The Reconstruction of the Superhero: Doomsday Clock 1 & 2

By Andrew Kiess

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November 22nd, 1992… or maybe it’s the 23rd?

It’s been eight years since Adrian Veidt (A.K.A. Ozymandias, the smartest man on Earth) brought world peace in the guise of a staged alien invader, prompting Dr. Manhattan to leave earth. The ruse is up, and the world is converging on Veidt demanding justice for his lie.

The opening monologue from an unfamiliar Rorschach who is unreliable even in his own journal keeping (he is not entirely sure what day it is), sets the reader off with a bit of unease. This is our world, but it’s not our world. This is the world of Alan Moore’s Watchmen, but it’s no longer that world, either. Things have changed. “God turned his back,” Rorschach laments, “Left paradise to us. Like handing a five-year-old a straight razor.” Rorschach sees the world barreling towards complete destruction, “unless we bring God back down. Kicking and screaming because maybe we don’t deserve it. Maybe the world should burn this time. We shattered the American dream. This is the American nightmare.”

We find our new Rorschach, a young black man named Reggie, playing the role of Rorschach to the best of his abilities, breaking two criminals by the names of Mime and Marionette out of prison. The trio make their way to what appears to an abandoned Owl’s Nest where Adrian Veidt, who is revealed to be suffering from a brain tumor, has concocted his latest plan to save the world: find Dr. Manhattan and bring him home. The only problem? No one is exactly sure where he is.

The first book ends with a glimpse of a small Kanas town: Smallville. A nightmare scene of a young boy losing his parents in a car accident unfolds, being revealed to be the nightmare of a sleeping Clark Kent, lying in his Metropolis apartment with Lois Lane. “I can’t remember the last time you had a nightmare,” Lois says. Clark tells her that he’s never had one.

Life’s Not Black And White Like It Used To Be

Following an electron trail, Ozymandias, Rorschach, Mime, and Marionette find themselves in an unfamiliar city called Gotham. Bruce Wayne and Lex Luthor are locked in a legal battle over research into a metagene, research that could show why so many metahumans have appeared in the United States. While Lex Luthor is hailed as one of earth’s greatest minds, Bruce Wayne is being subjected to psychological exams while dealing with a Gotham protesting his existence.

This world baffles Veidt, who observes that many of the costumed heroes in this new world fictional characters in his own. Superman? The Question? Could this world be the creation of Dr. Manhattan? The book closes with Veidt interviewing Lex Luthor, and Rorschach going to the Batcave. Veidt finds an intellect greater than his, and Rorschach finds breakfast. But what becomes apparent quickly will have lasting effects on all these characters going forward.

Obsessed With Reliving Yesterday

1986 changed things for comic books. The combination of the release of Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns shattered many preconceptions on the limits of the medium. Some have lamented these books as being the reason for the dark and gritty obsessed 90s for mainstream superheroes, while others have praised them for being the reason for leaving the campy 60s and 70s behind. They did both, in my opinion.

Since DC Rebirth launched in 2016, a theme of restoration has reverberated throughout the pages of DC Comics. Superman Reborn saw the rectification of timelines for Superman, an act that attracted the attention of Manhattan, according to Mxylplyx and Mr. Oz. A timeline long dead had been restored and was brought in marriage at long last to the timeline that replaced it.

Let’s See If I Understand You Correctly

It is no coincidence that the forgotten book of 1986, Crisis on Infinite Earths, appears to play such an important spot in the Rebirth saga. During this event, the Charlton Comic book characters, bought out from the defunct comic book company by DC, made their first appearance in DC continuity. These Charlton characters were the target of Alan Moore’s deconstructionism. For example, look at the similarities between Captain Atom and Dr. Manhattan, or The Question and Rorschach. These characters were fictional in the Watchmen universe (along with Superman) according to Hollis Mason’s Under the Hood.

Within the narrative, it appears that Manhattan is drawing from what he knows to create a universe. From outside the narrative, writer Geoff Johns and artist Gary Frank are saying that Dr. Manhattan and Rorschach changed the characters of Superman and Batman forever, and now it’s time for these characters to say something back.

Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons deconstructed the superhero. In 1986, this needed to happen.  The Superman movie franchise had its best days in the rearview mirror. The Batman TV show was ancient history. Comic continuity had grown stale, and a shakeup was needed.

We are now in a time where superhero media is everywhere, but comics have been suffering. Everyone is consuming cape stories on a surface level, and I believe Geoff Johns is saying with this book that superheroes are in need of reconstruction. Rebirth has been doing that, and Doomsday Clock appears to be the culmination of that effort.

And, for me, it’s working. In looking at Doomsday Clock, it’s undeniable that this is meant to contrast with Moore and Gibbon’s work. Gary Frank does a great job of twisting the imagery of Gibbons while not ripping them off, providing softer edges living in a more shadowed world. Geoff Johns’ writing is terrific, even if his monologues, albeit for story purposes, are not quite as catchy as Moore’s.

These first two issues set up the reconstruction of the Superhero. I am more than excited to see where this goes.

 

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