By Patrick Ehlers
This article contains SPOILERS. If you haven’t read the issue yet, proceed at your own risk!
If I asked you to picture the single imagine that evokes Watchmen, what would you picture? Likely, you’re imagining the Comedian’s smiley face button, but I could also see an argument for Doctor Manhattan’s circular forehead logo. Both symbols are circles. I know that’s not exactly mind-blowing, but this is the level of visual rhetoric writer Geoff Johns and artist Gary Frank are playing with in Doomsday Clock 6.
The series continues to slump along in much the same way it did last time we talked about it. This time, Marionette and Mime are the focus of the story, which really doesn’t do Johns or Frank any favors. Stripped of all but the most tangential references to the Watchmen universe, the creators are left with the tone and tools of the piece to tell a story that spans two tonally discrete universes. If that sounds like an inadequate set of tools to complete an impossible task, that’s because it is.
Still, it’s worth looking in to what Johns and Frank do accomplish here. Marionette’s backstory is told in flashback throughout the issue. Notably, we get the same bits of dialogue at both the beginning of the piece and 18-pages in — the cops asking Erika’s father for their cut of the drop and him resisting them. I believe we’re seeing the same event twice — that cue about the leprechaun puppet seems like it could only be true once — but that send me back to the first page multiple times, trying to discern the scene’s importance.
Thing is: there may only be surface level significance at play here. Let’s take a look at this first page.
Okay, so we’ve got the whole page circled with images of young Erika’s face, with each successive panel zooming in on her further. That’s alternated with panels that zoom in on face of the doll she will end up modeling her supervillain identity after. The rubber meets the road on the bottom row, as Frank presents us with the incident that transformed Erika, followed by the most extreme close-up we’ve seen on young Erika’s face, followed my a matching shot of adult Marionette. That does an effective job of telling her story, even showing how her straight-mouth stoicism is a handy coping mechanism. And we’ve got the added bonus of leveraging the circular shape in both the layout and highlighting the use of circles in Marionette’s face paint.
But this is where I feel like my analytical approach to comics betrays me. Is what I just described cool? Or as these rhetorical fireworks only meaningful if there’s some actual substance to the story that follows? The rest of the issue alternates between an origin story that never justifies a sociopathic break, and a meeting between the DC Universe’s biggest villains (plus Marionette and Mime). Is there a connection between the two? Jesus, man, I don’t know. To my mind, neither seems to earn the use of violence to move the story forward. Fuck, Marionette garrotes a dude’s head off while Mime gouge’s his buddy’s eyes out, before Joke shoots that dude in the head. Then they’re all just… cool about it?
I would believe that Freeze’s goons are supposed to be our perspective characters in this moment. We’re so shocked! Can we even believe the level of brutality we’re seeing!?
The answer, of course, is “yes, duh, Joker is in this scene.” No amount of detached sociopathy is going to register when Mr. J is around. Especially when it’s being exhibited by a pair of characters a) we don’t know and b) who have very superficial explanations for their behavior.
By the end of the issue we’re snapping back from the last bit of flashback, but if other readers are anything like me, the return to the present is disorienting as hell. Marionette and Mime have seemingly escaped Comedian’s rampage just to fuck in… some kind of room just off the supervillain-meeting-space / mis-used-subway-station. (Alone in a waiting room, I audibly said “Huh?”) This conclusion is interlaced with yet another flashback to what I can only assume is Marionette having a baby in prison and it being taken away. Is that the motivating factor that turned her into the killer she is today? Great point: who knows? Johns and Frank are too confident in their tricks to actually develop any of the psychology behind the behavior they’re showing.
The conversation doesn’t stop there. What do you wanna talk about from this issue?
UGH. This is such a bummer, I had such high hopes after the first couple of issues but this series is really spinning its wheels. What is even happening in this book anymore? “Oh look, there’s The Comedian.” “Oh cool, The Joker is palling around with Watchmen-ish characters.”
I’ll admit the first time I read Watchmen I questioned some of the minutiae, not knowing where it was headed; eventually it all made some sort of sense. I do not get a sense that Doomsday Clock is going to come back around and make sense of this aimless meandering.
With 6 issues left we are at the halfway mark, so it’s possible Doomsday Clock can rebound. To marry a couple of idioms: I’m crossing my fingers, but I’m not holding my breath.
Yeah, this definitely has that “oh shit, twelve is a lot of issues” feeling to it. I don’t ever really want to say that something is “throw away,” that every piece helps complete the puzzle, but I’m having a hard time divining the meaning of this particular piece. It makes my stomach turn a little to think that maybe all that’s happening is that Johns is using two current horrors–police corruption and separating children from their mothers–and stapling them onto this narrative. I praised the first issue for presenting the horrors of 2018 in such an unflinching way, but this feels markedly less nuanced.
Plus, young Erika killing TWO COPS felt way too much like some Hit-Girl wish-fulfillment bullshit.
I still don’t understand how Geoff Johns misunderstands the most basic parts of Watchmen. The idea that other than Doctor Manhattan and Ozymandias, no one is superhuman. That all the characters can’t do flips and all that stuff. That a young kid can’t kill two police officers. The fact that Geoff Johns has consistently and completely misunderstood that is such a big reason why this book has been an unmitigated disaster from the first panel. Geoff Johns doesn’t understand the most basic elements of Watchmen.
Doomsday Clock has technically improved. We are long past the godawful first four issues that are essentially irredeemable (especially the third issue that Geoff Johns should be fired like he is Rosanne)
This isn’t the first issue, with its truly awful use of modern day elements aren’t so much an unflinching look at 2018 as it is an exploitative use that does nothing but deceptively depict today with gross false equivalencies because Johns can’t understand that Watchmen’s universe is so much more different than “9/11 involved a giant squid”
This isn’t the second issue, that so completely misdiagnoses culture at large while demonstrating no understanding about any of the characters it wants to talk about.
This isn’t the vile, irredeemable third issue
This isn’t the fourth issue’s demonisation of mentally ill people.
Ultimately, the last two issues are just awful. Nice to see Doomsday Clock has stopped being pro fascist and is instead just breathtakingly stupid. But in truth, the only big thing worth saying is that Geoff Johns has wrote six awful issues of a twelve issue event, and there has not been a single issue of plot or forward mometumn. Nothing has happened
And that Geoff Johns should be fired for issue 3
The characterizations of villains (and Batman’s uniform) made me think that this series features not exactly the near future of current mainstream chronology, New 52, but the near future of the chronology Flashpoint left behind in 2011. What do you think?
Oh and extension of the pre-Flashpoint universe? That’s interesting. I would have to brush up on my Convergence mythology to know what exactly that means. I know either Johns or Frank (or maybe it was somebody else) claiming that this was further along in the currently DC timeline, and that Bats’ costume would be changed to this one by the time the rest of the comics caught up to Doomsday Clock. Your theory makes more sense, and might explain what’s really going on here: both of these realities — the Watchmen reality and the pre-New 52 worlds — are being cratered at the same time. Will any of these characters make their way over to… whatever we’re calling the “real” world right now?
For a while now, at least since the Supermen merge and The Button, it does seem like New 52 is converging back to pre-Flashpoint somehow. So, if Dr. Manhattan is as implied in the Flashpoint reboot as it is suggested, and if this series takes to the final merge between New 52 and Flashpoint, maybe it will end up being in the near future of the current mainstream chronology. But all the DC characters’ uniforms are straight from pre-Flashpoint, not from New 52. Not only Batman, but also the Riddler, the Joker and the other villains.
Totally. Riddler is the big tip-off there. Batman is also pretty distinctive (looking a lot like Batman Incorporated Batman), but I could see the design reverting to that eventually. Pajama Riddler is very specific, and I can’t really see any electing to go back to that as part of some cool new re-design.