So it’s apparent at this point that Doctor Manhattan has modified the DC Universe to more resemble the Watchmen Universe in terms of both tone and events. My personal suspicion is that, as a scientist, Manhattan is running an experiment to see if humanity is as doomed as it was in his own timeline. Experimentation helps establish if something is consistent and always true: you run the same tests over and over to make sure nothing changes. Is this what he’s up to? We’re a little closer to finding out.
The Cover: A bottle of “Veidt Distillery” wine, 1984 vintage, smashing against a wall.
Page 1: Pulling back, it turns out we’re flashing back to the, er, flashback moments of Watchmen #1, where Veidt murders Edward Blake, the Comedian. The bottle-smashing wasn’t seen in the original version, but to Johns and Frank’s credit, a bottle of liquor can be seen on the floor next to his chair in Watchmen #1, indicating he responded quickly enough to throw it (and miss). To their further credit, they impressively recreate several panels from Watchmen #1 and #11 here.
Page 2: The flashback to Watchmen #1 continues, again showing Blake’s death, with the slight twist of showing it from his perspective. The last two panels focus on his trademark blood-stained smiley face button which was found by Rorschach after his death. From there, it was passed into the hands of Dan Dreiberg (Nite Owl), who threw it into Blake’s grave. The button made its way into the Batcave in Rebirth #1 and became the focal point of “The Button” crossover between Batman and the Flash, where it was stolen by Reverse-Flash and then apparently returned to Dr. Manhattan.
Oh, the title “Neither Victory Nor Defeat,” was given by Teddy Roosevelt in Paris in 1910. It basically refers to the fact that people who actually go out and try things are in a better place than observers who sit and criticize.
Pages 3-4: So this apparently is the real Comedian, resurrected. If you can’t tell by the Lexcorp Tower, Blake has landed in Metropolis Harbor in the DC Universe. By implication, Doctor Manhattan has brought him back to life, which shouldn’t be impossible for him, though we’ve never seen him do it. He’s returned the Blake’s trademark button to him, suggesting this scene takes place sometime after the events of “The Button.”
Why resurrect Blake? We don’t know. Also note that we haven’t seen Manhattan’s face yet, and have yet to see it in the DCU. So far, when Manhattan has appeared, it’s only been glimpsed.
Page 5: Blake references their previous fight and points out the irony of being able to shove Veidt out a window, as reversed from Watchmen #1. Lex Luthor is still lying on the floor in a pool of his own blood from last issue.
Pages 7 and 8: Whoops. Engineering his own defeat, Veidt slips on Luthor’s blood and misses Blake. However, as shown in Watchmen #5 and #11, Veidt is very talented at dodging bullets.
Blake comments that he’ll get a medal for killing Veidt. He’s apparently unaware that his home universe’s version of the United States is probably a nuclear crater now, so there probably isn’t anyone left to give him a medal.
The middle of both pages break with the three-panel format to again go with four panels (which would fit in a twelve-panel format). It’s curious why Gary Frank keeps mixing up the layout instead of staying with the nine-panel grid style trademarked by Watchmen.
Page 9: Again with the twelve-panel format. Back in the first issue, this was done leading up to the death of the Kents in the current DC continuity. This suggested a “countdown,” as the titular clock of the series is building towards a midnight of destruction. Here, if there’s symbolism, it isn’t so clear.
Blake laughs ironically at the fact that Veidt survived a fall off a building, something Blake himself couldn’t do.
Page 10: Back to Batman and Rorschach in the Batcave. Of note: I just noticed that Batman is wearing an updated chest symbol from what he’s currently wearing in DC Comics. This indicates Batman is due for a costume change.
Batman is awfully stoic about the fact that Rorschach is in his cave and knows his real name.
Page 11: As suggested, we see Mime and Marionette escape the Owlship, which they’d been handcuffed to after Vedit brought them to Gotham City. The panel with their hands mirrors Rorschach handing Batman the original Rorschach’s journal. This is only noteworthy because Dave Gibbons frequently did this style of transition in the original Watchmen, where two similar panels would be used to link unrelated scenes.
Marionette is unclear where she is, and she may not have fully grasped that she’s in a different universe. New Jersey is a logical guess since it has many amusement parks, and she did only recently leave her universe’s version of New York. This may also be a nod to the fact that, although DC is coy about it, Gotham City has often been said to be in DC’s New Jersey.
In the previous issue, it was ambiguous if this amusement park is the same one used by the Joker in The Killing Joke. This issue seems to nail it: the “Two-Headed Baby” poster can be visibly seen in Alan Moore’s other story, and more prominently, the “Laughing Clown” display.
The other posters which Mime and Marionette see are interesting, including “Ramses the Man-Monkey,” a.k.a. “Darwin’s Missing Link.” “Rameses” is an alternate name for Veidt’s “Ozymandias” moniker, so seeing a circus freak with his name is clearly intentional.
Page 12: “My hands are dirty, too.” We don’t have enough information on what this means yet, but it suggests that Rorschach II has killed somebody.
Pages 13-14: Hooboy, there’s a lot to take in here. One, the television reports continue to talk about “the Superman Theory,” in which the United States is postulated to be responsible for the rise of superhumans due to experimentation. Characters who have confessed to this so far include Metamorpho, the Man-Bat, and now Lady Clayface. So one, we’ve got the “background noise” of a pending demand to take action against superheroes and unmask them, as the public is calling for against Batman. This naturally mirrors the rise of the “Keene Act” which shut down superheroes in the 1970s in Watchmen. You’ll note that the old folks here are reminiscent for 1940s era celebrity heroes, but not actual superheroes. That’s because the memory of the 1940s Justice Society has been mysteriously erased from DC history.
Two, this page showcases Justice Society hero Johnny Thunder, who, since “Rebirth” began, has been locked up in a retirement home and is one of the only people to remember his Golden Age teammates. Johnny apparently had something to do with the JSA’s disappearance, but the circumstances are still unrevealed.
Three, we’re following up on The Adjournment, a fictional Nathaniel Dusk film in the DC Universe from Verner Bros. (ha!) pictures. These three plot elements, in tandem, mirror the presentation of the fictional Tales of the Black Freighter comic in Watchmen. Whenever we were exposed to the Black Freighter comic, it was always in the context of being interspersed with the background elements of the state of the Watchmen universe, either with people having encounters on the street and/or with the worsening geopolitical situation. Tales of the Black Freighter was meant to symbolically parallel the journey of the Watchmen characters, so we should be looking for clues within “The Adjournment” as to what’s happening in the real story. Additionally, the Tales of the Black Freighter comic was illustrated at one point by Max Shea, the artist who designed Veidt’s alien squid monster. One would expect, then, that the film is going to have some in-universe connection to the larger story.
“John Law” appears in the film credit for screenwriter. Based on the back pages of this issue, this likely refers to the Golden Age hero, the Tarantula, who was a writer in his private life.
Page 16: What’s with Rorschach and the pancakes?
Anyway, we see him unmasked this issue, and he’s…nobody we recognize. But he appears to have an extreme guilt complex, given that he washes his scalp so hard that he’s bleeding in symbolic parallel.
Page 17: The plot of “The Adjournment” is the death of two men, no witnesses, apparently in the middle of a chess game, and Nathaniel Dusk is called in to solve it. So if we’re paralleling the symbolism of Tales of the Black Freighter, that could be the theme of Doomsday Clock. Note that one of the dead men is “Alastair Tempus.” “Alastair” is a variant of “Alexander,” and Veidt modeled himself on Alexander the Great. “Tempus” means “time” in Latin.
Tempus’ death in the film—a bullet in the forehead—imitates the death of Moloch, a retired villain in Watchmen who was used to lure Rorschach into the open.
I’m not recognizing anything overtly symbolic about “Bentley Farmer,” although Richard Bentley was a famous 19th Century publisher who worked with Charles Dickens. Since DC is a publisher itself, maybe there’s a nod there.
Paralleling Watchmen, the fictional story-within-a-story is interrupted by the worsening world situation.
Pages 18-22: Two clown-based villains wandering into a Joker-owned bar should work out interestingly.
As predicted, it turns out that Mime does appear to have some kind of, well, “miming” power where he can actually cause anything he pantomimes. That, or maybe he’s holding some kind of invisible gun. We’ll have to wait for clarification on how he works.
It is interesting that Mime’s “power” usage imitates a panel in Watchmen #4 of Dr. Manhattan blowing up a man’s head in similar fashion: point and shoot.
Mime later throws a “knife.” We can see the faint outlines of a gun and knife whenever Mime does this, so it appears he can momentarily create objects, or at least the impact of them, when he does this.
Anyway, these two plan to track down the Joker, continuing the theme of characters meeting their counterparts (such as Veidt meeting Luthor and Batman meeting Rorschach).
Pages 23-24: Continuing The Adjournment’s story, the plot is that Tempus and Farmer were both killed, but only one was the intended target and the other a bystander caught up in things. On a very basic level, this imitates the plot of Watchmen: Adrian Veidt had a grand plan of blowing up New York, and killed the Comedian only when he became accidentally aware of the conspiracy.
So, in Doomsday Clock, who is the innocent victim, and who’s the intended target?
There’s additional setup symbolism here. In the film, Dusk’s lover is long dead, but she’s left him a Christmas present he’s never opened, and he’s afraid to. Paralleling this, Johnny Thunder shows signs of regret, as if there’s something he’s afraid to look for as well.
Page 25: Rorschach II’s flashback sequence shows he was driving into New York to retrieve his family when Veidt’s squid teleported into the city. This places the scene as parallel to the 11:25 sequence in Watchmen #11. The references to Richard Nixon fleeing to NORAD Mountain happened in Watchmen #10. We don’t know who Rorschach’s family is. Being black, it’s possible that he’s related to either Dr. Malcolm Long or the comic-reading kid, Bernie. If related to Long, it could be that he picked up the Rorschach persona from him since he was the original Rorschach’s psychiatrist in prison.
Pages 26-27: Batman says he’s detected a temporal anomaly in Arkham Asylum which could be Doctor Manhattan. This seems plausible. To date, after Rebirth and “The Button,” Batman should at least be aware of something like Doctor Manhattan. Additionally, one of the mysteries of “Rebirth” is that Saturn Girl of the Legion of Superheroes has traveled back to the 21st century and is currently held in Arkham.
…and Batman’s actually tricked Rorschach into being locked up.
“We’re all mad here” is an Alice in Wonderland line, suggesting Rorschach is in the Mad Hatter’s cell.
Page 28: Rorschach II’s capture somewhat mirrors the capture of the original Rorschach in Watchmen #5, where deception was also used to lock him up—albeit Batman does so with considerably less violence. However, this oddly suggests that Batman is making no connection between Rorschach and the “Rebirth” mysteries. World’s greatest detective, my ass.
It was at this point in Watchmen that Doctor Manhattan was temporarily taken off the table, being tricked into thinking that he’d been giving people cancer.
Backup Pages: Here’s another in-universe artifact from the DC Universe, same as we got in Watchmen. In this case, it’s a Hollywood gossip rag which presents an odd mixture of real life, fiction, and, um, other fiction.
Symbolically, “Screenland Secrets” suggests a dark underbelly to DC’s old-time Hollywood, just as our own Hollywood and Golden Age era aren’t as pure as the narrative makes it out to be. Sexual abuse and violence ran rampant in old-time Hollywood, but was usually painted over and kept from the public. In Watchmen, we saw similar reflections about that universe’s Golden Age, with revelations that the Minutemen which the Comedian was a member of weren’t the squeaky-clean heroes they appeared to be (Blake himself being an attempted rapist of a teammate).
Screenland Secrets is a fictional magazine, but appears to mix elements of Screenland and Confidential. The year of this magazine isn’t clear, but appears to be from the early 1950s based on the dates and events.
“The Smear Campaign Against Norma Desmond” is interesting, given that Norma is a fictional character from the film Sunset Boulevard. However, as has been noted, several fictional characters have been proven to be “real” in the Watchmen universe, such as Taxi Driver’s Travis Bickle and Network’s Howard Beale. And, hell, the DC Universe is fictional in the Watchmen timeline, but Veidt and company are now standing in it.
Hedda Hopper was a real-world gossip columnist, who, funny enough, appeared as herself in Sunset Boulevard.
The mystery of Colman Carver’s death is reminiscent of the breakup of the scandal-plagued Minutemen in Watchmen, to the extent that it presents a picture of a less-than-clean fictional history of this world. The Minutemen’s original Nite Owl wrote memoirs in which he recounted the disappearance of Hooded Justice which appeared to be under shady circumstances.
DC’s fictional “Verner Brothers” was headed by at least two guys, Albert and Karl Verner. Albert Warner was one of four real heads of Warner Brothers. It’s kind of funny that DC has to transparently mimic their own parent company.
William Desmond Taylor is a real-world unsolved Hollywood murder victim. Norma Short, as far as I can tell, is fictional.
In Old Arizona and The Westerner are real films, and the latter really did star Gary Cooper, although Colman is inserted into the movie in the DC Universe, just as Watchmen’s characters bled into real-world events. Nathaniel Dusk, as we mentioned last month, is not a real film series, but was instead a 1980s DC noir comic book.
The fictional film Lovers Die At Dusk (1952) was the name of the first Dusk DC series. (The second was called, no kidding, Apple Peddlers Die at Noon.) The other films mentioned in the gossip column were directed in the DCU by real people, such as Robert Sidomak, Otto Preminger, Jules Dassin, and Jaques Tourner. Ring Lardner Jr. was a real-world screenwriter called before the HUAC (which, in DC Comics, was noted for shutting down the Justice Society). Jean Gillie was a real actress who died of pneumonia in 1949. Hedy Lamarr was another real-world actress with an amazing history. The “Don McGregor” who directed Lovers Die At Dusk is a fictional version of the real Don McGregor, who created Nathaniel Dusk for DC Comics. He was only seven years old in 1952.
Carver’s fictional murder, in which he was beaten to death with his own award, may be intended to parallel actor Bob Crane’s real-world murder. Crane (of Hogan’s Heroes fame) was found beaten to death with what might have been a camera tripod.
According to the fictional article, Carver’s home was discovered to have a secret room filled with clocks and police reports. This suggests that Carver might have been moonlighting as a crimefighter, but which one? The discovery recalls Rorschach’s discovery that Edward Blake’s apartment had a secret room which hid his Comedian gear. Carver may have had ties to the Sabella Crime Family of Philadelphia.
The detective “Bruce Nelson” mentioned in the article was one of DC’s first characters, appearing in—unsurprisingly—Detective Comics #1. (Batman first appeared in issue #27.)
On the bonus scandals page, it seems that several DC characters have ties to the darker side of their universe’s Hollywood. Actor Frank Farr is implicitly the father of the Doom Patrol’s Rita Farr, a.k.a. Elasti-Girl. Rita Farr herself was an actress whose career ended when she developed size-changing powers. Here, Frank Farr appears to be based on Frank Fay, husband to real actress Barbara Stanwyck. (They divorced in 1939.) Another Holiday Affair appears to be a fictional film based on the real Holiday Affair. Rita exists in the current DC Universe, but is far too young to have been born in the 1950s, as this article indicates. The Rita mentioned here also isn’t the right age to have operated in 1963, when she first appeared in the real comics.
Jackie Johnson was a member of Sergeant Rock’s Easy Company and was a fictional amalgamation of Jackie Robinson and Joe Louis. Randy “Tin Soldier” Booth was another member of Easy Company. The argument over Rock’s death probably relates to the fact that at least pre-Flashpoint, Rock survived well past 1945 and worked with the Suicide Squad. Also at Johnson’s wedding was boxer Ted Grant, better known as JSA member Wildcat.
Lastly, the article mentions John Law as being the prime suspect in Colman’s murder, and that he was married to athlete Libby Lawrence. She’s better known as Liberty Belle. She’s originally from Philadelphia, which recalls the rumor that Colman was involved with a mob family there. Coincidence? But with Law, Lawrence, and Grant mentioned, we have hard confirmation that the JSA members existed in the current DC Universe. It’s just that nobody seems to remember them as superheroes, raising the question of whether their heroic careers even happened.
The retirees in Johnny Thunder’s home were fighting over “real” American heroes like Franklin Roosevelt, Joe DiMaggio, and, well, Frank Rock. It’s possible that if superheroes had a known longer history in the current DCU, the “Superman Theory” and associated paranoia wouldn’t exist.