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?