The Reconstruction of the Superhero, Part Three: Doomsday Clock #4

By Drew Kiess

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The following contains spoilers for Doomsday Clock #4: “Walk On Water”

I See What I Want To See

Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ “The Abyss Gazes Also”, the sixth issue in Watchmen is, in this writer’s opinion, among the most important issues in comic book history. Showing the effects of witnessing tragedy on a once idealistic vigilante in such a brutal  way changed Watchmen from being an angry rebuttal of comic book culture into a true deconstruction of the building blocks of the mythos.

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“The Abyss Gazes Also” features Walter Kovacs, the first man to don the moniker Rorschach in prison, being interviewed by Dr. Malcolm Long.

Dr. Long is a mixture of good intentions and star struck, as he sees Kovacs as his chance to make an impression in psychological literature. His relationship with Kovacs is rocky, as Kovacs refuses to reveal much of what is going on in his mind. But as the issue continues, Kovacs’ story comes out.

Dark As It Gets

Kovacs retells a story of an investigation into the kidnapping of a young girl. Upon finding her kidnapper, he discovers that she was murdered, and possibly molested, her bones in the mouth of the monster’s dogs. Kovacs, in anger, brutally murders the man responsible.

“It is not God who kills the children. Not fate that butchers them or destiny that feeds them to  the dogs,” Kovacs tells Dr. Long. “It’s us. Only us.” Dr. Long sits on his bed that night, his marriage in ruins and his career in question after a lengthy and emotional effort to discover something of meaning in Rorschach, looks at an inkblot. Nothing but “meaningless blackness,” he thinks. The horror broke him.

There was nothing to solve.

What Do You See, Mr. Long?

Dr. Matthew Mason walks into the room where the mysterious Rorschach II sits, strapped to a chair, unmasked. Although Mason does not know his new patient’s identity, the inner monologue reveals Rorschach II to be Reggie Long, the son of Dr. Malcolm Long, driven to obsession when Veidt’s plan caused the death of his parents.

Reggie’s views of Dr. Mason, often comparable to Kovacs’ views of Dr. Long, are filtered through Reggie’s views of his father. Dr. Mason is nothing like his father, to him, although his view of Dr. Mason is how Kovacs saw Dr. Long.

Our heroes are how we choose to see them. In this way, the broken mirror image of Bruce Wayne deconstructs how the trauma of a young man views his parents’ relationship and death despite what we know is reality, and how tragedy informed his obsession and mission.

You Need To See Them At Their Best

Reggie had to be institutionalized after the death of his parents. While in asylum, he met Byron Lewis—Moth Man—former member of the Minute Men. Byron trains Reggie to be a one-man Minute Man, teaching him all the tricks the Minute Men had up their sleeves. In this time, Reggie’s view of reality is changed through the encouragement of Byron—instead of seeing them for how they died, he began viewing them at their happiest. He regained an idealized view of his parents, and his hatred for Adrian Veidt grew.

When Reggie’s opportunity to end Veidt’s life and avenge the death of his parents came, Reggie saw the remorse in Veidt’s eyes and couldn’t kill him. This conflicted with his simple view of good and evil. It broke him again.

I Have Someone To Blame

A fascinating element to the character of Bruce Wayne is that his crusade as Batman was never really about Joe Chill, the man who killed his parents. No, Wayne’s mission was to ensure that no child in his city should ever suffer the way he did. In contrast, Reggie Long wishes to avenge his suffering, and finds he has no place to send it. So it is interesting that, when it is revealed that Dr. Mason is, in fact, Bruce Wayne in disguise, that Bruce cannot penetrate through the inkblot.

Of course, Bruce is wearing his own kind of meaningless blackness. Two men attempting to understand each other through misperceptions and disguises are never going to achieve the understanding that they are after.

But which one is the hero? And which one is truly putting the future in jeopardy? Well, the only real answer to that is “we see what we want to see.”

Turned Them Toward Light

Issues like this separate great comic book stories and good ones. This was a game changer, even if the story feels like the story does not advance (it very much does, whether we see it or not). Not only is this the best issue of Doomsday Clock so far, this may go down as one of Geoff Johns and Gary Frank’s greatest accomplishment: Examining trauma and not losing heroism. Now, the reconstruction of the superhero can begin.

 

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