There’s a tonal shift in Doomsday Clock as of this issue, and it makes the overall comic come off as a little dry. My perception of this issue is that it suffers from being a bit of padding against the overall twelve-issue story, as if this chapter exists to space out the story rather than keep it from falling short of the series’ total. Is that fair? It’s not like stuff doesn’t happen here.
The other seismic change is that Doomsday Clock #5 feels like the DC-Comics-est issue of the series so far. To date, Doomsday Clock has largely focused on the Watchmen cast and its spinoff characters—the first issue and part of the second were set almost entirely in the Watchmen universe, and last issue focuses heavily on Rorschach II’s flashback. Issue #5 takes a considerably deeper dive into the DC Universe as it exists somewhere in the future of the current books. This issue isn’t even trying to do a one-for-one mirror of Watchmen #5, as previous issues have done—but as always, I’ve got Watchmen #5 in front of me just to make sure there aren’t any intentional parallels.
Page One: Off the bat, this page isn’t paralleling anything from Watchmen #5. That issue had Rorschach hounding Moloch the psychic outside his apartment. Here, we’re picking up the aftermath of Ozymandias’ fight at Lex Luthor’s headquarters, recovering in a hospital and contrasting his brain tumor with the doctor’s examining light. Observation: Veidt’s doctor displays a certain cynicism about religion, going from someone raised in Catholicism to someone who reduces end-of-life phenomenon to mere science. This probably intentionally parallels the DCU’s shrinking faith in superheroes, as illustrated by the talk which follows about Veidt facing prison for being a “cape.”
Page Two: We’ve got anecdotal observations here about growing anti-Superhero sentiment, paralleling the Keane Act in the Watchmen universe and maybe, unintentionally, the clampdown of superheroes in The Dark Knight Returns. It’s also been cynically questioned for awhile whether the nature of Batman’s existence creates supervillains rather than responds to them.
There’s an irony in the doctor saying “Thank God we live in Metropolis” when she was just expressing a developed atheism on the previous page. The continued belief in Superman, again, recalls The Dark Knight Returns, where Superman was still allowed to operate with the government’s blessing, along with Watchmen, where Dr. Manhattan did the same.
Page Three: Veidt is always thinking three steps ahead, so of course, he’s got an easy plan to escape plan from the hospital. We’ll see more of this through the issue.
Page Four: Illustrating the superhero tension: Hawk and Dove are arrested in Russia for “interfering with police business.” Hank “Hawk” Hall goes back to 1968, while Dawn “Dove” Granger appeared in the late 1980s as a replacement for Hank’s brother, Don, who was killed in Crisis on Infinite Earths. The “Rocket Red” brigade refers to Russia’s Iron Man-like league of state-supplied heroes who’ve been part of the DC Universe since 1987. The reference to Hawk’s political involvement in Nicaragua refers to a 1988 story in Doom Patrol and Suicide Squad Special #1, where Hawk was captured during a gun-running operation (connected to the real-world case of the U.S. supplying arms to counter-revolutionaries in that country). Red Star is another Russian DC superhero, going back to the Teen Titans in 1968.
Page Five: Re-introduction of Lois Lane and Clark “Superman” Kent, who we haven’t seen since issue #1’s ending. Lois is dealing with tension with her editor, Perry White, who wants a “metahuman” spin put on Ozymandias’ incident at LexCorp because, dammit, it sells papers. “Jon’s godfather” refers to Perry, a longtime friend to Lois and Clark, serving as godfather of Lois and Clark’s son, Jon Kent (introduced in 2015’s Convergence) event. Curiosity: this story establishes that Jon is ten years old, which is certainly consistent with Jon’s age, but does add some dating to the DC Universe, which has always had issues with timeline compression. Traditionally, Superman has always been around for an unstated “ten years” on the sliding timescale.
Moreover, one of the controversies of “The New 52” event which reset DC’s timeline is that the characters were reset with a compressed timeline, where most heroes now debuted five years ago. The recent “Superman Reborn” storyline undid some of that, but not without raising more questions about how the new timeline works. Bonus fact: DC Rebirth revealed that Watchmen’s Doctor Manhattan was behind all this timeline screwiness.
One Watchmen parallel we haven’t really seen yet in Doomsday Clock is the “New Frontiersman” newspaper, a right-wing crank publication which inadvertently stumbled across Rorschach’s journal at the end of the story. The Daily Planet could fill the fictional newspaper role here, but we’ll have to see.
Mikhail “Pozhar” Arkadin is Firestorm’s Russian counterpart, going back to 1987, and as he correctly notes, he received his powers in the Chernobyl disaster. It’s a curious pattern we’re seeing here, with the superhuman arms race not only mirroring the U.S.-Soviet tensions in Watchmen, but that so many of the incidents referenced on these pages tie to events in the late 1980s following the point where Watchmen closed. Watchmen ended with world peace (temporarily); our own world continued with these violent events like the Contras in Nicaragua and Chernobyl in Russia.
Page Six: A small continuation of Rorschach II and Saturn Girl, who rescued Rorschach from Arkham last issue, with Doctor Manhattan apparently following them disguised as a bug (note the insects in the lower-right panel). Trivia: Saturn Girl mentions that she can’t wear leather because it’s illegal in the 30th Century.
Page Seven: Introduction of “The People’s Heroes,” which looks to be a Russian equivalent of the Justice League, introduced by Vladimir Putin himself. Members include the aforementioned Red Star and Pozhar, along with Vostok-X, a woman who could be Christina “Lady Flash” Alexandrova, and a woman who appears to be Valentina “Negative Woman” Vostok from the Doom Patrol. I don’t recognize the others. Suggestions, readers?
This page otherwise continues the retirement home story with Johnny Thunder, who somehow believes himself responsible for removing the Justice Society from DC history. The “Nathaniel Dusk” movie continues to play in the background. Johnny’s left clues to this on the table, including references to Aladdin (which involved a magic lamp) and a green fire at “All-American Steel,” both of which clearly point to Alan Scott, the original Green Lantern.
Page Eight: This page continues the “Nathaniel Dusk” movie which serves as the “Tales from the Black Freighter” homage running through Doomsday Clock. It’s presumably supposed to be giving us hints as to the true story of Doomsday Clock, though this might only make sense in retrospect. All we know for now is that the Dusk film has introduced a character named Jasper Wellington, who bears a suspicious resemblance to Johnny Thunder. Jasper was apparently stealing a suitcase full of money in order to get an implied gender reassignment surgery in Europe. How this parallels to Doomsday Clock, we’ll just have to wait and see.
Page Nine: Not much going on here beyond Johnny Thunder’s sad quest to find the Justice Society.
Page Ten: Veidt returns to the Owlship which he brought over from the Watchmen universe. Unfortunately, his thoughts are cut off, but it appears that he’d hoped that Marionette and Mime’s absence would summon Dr. Manhattan. We’ll have to wait to find out, because here’s Batman, who’s pissed.
Page Eleven: The Comedian appears to be at the bar scene where Mime and Marionette left a pile of bodies awhile back…which reminds me, it’s owned by the Joker. We may be headed for a Joker/Comedian showdown, and we’ll have to see if that draws any interesting parallels beyond name similarities. It’s interesting that the modern Joker is the closest parallel to a Watchmen character in the otherwise happy, unrealistic superhero universe. Both the Joker and the Comedian have developed a nihilistic outlook on life and a willingness to engage in the perverse. So, this could get interesting. Given the level of threat the Comedian offers to the cops, it’s conceivable that they view him as a Joker-level threat.
Page Twelve: And meanwhile, Mime and Marionette are hack-slashing their way to the Joker. Like the Comedian, these are particularly twisted characters and fit well with the Joker’s motif and insanity. It’ll be curious how this collision is going to play out. Bonus trivia on this page: in the Watchmen universe, Nixon has been put on money. Typically, you need to be dead before you’re put on U.S. currency, so it’s surprising that Nixon would already be there, unless he died earlier than the Watchmen universe’s 1992 (in the real world, he died in ’94).
Page Thirteen: Several items are converging at once here, and it’s creating a jumbled mix of storytelling. One, Batman and Veidt are conversing over why Veidt has come to the DC Universe. Two, the cops have somehow found both of them—how, we don’t know, but here we are. Three, Veidt’s got the radio on the Owlship running several broadcasts at once, going into controversies against Firestorm, anti-Batman protests, Markovia closing its borders, and the continued narration of the Nathaniel Dusk movie. The escape in the Owlship recalls Nite-Owl and Silk Spectre’s escapes in the later issues of Watchmen.
Page Fourteen: There’s an increased tension among the superhero population, apparently with a portion accusing the other half of being part of the United States’ alleged superhuman arms race. Firestorm appears to be the traditional version of the character, a merger of Ronnie Raymond and Professor Martin Stein. In the modern DC Universe, Ronnie had been merged with Jason Rusch, but Doomsday Clock seems to have defaulted back to Stein. Killer Frost is the original Louise Lincoln version of the character, an old Firestorm villain who, for some reason, has joined in on the pro-Superman Theory conspiracy. Jack “The Creeper” Ryder is a DC hero who goes back to 1968; it’s not clear if he’s the traditional version or the 2013 updated version here.
Page Fifteen: The debate between Batman and Veidt gets into a bit of metatext here when you consider that the DC Universe is often an idealized fiction which never progresses, while Watchmen was intended to be a more “realistic” superhero universe. So the DCU is a world where things never change for the better, but just continue on an endless cycle, while Watchmen is a world where someone actually tried to make lasting human progression, but instead created a nuclear nightmare. Who’s right here?
Page Sixteen: In a shocking move, General Sam Lane, Lois’ father, is pulling all American troops out of the Middle East following anti-superhero protests in Quarac, DC’s fictional expy of Iraq and other Arab countries. General Lane’s history has been variable—sometimes he’s alive, sometimes he’s not—but Doomsday Clock has him still in action. Meanwhile, Lex Luthor, recovering from being shot by the Comedian, has been picking at the Superman Theory and claims that a metahuman and former member of the Justice League is behind it. Hmmmm.
This kind of thing typically turns out to be Batman’s fault, but who the heck knows. It’s going to be Batman, isn’t it?
Page Seventeen: The homeless guy who says “There is no future. There is no past” is, oddly, quoting Doctor Manhattan. The full quote is: “There is no future. There is no past. Do you see? Time is simultaneous, an intricately structured jewel that humans insist on viewing one edge at a time, when the whole design is visible in every facet.” This refers to Manhattan’s curse to see all of time at once, rather than a progressive series of moments.
That, or he’s quoting the musical Rent.
Pages Nineteen-Twenty One: Not much to add here, except that Veidt really drives home the metaphor that DC’s heroes are, in fact, “pulp heroes” who don’t accomplish anything beyond entertaining the readers. Despite being a bastard who murdered millions, Veidt did accomplish a lot in the Watchmen universe, though he had to do it via a means rivaled only by the MCU’s Thanos. And to drive the point home, Veidt shoves Batman into a crowd of people ready to kill him.
Johnny Thunder, in the meantime, finds Alan Scott’s lost lantern.
Page Twenty-Two: Doomsday Clock has resumed the transparent imitation of Watchmen, with the assaults on Batman and Johnny Thunder imitating the assault on Hollis Mason, the original Golden Age Nite-Owl. Comparing panels: yes, the goon looking to beat Johnny with the lantern is an open homage to Hollis being beaten with his award.
The fun thing here is that Johnny is saved by the timely intervention of Rorschach II. It’s appropriate because Hollis Mason’s murder was inspired by the rescue of the original Rorschach from prison, which inspired a riot which innocently took down Hollis. Here, things have changed for the better.
Page Twenty-Three: So, we’re left on a cliffhanger of: 1) the Joker’s popped in, and he’s now in a position to kill Batman; 2) Mime and Marionette would like to kill the Joker; and 3) that bug is Doctor Manhattan discovering Alan Scott’s lantern.
Bonus Pages: “Trouble Alert” bears a resemblance to Newsweek. The mailing address at the bottom appears to be for the retirement home that’s hosting Johnny Thunder.
Trouble Alert highlights that the Superman Theory is essentially that all superhumans are intentionally created by the U.S. government and are, in fact, on standby to be called into government service. Why some superhumans are admitting to this is unknown. This theory hasn’t cropped up yet in the mainstream DC titles, but it might be worth watching The Terrifics in the future, since the theory revolves around Metamorpho, who’s appearing in those pages. Doc Dread, Element Girl, Firestorm, Killer Frost, the Man-Bat, and Lady Clayface are all reported to be part of the conspiracy.
There’s a ton of superheroes popping up in other countries. Let’s just say that these are known quantities and can easily be looked up on the DC Wiki. For now, it’s sufficient to illustrate that the Superman Theory has resulted in a worldwide arms race with Europe, Israel, Russia, Markovia, and China getting in on things. Notable: Kenan Kong and the Chinese Justice League have been incorporated into China’s “Great Ten,” which is now a Great Twenty.
Most concerning is that Black Adam—the evil take on Captain Marvel—is weaponizing the fictional country of Khandaq and apparently has some eighteen unknown metahumans taking refuge there. Despite the Russian stuff emphasized in this issue, it wouldn’t be surprising if Khandaq becomes the parallel to Watchmen’s Soviet Union given the problems with Adam and Khandaq in DC’s recent past. The pages mention Adam fighting the Marvel family in Philadelphia, where the current version of Shazam! is currently set.
The last page is, amusingly, a very charming and retro ad for visiting Metropolis, which implies that things are happy and idealistic in the DC Universe. It appears that people still trust that Superman will protect them.
In the Watchmen universe, the nuclear war between the U.S. and Soviet Union was almost triggered by Doctor Manhattan being removed from the map. So we have to wonder: what would happen in the rising metahuman cold war if Superman were suddenly removed from the story?
Next issue: Batman versus the Joker versus Mime and Marionette versus the Comedian? What happens when Doctor Manhattan gets his hands on the Lantern? Which Justice Leaguer created the Superman Theory? And is this Nathaniel Dusk thing going anywhere?