Monday, January 15, 2018

Final Crisis Retro Review Part I: Overview

So, a decade goes by…

DC's big crossover event for 2008 was Grant Morrison's Final Crisis. I started this blog very shortly after FC concluded, which would have been a fine time for me to write and post a breakdown. But, at the time, I focused on other subjects, and since then, I've commented on ongoing events while gradually working my way through comics history with retro reviews going from the Thirties back up to the 2000s. Now, I've worked my way up to the point where the blog started, ten years ago, and the time is right for a breakdown of Final Crisis. There's enough to say about it to fill more than one post, so I'm going to start with comments here about how the story was structured and some of the factors that I think detracted from the way FC reached the fans.

Final Crisis was not received by fans as warmly as other comparable DC events, including the previous two "Crises." Critical reviews on Amazon call it messy, scattered, and even incomprehensible. I think, for various reasons, the criticism is fair, and I'll spend some time talking about why. However, unlike a work that begins well then loses its purpose, or is mediocre in every aspect, Final Crisis – I believe – benefits enormously from re-reading and careful attention. I hope that with a thorough breakdown, it can be a much better story for people who give it more consideration.

Naturally, Final Crisis has already received a fair amount of attention, most of it during and immediately after its 2008-2009 release. I have the benefit of standing on the shoulders of those giants who've analyzed it before. I'm giving my breakdown now for a few reasons:

1) Working your way through it page-by-page with detailed annotations still loses the big picture. If the difficulty many readers have is that it's messy, annotations merely shine light upon the mess. What can help is an overview that puts the details into a meaningful structure.

2) I've enjoyed the work many times over the years, but I still didn't have a solid grasp of FC on the highest level – what it's saying about superhero stories and the people who write and enjoy them. The feeling that all the pieces fit into place didn't come for me until 2017.

3) As we'll see, the plotlines of Final Crisis weren't really complete until 2010, as some of the backstory was filled in with a Morrison mini-run in Batman #700-702, the fate of a Batman clone in Batman and Robin#8, and some mention of the Fourth World at the end of Return of Bruce Wayne. Some extremely helpful clarification was added by Multiversity in 2014. Some very fine annotations posted in 2009 weren't privy to all the information we got later.

4) Final Crisis commented on many the same things that Doomsday Clock is discussing now. It is timely to bring FC's comments into the discussion, and Johns' story may soon prompt us to do so.

An Apology

Among the various crossovers and tie-ins, ostensibly meant to give readers additional information or related reading, there are several that related to Final Crisis poorly – even very poorly. It's safe to say that there were works that strongly implied a connection to Final Crisis, perhaps even in the title, that turned out to be disconnected, or even contradictory. This surely didn't help the community of readers trying at the time to understand the story, and surely subtracted from the reception of the series itself. I will discuss these here, and the problems with them.

Countdown (to Final Crisis), The Death of the New Gods, and (Final Crisis) Last Will and Testament are three works that a reader would naturally expect to be connected, plotwise, to FC, but that failed to do so in an effective way, prompting a few disclaimers from the creators, mainly found online, that told readers to disregard their plot points as unrelated to Final Crisis and even continuity as a whole.

Countdown (#51-#1) seemed hardly to know what to do with itself, despite the fine talent of Paul Dini at the helm. It did not match FC in themes or tone. It did little to prepare readers for the important plot points of FC. Fifty-one issues were far beyond overkill for establishing those few plot points, and yet Countdown didn't perform that simple task adequately. The existence of multiple Monitors, the nature of Morticoccus, the fate of Earth-51, the temptation of Mary Marvel, and the death of Darkseid are all illustrated in Countdown, but in ways that seem mildly or substantially different from their depiction later in Final Crisis. And, really, there is no need to introduce the multiple Monitors before Final Crisis; it is not hard to understand their existence from the first page one sees them. If anything, the reader of Countdown is slightly less well prepared for Final Crisis than a reader who simply skipped it.

The same, and worse, is true of Jim Starlin's Death of the New Gods. DOTNG, a nice work in and of itself, with Starlin disposing of Kirby's Fourth World creations in a whodunit that establishes the Anti-Life Equation as a sentient and corporeal being. New Gods are killed, one after another, with Superman along as a combination soldier, detective, and witness as the ALE succeeds in killing every last New God using the Infinity Man as its tool. It's a good story, well told, but this plot is strikingly contradictory with that of Final Crisis, which begins with its own, utterly different whodunit, with Orion as the fallen victim. Orion dies in both stories, but at the hands of different killers and means. In FC, Orion is shot in the head with a time-travelling bullet by Darkseid, and his dying words are spoken to Dan Turpin in Metropolis before the Green Lanterns and Justice League take up the case. This is quite different from DOTNG, in which Orion's death takes place far from Earth and is known to Superman, who has no knowledge of any of this when FC begins. It's essentially impossible to digest DOTNG as having occurred before the events of Final Crisis.

The same can be said of Last Will and Testament, a work published midway through FC and originally intended to tie into it, but reference to FC was removed from its title before publication because it, too, contradicts FC on basic facts. In LWAT, Brad Meltzer shows how different superheroes react to the knowledge that the world is going to end the next day in a fight that they will lose. However, nothing like this situation occurs in FC, which, like other Morrison works that decade, shows a sneak attack as the killer blow, reflecting the real world events of the September 11 attacks. Therefore, LWAT can't even take place in DC continuity at all, and it becomes an unintended Elseworlds story, as does DOTNG.

Finally, the planned release schedule turned out not to be realistic, which led to artist J. G. Jones beginning the series, illustrating it wonderfully, but then handing off some of the duties as he fell behind. The fill-in artists performed admirably, with Superman Beyond's penciller Doug Mahnke doing memorable work on FC #7, but the shift from Jones to Carlos Pacheco and Mahnke was still a case of the original vision suffering due to an unintended failure on the organizational side.

One glitch may be bad luck, but four are a pattern, and this was only a partial list (note that Aquaman returned from the dead in FC, but all later stories ignored that). It is difficult to take this set of facts and not conclude that the writers of other stories were simply not informed of Morrison's plans by Morrison and whatever editors hold responsibility. And this certainly led to confusion on the part of readers as well as a bit of a grudge that they'd spent their comic-buying money on sixty or more prologue issues without receiving what they expected.

Flagship Crossovers

There was also confusion engendered by stories involving DC's two flagship characters, Superman and Batman that tied directly in with Final Crisis. In this case, a lack of communication cannot be blamed, because Morrison himself wrote two out of the three stories that I'll mention here. In these cases, nothing is strictly contradictory from one story to the next, but the plots become more convoluted than seem strictly necessary.

In the case of Superman, the confusion is this: After Lois Lane is incapacitated by a bomb in Final Crisis #2, he is called away on a mission that sidelines him from the main action. Two missions, in fact. In Legion of Three Worlds, Superman is summoned into the future to help the LSH fight an attack that threatens their survival. In Superman Beyond, Superman is summoned into alternate dimensions to protect higher-level worlds, and all worlds, against the first attack by Mandrakk. Both of these stories, which are both quite good, have a curiously common context and seem to serve the same role, which may confuse readers as to which occurred first (if "first" even has an easy interpretation in stories with time and interdimensional travel). In both, Superman's summoners both promise him that he can be returned to the "exact instant" from which he was taken. In fact, this seems not to be the case. The timeline, from Superman's point of view, must go like this:

1) Lois Lane is injured by a bomb.
2) Superman is taken on an adventure involving the Monitors.
3) Superman is flying in the sky over Metropolis.
4) The LSH brings Superman to the future.
5) Superman and the LSH defeat the threat.
6) Brainiac 5 shows Superman the God Weapon that can do anything.
7) Superman returns to Earth and witnesses that Darkseid has conquered it.

This can all be sorted out from the stories, but not until Final Crisis #6 at the earliest. Perhaps there's no proper cause for complaint; a mystery is what readers often expect and appreciate. However, this feels more like an over-busy nesting of storylines with confusion that has no payoff except understanding the basic facts. It feels as though the premise of Superman being called away was perhaps intended for one of the two side-stories, but then was used for both of them.

Something similar occurred with the Batman title, then penned by Morrison. Final Crisis was published concurrently with Morrison's masterpiece, close to my heart, Batman R.I.P. The publication times interlocked, with RIP beginning before FC began and ending before FC ended, with about four months during which both stories were in monthly publication. However, the story timelines were related in a completely different way, with Batman, R.I.P.'s main plot (flash-forwards withstanding) ending completely before the main action of Final Crisis' Darkseid plot began. Readers eventually found out, in 2010, that about four days of story time took place between the end of Doctor Hurt's attack in Batman and the death of Orion early in Final Crisis. Until then, it had been a mystery how Batman made his way between the plots of RIP and FC and from his zapping in FC to the start of Return of Bruce Wayne. Readers picked up each of the following issues with some significant uncertainty regarding how "Batman" had arrived into the situation:
Batman #676: An unidentified Batman and Robin declare that they will never die.
Final Crisis #1: Batman surprisingly alive after RIP.
Final Crisis #7: Bruce Wayne in a cave, writing on the wall.
Batman #682: Narrating flashbacks from his entire career.
Return of Bruce Wayne #1: Again at the cave.
Blackest Night#5: The clone body fried by Darkseid.
Batman and Robin#6-7: Again the clone body.
Batman and Robin#15: In silhouette, tells Doctor Hurt, "Turn around, Doctor. It's all over."

Eight times in two and a half years we saw a version of Batman enter the story without readers knowing who that Batman was. We also saw Batman depart from the stories of RIP and Final Crisis without understanding what the helicopter crash or eyebeam zap really meant. Twice, he apparently departed from the DCU, though the RIP helicopter crash ultimately proved to be of minor consequence and its drama at odds with the mundane escape-from-crash that got Bruce Wayne home by the end of the night. (In addition, two RIP crossovers strictly contradicted this by showing Batman's superhero allies unaware of his fate after RIP.) That's not to say that all of those scenes amount to mistakes: These were, in many cases, deliberate mysteries intended to heighten intrigue and keep readers guessing; however – and here's the rub – only in many cases. In other cases, there are scenes that seem straightforward with undramatized mysteries behind them; in other cases, there are scenes that seem mysterious with a perfectly mundane reality when all the facts were known. Simply put, there was sometimes annoying confusion rather than entertaining mystery. Cumulatively, these disconnects detracted from the overall experience, and Final Crisis was one of the works to lose a bit of cachet.

I have posted the aforementioned comments here because I feel it's an important critique of FC in the larger sense, and once one allows for the many, highly flawed connections FC and other stories, it further emphasizes how good FC itself was as a standalone work. Having dispensed with my critical comments regarding the crossovers, I will close this post with a quick summary of how my next two posts will review the series itself.

What Final Crisis is…

Final Crisis is a seven issue miniseries, but also had many crossovers. I won't review all of that here. For my purposes, Final Crisis is the seven-issue miniseries plus the two issues of Superman Beyond, which chronologically fit into the middle of FC. That said, I find many of the crossovers, particularly Final Crisis: Revelations, to be very good. Material found in some other places, including Batman #701-702, Multiversity, and online interviews illuminate the discussion, but I'll only discuss those insofar as they cast light on FC.

It is very helpful to note the general structure of FC and I will offer this here, then elaborate on it in the next two posts.

Final Crisis has two central plots that are not connected to one another in a straightforward cause-and-effect way.

1) The Darkseid Plot: Darkseid and his underlings hide on Earth, kill the last New God, Orion, and carry out surprise attacks against the superheroes. When they have accomplished their preliminary goals, sidelining most of Earth's defenses, they seize control of the world, holding it for several weeks until Earth's major superheroes liberate it and undo the damage.

The Darkseid plot is enclosed by a somewhat larger context of the entire timeline of the interaction between Kirby's Fourth World characters and the superheroes of the DCU; this is seen in flashback

The great majority of Final Crisis #1-7 and a few of the crossovers are devoted to the Darkseid plot. In many respects, I think the reader response was almost as though Final Crisis simply was the Darkseid plot, or that it should have been no more than that.

2) The Monitor Plot: As introduced by Marv Wolfman as part of Crisis on Infinite Earths, godlike beings of ancient origins called Monitors observe and direct events in the DC Universe, though Wolfman only posited two characters called the Monitor and Morrison gives us 52 Monitors, each responsible for one of the 52 dimensions of the Multiverse. In recent times, at least two Monitors named Mandrakk and Ogama conspire to destroy and feed upon the worlds of the Multiverse. They fail in two attempts to kill Superman, and are fated never to defeat him, with the good Monitor Nix Uotan returning from exile to aid Superman, other Supermen of the Multiverse, and the Green Lantern Corps to defeat Mandrakk and his ally Ultraman.

The Monitor plot is found in just a few sections of Final Crisis, predominantly in issues #1, #5, and #7, in addition to almost the entirety of the two issues of Superman Beyond. There are also a few scenes that tie the Darkseid and Monitor plots together, and many scenes that narrate events in the Darkseid plot but intertwine thematically with the Monitor plot.

The Monitor plot is not simply a superhero-supervillain story, but is an allegory that comments upon the relationship between comic book writers and comic book superheroes.

Interestingly, while a large proportion of reader commentary online had a critical or mixed reaction to Final Crisis, most readers seemed very supportive of Superman Beyond, and I wonder how the response would have been if Final Crisis #7 had simply ended with the defeat of Darkseid and then the material that ended Final Crisis #7 with the culmination of the Monitor plot had appeared under the banner of "Superman Beyond #3". I suspect that this minor alteration of the structure would have led to a warmer response by fans, who would have found the second encounter with Mandrakk to fit more easily within the framework of Superman Beyond.


Next up: The Darkseid plot!

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Doomsday Clock 2

In its opening installment, Geoff Johns' Doomsday Clock provided many indications where its story must go. In the second issue, many inevitable other shoes fall, and there may be more to the style than the substance. We knew that characters from the Watchmen and DC Universes would collide, but Johns patterns the events after stories we've seen before and, surely, foreshadows events later to come in this one.

In the first pages, the team of Veidt, the new Rorschach, and villains Mime and Marionette board a modified Owlship and make the interdimensional voyage to the DCU in pursuit of Dr. Manhattan. Johns intertwines several story threads in narrating this escape. It's a necessary plot point for this escape to succeed, or we wouldn't have much of a story. But Johns, using some of the characteristics of Moore's storytelling (and not merely his characters) signals many other things to us.

First, we learn why Veidt has calculated that Marionette, a person with no superpowers, may help him wrangle the godlike Dr. Manhattan because of their special history. Some years ago, when Manhattan arrived to stop Mime and Marionette during a bank heist, he seemed to be on the verge of killing them when he halted. Something broke through the impassive cognition of the former-human-now-superhuman when he might have killed them and led him to mercy. Instead, he apprehended the couple alive. Veidt is clearly calculating that another, forced, appearance of Marionette may remind Dr. Manhattan to leave his activities in the DCU and return to the Watchmen Universe and save it. However, we readers see something else, which may mean that Veidt doesn't understand the situation fully. At the moment of killing Marionette, Manhattan, with his super senses, heard the heartbeat of her unborn baby, signified by blue (Dr. Manhattan) sound balloons rendering the sound of the heartbeat as "BABUM". A photo of the bank teller’s young child is shown to us because the teller had just tried to use her own child as a prompt for mercy from the criminals. Dr. Manhattan's act of mercy is the pivotal event in this issue, as signified by the cover, that shows the very same midsection of Marionette's costume where Manhattan was looking and listening when he showed that act of mercy. For the Watchmen Universe's sake, we hope that Marionette can trigger that same mercy now that she is no longer pregnant. We also have a subtle reminder that Dr. Manhattan can undo physical damage when he levitates the bank manager's recently severed finger upon arrival. We also see the significance of the Marionette character name, because a marionette is a figure that is manipulated by someone else, just as Dr. Manhattan may prove to be in the metaphorical hands of Veidt.

And undoing physical damage is what is required, and certainly what Veidt is banking on. The plan for Veidt to manipulate Manhattan into saving the Watchmen Earth happens too late for him to prevent nuclear holocaust. Veidt and his team leave only moments before New York is struck with a nuclear missile. This event is packed full of references to other stories, and it might be worthy of a spoiler warning, because these point where Doomsday Clock will likely travel.

First, civilian bystanders see the nuclear missile that will kill them and exclaim, "Look! Up in the sky!" and "Is that a plane?" These are catchphrases from the older, simpler days for the arrival of Superman. Here, these phrases are darkly ironic because it is doom, not salvation that flies toward them. And here, there is a choice for the story later to make: Is this indeed their final doom, with death standing in for life, marking the Watchmen Universe as a place where evil wins, much as Earth Three with its Crime Syndicate has been deemed by earlier writers? Or, is this a temporary, reversible death that Dr. Manhattan and others will make un-happen when the story moves on? Clearly, Veidt is banking on the latter. And we get a big stylistic clue that Johns is foreshadowing such an ending when the first use of Veidt's interdimensional travel button (marked with Dr. Manhattan's hydrogen atom symbol) does… nothing. But the second time he presses it, prompted by Rorschach, it does work, and barely in time to prevent their own deaths, which really would be final because of the vitality of their mission. Here, and perhaps again later, we can expect to see an initial failure be followed by success on a second try. And ultimately, this is the likely thematic arc for the story as a whole, with the sunnier DC Universe winning out and applying its happy-ending rules to the always bleak, fatally doomed Watchmen Universe as designed by Alan Moore.

And here we see the most profound allusive symbolism of the scene, and the reason why the nuke had to hit now for it to be un-happened later: This recreates the Superman origin story, with a rocket carrying the last survivors out of the very last instant before destruction to another world where there is hope. See this scene, and this series, as a conversation between, at least, Jerry Siegel, Alan Moore, and Geoff Johns. Moore tried to kill the world of superheroes with Watchmen. Now, in 2017, Johns is reminding us of the original version of this story, from 1938, where the escape of a final survivor from the death of a world provides hope for everybody.

Though Superman is, therefore, at the very forefront of the issue's symbolism, he is not seen. The rescue squad splits up, with Veidt contacting Lex Luthor and Rorschach going to Wayne Manor.

Before meeting Rorschach, Bruce Wayne encounters a Rorschach test, the scene imitating Kovacs' such test in Watchmen. Here, the symbols prompt him to imagine major events in his own life, including his parents' deaths and his role as Batman, but he answers dishonestly, saying that every pattern reminds him of a boat, because as shallow Bruce Wayne, he wants to go boating. As a backdrop, the DC Universe has multiple events mirroring those from the Watchmen Universe, with frightened citizens protesting against Batman's vigilantism as part of a much larger plot that has only been hinted at, with the Russia of both universes stirring up some evil in what, plainly, resembles events in our Putin-Trump-afflicted world of 2017 just as the original Watchmen had a Soviet Union plot resembling its Cold War setting in the mid-Eighties. Five Russia stories, two real and three fictional. Clearly this is the larger story towards which Doomsday Clock is headed, but for now we have only hints, primarily from the end notes about a metahuman conspiracy, about the form that will take and how exactly the Russias in both universes seem coordinated. Along the way, Johns may just provide an explanation within the story for why the DCU is so America-centric. (Obviously, the historical reason is that DC and its market originate in the U.S.)

Veidt and Rorschach's first move is another stylistic flourish by Johns. In order to understand the universe around them, they go to the public library and read. This is exactly what Dick Grayson did in the classic story "To Kill a Legend." In that story, two DCU characters (Batman and Robin) travel to another universe and give it a happy ending by preventing the Wayne murders. That universe, as I noted in my breakdown of Doomsday Clock #1, is also precisely 20 years behind Earth One, where we now see that the Watchmen Universe is precisely 25 years behind the DCU's Earth Zero. The precise multiple-of-five difference in timelines and the use of the public library is a big clue that Johns has that story in mind as a template for this one. We get yet another clue that Johns is trampling on Alan Moore's gloomy vision by the Owlship landing in the abandoned carnival grounds from Alan Moore's The Killing Joke. However, Rorschach hints at some dark potential when he observes that Veidt's selection of literary figures (Hemingway, Woolf, and Mayakovsky) all committed suicide.

At Wayne Manor, we see that this Rorschach is either very lucky or very good, because he almost immediately finds the Batcave. In the issue's final story pages, the slow, moody focus on style suddenly wheels into high-paced action. Luthor and Veidt have a sit-down and begin understand, but don't much appreciate, one another. Meanwhile, Batman confronts Rorschach, and in one telling panel, we see that Mime and Marionette have escaped. The larger surprise, however, in the accelerated final pages is that the Comedian is somehow alive and in trying to shoot Veidt, accidentally grazes Luthor.


In the moments along the way, we get the opportunity to see how members of each universe view the other. This is, strikingly, at the very heart of the tagline for the original series: Who watches the Watchmen? Here, Luthor and Veidt watch one another, and neither is as impressed by the other as he is by himself. Meanwhile, Rorschach sees Batman as a "monster" because he fits the psychological profile of collecting clues from those he vanquishes.

The Veidt-Luthor and Rorschach-Batman confrontations were planned, and less surprise than lead one to mull over how much each is their respective universes' version of the other. The escape and surprise appearance complicate already-complicated expectations, and clearly require later resolution. Geoff Johns is doing a very good job of making this a full and compelling twelve issues.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Doomsday Clock #1

A Tale of Two Universes

Doomsday Clock, from the little we knew, and know, about it is a story uniting pairs together. On the one hand, it is about the Watchmen Universe and the DC Universe, and some interaction that has happened and/or will happen between them. More specifically, it is about Dr. Manhattan and Superman as the two representatives of those worlds, alike in being the pinnacle of their worlds' power, but staggeringly unalike in many ways. It is also about a pair of stories, as Doomsday Clock is a sequel to Watchmen, one of many times that Geoff Johns has picked up on an Alan Moore story and taken its storyline further. The structure and visual design of Doomsday Clock is overtly following that of Watchmen and close comparisons between the two texts is called for.

This begins with the covers. A man holding a sign saying THE END IS NEAR appeared often throughout Watchmen and in Doomsday Clock the first cover (and first panel in the story) updates that to: THE END IS HERE. The second seems obviously to be a chronological sequence after the first, but with closer examination, we will see that the two "END"s are quite different. The interior page showing the title cropped in huge block letters makes the "DO…" appear to be a DC, which is not coincidentally the name of the company and the initials of this story. (I'll use DC for brevity's sake, and the italics will be a necessary cue as to whether that means the company or the story.)

The man with the END IS HERE sign is shot dead and his sign trampled upon, which makes for a wonderfully ambiguous response to his prediction: Does this, his end, mean he was proven right or will be proven wrong?

Two Hours in the Watchmen Universe

Most of DC #1 takes place on the Watchmen Universe, and it takes a careful reading to unpack what is going on, because it is one of the most eventful days in that world's history, and much of the narration, beginning with the first panel, is unreliable (as Rorschach – a new Rorschach – is unable to remember the date). Therefore, before the first panel is done, we remarkably have three pieces of information that we can't trust: That the narrator/diarist is Rorschach, the date, and whether or not the end is really here (it is a cliché for lunatics to claim this when it is not truly the end, often intended in a Biblical sense).

Events on this day in the Watchmen Universe include:

• An angry mob storms Veidt's corporate headquarters in New York.
• Soldiers raid Veidt's base in Antarctica.
• Russia perhaps invades Poland.
• The Vice President perhaps goes on a shooting rampage and takes hostages.
• The U.S. government eliminates the news media and begins a central national news agency with monopoly control over the news.
• A President Redford, whose time in office must have begun in 1988, was trailing in polls until the revelation in early November 1992 that the New York Massacre was perpetrated by Veidt. This last-minute revelation swung the 1992 election in Redford's favor.
• The U.S. prepares a nuclear strike against Russia.
• The U.S. evacuates major cities including New York.
• Rorschach, working with/for Veidt, breaks a villain named Marionette out of prison to help him summon Dr. Manhattan to save the world.

We also learn, if appearances can be trusted, that:
• Veidt's faked alien invasion was exposed as a hoax exactly as implied by the end of Watchmen.
• Veidt has cancer; monitors in his Antarctic base show a tumor in his right cerebral cortex.
• The Rorschach in this story is dark-skinned and replaces the one we saw die in Watchmen.

Deception

But can appearances be trusted? Numerous things in this issue, some of which we already knew, remind us that appearances are often deceiving:

• The Marionette:  A marionette is a puppet that the puppeteer makes seem alive.
• The Mime: A mime pretends to be in situations that are not real. They also pretend not to be able to speak, though this one is not pretending.
• The Mime's fight: His schtick is to pretend to be losing, for dramatic purposes, then turn things around and win. His weapons are also imaginary.
• Veidt's New York Massacre: The center of Watchmen, Veidt's entire plan was an enormous "ruse" or "hoax," as characters in DC #1 put it.
• Superman's secret identity, the oldest deception in superhero stories. We're reminded of it by the costume folded neatly near his bed.
• Rorschach: We are shown a Rorschach who dresses, speaks, and even writes like the original, but turns out to be a new one.
• Details: Rorschach keeps mistaking simple details like the date, the time, cell numbers, and left vs. right.
• The reveal of Veidt's plan: This was actually published in 1986, as indicated by the final pages of Watchmen, but went totally ignored at the time. It was published and taken seriously only in 1992.
• The fate of the superheroes: Rumors regarding Nite Owl, Silk Spectre, and Rorschach are false, given what we saw in Watchmen.
• The news: The Orwellian (and Trumpian) National News Network, in its first moments, runs a story about Russia invading Poland. They preemptively announce that reports from foreign press to the contrary are "lies." This strongly suggests that the invasion of Poland is a pretence to justify war. The fact that Rorschach has the countdown indicates that Veidt and Rorschach knew about the plot in advance and that the nuclear attack does not depend upon Russia's actions, which would have made their information uncertain.
• Schrodinger's Clock and Watch Repair. Continuing the physics analogies from Watchmen in a new direction, Schrodinger's result with the biggest pop cultural consequence is Schrodinger's Cat, a hypothetical account of how something can be neither dead nor alive, until one examines the cat and discovers which is the case. This is a metaphor for many things we've seen already. In the immediate case at hand, Veidt's ruse was destined to "die" after living for six years. We may find out that many aspects of the DCU, including the Kents' survival, flip between life and death per the machinations of Dr. Manhattan.

In case you missed it, the papers in the manila folder in the end notes are Rorschach's. They fell out of his car and onto the street when he brought the escapees back to the Owlcave.

Russian Collusion

All of these clues about misinformation and deception highlight the unreliable information we are getting about U.S.-Russia relations. The news of that day, as it emerges:

Before 6pm
Misc. TV news: Russia threatening Poland.
Misc. TV news: Russia link government (Nixon or Redford?) to Veidt scheme.
6pm
National News Network: Russia has invaded Poland. Four-hour ultimatum.
Rorschach: Prison will be nuked in less than four hours.
Foreign press: Russia is not invading Poland.
8pm
NNN: Russia still advancing in Poland.

And, looking at the longer timeline regarding Veidt, Russia, and nuclear weapons:

1986: New Frontiersman publishes Rorschach's notes, unnoticed.
1988: Redford and Veidt run on disarmament platform.
1989: Global Data Exchange Program and NTA begin.
1992: Redford re-reveals Rorschach's notes. Redford turns pro-nuclear.

If the Mime's "sudden, dramatic turn" is a metaphor for anything we've seen in the Watchmen Universe, it's Redford's stance on both Veidt and nuclear weapons. And, for reasons we probably can't guess now, the Russian invasion of Poland looks like the second big ruse that the Watchmen Earth has had pulled on it. The evacuation of the cities looks like a big clue. Veidt and Rorschach believe that the nuclear bombs are going to fly in two hours. Redford, somehow, is going to consolidate his power more than mere reelection allows, by shipping the population out of the cities and permitting their destruction. And if you want a real-life historical analogue for that, it's what the Khmer Rouge did in Cambodia.

Obviously, from terms like "deplorable" and "collusion" as well as the golfing President and monopoly on news, Johns made a lot of this correspond to the current Trump Presidency, but he has noted in an interview that he wrote this issue over nine months ago, so watch carefully – he may end up being remarkably prophetic, whether by accident or because he sees the underlying pattern.

One puzzling piece of dialogue came from the TV monitors as soldiers stormed Veidt's Antarctic base. As many news networks signed off for the last time, the final words were taken, more or less verbatim, from the film Network. In that movie, a 1970s newsman has a mental breakdown on air and begins speaking his mind freely for the first time. This is, unexpectedly, a huge popular hit, so rather than fire him, the network keeps him on and he becomes a star, ranting and raving his opinions instead of delivering the news. This was, itself, wildly prophetic for our current era where opinion shows dominate many "news network" time slots. But what's confusing is this: Was the film Network being shown on one of Veidt's TVs? No. This is the rant from one of the now-obsolete news network's anchormen upon the American press being effectively eliminated, and it is a knowing reference to Network, which presumbly doesn't exist as a film in Johns' version of the Watchmen Universe.

As a minor erratum, note that it is night in Antarctica as the soldiers storm Veidt's compound. In late November, it is daylight everywhere in Antarctica. This is either an error or a sign that this is a different compound in the Arctic.

Two more important clues: The monitors on the wall show Veidt's cancer in the form of a brain tumor in what might be the superior parietal cortex, and it was already quite large and growing in February, nine months ago. Veidt's situation should be quite dire by now, and motor or sensory failures could be the prime symptoms. It's surely not accidental that the tumor is in his brain, which was where his super power truly resided.

The Calendar

One more note about the time: November 22, 1992 is exactly 25 years before the release date of Watchmen. The DCU has generally been perceived as existing during the real, current year, so this may mean that time and dimensional travel will be needed to connect these two storylines or that the Watchmen Universe is set 25 years behind ours and the DCU. Silver Age fans may recall that briefly, DC writers posited a 20-year gap between events on Earth One and Earth Two, to explain why one group of heroes debuted during World War Two and the next group debuted in the Sixties. (The classic Batman story To Kill A Legend supposed that some other world might develop its Batman precisely 20 years after Earth One.) Johns may be invoking a similar system here, with the calendar dates of the Watchmen Universe set precisely 25 years behind the DCU in certain respects.

Another glaring consequence of this is that the media is all television and telephone, with no World Wide Web yet in effect.

The Clock

A significant aspect of the hour-by-hour timeline of this issue is that Rorschach, at the prison, knows (or believes) that the prison will turn to ash in less than four hours, at least if they don't bring down Dr. Manhattan. The National News Network gave Russia a four-hour ultimatum, so obviously Rorschach (probably via Veidt) believes that the ultimatum is a ruse and that a nuclear war does not depend on any choices that Russia might make. (It is unclear if time for Russia's response to transpire, which would be more than 15 minutes but less than an hour, are included in his calculations.) He presumably left for the prison before the ultimatum was even announced, since a car trip out of New York is liable to take more than 25 minutes.

He began a meal at 11:15 am, so his whereabouts for the early afternoon are unaccounted for. The issue ends after 6pm, so the countdown is under two hours. Interestingly, Rorschach tells Marionette that he can't say how long the job will take. If they need to find Dr. Manhattan before the missiles launch, then the job must be quite short if it is to be successful. So the fact that Rorschach can't tell how long the job will take implies that Veidt and Rorschach expect for the missiles to launch and cause mass devastation. Maybe they expect Dr. Manhattan to undo a nuclear war after it happens. Maybe they don't consider a nuclear war to be the end for them.

It is essential to note that the very phrase "Doomsday Clock" was coined by the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, who tried to call attention to how close the world might have been to nuclear war. Johns' clock at the end of this issue gives us just eleven minutes to go, while Rorschach and other details here give us something closer to two hours, so the correspondence between them is certainly not literal.

Superman's Dream

The final pages of DC #1 show Superman and Lois in bed while Superman has a nightmare. This memory of the Kents' deaths in an auto accident on the night of Clark Kent's prom was first shown in Grant Morrison's Action Comics revamp of Superman. It is perhaps a remarkable coincidence, perhaps not, that Superman and Lois and the "innocence" of their relationship is mentioned in the final two pages of Watchmen #1! Passages in the final pages of Hollis Mason's book Under the Hood mention Superman, Clark, and Lois as fictional characters in the Watchmen Universe ­– perhaps a significant detail! Mason muses over the way that Clark and Lois were innocent sexually (the book was probably written in the 1970s and the chapter discusses much earlier years) as opposed to the Shadow and people in the Watchmen world. If Johns did not intend for this aspect of his issue to mirror their mention in Watchmen #1, it is a remarkable coincidence; he must have read and re-read Watchmen very carefully before starting his work here. If it is a knowing comment, perhaps putting them in bed together is a statement on how the DCU has shifted considerably from what it was when Moore decided to write Watchmen to comment upon it. If so, perhaps Johns is saying that Moore's criticism of superhero comics is invalidated by the way they have changed since 1985.

Perhaps most significant here is that highlighting the Kents' deaths, and reference to "God's plan" is going to open up the possibility that Dr. Manhattan's work in the DCU, as described by Wally West in DC Rebirth, either caused the Kents' deaths in the timeline we have now or could undo their deaths in the rest of this story.

In the final panel, Superman says that it is perhaps the first nightmare he has ever had. This is certainly not true over the long history of Superman comics: Doctor's Destiny's entire M.O. was based on giving the Justice League nightmares, and he also had nightmares in Alan Moore's Black Mercy story that Johns has riffed off of, in Doomsday: Hunter/Prey, and Kurt Busiek's Superman #666. The significance of it being his only nightmare is to indicate that something ominous, capable of affecting and hurting Superman, is on the way.

Page by Page

It's clear that Johns, to some extent, based the design of his issue upon Watchmen #1, but not copying it to the tiniest detail. Scenes and layouts and occasionally visual details are borrowed from the original, but selectively.

The man holding THE END IS NEAR sign is shot as the President's golf "hole in one" is mentioned. In Watchmen, the man with the sign is Rorschach and tremendously significant to the plot. In DC #1, we don't yet know who the man is or if he has any further significance.

The main characters introduced in each issue are in this order, as follows.

Watchmen #1: Comedian (in flashback), Rorschach, Nite Owl, Veidt, Dr. Manhattan and Silk Spectre.
DC #1: Veidt (in flashback), Rorschach, Nite Owl, Veidt, Superman and Lois Lane.

This is clearly similar, with substitutions. Perhaps most striking is the alignment of Dr. Manhattan with Superman, and the story will be about their differences and interplay.

We may notice that alignment between the two works is surely present, but not panel-by-panel. A memorable scene in Watchmen is when Rorschach breaks out of prison, and in DC #1, he breaks someone else out of prison, but in Watchmen that takes place in issue #8.

What's Coming?

The final words of Veidt, in reference to Dr. Manhattan, are, "Wherever he's retreated to." Using a Moore motif, Johns places this speech panel on the next scene, which is in Metropolis, which seemingly gives us the answer that DC Rebirth and The Button already promised, that Dr. Manhattan is in the DCU. Veidt and his allies need to contact Dr. Manhattan, and somehow they believe that the Marionette can help them find or reach him. Perhaps Veidt and his allies will appear in the DCU. If so, finding Dr. Manhattan may be variously easy or difficult (and the 25 year difference in date significant or insignificant), depending upon the deus ex machina of Veidt's scientific means.

But they cannot simply remove him from the DCU and have the story thereby abandon the DCU in issue #2. Perhaps Dr. Manhattan will refuse to go, and his purpose in the DCU will become part of the plot. Perhaps he will go and this will undo the changes he made to it. DC Rebirth and The Button seemingly promise us that a major change will take place, bringing, at the very least, the Justice Society back into continuity. By issue #12, this will happen. The question is whether we will have wild, temporary cosmic changes (a la the central issues of Johns' Infinite Crisis) or one big change at the end after a lot of metaphysical and philosophical conflict and contrast between Dr. Manhattan and Superman.

But also between Veidt and perhaps other characters. Rorschach vs. Batman? Or maybe we see Veidt's optimism (ugly though it be) mirror with Superman's. The copy of Walden Two on Superman's nightstand hints that fixing society and building a utopia is something that Veidt and Superman have in common.

Almost certainly, Johns is taking up here a conflict in tone with Alan Moore. Moore, as I've written earlier, was seemingly hell bent on destroying the superhero genre, either character by character, or as a genre, or in one unpublished apocalyptic epic. And so, I think it's quite possible that the shooting of the END IS HERE man represents the destruction of Alan Moore's gloom-and-doom take on the superhero genre. Thirty-one years later, we can certainly say that the genre did not end, and I think most readers here will agree that some part of the last three decades' work was quite worthwhile.


It's also worth noting that Grant Morrison has taken up quite similar efforts, with his Pax Americana issue of Multiversity giving his quite admirable and intricate take on Watchmen, and Final Crisis culminating with a showdown between Superman and a representative of gloom-and-doom called Mandrakk. While it would muddy Doomsday Clock quite a bit for Johns to grapple extensively with Morrison's own metatextual analyses, it will be interesting, as DC goes forward, to see how Johns, who is committed to a career with DC, takes up the same issues.