It’s now two full months since issue 3 of Doomsday Clock, and the scheduling of this series is only going to get worse. Logistically, this is turning into a nightmare for DC: originally, it was supposed to be a monthly series, then it was going to skip a month after issue 4, and now, despite it still saying monthly in the indicia, it’s supposed to be bi-monthly from issue 3 onwards, meaning that the end date has now been pushed back from October 2018 to July 2019.
And the ‘now’ of this series is supposed to be the ‘now’ that the DC Universe is working towards as at Doomsday Clock 12, so that is now a shifting and an elongating deadline, except that I hear Geoff Johns is being very close-mouthed about what everybody else is supposed to be writing towards.
Even before we get onto the contents, this is looking like an almighty shambles.
But another one is now available, and what does that mean? Yes, you’re right. It’s excoriatin! time!
To be fair, this is certainly the best issue so far. That’s not a compliment, however: on a scale of 1 to 10, it still comes in at -2, but everything up till now has been somewhere like -8, -9, so it’s just a case of this issue not being egregiously offensive. It’s dull, overlong, flat and hollow, and it’s a sad case that these adjectives are by way of praise.
What we have here is the Secret Origin of the new Rorscharch, in a deliberate attempt to mirror the Secret Origin of the original Rorscharch in Watchmen 6. As such, in similar manner to Watchmen‘s alternation between plot and character, it brings progress to a dead stop. Given that Johns is plotting a more conventional, world-enveloping storyline, the effect is abrupt and awkward, amplified by this episode containing nothing of any great originality and the two month wait to get it at all. Assuming issue 5 doesn’t appear until the last week of May, that will mean a four month gap between progressive chapters, and we’re not even dealing with the audience that was prepared/forced to wait indefinitely for issues of Sandman Overture.
As for the origin itself, it begins predictably by revealing Reggie to be the son of Malcolm and Gloria Long, as everybody’s been guessing. We see some elements of his childhood, in which we’re treated again to Johns’ incurable desire to fuck about with elements of Alan Moore’s work (give up, you self-important,jealous little tw*t, you’re never going to be anything like as creative as him) as he implies that Gloria’s high sex drive in the original series was based upon maternal frustration at never having a second baby rather than a simple high sex drive, such as some people have.
No, Reggie is not a happy bunny, pushed around and bullied all his life, and then he witnesses the ‘breaking through a dimensional rift’ of Veidt’s alien monster, and Reggie is one of the thousands who go through mental tortures, in his case the obscenely vicious visions implanted in the creature.
Reggie is confined to an institution, just as he is in Arkham, which runs basically as a stale cliche. He gets a psychiatrist who tells us that patient John Doe is completely unidentifiable rather than eliciting any answers that illuminate Reggie, Rorscharch or his mission here (and anyway, the Doctor is Batman, who doesn’t seem to get the ida that he might have been more effective at this by keeping NewRorscharch in the Batcave).
No, the only insights to which we are privileged, and hell’s teeth these are slow in coming, are Reggie in the Mental Institution, which is just as much a Hell as Arkham, except that instead of getting beaten up and homosexually/sadistically propositioned by the other inmates, Reggie is being subject to ECT, drugs and beatings from sadistic staff.
But he survives, thanks to his mentor, and who is this mentor, who teaches him multiple fighting styles with which to defend himself, not to mention the mental fortitude to control his horrific visions and see only what he wants to see? Why, it is none other than, tah-dah! Byron Lewis. You remember, Mothman. From the Minutemen. In Watchmen.
Now there’s just two problems with this latest development, one of them ordinary, the other fatal. The ordinary one is that Johns is once more fucking Watchmen over, only on a slightly larger scale than the psychosexual origins of Gloria Long’s sexual drive. The thing is that Mothman is only a background character in the original, and he’s meant to be a joke as a Mystery Man. The name, honestly. The silly costume. The glider wings. He’s not to be taken seriously.
As for Byron Lewis, he’s the archetypal DC secret identity: rich socialite, nothing better to do, doing good on behalf of the plebs. He’s already something of a drinker as early as 1940 and that’s the problem. When the Red Scare comes at the start of the Fifties, Byron Lewis was interrogated pretty hard, over links he’d had with left-wing intellectuals pre-War: it exacerbates his drinking into full-blown alcoholism, leaving him a shrunken, physically and mentally crippled person wheen he’s installed in the Sanatorium in 1962.
Where he stays for the rest of his life.
But that’s not good enough for Geoff Johns. His Byron Lewis has to be serious, has to be effective and has to be over eighty percent sane. He’s physically fit for a man in his seventies, he’s a master of aeronautics and human flight, continually constructing wings and zipping off, he’s even got some control over the Lewis fortune which he directs responsibly (both economically and socially) despite being legally non compos mentis.
Hell’s bells, he even gives Reggie the Rorscharch costume after they both permanently escape from a sanatorium that’s busy burning to the ground, except that Byron just turns round and walks back into the flames, moth-like (heh-heh), in his latest set of wings.
Though there’s no mention of this immolation in the newspaper obituary that rounds out only two pages of background material (what’s up, Johns, imagination running a bit thin?)
Oh, and I said there were two objections to Mothman’s use in this context. The second is indeed, in fact literally, fatal: Byron Lewis’s death was reported in Watchmen before Veidt’s ‘alien invasion’. Missed that one, didn’t you? Hadn’t properly grasped that we Watchmen readers who read this over the original twelve months, with our obsessive thirst to work out what was coming, were alerted to every little detail. Unlike you. (I gave Dave Gibbons a summary of my theories once, after issue 8, at UKCAC in 1985, to which he replied that I was fifty percent right and fifty percent wrong, but he wouldn’t tell me which fifty percent. It was a neat stock answer: I was one hundred percent wrong!)
Of course, we may yet get the great ‘Dr-Manhattan-subtly-changed-everything-moment’ to account for this which, if it happens, would be a) incredibly lazy, b) incredibly cliched and c) fatal to the whole point as it amounts to disqualifying everything in Watchmen.
That’s the other point upon which this origin fails as opposed to the Walter Kovacs version: Kovacs becomes Rorscharch at a very early stage in his ‘origin’ and the climactic point is his transformation into the truly insane person he is in truth, a revelation that comes when Rorscarch is a long-established figure, both in his personal history and in terms of the story we were reading. Reggie Long is so far a cypher as NewRorscharch: his interest is solely as a replica of the original, instead of any characteristic of his own, and this issue reveals that he’s a bloody novice, that he’s been Rorscharch for a matter of days when this all starts. The origin undermines him, if anything, by presenting him as a cheapjack copycat.
Actually how long Reggie’s been NewRorscharch is a point upon which things have gotten somewhat confused on first reading and I had to go back to Doomsday Clock 1 to get a handle on things. Reggie becomes NewRorscharch on October 11 1992 and the series begins on November 22 1992. In those six weeks, with a global manhunt already on for the missing Adrian Veidt (who is suspected but not yet denounced by President Redford) Reggie makes his way to Antarctica, and Veidt’s home base of Karnak by means of a fortuitously supplied free ticket on a boat that Byron’s been hoarding for god knows how long, that just happens to be going to Antarctica. I mean, there are implausible coincidences and there are Big Fat Fucking Stupid Implausible Coincidences and no writer under the sun with the tiniest atom of self-respect writes something like this, Jeez.
And this boat, which runs by private invitation only to Antarctica to visit Veidt is still running for private invitees when there’s a global manhunt for Veidt and it’s heading for his home? Where nobody has thought to look just yet or, if they are not unbelievably stupid – because they do turn up – they with all the world’s resources take longer to get there than a boat from New York?
You could drop the plant Mars into a hole that big, and still have room to add Mercury, if you folded it over.
But all this tedious and ill-conceived reminiscing does, in the final pages, bring us back to the story because it inspires Reggie to break out of Arkham and cause Batman to admit he’s underestimated the man. We have two months in which to discover the implications of that.
I am already agog. Yeah, right.