Welcome to “Keeping a Watch on Doomsday Clock,” our column dedicated to annotating the first ever DCU/Watchmen crossover that most of us probably didn’t need but is here nonetheless! Since this 12-issue maxiseries relies so heavily on “Watchmen,” a comic that has a ton to unpack in itself, there are a lot of details and references to look at. Passing the halfway mark of the story, it’s time for the series’ comedy-themed characters take the stage.
The dolls on the cover depict the original Nite Owl, Marionette, and quite unsettling characters like the grim reaper. The disturbed toys really set the tone for the flashback portion of the issue, which tells about a very dark childhood. The previous issue built up to a big confrontation, which is here put on hold for most of the issue. The Nathaniel Dusk story isn’t continued either, as Marionette and Mime’s backstory takes up the majority of the issue. “Watchmen” #6 was also a character study delving into Rorschach’s past, and there are some slight similarities between the two stories, as both Walter Kovacs and Erika Mason are beaten up as children and then turn to violence themselves. Entering Erika Manson aka Marionette’s dark childhood, we see that not surprisingly she took inspiration for her villainous alter ego from one of the marionettes her father made. Erika’s father is an immigrant who is violently blackmailed by corrupted cops to give them money by hiding it inside puppets they get for their children. The marionettes and the overlaid narration immediately bring to mind one of the most famous “Watchmen” quotes: “We’re all puppets, Laurie. I’m just a puppet who can see the strings.” Dr Manhattan says this in “Watchmen” #9 while explaining the concept of free will. The narration here uses the same metaphor but presents a more anarchistic view and comments more on the structure of society than the causal relationships of life in general. We’ll return to these differing puppet metaphors later on.
It is revealed the narrating voice belongs to the Joker, who is pushing the beaten up and drugged Batman in a wheelchair. Batman continues to play an extremely passive and unlucky role in the story. This is contrary to the usual narrative in modern DC comics, where Batman’s overt competence is often highlighted even when he is not the main character. Joker mentions cutting off people’s faces, a reference to the beginning of the New 52 when he wore his own cut off face as a mask. Him wanting to take pictures of the paralyzed Batman is a nod to the “Killing Joke,” which has been referenced also in earlier issues. The riots Mr Freeze’s henchmen refer to are of course the ones being held against Batman.
Returning to the flashback, we see little Erika likes Anne Bonny, who was a female pirate in the 18th century. This is understandable since pirate fiction is very popular in the “Watchmen” universe, where the superhero genre lost readership thanks to their real-life masked adventurers. The Spanish spoken by Marcos’s parents translates as “He is your son! He is a weirdo!” and “Do not say that in front of him!” The song Erika sings before encountering some bullies is from Disney’s animated Pinocchio. Later the policeman calls Erika’s father Geppetto, who is the dollmaker in that story. Erika gets her nose broken by the bullies. A page earlier in the present moment she states the Joker’s name is “a bit on the nose.” These details are also a reference to Pinocchio, the doll with the growing nose. This scene is somewhat similar to Walter Kovacs’s childhood shown in “Watchmen” #6. The difference is that little Erika is not alone, as Marcos saving her from the bullies is the start of a lifelong violent partnership. Even though this is his backstory too, the reason for Mime’s muteness is not revealed.
Riddler is holding an underground meeting for supervillains to discuss the Supermen Theory, calling the attendees The League of Villainy. There haven’t been any supervillain teams under the names Joker jokingly mentions, they’re mashups of actual groups Legion of Doom, Secret Society of Super Villains and Brotherhood of Evil. The guest list is long and includes many big names and a couple of rarely seen ones. Out of Wonder Woman’s enemies present are Giganta, Dr Poison and Dr Psycho and out of Green Lantern’s enemies Hector Hammond, Tattooed Man and Sonar. For Flash’s rogues it’s the Top, Mirror Master, Captain Cold, Captain Boomerang and Heat Wave. Gotham’s local menaces Two-Face, Penguin, Mr Freeze, Tweedledum and Tweedledee, Professor Pyg, Scarecrow, Black Mask, Nocturna and members of the Court of Owls have decided to attend the meeting. Bane wasn’t able to make it because he was caught by the federals, according to one of Mr Freeze’s goons. The miscellaneous group standing together includes Shazam’s enemy Dr Sivana, Superman’s enemies Toyman and Prankster and Firestorm’s enemies Moonbow, Typhoon and Black Bison. Riddler is back to his 60’s design, looking both like the comics version and Frank Gorshin in the Batman TV show.Continued below
In the villains meeting scene there are a couple of lines that might sound familiar. The villains discuss Green Lantern’s other enemies leaving for the stars and Wonder Woman possibly having been forcibly dragged to return to Themyscira. This sounds somewhat similar to the situation presented in DC’s other 1986 smash hit besides “Watchmen,” “The Dark Knight Returns.” It’s not exactly the same, as in TDKR it was Lantern himself who left and Wonder Woman went to Themyscira willingly. As Joker arrives to the meeting, Riddler says “Not him. Not now,” which is word for word what Batman thinks when Superman arrives in a scene in TDKR. It’s not the most obvious thing, but as these lines appear in the same scene it’s quite safe to say they are intentional references. Johns has said “Doomsday Clock” will explore the trend of grittiness and darkness in modern superhero comics. Since “Watchmen” and “The Dark Knight Returns” are the two works that can be said to have started the darker trend of superhero comics, it wouldn’t be illogical of Johns to draw comparisons to the latter as well as the one “Doomsday Clock” is a sequel to. In this scene there’s also a line referring to a not pre-existing, but upcoming DC comic. “You all heard what happened to the first Tattooed Man at that Sanctuary place? It’s screwed up.” The Sanctuary will be featured in Tom King’s upcoming “Heroes in Crisis” event, starting next month. It’s a secret place that offers a sort of therapy to superheroes. According to the premise, everyone who’s staying at the Sanctuary at the start of the series will die, so that’s probably the fate of the first Tattooed Man too.
The Suicide Squad is said to have gone missing in Kahndaq, with Captain Boomerang being the only one to get out. Typhoon aka David Drake gains attention as he is one of the metahumans most strongly suspected to be created by the government. Typhoon claims it’s all a lie and that he has nothing to do with the Supermen Theory. “I’m not some government puppet,” he says, continuing with the idea of people being marionettes controlled by higher-ups. In the short flashback sequence Erika’s father asks her if she wants a doll of Dr Manhattan, yet another reference to Dr Manhattan’s “I’m just a puppet who can see the strings” -quote. Marcos apparently likes The Comedian. Speaking of the Comedian, he makes an explosive return to the series by suddenly shooting Typhoon in the face. He also shoots a member of the Court of Owls in the head, Mr Freeze in the helmet and Riddler in the knee, but the last two are probably non-lethal injuries. Lastly, Comedian blows up the entire place.
In Marionette’s childhood things aren’t going much better either. We see the opening scene again and now also the events that follow it. The police arrive to collect more money from Erika’s father and threaten to take her if he doesn’t pay. They also gladly admit they’re responsible for the death of Marcos’s mother. The next time Erika comes home, she finds her father hanging from the ceiling, just like the puppets he crafted. Sadly, her father’s idea that she will be safer with him gone doesn’t work out as little Erika and Marcos immediately get into an extremely violent conflict with the cops and essentially slaughter them.
This issue is probably bloodier than all the previous ones combined: people lose their heads on panel extremely graphically and wounds spill blood almost explosively. Since some the series’ most violent characters take center stage, this is understandable. The amount of graphic language also skyrockets in this issue and in some moments, it feels like the issue revels in the “swearing and violence equals maturity” -attitude that sprang up in the wake of “Watchmen’s” success. It is revealed Marionette had her son taken from her right after giving birth and Mime never even had the chance to see him. Marionette and Mime are staying at Caribbean Hotel, another little nod to the pirates so prominent in the popular culture of “Watchmen’s” world. The Comedian finds Marionette and Mime and wants to know where Ozymandias is, but gets electrocuted by the Joker’s hand buzzer. Joker attaches the Comedian’s pin to his own jacket, taking even further the coalescence of two smiley face icons which I discussed in the previous annotations. The Comedian’s status is now unknown as he might be dead or just stunned, even though at the Joker’s hands death seems the more likely option.Continued below
Having gone through the issue, it’s a good moment to return to its main motif and metaphor, puppets. What the puppet metaphor is used for in “Watchmen” is to explore the juxtaposition of determinism and free will. Dr Manhattan uses it since he can see the past, present and future at the same time and thus sees every action as predetermined. “Doomsday Clock” hasn’t actually explored time as a theme that much compared it to being one of the central ideas in “Watchmen,” despite the constant sprinkling of clock motifs. The most we have got so far is the initial setup of time having passed since the events of “Watchmen” and there being for example a new Rorschach. “Doomsday Clock” isn’t very concerned with the differing philosophical theories present in “Watchmen” either. Here the puppet metaphor is more about how people’s lives are controlled by more powerful people. It crops up in multiple ways. Marionette’s father’s life was turned to living hell by crooked members of the establishment. Marionette and Mime were very much victims of the circumstances in their childhood, but decided to rebel in an extreme way. Certain superheroes and -villains are suspected to be puppets of the government. Joker is a character with zero respect for any higher-ups and gives the speech about rebelling against the puppet-masters at the beginning of the issue.
Adrian Veidt, Lex Luthor and more importantly, Superman and Dr Manhattan were nowhere to be seen in this issue. Even hints of Dr Manhattan’s presence seem scarce compared to previous issues. In the end the Joker asks who Dr Manhattan is, highlighting the mystery of the series in the case Dr Manhattan actually is masquerading as a DC character. The ending quote is from Charlie Chaplin, who also appeared as a puppet in the background of a panel on page five. A quote from one of the world’s most famous comedic actors is an obvious choice for an issue starring the Joker, the Comedian, Marionette and Mime.
The attached documents seem to offer the most concrete proof of The Supermen Theory to date. The files from the Department of Metahuman affairs disclose that David Drake aka Typhoon really did have his metagene triggered by the government and was assigned to play the role of a supervillain in public. Apparently it is true that he and Moonbow actually were agents infiltrating the villains’ meeting. Typhoon’s agent number is #FL294-1981. It’s common for writers to form these kinds of codes from the issue number of the character’s first appearance, since it’s an easy choice and also an easter-egg for readers. Such is the case here too, as Typhoon debuted in Flash #294 in 1981. Some names appearing in the document have been redacted, but Aquaman’s acquaintance Dr Stephen Shin and Firestorm villain Dr Jivan Shi aka Hyena are name-dropped. Green Lantern villain Jordan Weir aka the Puppeteer is also mentioned, giving us one more puppet reference. The Puppeteer is said to have “psychologically reconditioned” Typhoon. One character is only called by their agent number, #FI43-1986. This probably refers to “Firestorm” #43, but it’s unclear who the character in question is.
Typhoon is said to have died on a Wednesday, 25th of July, which is the date this issue was published. The problem with this is that it doesn’t make sense, as the events of “Doomsday Clock” are supposed to happen a year into the future and next year’s July 25th isn’t a Wednesday. This could simply be an error or perhaps an intentional way to keep the year ambiguous. Even though “Doomsday Clock” has a fixed relationship to the passing of time in the DCU because of the “one year into the future” premise, it’s possible Johns and the editorial don’t want to tie the book to any specific year in real life to keep it relevant for a longer time, and to acknowledge the more fluctuating passage of time in the DCU compared to “Watchmen’s” very specific timeframe. Whatever the reason is, “Doomsday Clock’” publication schedule has been prolonged so much from the original plan that it’s no wonder inconsistencies crop up.
References to real world events were scarce this time around, so it was a good moment to ponder some of the themes behind the story Johns and Frank are crafting. That’s all this time, come back in October to see “Doomsday Clock” #7 annotated!