The Reconstruction of the Superhero, Part Two: Doomsday Clock #3

By Andrew Kiess

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The following contains spoilers for Doomsday Clock #3

Not Victory or Defeat 

A Comedian Died in New York, but he now lives in Metropolis. While it is revealed that Dr. Manhattan reversed the cornerstone death of Watchmen. The Comedian responds by attempting to reverse the situation on his killer, Ozymandias. Fortunately for Veidt, Lex Luthor has thicker windows in his office than Comedian had in his apartment.

This is not a story about reversing the past. This is a story about putting the pieces back together that the past broke.

Meanwhile, Rorschach II is in the Batcave giving Batman Kovacs’ journal. Batman does not believe a word of the story and locks Rorschach II in Mad Hatter’s vacant Arkham cell.

This is not a story of optimistic heroes becoming pessimists. This is a story about pessimistic heroes living in the shadow of a pessimistic world, who we hope find optimism in the end.

My Hands Are Dirty, Too

The Superman Theory looms large over the DC Universe of Doomsday Clock, which takes place one year ahead of present day continuity.  Rorschach II stands in an interesting position for audiences that his predecessor did not possess, he is both clearly detached from reality and yet he may be the only one capable of seeing reality.

Unlike Adrian Veidt, Rorschach II witnessed and felt the loss caused by the creature in Watchmen. We learn that his parents were killed during Veidt’s lie. We see Rorschach II’s unknown alter-ego, driving a car and speaking in a more conventional speech pattern before disaster strikes.

The tragedy is seemingly the beginning of the end for our hero’s innocence. As he showers in the Wayne Manor bath, he scrubs his scalp so hard the he bleeds. What blood is on his hand? How did he come across Kovacs; journal, and what pushed him towards wearing Kovacs’ face?

The answer is right in front of us. Or, rather, right in front of Rorschach II. If Walter Kovacs is Alan Moore and Dave Gibbon’s answer to Charles Victor Szasz, The Question, then this Rorschach is Geoff Johns and Gary Frank’s answer to Bruce Wayne, The Batman.

In the face of tragedy, a man uses the tools at his disposal to seek out justice and to, in the words of Frank Miller, force the world to make sense again. It is interesting, then, that when faced with his (albeit, more extreme) mirror image, that he thought the solution was to lock him in Arkham. Had not Batman, just a few years prior, jumped universes with The Flash investigating the very thing Rorschach was claiming to have information on? Ever the cynic, Bruce cannot accept the bizarre unless he himself witnesses it. Instead, he views his reflection as the personification of madness. Rorschach’s worldview is not reality for Bruce, but who’s to say which reality is which?

But I Wore My Best Suit

We’ve known since Rebirth began that something is up with Johnny Thunder and the Justice Society of America. I’m not going to pretend to be an expert on this part of the book, but his presence is heartbreaking. It would appears that he is experiencing the effects of the time slippage, and is aware of the life he may never have fully lived. The Justice Society may yet play an important role in this story and I’m excited to learn more.

In The Darkness…I Can’t See Their Faces

The final layer of this story is reflective of The Black Freighter comic in Watchmen. The Adjournment, a black and white detective film starring Carver Coleman is sprinkled throughout the book. Coleman is an actor who made his claim to fame playing Nathaniel Dusk (named after an obscure detective featured in DC Comics), a hard-boiled detective in a fedora and trench coat, in six films before the actor’s untimely death. Coleman’s murder is the subject of the newspaper and tabloid clipping stingers in this issue. The Adjournment sees Dusk investigate the mysterious murder of two men playing chess. The movie is interrupted by news of a metahuman arms race.

This is the dual identity of Watchmen. A murder-mystery placed in the backdrop of impending nuclear destruction. The Superman theory is the element that was missing in Watchmen. When Manhattan was the lone metahuman, the arms race halted while tensions grew taut. The Superman Theory states that 97% of metahumans are American, and now other nations are trying to create their own metahumans in order to compete.

It’s no wonder Clark is having nightmares. What is hope personified to do in a world so consumed with despair? While we are waiting patiently for Manhattan and Superman to come face-to-face, we continue to look into the mirror with our heroes and examine both our world and theirs. Issue #3 is the most restrained of the books so far, but it is also the most interesting and the strongest. This series is on its way to becoming a modern classic.

 

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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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Star Wars and the Falsehood of Correct Opinions

by Drew Kiess

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Nothing like a Star Wars movie to bring us together, right?

Being a DC Comics fan, I’m in an interesting position to comment on divisive movies. Star Wars: The Last Jedi is certainly just that, but in a fascinating way that I am struggling to find a parallel to. Perhaps J.J. Abram’s Star Trek, ironically, has had a similar reaction to where it is a critical hit and seemingly well liked among casual moviegoers and fans, but incredibly divisive among the more faithful fanbase.

I will get this out of the way now: I did not particularly like The Last Jedi. I found the plot to be clunky and full of holes that would make Mr. Sir proud. It was an incredibly uneven experience with the things that I loved about it clashing with the things that I didn’t. This, however, does not mean that the film was without merit or should, as some zealous fans have suggested, be stricken from the official canon. That is just nonsense.

All students surpass their masters. This is the way things work. This is the theme of Luke Skywalker in The Last Jedi and is easily the greatest thing this movie can add to the franchise. We can always move beyond the things that have come in the past and embrace the future, even if that future makes us uneasy.

And I embrace that lesson. I will be the first to admit, while I was fighting the good fight for Man of Steel against the “Not My Superman” crowd, I was planted directly in the middle of the “Not my Star Wars” crowd as a proud member. The year 2005 changed the way I viewed Star Wars with the conclusion of Revenge of the Sith. The Star War was over. It was a thing of the past. The next month, I would read for the first time Batman Year One and watch Batman Begins and my conversion to being a comic book nerd from being a Star Wars nerd was completed. “When I was a child, I thought as a child…”

And so Star Wars was cemented as an element of my childhood. I was fourteen when Revenge of the Sith hit cinemas and Star Wars has always been a relic for me of that time period. I have flippantly referred to Star Wars as the nerd starter pack. I still (kind of) stand by that.

The prospect of bringing them back and even deconstructing these heroes was not and is not an idea that I am entirely game for. I have a deeper understanding of those who dislike Man of Steel for that reason. However, that was my problem with The Force Awakens. I do suspect that is also the problem for some with this film, but it reveals another dark side to fandom:

If someone disagrees with our opinion, we have to explain it away.

The reason I didn’t like The Last Jedi is simple: the negative subjectively outweighed the positive. The reason others liked it is because they had the reverse experience. The common theory that has been thrown around is that those who dislike it are throwing some kind of tantrum because of their fan theories is actually a disservice to the movie you love.

I fully believe that The Last Jedi is a bold movie that makes bold decisions. If those worked for you, great. I would hope that if you are a fan of a controversial movie that you would choose to engage in the conversation rather than categorize dissention and write them off. Engaging with it is the best way to embrace it.

On the flip side, if you hated it, do not conflate those who love it with blind brand loyalists. Any movie worthy of a strong negative reaction must have qualities that are bold enough to warrant appreciation from someone else.

I believe that conversations about movies can and should include discussing different opinions and not become a shouting match. We all have a different road that leads us to these movies and so we all have a different experience with them. Hear from them, and let it inform and even strengthen your own opinion. You might actually learn something along the way. Learn the lessons from the film arguments in the past and make the ones coming up better. Movies shouldn’t be something that rips us apart, but something that brings us together—even if we disagree.

 

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OP ED: Why Matt Reeves Deserves Creative Control over ‘The Batman’

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By

John McKee

For a while, it looked like Matt Reeves just might not direct our next Batman film. News spread like wildfire that he had backed down and wouldn’t take the project, despite reaching “final talks” just weeks before. Per Birth. Movies. Death. Matt Reeves had “finally seen Batman v Superman and run away while he still could.”

Interestingly enough, Reeves signed on about a week and a half later to direct The Batman. Perhaps he had seen Batman v Superman and decided to add his name to the incredibly talented DC Universe. But what kept him from signing on in the first place? Money is an unlikely answer; Warner Bothers knows how much they have to shovel out for Batman films. The most obvious issue was creative control.

Seth Graham-Smith, Michele MacLauren, Rick Famuyiwa, David Ayer. All names of directors in the DC Universe who either left due to “creative differences” or in the case of Ayer, stayed on only to witness his film carved up and rehashed by test audiences and studio interference. Zack Snyder was demoted a tad on Justice League and Ben Affleck promoted as a way to respond to Batman v Superman’s reviews (ironically brought about mostly by the studio’s interference—we got the 2.5 hour slap job instead of the masterpiece Snyder originally had in mind now called the Ultimate Edition). So Warner Bros., the studio with a history of letting directors do their thing, has been unafraid of late to say “no” to a director.

Which is why Matt Reeves must be given full creative control over The Batman (and probably has) in order to make the film as great as possible. Ben Affleck wanted less to shoulder when he stepped down from The Batman. If WB/DC wants Affleck to make a Batman trilogy then it all rests on The Batman’s success. There is no indication (as Affleck said) that he will leave the role prematurely—there are huge loose ends to tie up, such as the Knightmare sequences in Batman v Superman. There is so much to explore with this character. So in order to keep Reeves on and make the film great, the studio needs to do what they did before—hand it over and TRUST the director. Tim Burton in 1980s. Christopher Nolan in early 2000s. Matt Reeves 2010s.

Great Batman films come from a healthy director-actor relationship. Affleck has gone on to say the director is the “artist” who makes Batman look right on set and in post: Affleck and Terrio write the comics and the director draws them to life. Matt Reeves has a history with the Apes franchise of not only rescuing it last minute, but intuitively realizing which character to focus the films on. With that kind of eye for filmmaking and characterization, Reeves can easily get The Batman off the ground and possibly help top The Dark Knight as the most widely acclaimed Batman film of all time. All that needs to happen is Warner Bros. taking a step back. They have done their job to this point by signing Affleck, Reeves, Terrio, and the rest. They need to trust Matt Reeves to handle the film and give him carte blanche to do what he needs to do to make the very best Batman film that he can.