonder Woman scene where she helps him with his wounds, really emphasising his mortality. But the stand out is the ‘Save One’ moment, where he mentors Flash into becoming a hero with the most perfect bit of advice. It is a truly magnificent Batman moment, an example of how Batman can act as an inspiration to discover the heroism in ourselves. I’d say that it is the perfect representation of the strengths of Scott Snyder’s Batman work, but after Metal I’m not sure we’re allowed to say Scott Snyder has any idea of how Batman works anymore. Still, Affleck’s Batman’s focus on elements like his mortality or his ability to inspire others creates a strong Batman. And even if I don’t want Affleck back (go back to directing movies like Argo), I’d love more of this sort of Batman. Hell, despite briefly using a parademon gun at one point, this Batman is a better depiction of Batman than, say, any recent comics.

    Wonder Woman’s depiction, however, is quite rooted in the recent movie (the good half of the movie, however). They reconcile the movie with the fact that she disappeared for decades well, by saying that after Steve Trevor’s death, she could not bear to lead. Always fighting, but keeping to the shadows specifically so none would die following her example. Doesn’t fit the reasoning given in Batman v Superman, but the only part of the movie that feel slavishly loyal to how things went in that shitfire, instead of pretending that movie played completely differently, is Superman’s clean shaven face. Characterisation is generally reminiscent to the stronger parts of the Wonder Woman movie, and Gal Gadot’s performance is much closer to the mesmerising performance of her own movie than the sleepwalking she did in Batman v Superman. Though she suffers in a way Batman doesn’t from where she is positioned with respect to Superman (I’ll get more into that later). The way Superman intersects with the plot generally places Wonder Woman centre into all the scenes that aren’t memorable.

    Flash and Aquaman, meanwhile, get to enjoy not being in the centre of things, and just get to be fun characters. Ezra Miller gives a charismatic performance as the Flash, really showing the difference between a movie star and CW acting (CW does a lot of great shows, but also favours a really poor acting approach in too many shows). In true Justice League fashion, Flash is positioned more in the comic relief section, and he is always entertaining to see perform, doing a good job at handling even the more questionable jokes he is given.

    And Aquaman is wonderful, when just allowed to be himself. He steals the show with, ultimately, single one or two word lines that are more expressions of passion than actual lines, and they work so well. It makes him the stand out. The rest of the characters are good, but there is a joy to Aquaman scenes that there isn’t with anyone else. They even give him some interesting depth, focusing on the ways his biracial heritage informs his decisions in so many ways. Never deep, but painting a picture of a character with enough richness to support a movie

    And then there is Superman. Superman is a disaster. Not the character himself, who has completely been rewritten into the character of the comics. We are now supposed to pretend that Superman was always a charming hero with a scary digital face, and not a sad man who was barely heroic and just made everything feel depressing. And the new Superman is great, with all sorts of great Supermany moments. Telling Batman to pause his exposition dump because he has to go off and save some civilians beign a highlight. But his every part of this movie just takes a movie already plagued by production disasters and creates greater story issues.

    The basic outline of the movie is great. We open with a scene of a montage of a world without hope as our opening credits, with legitimately great film making. And the formation of the Justice League restores hope. That’s why I love the idea of Batman forming the Justice League in response to Superman’s death.

    But the way Superman intersects with the plot is terrible. Rumours, backed up with production stills, hinted that the original plan was that Superman would be resurrected by Steppenwolf evil, and that the Justice League would have to save him, and then they work together to stop Steppenwolf. That would have worked, the loss of hope manifest in evil Superman, and hope’s restoration found by saving Superman from mind control.

    Instead, Batman suddenly goes ‘we can resurrect Superman’ and the entire story grinds to a halt to resurrect Superman. Steppenwolf, Mother Boxes etc all go into the background, forgotten, for possibly the worst way to resurrect Superman. It feels unmotivated by story elements (Batman has a strong motivation for doing this, but the story doesn’t make the mechanics of resurrection feel like naything except convenient) and creates massive story issues to a movie that didn’t need more. And after the torture of the first act’s length, wasting the middle with this is a real problem.

    Even worse, when Superman does turn up, he is so powerful and so good, all he does is render the Justice League redundant. Every scene is about how useless an individual League member is how how much better Superman is. The movie argues against the Justice League, and makes them feel inconsequential compared to Superman. There is a reason I said an action sequence is comparable to the atrocious trenches/village fight from Wonder Woman. Just like that fight is a refutation of every line about love and war and morality that Wonder Woman spoke of earlier, the climax is a refutation of the very concept of the Justice League. There has always been discussions of the Superman problem in Justice League stories, the idea that Superman makes everyone else redundant. Never has that been more clear than this movie.

    So yeah, Justice League is a complete disaster. But it is a likable disaster. It is fun, and the characters are strong. Which means, I actually left enjoying it. This is quite clearly one of the worst movies of the year (it is hard for me to say specifically whether it would be the bottom of my list of comic book movies of the year, as depending on the time of day, I can give a well-reasoned opinion on why Wonder Woman can be on any position of the list from 3rd best all the way down to clear worst), and it will not hold up to a second screening. But at the very least, it is a sign of hope that DC will improve. Even if my post film conversation quickly shifted away from DC’s future and towards the Marvel movies.


    *To those that haven’t heard, because of the extensive reshoots, nearly every Superman scene is actually filmed while Henry Cavill was contractually obligated not to shave his giant moustache that he needs for the next Mission Impossible movie. So Warner Brothers decided to digitally remove the moustache from every shot. Badly.

    • I am far too busy with western comics, literature, cinema, TV, video games, roleplaying games and reading criticism of the same to invest the time into learning about a mostly new set of rules to be able to have informed critiques. My backlogs for everything else is far, far too large to pick up manga. So unfortunately not

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