Doomsday Clock 3: 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: What’s the most controversial element of the original Watchmen? For my money, it’s the pirate comics. I understand and appreciate the in-universe reasons for choosing pirates, and I understand their function in reflecting the themes of the story in a sort of parallel narrative, but I’ll admit that, while many readers consider them sacred, I’ve skipped them in all my subsequent Watchmen rereads. To me, those segments have always felt tantamount to the supplemental material in the back of each issue, something extra and non-essential, important more as an intellectual exercise than as an interesting narrative, or an interesting part of the overall Watchmen narrative, in their own right. Issue three of Geoff Johns and Gary Frank’s Doomsday Clock introduces this semi-sequel’s own version of the pirate comics: the noir movie. I have similar issues with these segments as well.

Similar issues, but thankfully, not identical. Unlike the pirate comics, I’m actually invested in The Adjournment‘s murder mystery, and in its behind-the-scenes murder mystery as well. The supplemental material also draws explicit connections between the film — or, at least, the Hollywood era that birthed it — and some major DC players, including Rita Farr (The Doom Patrol’s Elasti-Girl), Sgt. Rock and Easy Company, Ted Grant (The JSA’s Wildcat), and Libby Lawrence (The All-Star Squadron’s Liberty Belle). In fact, readers are first introduced to the film when it starts playing at former JSA member Johnny Thunder’s nursing home. All this connects the movie to the world around Doomsday Clock in a way I don’t necessarily think the pirate comics ever were.

Of course, as of now these DC connections are meaningless; in fact, Johnny Thunder mostly seems to appear as an excuse to introduce The Adjournment, not the other way around. Instead, Johns seems to be using the movie in the same way Alan Moore used the pirate comic: narration from the movie is used to segue between one scene and another, and events and themes from the film resonate with the rest of the issue’s story — the best example is the comparison Johns draws between the loss of Nathaniel Dusk’s family and Johnny Thunder’s family breaking their promise to visit him. The plot of the movie involves two men murdered while playing chess, and apparently the twist is that one of the victims was a murderer himself. Could this be a reference to the tussle between Comedian and Ozymandias that opened the issue, or perhaps foreshadowing of future events?

Ultimately, though, I feel the same way about The Adjournment as I do about the pirate comics — they’re interesting intellectual exercises, but I don’t know if they help me get anything extra out of the narrative. This seems especially egregious in Doomsday Clock 3, an issue where the movie takes up quite a bit of space, but ultimately, not that much happens. Thankfully, what happens in this issue seems far less important than how it happens. Marionette and Mime’s excursion could be summed up in a sentence or cut to less than a page, but it would rob us of some gorgeously rendered Gary Frank fight scenes. Likewise, The Comedian/Ozymandias match-up revels in the minute details of the fight.

I can imagine many artists fitting this exchange into a single panel, using speed lines, blur effects, and afterimages to convey Adrian’s speed. Frank, though, wants us to be aware of each and every shot, of every beat of the battle. It slows the pace of the narrative down, turning quick encounters into immersive experiences. Later in the issue Frank and Johns use this trick to a different effect, putting the reader in Rorschach’s shoes as time slows to a crawl around him.

This time we aren’t meant to be relishing every hit, but to be frustrated like Rorschach, to be feeling every excruciating second of Batman’s read pass as if they were an hour. It’s tremendous use of layouts to control the pace, tone, and feeling of the story.

Rorschach’s plot this month brings me both my favorite moment of the issue, and my least. Favorites first: I love what little we get to see of this new Rorschach’s origin.

Tying him directly into Ozymandias’ attack on New York makes his relationship with Veidt much more complex, but it’s also a much more compelling reason to revisit Watchmen at all. I didn’t need a story that conclusively resolved Watchmen‘s open ending, but a story recounting the fallout of Veidt’s attack on one individual person feels much more worthwhile to me; it’s a chance to deepen the original story without betraying it, which I appreciate.

I’m much more sour, though, on Batman’s locking Ozymandias up in Arkham. It’s a great twist, but I feel like Johns came up with the twist first and strained to make the story reach that point. Why would Batman lock a man who knows his secret identity and spent the night in his house up in Arkham? That’s reckless! Shouldn’t he be much more curious about someone who just showed up in the Batcave in the first place? It feels like Batman’s making dumb choices just to reach a preconceived plot point, which isn’t great storytelling.

Michael, for an issue where not much happened, there’s still so much I couldn’t cover. What’s your take on the Comedian/Ozymandias fight, or on Comedian’s survival at all? How does that even work? How do you feel about Mime and his imaginary/invisible guns? And what’s your read on The Adjournment and its role in Doomsday Clock? Do you think we’ll even see it again, or will it be a one-issue idea rather than a running segment?

Michael: Spencer I’m with you on everything you just said — you’re right on the money my friend. Like Spencer, I painfully read through The Tales of the Black Freighter and was frustrated at its lack of payoff/synchronicity with the main Watchmen story. I am optimistic that The Adjournment and the mystery surrounding Nathaniel Dusk’s death will tie-in better with Doomsday Clock, for the reasons mentioned above. However the introduction of the vague plot elements of The Adjournment and Johnny Thunder coupled with Batman’s bullheaded decisions at issue’s end make Doomsday Clock 3 the weakest chapter thus far. Once the series is completed, a little bit of hindsight bias could change that however.

Batman is often portrayed as the master strategist, the chess player that is ten steps ahead of his opponent. But despite his genius-level intellect and expert detective skills, writers often portray him as stubborn and skeptical, unwilling to accept evidence that he doesn’t believe or understand. Scott Snyder has done this a few times in his run with the character and Geoff Johns does it again in Doomsday Clock 3.

As Spencer mentioned, the logic of Batman locking up some crazy dude who knows his secret identity in Arkham Asylum — the one place where you’re sure to find hundreds of people who want to kill or crush Batman — is bananas. I get as frustrated with this frequent version of Batman as I did with Jack on LOST. You have this man of science and logic who believes he has the whole world figured out, but when he stumbles upon something that doesn’t jibe with that notion he freaks the fuck out. In the context of the whacky multiverse of the DCU, is Walter Kovacs’ journal really all that out there? Would Batman simply deny this possibility, get rid of Rorschach and not investigate further? I don’t believe so, and I am sure we will see a change of heart in Batman — hopefully sooner than later.

Let’s focus on “The Comedian Conundrum,” shall we? The world of Doomsday Clock 1 takes the events of Watchmen as gospel — everything that happened in that book set up the hellscape world on the brink of Armageddon that Adrian & pals narrowly escaped. So it stands to reason that Edward Blake — The Comedian — still fell to his death and was buried. Without that inciting incident, there is no rest of the Watchmen story as we know it.

And yet Gary Frank shows us an alternate resolution to Blake’s perilous plummet. Doctor Manhattan appears to have saved Blake, transporting him to another world and dropping him in the Gotham harbor. So which is it? Did Blake still meet his inevitable end, causing the chain of events that led us here to still occur? Did he alter the history of the Watchmen universe? Or neither? My money’s on neither.

Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons crafted Manhattan as a character whose godly powers removed him from the bounds of normal human society. His ability to see the events of time and space simultaneously instead of linearly made him value human life less — or at least value it differently. With that in mind I’d say that as far as Doctor Manhattan is concerned, there is no “change” to Blake’s fate. Manhattan has momentarily plucked The Comedian out of his original narrative for reasons unknown — but I believe that after he’s done with him, Blake will still end up street pizza. There is no time travel or time stream change because for Manhattan it is all happening at the same time.

Doomsday Clock continues to stand out from its predecessor for the sheer inclusion of The Mime and The Marionette, who continue to wickedly delight. These characters fit so well into the Watchmen world, and I commend Johns and Frank for their slow burn reveal of The Mime’s weapons. For two issues we’ve laughed at, but been unsure of just what The Mime was capable of. Does he have powers that allow him to mime guns and conjure bullets? Is it just a psychological game? It turns out that our boy is in fact packing heat — real invisible guns.

The conceit of Watchmen was that in a world of masked heroes Doctor Manhattan was the only one who had actual superpowers, which this seems to hold up. I wouldn’t be surprised if the invisible weapons are somehow tied to Manhattan’s powers. Waiting to reveal those invisible weapons until Marionette and Mime arrive in Gotham was also a nice touch. Like their Dark Knight Detective of Science, Gotham City operates on “real world” threats. This makes the reveal of The Mime’s guns even more striking and theatric — putting on a show for the local yokels as it were.

I’m still 100% onboard for this series, but this issue did leave me a little disappointed. That’s not that really that surprising for a third issue, however. In the first two issues Johns and Frank introduced us to the world of Doomsday Clock and then pulled the rug out from underneath us. Now we are in the thick of it, with clues and trails that we don’t really know what to do with yet. But unlike Batman, I’m not choosing to ignore them and walk away. Bat-burn!

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?


4 comments on “Doomsday Clock 3: Discussion

  1. You can’t….you can’t just leave someone in an empty room in a mental hospital and expect the problem to go away. Like, I’m sure there are Batman stories from early on where that’s exactly what WOULD happen; Batman would just find a cell in a jail or a mental hospital to put the criminal in, and it would work out because of the less than realistic world of comics back in the day. Now that comics are at least making gestures towards realism–and what more realistic take on the superhero is there than Watchmen–those elastic rules don’t really work anymore. You can’t just expect me to believe that Batman (who is APPARENTLY the second smartest person in the world) would think it was either wise or feasible to leave a man he knows nothing about–IN FULL COSTUME, which could be hiding who knows what weapons for all Batman knows–in an empty cel at Arkham Asylum AFTER the guy demonstrated he could break into the friggin Batcave. It strains credulity.

    • Honestly, the biggest problem isn’t so much the logic or realism of the scene, but the messaging. The biggest problem is that Batman is written as a complete and utter fascist.

      Superheroes always have the risk of endorsing fascism, because of the nature of the characters. And Geoff Johns fully commits to a vision of the ‘true’ DC Universe being fascist. Batman acts as judge, jury and executioner. The idea of due process or justice is nonexistent. Merely Batman merely being the singular arbiter of what’s right. What he says, goes. Batman as dictator.

      Hell, does Rorschach even deserve to be in Arkham? Could you make a case that he should go to what is a criminal institution, instead of a more standard mental health facility? Gotham as many, much better places to take Rorschach, a more typical place to help someone suffering from mental illness. Batman could approach the situation with compassion, provide the care needed by a victim of mental illness.

      Though even if Batman locked Rorschach in a non-Arkham facility, that wouldn’t matter, as there is no diagnosis. No treatment plan. And if we ignore the mental illness angle, it still is bad. Because you don’t just lock up undesirables out of a belief that they are dangerous. Even if you think you have good evidence, like Kovacs’ diary, you still need to go through the necessary procedures, and to sentence him fairly. So that Rorschach gets punished for only what he deserves, and no more. There is a reason that writers like Snyder, or Dini, or many other pre-Rebirth writers would actually put a lot of focus on these elements of Batman. Johns just ignores all this stuff, and depicts a Batman who doesn’t care for justice, just a wish to purge the undesirables.
      A fascist, who cares only to impose his will on the world.

      And while it is clear that Johns wants to use this to scene to criticise Watchmen, by showing DC heroes doing what should have been done to the Watchmen heroes, the fact that he depicts it like this makes the messaging abhorrent. Rorschach is a clear example of a critique of fascism, and so the messaging of Johns’ Fasch-man locking up Rorschach means the problem with Rorschach isn’t that Rorschach is fascist, or a horrible person that doesn’t deserve to be a hero. Just that he doesn’t do a good enough job at being a fascist. That the fact that he’s unstable means he’s unfit to be a superhero, unlike Batman is is shown as a perfectly stable fascist (there is a similar problem last issue, where Lex Luthor calls Veidt’s plan stupid. You could have used that as a damning critique of Veidt supposed moral goals (what if Lex Luthor agreed with the plan, in such a way that it made clear how monstorous it was). It wouldn’t have been a good scene, nothing and no one in Watchmen pretends Veidt’s plan wasn’t monstrous. But it would be better than what we got. Instead, the core disagreement with Veidt’s actions was purely intellectual. The problem with Veidt was that he wasn’t a good enough supervillain, not that he was a supervillain).

      Every time Johns tries to criticise Watchmen, and he’s obsessed with doing so, he ends up criticising it for not being fascist enough. Which would be bad normally, but especially bad consdiering Watchmen is an antifascist text. Hell, this scene, with its obsession with tradition and hatred of modernity, it’s focus on Batman doing action for action’s sake, a sense of being threatened by a character who is ultimately representative of criticism on superhero comics AND a character notable for how different he is presented to the normal superhero, the contempt for the weak in the way it doesn’t care for Rorschach’s real issues when he is locked up (think back to when I discussed how its criticism was that Rorschach was too unstable a fascist, then think about how often the mentally ill are targeted by fascists), it ticks off six of the fourteen features of fascism.

      Which sin’t to say that Johns means for this to be fascist, but that it is the unintended subtext of what Johns primary message is. Ultimately, every time that Johns’ criticises Watchmen, unlike Morrison in Pax Americana, he never attempts to argue with Watchmen’s arguments on the toxic underpinnnig of superheroes. Instead, he seeks merely to dismiss it because he rejects Watchmen for challenging superheroes. Johns never says that ‘no, we are better than what Watchmen says we are’. It says, ‘we shouldn’t listen to Watchmen, because it is beneath us.

      Johns could have had Batman and Rorschach fighting alongside each other, and Batman being forced to reign in Rorschach because he’s very obviously not a superhero. Have Batman discuss exactly that they are not like that, and on the necessity of the police in what they do. Commissioner GOrdon would be brilliant to use here – the difference between Batman and Rorschach is that Batman exists with the police’s blessing. But that’s not what happens

      Batman locking up Rorschach isn’t a refutation on the idea that superheroes are fascist figures that desecrate the very concept of justice that they supposedly fight for because they are actually single minded authoritarians that act as judge, jury and executioner on whoever they view as undesirable, with no input from greater society. Instead, Batman does exactly that. Batman locking up Rorschach instead suggests that Rorschach. Instead, Rorschach must be locked up because Rorschach and Doomsday CLock Batman are the same character, and the problem with Rorschach is that he reveals the illusion.

      The problem with Watchmen, according to Doomsday Clock, is that superheroes should be above criticism.

      And that is why I see the scene as so, so bad. Though yeah, the logic makes no sense either

  2. It is with this issue that Doomsday CLock shifts from artistically indefensible to morally indefensible. This book was already a complete fail on a basic quality level, but here it takes a new level of horribleness. This book is vile. Geoff Johns abandoned basic human decency to write this issue, and the fact that DC let this issue get published is an affront on DC as bad as the Action Comics erasure of war crimes. What Geoff Johns did was so cruel and cowardly, so against the heroic messgae of what superheroes are supposed to be, Johns should be removed from this book. It is incredible that a series that begun with an issue as spectacularly bad as the first issue has such a consistently steep decline in quality.

    So let’s talk about the comedian. Not Blake*. The other one. The one who tells a hackish joke and gets bottled on stage. That isn’t a random extra. That is a cameo of a real comedian. Stewart Lee. So Johns depicted a real world comedian as a hack and then had him assasulted in his comic book. And why?

    Because Stewart Lee is known as a friend and colleague of Alan Moore. That is fucking sick. Vile.

    Doomsday Clock already struggled trying to making a case why it was morally defensible. The moment DC cheated Moore and Gibbons out of the merchandising money they were owed by contract, DC lost nearly every moral argument they could make about Watchmen.

    But to attack Moore’s friends for the ‘crime’ of being friends with Moore. That is disgusting and indefensible. Even if Moore was clearly in the wrong and DC was clearly in the right, instead of the exact opposite, this would be indefensible. DC have lost any claim on art or merit to anything DC produce. Any claim to the idea they have any form of morality.

    How is it possible to justify the existence of JLA or the Terrifics after this? How can you justify DC taking characters that were decidedly not made to be part of the DC Universe and the creators obviously don’t want to be part of the DC Universe as anything other than an assault on Moore. DC cannot claim that the use of Watchmen, Promethea and Tom Strong in Doomsday Clock, JLA and the Terrifics is in anyway justified by the artistic needs of a project or the needs to have a story to tell when they use their books as a way to attack Moore through his friends. You cannot justify the use of Promethea and Tom Strong happening at the exact same time as this travesty.

    Three issues in, and Doomsday Clock doesn’t even have a fucking story. Nothing has happened except a bunch of characters being written out of character wandering around aimlessly while Johns stands in the corner screaming ‘Watchmen is bad! Aren’t I clever’ while handing Frank a script that both constantly makes a mockery of itself it how it misunderstands Watchmen’s form, makes the most basic errors of understanding of Watchmen and can’t think of a better criticism of Watchmen better than ‘Watchmen is antifascist’.

    And yet, despite all of those problems, Johns has the time to viciously attack Alan Moore’s friends.

    This is disgusting. This is not just a crappy comic. This is beneath contempt.

    There is nothing worth saying about Doomsday Clock that isn’t burning the garbage pile to the ground. We should not waste a single word saying anything positive about Doomsday Clock, because it lost that chance.

    You do not attack an innocent person for being friends with Alan Moore


    *Although let’s make clear, Blake is yet another indication that Johns fundamentally does not get Watchmen even on the most basic levels. There is no way Doctor Manhattan could have done this to Blake, because Doctor Manhattan can’t time travel. Instead, he sees the entire of time at once, and therefore knows what needs to be done. Which means, firstly, that he can’t return Blake to the fall after the events of this book.

    But Doctor Manhattan couldn’t even have grabbed Blake as he fell (or, at least, he would have no reason to). Saving Blake like this makes no sense in the context of the original Watchmen and would actually speak against what the point of the original Watchmen and Doctor Manhattan’s arc (not that Doomsday Clock hasn’t done that with Doctor Manhattan before. See Doctor Manhattan choosing not to kill Marionette because she’s pregnant). The Doctor Manhattan of Watchmen wouldn’t care about Blake. This could only make sense if it was the Doctor Manhattan after Watchmen, the Doctor Manhattan who learned the value of humanity on Mars and the Doctor Manhattan everyone is trying to find.

    But it can’t have anything to do with the post-Watchmen Doctor Manhattan, because the post-Watchmen Doctor Manhattan couldn’t communicate with his previous self like every other Doctor Manhattan could. Veidt had used tachyons to blind Doctor Manhattan’s ability to see the future. It is the fundamental part of Manhattan’s arc. Veidt’s manipulations frees Manhattan from his non linear existence but blinding him to what is about to happen. With the future uncertain, he actually has the ability to change and adapt, because his view of the universe isn’t static and unchanging. That is how Laurie is able to show him the value of life, and how Doctor Manhattan becomes someone who cares about life instead of ignoring it. Johns fundamentally misunderstands Doctor Manhattan. Does not get the character in any way. Or Watchmen

  3. I don’t have much to add here. I think Mime and Marionette are pretty cool and would have made good Batman villains. Otherwise, I think this is pretty boring and unremarkable and it just doesn’t really feel right to me. There are too many things off from the known characteristics of the characters.

    I probably am dropping this. I’m trying to support Lion Forge comics which has a pretty good start to a new superhero line and some Chapterhouse comics which also is developing a decent new world.

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