A little bit of early morning abstract thought when waiting to come round left me with a few more considerations about the current Geoff Johns/Jason Fabok miniseries.
I said in the main review of issue one that what interested me about the story were the questions, such as: Why are there three Jokers? That’s what came into my head from a slightly different perspective, as What’s the point of having three Jokers?
When the idea was first mooted, as a throwaway line from DC Universe: Rebirth, it was instantly fascinating. It seemed full of possibilities. That it has taken four years to realise has weighted the notion down with more clear-headed consideration. The delay has made it feel unimportant and peripheral. It’s deflection into a Black Label project has undermined the idea since Black Label comics – as I understand them to be, having never bought one before – are only in continuity to the extent that reader reaction supports cherry-picking the most favoured ideas into the DC Universe.
What’s the point of three Jokers? The Joker is and always has been an iconic figure. He’s Batman’s main enemy and his polar opposite. The Batman is a detective, a creature of rationality, and the Joker is Irrationality personified. He is protean, unpredictable, sinister and comic. He is comedian and killer and madman, and the point of this mixture is that he is all of these things and at once.
Breaking the Joker down into three characters inevitably diminshes this and him. The only hint Johns gives in issue 1 is that each Joker represents a factor, which to my mind not only undermines the Joker but destroys him instantly. Yes, the Joker has been portrayed in many different ways down the eighty years he has existed, bt then again so have Batman and Superman so why don’t we have three (or more) of them?
If Johns intends to break the characteristics of the Joker down into three people, each one a separate aspect, he is doing the Clown Prince a massive disservice. He is making him ordinary.
There’s no evidence yet of what Johns is actually doing. Another option is that all three are but slight variations of one another, but that also undermines the concept. It more than just terebles the implausibility if all three are created the same, or if they have different origins it removes the Joker’s uniqueness, not to mention the question of how likely it is that one Joker will collaborate with another, let alone two more.
I stress I’m not yet ragging on Johns. He has two issues to demonstrate his ingenuity and come up with an explanation for his idea that has weight, promise and freshness. My mind is open until then. Though shaded by my lack of enthusiasm for his other work, which has never wholly convinced me.
But short of some genius move, I think the idea of three Jokers is a bad step per se, that cannot help but damage the integrity of the character irretrievably. And there have been enough stupid moves by DC that have done stuff like that in recent years.
Those of you who read my issue-by-issue reviews of Doomsday Clock over the two years plus it took to spin out will already be aware that I do not count myself in the front rank of fans of Geoff Johns’ writing, and may already be asking yourselves what I’m doing reading and blogging his latest big project. The short answer is, again, curiosity, as to what Three Jokers will be about, as to whether it will be an actual story instead of Johns’ usual technique of setting up a changed status for actual stories to be written in and, of course, the opportunity to put the set on eBay the moment the last one is published if I don’t like it.
Three Jokers has been hovering in the wind since Rebirth started in 2016, back before we realised what a trial of strength Rebirth was between Johns and Dan DiDio (which the latter won). DC Universe – Rebirth , which I bought at the time since it promised to spin the atrocious New52 back to where I could recognise DC again, threw in a moment’s spin-off from what had preceded it (Convergence?) in which Batman temporarily occupied Metron’s Mobius Chair. The Dark Knight asked the Chair to tell him the Joker’s real name: the Chair told him there were three of them…
Now that was a bombshell if there ever was one, especially to those of us whose first exposure to the Clown Prince of Crime was Cesar Romero hamming it up with his chuckles and gassing and his painted over moustache, and who has seen multiple iterations of the mad Clown ever since. Three Jokers. What could be the story behind that?
We’re now one-third of the way to finding out, over four years later. We have the assurance of artist Jason Fabok that the entire series is drawn so we won’t have any delays.
And yet… With one minor exception, seized on by all the comics press, there is nothing in issue 1. There’s an overlong introduction making the unnecessary point that the Joker has inflicted more scars on Bruce Wayne’s body than anyone else. There are three Jokers, acting simultaneously, practically giving away this long hidden secret to the police, though they assume it’s one Joker and two hired imposters.
And then they meet. Three Jokers, one acting like a rational, calculating leader with careful plans. It was almost banal, but to me it seriously undermined the Joker.
What then follows is that Batman, The Red Hood and Batgirl capture one Joker. One of them, playing the Joker role to the hilt. Batman goes after another one, cornered by the Police, which is a foolish mistake. Because Jason Todd and Barbara Gordon are the two Bat-Family members most directly hurt physically by the Joker. One was crowbarred to death, the other rendered paraplegic, and despite the fact that both have returned to full life and health, they have not forgotten what was done to them.
And this Joker taunts Jason over his death, to the point where he reveals that Jason’s last words were a plea not to be killed, and that if he were saved, he would be the Joker’s Robin.
That’s a heavy revelation. Being as how, if the Joker told me the sun was shining outside I would go out in raincoat with umbrella, I don’t actually take this revelation as gospel, though Jason doesn’t deny it, suggesting it’s true. He pulls his gun. Batgirl tries to persuade him not to fire. When it becomes obvious that he’s going to, she tries to stop him but her batarang just misses. One Joker has his brains blown out and now there are two. And Jason makes the point that when did Barbara last miss…
Which is more or less it for part 1, except for Jason’s fervent hope that it was this one. Because we all know Bruce isn’t going to like this.
I am dissatisfied.
You see, my interest in Three Jokers is in the answers. Why are there three Jokers? How are there three Jokers? What does it mean that there are there three Jokers? What impact is this revelation going to have upon Batman and DC? Part 1, and again I stress that this is a third of the whole story, goes not an inch to explaining any of this.
I’m not going to slag Johns off at this stage, not until I see more of what he’s doing and where he’s going with this story. Though I do note that he has Dr Roger Huntoon killed offscreen, Dr Huntoon, an Alan Moore creation. But I expected more and got far less for so large a chunk of the series as a whole.
I’ve just heard the news about the loss of Denny O’Neill from the downthetubes comics web-site. Though there were things in his philosophy that I disagreed with, particularly with his approach to critically review other’s works, and though some of his most famous stories – notably the Green Lantern/Green Arrow run with Neal Adams – haven’t stood up to time nobody can deny that he was a massive presence in comics, as writer, as editor and, most important of all, mentor and inspiration.
Never was a Denny O’Neil story less than professionally written, to a high technical standard, and whether or not Green Lantern/Green Arrow looks that good now, or Frank Miller’s Dark Knight (which O’Neill edited), is still the landmark it was, what matters is what they were for and what they did for their times. They changed how things were done and how people thought, they made a difference.
Denny O’Neill made a difference, far too often to be thought of as anything but a legend. Another light has gone out of the sky: how many more befote it is too dark to see?
And so, with issue 74, still under the editorship of George Kashdan, The Brave and The Bold came to its fourth, final and longest phase, the Bat-book era. Not content with Detective and Batman and Justice League of America and World’s Finest, DC turned over their team-up book to the Caped Crusader as the permanent one-half of the team.
The first victims, a term I use advisedly after reading the story, were the Metal Man. Bob Haney wrote a story that plumbed the depths beneath amateurism as Batman has to learn to expunge his prejudice against robots as Gotham City suffers a plague of robbing ones whilst spouting dialogue that makes you wonder whether it’s Haney or Bruce Wayne who’s the ten year old. It’s a very bad start.
The Spectre team-up in the next issue was considerably better but was an early manifestation of a problem that would dog B&B for ages and that was continuity. Technically, DC didn’t have it in 1967, but it had consistency. Haney held continuity in contempt, the traditional hobgoblin of small minds, insisting on writing his stories in whatever context suited them best. The Flash had gone to Earth-2 to team-up with The Spectre but this story was about the Earth-1 Batman (the yellow chest emblem) and Jim Corrigan was visiting Gotham to study its Police methods, as a fellow cop of the same Earth.
More things like this will follow. Don’t give yourself headaches trying to make them fit because they don’t.
Plastic Man was passable, the Atom acceptable, but Wonder Woman with Batgirl was a wasteful banality. It’s stone-cold bleedin’ obvious that the superheroine pair are only pretending to be madly in love with Batman to con villain Copperhead into thinking he’s distracted, but the story suddenly turns nuts and nonsense when they decide, mid-story, that they really are. It’s pathetic, and that’s without alliteration.
But issue 79 saw the appearance of Deadman, and with it a change of art as the Andru/Esposito team gave way to the only man that DC would allow to draw Deadman at the time, Neal Adams. And Deadman inspired Haney to write his best story thus far, with only one dumb moment that, out of respect, I won’t detail.
Disappointingly, the next issue, featuring the Creeper, is missing from the DVD. But Adams wasn’t here just for Deadman but for a regular gig, and very popular he was. What the reader didn’t know was that the new, dynamic, hyperrealistic Batman was being produced in conflict between writer and artist. Adams had clear, definitive ideas about how Batman should be produced, including the belief that his natural metier was night, not day, and he was changing the times and settings of Haney’s scripts, much to the veteran writer’s annoyance.
Flash, Aquaman, the Teen Titans – the latter a back issue I remember getting – were all decent enough stories but a war-time team-up with Sgt. Rock and Easy Company was stretching things again with Batman and Bruce Wayne looking identical in both the 1944 of the tale and the 1969 of its appearance. Also inside, editor Murray Boltinoff put paid to a reader’s suggestion of reviving some of the discontinued heroes with a short sharp statement that they were commercial failures and there was no chance.
But the landmark was issue 85, guest-starring Green Arrow. This was the famous story, “The Senator’s been Shot!”, that buried the boring, characterless archer of so many years and introduced the new look GA, with the goatee and moustache and the green leather costume that suddenly looked so sharp, Neal Adams’ design, with emphasis now firmly upon sharpshooting instead of trick arrows. It was a tremendous moment.
Deeadman was back next time, followed by the new, depowered Wonder Woman, complete with I Ching, in a story written and pencilled by Diana’s current scribe, Mike Sekowsky. It was considerably better than her last outing, but then an illustrated telephone directory would also have been an improvement.
Haney was back next issue, but not Adams, whose already noted deadline issues combined with how he’d antagonised the writer (especially given that Boltinoff only cared about getting a comic out on time and its quality a long way after) saw him officially relegated to a ‘pool’ of artists but in fact only to return once. Novick and Esposito drew an issue I bought back then, in the fading days of my interest in comics, shortly before I grew out of them forever. I suspect I can recall exactly where and when I bought this, on 13 August 1970.
The co-star was Wildcat, which brought back the issue of which Earth this was happening upon, the one Haney ignored, although it was actually Ted Grant who co-starred, with Wildcat appearing in a total of five panels only, across two pages. The recently-revived Phantom Stranger dragged Dr Thirteen along to issue 89 in a modest story but the Adam Strange story that followed was another exercise in looseness and implausibility making very little use of the peripatetic archaeologist.
Nick Cardy dropped in along with Black Canary – still new girl on Earth-1 – for issue 91, with Dinah Lance, under an assumed name, falling for its Larry Lance, just because he looked like her dead husband. It was another of those demeaning women-in-love-and-brain-drops-out-through-her… -ears stories since Larry was set up to be the villain from early on. And Cardy remained for the following issue which was even more demeaning, if you were British, being set in foggy London town with a ‘Bat-Squad’ of three Brits who talked like nobody under the sun has ever talked. London 1970 looked like a compendium of Jack the Ripper rip-offs. Ghastly, old chap.
Adams was back for a final flourish, bringing with him a long-promised Denny O’Neil script nominally joining Batman to the now mild-horror oriented House of Mystery, in reality an Ireland set supernatural affair, but Cardy was back next with the Teen Titans and a hip, relevance story that wore its heart on its sleeve with its ignorance tied over it. And the mystery of Batman’s surprise co-star the following issue was undermined by a) the clues dropped and b) my remembering it was Plastic Man from before. But another modern day team-up with Sergeant Rock, third personing himself and with bright orange hair was a plain old mess.
Issue 97 was the first of the run of 25c comics, as DC tried to get out ahead of inflation. Wildcat was back, and the back-up was a reprint of Deadman’s origin story. The Phantom Stranger returned the following issue, drawn by his current artist, the late, great Jim Aparo, one of the few DC artists allowed to do both pencil and inks. It was Aparo’s first B&B job, but before long he would be the regular artist for a very long run.
And after a Bob Brown/Nick Cardy job on The Flash in issue 99, Aparo took over with a special for issue 100, featuring those hard-travellin’ heroes, Green Lantern, Green Arrow and Black Canary, not to mention Robin. Unfortunately, Haney had to mess things up in his usual manner by having Green Arrow kill a thug with an arrow to the heart and without the slightest qualm. Then he had Robin constantly talking Black Canary down for being female, and then by proving the Teen Wonder’s point by having the Canary go to a hairdresser’s mid-case, to get her hair dried after being caught in the rain: it’s a bloody wig, Haney, you arsehole.
Many of these issues now are familiar to me. Though it’s still only 1972, and it was not until January 1974 that I started reading comics again, I did get into B&B through Aparo’s art after seeing him on The Spectre, and back-issues were plentiful and cheap. Metamorpho’s return, three years after his title’s cancellation I had but not the Teen Titans in a part-Neal Adams drawn story, taking over from Aparo after the latter fell ill.
From hereon, I’m not going to comprehensively list every guest star, just those who, for one reason or another are notable, such as Oliver Queen in issue 106, for being listed on the cover as still The Green Arrow and, some three or more years after losing his fortune which caused a fundamental change in his character, suddenly still/once again a billionaire. It’s not just Haney but also Boltinoff who didn’t give a shit for consistency.
Although the title now has a good, reliable artist, and Haney is starting to outgrow that get-down-with-the-kids hip talk of the late Sixties, I’m actually finding these stories a lot weaker, and often dull to read. Part of it is that Haney is making the stories fit ill with the guests. Nobody is quite ‘there’, because Haney is deliberately averse to an accurate depiction of the guest’s reality: it restricts his story to do so
And it’s astonishing how ‘wrong’ Batman feels to the modern eye. Because the Batman of nearly fifty years ago is almost as alien a creation as the infamous Fifties Batman of Jack Schiff. He’s clumsy, he’s amateurish, he’s constantly getting shot or knocked out, he pals around with Commissioner Gordon most of the time, he works hand in hand with the Police and orders them around, as if he’s one of them of senior rank, and he actually is a duly deputized officer. Worst of all, he has no intensity. Batman is not driven. He is nothing at all like the post-Crisis on Infinite Earths/Dark Knight Batman. And it makes the stories very weak indeed.
With issue 112, Brave & Bold joined the ranks of DC’s growing 100-page titles: twenty new pages, here featuring Mr Miracle and eighty reprint, all stories from earlier phases of the title that I’ve gone through in earlier instalments. But the following issue, reprints of The Green Arrow and the Challengers of the Unknown made it clear the title wouldn’t just confine itself to its back pages.
Even with the extra pages and some well-chosen reprints, I’m finding the comic a trial to read. These are the stories I returned to, that impressed me so much as a University student, albeit one only aged 18, that I found them such an improvement over those I still kept from the Sixties. It’s a back-handed testament to the impact Frank Miller and The Dark Knight Returns had upon Batman that this erratic, constantly injured and fallible character is now an alien being, linked only by the costume.
And I’ve also got to admit a distaste for editor Murray Boltinoff. It’s not just his determined rejection of consistency but his attitude to the readers. Boltinoff’s letter pages don’t print letters. They might contain two very short letters and then a host of part sentences and a very stiff attitude to readers who challenge this unique approach. According to Boltinoff, readers only write letters for their own ego-boost, and he’s not going to feed that, damn straight he isn’t. The impertinence of them! For a comic whose direction is set by the popularity of Batman’s guest stars, Boltinoff would really rather not have the readers get above themselves by doing any more than plop down their 60c. Miserable bugger.
The highlight of issue 117 for me was a reprint of the original first Secret Six story, by E. Nelson Bridwell and Frank Springer. I found it fresh, lively, individual, especially coming from Bridwell, whose other writing was usually, with respect, bland. This felt different, full of potential. It was, however, still the only original Secret Six story I’d ever read. Another reprint was planned for issue 119, but by then, B&B was no longer 100 pages long.
Indeed, it was back at 32 pages the next issue (Wildcat and the Joker), after exactly a year of supersizing, and boosted for the first time in its existence to eight times a year. Nothing else changed, though. Except that issue 120 was double-sized for 50c and carried that promised Secret Six issue 2 reprint, also very intriguing. What made the Secret Six unique at DC was being the only team whose members didn’t like or trust each other – more so even than the Doom Patrol – which was very Marvelesque.
Meanwhile, issue 121 reverted to standard 25c size.
Of course, the true peril of reading mid-Seventies comics that you used to read in your late teens is remembering stories you wish you’d never had cause to forget in the first place. A passable Swamp Thing led to another story mishandling Plastic Man, but these were nothing when set against yet another Sgt. Rock team-up into which Haney wrote himself, Aparo and Boltinoff as a team working frantically to complete the story according to script before the terrorist villains forced Aparo to draw Batman and Rock being killed, because if he drew it it happened. I can see that look of disbelief from here, you know. It’s like The Flash and Mopee: it did happen but it was first for the bonfire when the continuity got rebooted.
Despite Boltinoff’s contemptuous words about Golden Age characters being off-limits because they were failures, Wildcat was a regular guest, returning in issue 127. The team-ups are really with Ted Grant, Wildcat only getting a look-in, and every time, Ted’s life has been rearranged to be whatever’s convenient for Haney’s plot. This time round, he’s running a health spa in the Caribbean Sea and has killed a boxer in the ring on his second comeback. How? When? Forget it. Next time round he’ll be something and somewhere completely different.
In late 1976, with effect from issue 132, co-starring the no-longer current Richard Dragon, Kung-Fu Fighter, Boltinoff was out. DC were restructuring under new Publisher, Jeanette Kahn, with Joe Orlando in as Managing Editor, with responsibility for the line, and Denny O’Neil as Story Editor, taking direct responsibility for B&B.
But nothing really changed. John Calnan and Bob McLeod stepped in to draw issue 137’s team-up with The Demon, in a sequel to the Spectre team-up in issue 75, and with issue 139, Paul Levitz stepped into the editor’s chair. At the same time, the series went back to bi-monthly.
Issue 143 was the one that came out in the DC Explosion, a big boom to 25 pages and 50c. Cary Burkett shared writing credits on Batman’s team-up with The Creeper, a second part to the previous issue’s Aquaman adventure, with Len Wein’s Human Target the back-up. And it was one of the very few to enjoy a second issue in that format. But good intentions were far from enough and the next issue was back to 17 pages for 40c, though with the compensation of elevation to monthly status for the first time ever.
With the landmark issue 150 coming up, assignments were jumbled up. Aparo was rested for 146’s first team-up with a new character in years, the war hero The Unknown Soldier, Haney in favour of Burkett for 147 and Aparo only inking Joe Staton in issue 148. The big issue itself was billed as ‘Batman and ?’ and the guest – who had never appeared with Batman in B&B before – was kept a secret until the end. Unfortunately, if you know who it was, it was easy to work out who it was: Superman
The Batman team-up era had now lasted for 77 issues. Bob Haney had written 117 issues overall, and Jim Aparo drawn 49. Few of that last fifty or so were worth reading twice. Haney’s stories were permanently unanchored in time and space, and it was a long time since he had gone beyond the formulaic.
The new monthly schedule meant fill-ins were necessary. Burkett and Don Newton contributed issue 153’s unprecedented appearance by the Red Tornado but it was Haney and Aparo who were responsible for the nadir of issue 155, with Batman and Green Lantern pursuing an interplanetary villain and Batman determined to have him tried on Earth out of sheer pigheadedness. It was a story that should have been a sacking offence, and that goes for editor Levitz too.
Burkett and Newton filled in again in issue 156, a rather intelligent little story using Dr Fate which didn’t lose too much space to the problem of getting him off Earth-2 and into the action, but when Gerry Conway wrote the Wonder Woman team-up in issue 158, it was the end of Haney’s long tenure as B&B’s regular scripter. Denny O’Neill with R’as al Ghul and Cary Burkett with Supergirl followed on.
Though a horde of Brave & Bold regulars would have disagreed with me, I was glad to see an end to Haney’s hokey stories. New viewpoints, indeed a range of them, were very welcome, and a few different artists didn’t go amiss. Paul Levitz was certainly more willing to try new guests, unlike the fervently conservative Boltinoff, and was a lot more responsive to reader’s ideas. There was also a run of guest artists as Aparo completed another assignment.
The ‘DC Implosion’ was now nearly two years back and the company had recovered its balance sufficiently to try again for the better package. With issue 166, B&B went to 25 story-pages and a 10c increase, cutting out eight pages of ads and substituting a new back-up, Nemesis, by Cary Burkett and Dan Spiegle. A moody, atmospheric series featuring Thomas Tresser balancing the scales of Justice after his brother assassinated a prominent Security officer.
Aparo was back from issue 168, and drew a full-length story teaming Batman with Nemesis in issue 170, which closed off the first arc of the latter’s story but left him just an everyday not-specially-motivated crimefighter in future. However, Burkett reacted by making Nemesis into a serial to keep things complex.
Paul Levitz’s editorial term came to an end with issue 176, handing over to Dick Giordano. As editor of the three Batman titles (imagine that, an era with only three Batman comics every month!) Levitz had aimed to inject a different feel into each one but Giordano swore to make them all the same.
There was no immediate difference to Brave & Bold, but Alan Brennert wrote a nice team-up with Hawk and Dove for issue 181 that put in place an ending for the original Sixties series that probably wouldn’t have suited Steve Ditko or Steve Skeates but worked for its time. And he came up with a superb one the following issue, sending Batman to Earth-2, where his older counterpart had died, to team up with not just the adult Robin but the original Batwoman. That was a tangled spread of emotions.
No such similar effect was achieved by Mike W. Barr’s Xmas story in issue 184, inviting The Huntress over to Earth-1 for the festivities. Charlie Boatner did find the right buttons to press in 187’s Metal Man team-up, reminding everyone of Nameless, Tin’s girlfriend from their Sixties series, and bringing her story to a conclusion with a fine and worthy flourish. On the other hand, did Doc Magnus really invent Metal Women?
As B&B went into its final year, Mike Barr did an excellent job on an Adam Strange team-up for issue 190, bringing in Carmine Infantino for one last, sentimental union with Adam and Alanna. Cohn and Mishkin produced a complex story teaming Batman with The Joker – genuinely – and with Len Wein taking over the editorial reins after Giardino’s promotion to Managing Editor, his first job sent Superman out with Superboy, both these stories displaying Jim Aparo art. Aparo was no longer the artist-in-residence, but he was once again the principal artist for the series.
Cary Burkett wrote the Superboy story, dealing quite intelligently with the time paradox aspect, and he was on hand again for issue 193, which teamed up Batman with his creation, Nemesis. I have a lot of time for the Nemesis series, a well-handled, street level story. Sadly, in a manner reminiscent of the long-ago team-up with Manhunter, this was to end Burkett’s series in the same fashion as Archie Goodwin and Walt Simonson, by Nemesis sacrificing himself to defeat the overwhelming opposition he’d fought all along. It was a shame that the art was given to Aparo rather than Nemesis’s artist, Dan Spiegle, and also that there was no room for Valerie Foxworth as there had been for Christine St Clair at the finish, but the final page saw Batman entering Marjorie Marshall’s home and adding the weight that finally balanced out the Scales of Justice for the death of Ben Marshall.
It made the swap-villains team-up with the Flash look the weak thing it was, despite Infantino art. No back-up meant extra pages for the main story, though only 23 now, which benefited the I… Vampire team-up in issue 195, which for a moment looked liked writing that series off without completion.
Suddenly, excellent stories were exploding. Robert Kanigher brought his short-lived Ragman, for whom I always had time in his original form, into an excellent story for issue 196, but Alan Brennert was on hand next issue, combining with Joe Staton, for one of my all-time favourites, teaming the Earth-2 Batman with his Catwoman in the story of how they came to admit their love for another and to marry. A gem in every page: Brennert wrote few comic book stories but those he wrote were superb, because he never needed to burn out his ideas on routine issues.
Brennert’s story overshadowed a poor and misguided Karate Kid team-up, and was too much for an otherwise decent Spectre team-up in issue 199, flirting with the old Fleisher touch but ending up by taking a new, cleaner route.
But time was up. The era in which a series devoted to nothing but team-ups between a static character and a random other was ending. Brave & Bold, by its very nature, could have only very limited continuity within its own pages. It had outrun its time. Mike W Barr had become the nearest to a regular writer in the title, and he proposed a change. Barr wanted to separate Batman from the Justice League, where he was still an anomaly, and make him leader of another team, of outsiders.
DC approved of the idea and, to make room for it within the Batman universe, cancelled B&B with its 200th issue. The swan-song was almost obvious in its unpredictability, teaming Batman with Batman. That is, a story crossing two time-periods and two Earths, drawn, rather wonderfully, by Dave Gibbons. Barr’s story featured a gloriously Golden Age style Batman and Robin tussle with their villain Brimstone, who’s defeated but ends up in a coma. When he awakens in 1983, it’s to learn that Batman is dead so, somehow, he psychically imposes his mind on his Earth-1 counterpart to resume a battle that Batman is bemused with, but still wins.
There was also a sixteen page preview of the new Batman and the Outsiders series which was, respectfully, crap.
But The Brave and the Bold, one of the few DC titles to reach 200 issues, was gone, it’s fourth and final phase terminated, with few landmarks of any note, but those which were of note being of very high quality indeed. I can’t say I enjoyed every minute of my time spent on this series, but I wouldn’t have missed the good stuff for the world.
The cover date was October/November 1963, the editors were Murray Boltinoff and George Kashdan and the theme of The Brave and the Bold was now team-ups: the features you asked for. I take that with a pinch of salt, for I cannot see the comic book readers of late 1963, the remaining days of President John Kennedy’s life, wanting above all to see a team-up between The Green Arrow and The Martian Manhunter.
But these are honourable men, and who are we to doubt them?
From here and for a very long time, the series will be written by Bob Haney, a good, solid, professional writer but not one who, how shall we put it, paid undue attention to continuity. DC may not have had continuity as we know it in 1963, but Haney still cared less about what they had. For instance, the Martian Manhunter was accidentally trapped on Earth after being teleported by Dr Erdel’s Robot Brain, which then shorted out, stranding him here. However, Haney has him using the Robot Brain to teleport to Mars for advice and assistance about the Martian villains he and Green Arrow are facing.
It would be like this all along. Mind you, this was almost a highlight of a stupid, cliched and just plain rotten story that was no sort of introduction to the new(er) Brave & Bold.
Aquaman and Hawkman was another non-natural pairing in issue 51, with the story clunking to try to make the air-sea combination work, but issue 52 was a glorious piece of work. Instead of the advertised Flash/Atom team-up, Robert Kanigher dropped in to edit and write a 3 Battle Stars story, with magnificent Joe Kubert art bringing together four of DC’s War comic stars, Johnny Cloud, the Haunted Tank, Sergeant Rock and, a surprise guest, Mlle. Marie. It put the two previous issues to shame, and easily. Kanigher was always on his best form with the War stories.
The Atom/Flash team-up duly arrived next issue and, apart from splendid Alex Toth art, was the usual sloppy mess. Part of Haney’s problem is his refusal to provide adequate explanations: things happen to complicate the heroes’ battle and then are dispensed with in a throwaway line. For instance, Flash loses his speed at one point and is captured, but regains it when he’s freed by the Atom, ‘because the planet has given it him back’.
The title had only spawned one successful series in its formal ‘try-out’ phase, so issue 54’s team-up of ‘junior’ heroes was ironic. This brought together Kid Flash, Aqualad and Robin in a story that started the Teen Titans, though as yet nameless. It would take the addition of Wonder Girl and a couple more appearances to seal the deal.
Not that the story was much good, especially from the point of view of the dialogue, especially the teens’ hip slang, the beginning of a long road of embarrassingly awful writing.
Kashdan did a solo job in issue 56, bringing together another bizarre pairing in the Metal Men and The Atom, before devoting the next two issues to try-outs again, in the form of Metamorpho, created by Haney and artist Ramona Fraden, whose bright, cartoony style is perfect for the oddball Element Man. This would extend the series’ success rate when Metamorpho got his own, albeit short-lived series. Everything’s there from the very beginning: the Metamorpho of the current The Terrifics is the Metamorpho of B&B 57-58.
Issue 59 provided a foretaste of the future in teaming up two of DC’s biggest heroes for the first time, Batman and Green Lantern. I was delighted to read this effort, having remembered it’s excellent title – ‘The Tick-Tock Traps of the Time-Commander’ – from the Sixties: I love the chance to find what lies behind some of these covers that impressed me in the house ads of the time.
The Teen Titans – named and a foursome – returned in issue 60 for a teen-supporting adventure in which the colourist got Kid Flash’s uniform badly wrong (hint, it’s not all yellow), but issue 61 is the one that’s most special to me, the first Brave & Bold I bought on one of those Saturday afternoons in Droylsden, working industriously through the newsagent’s spinner rack, anxious to make the best choice with the shilling I’d been given.
After The Atom, Julius Schwartz had announced that he would not be doing any more new versions of Justice Society members. Instead, he turned to actual revivals, starting with a two-issue run in Showcase for Doctor Fate and Hourman. Now he took over B&B for two issues teaming up Starman and Black Canary, all with scripts by Gardner Fox and art from Murphy Anderson. I loved this first one, and still have it (autographed by Schwartz) over fifty years later.
It was billed as the first team-up between the two characters (who had never been contemporaries in the JSA), which it is only if you discount their joint appearance in the 1964 JLA/JSA team-up. Starman’s Gravity Rod has now been upgraded to a Cosmic Rod, Dinah Drake has married Larry Lance, Starman’s arch-enemy The Mist, who didn’t feature in any of the stories on the Adventure Comics DVD, is back with an ingenious plan: it was pure heaven for me back in 1966, and I still love it now.
The second story doesn’t hold anything like the meaning for me as I didn’t read it until much later (though I did see it in that same spinner rack, when I obviously found something else more compelling). The heroes turned out against two now-married villains, Green Lantern’s Sportsmaster and Wildcat’s Huntress, with the Big Cat making his first post-Golden Age appearance in a fun cameo.
Sadly, nothing came of either pair’s revival in terms of series: though JSA team-ups would carry on for nearly two more decades, the Golden Age revival was already showing signs of running out of steam.
Kashdan and Haney were back in issue 63, teaming Supergirl and Wonder Woman in a story so chauvinistic, condescending, demeaning and flat-out vile that I’m not even going to admit it exists: permanent karmic burden for both of them and the artist.
After that, anything would have been an improvement. What we got was hero vs villain, Batman and Eclipso in a confusing and in parts ridiculous story based on Batman falling for a red-headed heiress, first romantically then as a con, made much worse by the sudden arrival of corny dialogue that could have come straight out of the forthcoming TV series. It was horrendous.
On the other hand, the Flash’s team-up with the Doom Patrol – really as a fill-in for Negative Man – was well done and contained some intelligent points about the team’s dynamics, though a bit fewer uses of the word ‘freaks’ would have been welcome.
Another bizarre but oddly appealing team-up was Metamorpho and the Metal Men in issue 66, followed by another ‘big-guys’ story, with Batman (for the third time) and The Flash. This was, in many ways, an archetypal Haney B&B story, with a life-shattering menace being raised and disposed of in a lazy manner. Batman requires Flash’s help to combat a gang of speedsters in Gotham, but Flash’s speed is killing him, burning his body out from within. The ‘threat’ is negated by the fact this isn’t taking place in Flash’s series, where we might take it seriously. And it’s resolved by a miraculous and implausible ‘cure’ from the villains’ own power source (irony that’s what it is, irony). No way is anything remotely serious going to happen in Brave & Bold.
And it was a sign of the forthcoming times that Batman was back again one issue later, this time alongside Metamorpho, in another piece of nonsense that sees the Caped Crusader converted into Bat-Hulk (don’t ask). The TV series was big, the movie was just coming out, Batman who, two years earlier, was facing cancellation, was on a roll. People wanted to read him.
All told, there were going to be five consecutive issues of Batman teaming up with someone else, such as Green Lantern again, against another, less memorable Time Commander plot, Hawkman in a ridiculous tale about a Collector trying to collect their secret identities, and The Green Arrow in a story about Indian tribes that just about managed to avoid being patronising.
The waters having been tested, and found to be pleasurably warm, The Brave and The Bold reverted to its role in providing random team-ups for two final issues. The first connected the Earth-1 Flash to The Spectre on Earth-2 (Barry’s just visiting, but not his fellow-Flash but rather his ‘old buddy’ – one JSA team-up – the Spectre: besides, everyone on Earth-2 recognises Barry-Flash). The last brought Aquaman and The Atom together in a non-team-up in which each hero got half the story.
And with issue 73, the third phase of B&B came to an end. It’s fourth phase has already been heavily foreshadowed, and this phase would last until the comic’s end, in the distance in issue 200. I’ll cover that loooong phase in the last part of this series.
So the Undistinguished Thing is now here in its entirety. The set is going on eBay at any moment, One-Day Auction, Buy and Pay Thursday, Guaranteed First Class Posting Friday morning, maximum chance of delivery for Xmas, £9.99 plus postage starting bid or Best Offer. Get bidding!
Why you should want to is entirely another matter. I have made my opinion of Doomsday Clock amply clear over this past more than two years and I recant nothing now I have read the final, extended size issue.
But, in the manner of Lucifer on an Australian beach reluctantly give God his due over the matter of sunsets, I have to give credit to Geoff Johns for some of the things in issue 12. Despite the many flaws that I’ve held up to ridicule and scorn, some of which carry over into this wrap-up, there are elements to the outcome that, if attached to a story with a less mean-minded purpose, could have completed an event worth reading and re-reading.
The first thing to recognise is that I was completely wrong in the assumption I made on reading issue 1 back in 2017 that the ending would be a big fight between Superman and Dr Manhattan, to be won by the former despite the overwhelming discrepancy in power levels. Johns even set that up at the end of issue 11, all those months ago, but he had something more subtle on his mind.
The big fight is between Superman and everybody else. The Russians, the Markovians, Black Adam’s Khandaq brigade, the Brits, the Aussies, the Israelis, in short every other country in the world that has a superhero team we never hear about because americans really can’t be arsed about anything that isn’t American, all piling in at once to take Superman down and in for his part in the Moscow massacre, whenever that was. Dr Manhattan looks on. After all, he sees everything simultaneously so he is the man on no action and no hope: it all goes black in eleven minutes and fifty seven seconds, after which, ho hum.
There’s something of the rat pack mentality about this atomic pile-on. i don’t know whether Johns intended this or not but there’s an element of mean-spiritedness, a seizing of the chance to get back at, and drag down the paragon, to adopt the current Crisis on Infinite Earths mini-series terminology. Superman’s been the perfect ideal for too long, now he can be clawed down, not so perfect anyomre. Tied in with the nationalistic implications of the battle being every other country versus the American boy, it leaves a sour taste on the mouth. But then, so much of what inspiresJohns to this work does exactly the same.
Dr Manhattan, like I said, looks on. He sees destruction in the forthcoming darkness: Superman destroys me or I destroy everything. But the DC Universe is one of hope and optimism, not like that nasty ol’ Watchmen Universe. Superman asks for a third choice.
And at exactly the same moment, Batman and the is-he-dead-or-is-he-not-dead Alfred catch up with Reggie, the New (I can’t write well enough to write Rorscharch so I’ll make up a second-rate version of him to speak what little superficially similar dialogue I can achieve) Rorscharch, who can lead them to where Ozymandias is, even though Veidt has moved elsewhere before since Reggie last saw him. They need Reggie to put on Rorscharch’s mask again (what the hell for? It hasn’t got a direction-finder or anything like that?). But Reggie won’t touch it, won’t even say the name. because everybody’s lied to him about Rorscharch and Reggie’s father and he hates the monster.
Until Batman tells him to change what people see when they see the mask so Reggie changes his mind. just like that. As you do when you’re in a superhero Universe that’s done the same thing for eighty years non-stop.
By now you must be wondering when we’ll come to something of which I approve but fear not. Just as Reggie undergoes a 180 degree change in character because Batman talks to him, so too does Dr Manhattan because Superman speaks. Everything goes black. Because Dr Manhattan makes it go black, for nearly three pages, until the Lux is Fiated once more, this time by the naked blue guy.
And also the shitty changes Dr Manhattan has made are unmade. Superman lifts a car over his head in 1938 again. The lantern is six inches nearer Alan Scott again. A girl a thousand years hence saves R.J. Brande’s life again. And a Superboy inspired by heroes of the past saves Jonathan and Martha Kent.
Suddenly, the sky is full of allies of Superman, aiding him against the treacherous, loathsome Old Worlders. Allies from the past, allies from the future. The Legion of superheroes to the doublespread panel left, the Justice Society of America with that old, calm authority to the right.
I’ve no idea whether this is yet another Universal reboot or just Rebirth Reborn, but either way it’s all turned round again. and this was apparently Ozymandias’s plan all along: he couldn’t persuade Jon to save the world again but Superman could so it was all about engineerng a confrontation.
Because not only is whatever Earth-1 equivalent we may be in at any given time, not only is the DC universe the Metaverse that steers the stars of every multiversal existence, but Superman is the fons et origo of everything. Every Universe our reading eye passes through is still there, growing the multiverse with it, and every future Crisis to come (Johns listing enough to get us to the Legion’s time though the ones for 2025 and 2030 are obviously the more immediate concerns, with the former’s 5G having already been hinted at) creating new versions.
So, Dr Manhattan regroups everyone from the Watchmen Universe so that they can go home (and write about what they did on their holidays?) Actually, the Mime and the Marionette will stay behind because despite being deeply evil, half mad and psychotic criminals, they do love each other and besides, they’ll be nice to their little daughter. The Comedian, whose resurrection from the dead to appear in this dog has always been completly pointless, shoots Ozy through the chest and this time he doesn’t catch the bullet, except in his chest, so he gets sent back to where he’s falling out of his penthouse, except that this one’s done by Lex Luthor cancelling out his altered vibrations, just like Barry Allen all those half-centuries ago. Veidt’s going to die a hero just as he wants to but Reggie stuffs the Rorscharch mask in to plug up the wound and, bare-faced, proclaims himself Rorscharch. Just as in the TV series, Veidt’s going back to be arrested. He is a mass-murderer, remember.
As just as in the TV seruies, Dr Manhattan dies. Everyone returns to Watchmen world in 1992, with no explanation of how the two Universes are running on such a time discrepancy, and Dr Manhattan invests his power in regrowing the world after its nuclear holocaust, only this is Watchmen rebirth: Janey Slater tells Jon Osterman her watch can wait: six months later, they marry and have three kids. The events of Watchmen the comic still happen even despite there being no Dr Manhattan (go on Johns, for your next trick tell us How?) because Laurie and Dan are still in hiding in their assumed identities with their daughter who’s really Mime and Marionette’s first child, and there are no nuclear weapons any more.
Oh, but there’s a visitor who comes to stay with Dan and Laurie. A little dark-haired boy. With a blue hydrogen atom symbol on his forehead. He says to call him Clark.
I’ve ended up being still as scathing about issue 12 as I’ve been about all the others, and not merely by force of habit. The ending is built on too rotten an edifice for anything more, and the edifice is still what I’ve called it all along: Geoff Johns’ inability to understand an approach to superheroics that didn’t exactly mirror everything it’s been since 1838, and his fear of that failure to understand. What might have been noble, entertaining and even worthy if it did not grow from that shit-heap of resentment falls apart upon analysis. As I’ve just said.
But the JSA are back, which we can all welcome. And so too are Jonathan and Martha who, though their death was for fifty years an integral element of Superman’s tale, come as most welcome. Though were we’re gpoing to go with Schroedinger’s Alfred I don’t know.
The one thing I can say about Johns’ Watchmen is that at least he put the toys back where they came from where, out of sight and out of mind, we can forget everything that happened before and after Watchmen the comic and pray that nobody ever fucks with them again.
I am currently watching a Batman Rebirth Deluxe hardcover on eBay when I noticed that they have it classified as Non-Fiction.
This reminds me of the glory days when I lived in Nottingham and would walk home through Boots on my way to the Victoria Centre Food Court, and I would check their books section, and always I would find the same thing under Non-Fiction: The Lord of the Rings.
Maybe Alan Moore’s right about all stories being true?
I have no enthusiasm left for reading this series. Not the enthusiasm of finding out how the story ends, not the enthusiasm of seeing how many of my predictions are accurate, not even the enthusiasm for a good and savage kicking of the whole thing’s manifold failings. At the moment, my only motive for buying this and the final issue is to have a saleable item on eBay after the latter: I’m not going to get rid of a 10-issue incomplete package, am I?
We have gone through the whole of months June, July and August since the last issue finally appeared, and on the current schdule, which is the only foreseeable one, the hardback collection of the entire series will appear before Doomsday Clock 12 is published.
This is one of the biggest disasters of comic book publishing there has every been, and I do not need any hyperbolic similes to convey that.
Whilst I was waiting, a month ago, I thought I’d try re-reading what we had so far, just as a refresher. I ran into a problem. I couldn’t re-read it. It was nothing to do with the ripping on Watchmen. I have nothing further to say about that. It had everything to do with the story being incomprehensible shite. It’s an out-of-control mess that’s opted for throwing in all sorts of bits and pieces from all over the place to create an apparently multi-level story, the unravelling of which will clearly take far longer than the actual series itself, with no concern for the hah-hah, you should laugh, story .
I have a problem with Geoff Johns’ writing that goes back to his JSA series. As far as I’m concerned, he cannot write stories. He cannot write beginings, middles and ends, only ongoing middles that set-up the next story without actually resolving the one he is writing. Doomsday Clock is this stylistic tic writ awfully large. Johns has introduced stuff from everywhere that he has no intention of wrapping up. Not if they gave him another twelve issues could he draw together what he has thrown in, because he never intended to in the first place.
I found it physically impossible to complete re-reading as far as issue 10. And now I’m supposed to comment on how issue 11 ‘develops’ this shapeless mess to its ‘climax’. That’s next to impossible. There is very little one can say about this comic but I have to try.
To begin with, Johns strives very noticeably and very ineffectually to be apocalyptic. DCEarth is going downhill until it’s just like WatchmenEarth when we left that; Batman destroys the nuclear trigger but is dragged down by the US Army, Metropolis has turned into Gotham, Putin’s given America until midnight to hand over Superman or he’ll invade with his superheroes, people have gotten sceptical about superheroes all over, so you know it’s really going all Pete Tong.
And none of it arouses any response greater than indifference. It’s as cliched as it can be, but without the sense of involvement you can still get with cliches. It’s just unconvincing crap, and it’s honestly not even strong enough to be called uninteresting fucking crap.
There are essentially two expository scenes. Lex Luthor takes Lois Lane inside his deepest, darkest, most double-secret bunker to show her the most horrifying and invidious secret evidence he’s collected, which is that everywhere Jon (Doctor Manhattan) Osterman appears, he leaves behind him, oh my God, the horror! an exact duplicate of the tatty photo of him and Janey Slater from Watchmen 4. And, what’s even more terrifying is, he doesn’t seem to know he’s doing it. Are you rattled? Are you intrigued? Are you asking yourself, what the fuck? I waited over three months for this? If it’s the last one, you’re definitely me.
Oh, and before we get this game-changing revelation, Johns has Lex tell Lois about Ozymandias and his Big Lie plan in Watchmen, just so that he can shit on Watchmen again by having Lois call Ozy ‘more of a madman’ than Luthor (when your series is based in ripping off Watchmen down to the tiniest little detail, Johns, you might want to think twice about showing such fucking ingratitude).
The rest of the isue is mainly about Adrian Veidt explaining his masterplan to Saturn Girl, gloating over his own cleverness at how he manipulated everybody in so many psychologically deep ways. In contrast to Veidt’s plan in Watchmen, which had at it’s core a very simple idea, this is ridiculous. Johns has mistaken convolution for cleverness. He’s also converted Veidt from the manipulative yet earnest figure of Moore and Gibbons’ creation into a smug bastard, contemptuous of others because they’re not as smart as him, instead of because he sees their aims and intentions as harmful. In fact, in Johns’ hands, Ozymandias is every bit the Republic Serials Villain he wasn’t in Watchmen: I still remember the visceral shock of that simple line: “I did it thirty-five minutes ago”.
Which apart from anything else, was a damned sight better penultimate cliffhanger than Johns produces here, which is Superman and Dr Manhattan meeting each other, just before the big pointless punch-up.
Well, what do you know, seems like I could still whip up some decent sized anger of this rubbish, not even half-baked but practically raw ingredients.
It’s now 5 September 20189, which means there are 117 days left before Doomsday Clock extends into a fourth year. Get a bleeding move on with issue 12, will you, I want to get this turkey onto eBay before Xmas.
How much of this story has been a waste of space? How many of the pages of this issue are pointless, an abuse of the audience by getting them to read a lazy, needless fight between Harley Quinn and Booster Gold, observed in couch potato fashion by Batgirl and Blue Beetle, until the four decide to pool their approaches? How many pages are wasted by Batman and The Flash using very different approaches to locating Blue and Gold, The Flash dashing off for microsecond searches of areas of the world where they’re not to be found, and Batman sitting in his Batcave chair, watching his alarms, which are hidden in every safehouse either of the pair have ever had, knowing that sooner or later, being Beetle and Booster, one of them will do something stupid and trigger their alarm? How many pages are given over to the Watchmen grid of Wally West talking to Sanctuary, updating himself on the number of weeks he’s been there and his evidently false belief that he’s been improving?
The answers to these questions are 11, 3 and 4 respectively. That leaves 6 pages (including a double page spread) that might, we hope, actually advance the story, although not in any way that makes sense up to the end of issue 7. These involve Wally and Poison Ivy and a field of beautifully drawn and brilliantly coloured flowers that are a genuine aesthetic delight, and they seem to be leading towards the suggestion, which has been suspected by a lot of people for quite some time already, that the Sanctuary killer is Wally himself.
I really hope that this is still red-herringing.
Art this time around is split between three artists, twelve pages drawn by series artist Clay Mann, nine by Travis Moore and the remaining three by Jorge Fornes, whose more primitive style stands out like a sore thumb against the other two.
I mean, there’s not really that much else I can say about this issue. The main cover, an exasperated Superman shouting ‘Enough!’ and thrusting Booster and Harley out of the picture has nothing to do with this episode. The only thing I can applaud is that it’s coming out on time, and as Doomsday Clock 10 has now been pushed back into May, my prediction that I’d get to the end of Heroes in Crisis before DC’s premier fuck-up crossover is going to come true in spades.
Given that Tom King’s current arc in Batman, ‘Knightmares’, is as boring as fuck and seeming interminable, this is not a period in which I am favourably inclined towards him. I’d like that to improve.
Doomsday Clock, DC’s on-going joke on its decreasingly loyal audience, was supposed to be complete in September or October 2018. It’s now reached its ninth issue, which was originally scheduled for February 6th, but which has been systematically, pathetically and farcically put back a week at a time for four consecutive weeks. Meanwhile, the rest of the potentially shrinking DC Universe gets put on hold whilst it awaits the signal for just when it can start joining the ‘future’ that it’s supposed to be mirroring as at issue 12, even as it awaits Geoff Johns telling them just what that future is supposed to be.
I know I whinged a lot about the haphazarrd sscheduling of Sandman Overture, but Doomsday Clock makes that look like a model of regularity, and anyway, it was set in the past and was independemt of anything else going on.
Doomsday Clock 9 has been delayed so long that I’d pretty near forgotten all about it, just written it off as something abandoned, incomplete, inessential. With still a third of it to go, it had gone beyond the great So What? Who cared if we got the rest of it, who cares what answers it will eventually provide, if we live long enough?
Having delivered myself of all that, I have to concede, for the second successive quarter, that this is a half-decent issue of Doomsday Clock, and for the same reason: the use of the Watchmen characters has been kept to a bare minimum, and Geoff Johns has not taken upon himself to (badly) piss all over them.
The only Watchman to appear this issue is Dr Manhattan, who finds himself facing battle from the entire DC superhero complement, bar two.
These are Superman and Batman, the victims of the supposed explosive end of Firestorm in Red Square. Superman’s in a coma in the Halls of Justice, with Lois as his only protector, Batman’s in bed at Wayne Manor, burned and banged and severely bruised. The world’s going to hell in a handbasket, Superman has compromised himself by siding with Firestorm against humanity, the President (an offstage Donald Trump, clearly) is throwing him to the wolves. Meanwhile, even without Batman, the Justice League has worked out that it wasn’t Firestorm that exploded but a frame-up, organised by someone on Mars: guess who?
Visually, the whole thing is a re-run of Watchmen 4, all pink sands and blue Manhattan.
Insofar as this is the DC superhero army gearing up to face a Universal threat, this is reasonable stuff, no better and no worse than any of Johns’ previous series’ (which, to be honest, don’t do that much for me, seeming to only ever be about setting up an ending that then leads into the next series). The start of the issue is incredibly static, consisting of pages and pages of three-tier single panels of groups of costumes flying to Mars, without even the banter.
Once they get there, everyone assumes Dr Manhattan is the villain and hostile, and some of the more hot-headed ones want to pile in and mix it up immediately. Some of the more stupid ones, such as Guy Gardner, are fixated on Manhattan being naked and his blue willy hanging out.
It ends up being a bit of a hodge-podge, because whilst this is going on, Johns is portraying Manhattan as he was in Watchmen 4, unanchored to linear time, though he doesn’t go to the length of duplicating the achronological sequence.
This is intercut with Lois on Earth, defending the unconscious Superman from an intruder who swears he’s only come to help, Lex Luthor, who turns out to be the one who’s sent her the Justice Society of America newsreel films, with Batman dragging himself out of bed whilst Alfred shrugs again, trying to get a message to Mars because he’s spotted something the rest haven’t and, finally, finally, getting down to this Superman Theory thing.
And Johns has rewritten Firestorm’s origin. Firestorm hasn’t actually been blown into smithereens but has been blown into two parts, Ronnie Raymond and Professor Martin Stein, both of whom have been kidnapped into space by the Justice League. Ronnie’s eager and thrilled, he has a name to clear, but the Professor is outraged, uncooperative, completely opposed, and refusing to take part even when Ronnie forces them into Firestorm again.
Then Dr Manhattan separates them again. And he takes Ronnie seven years or so into the past, to the day of the accident that created Firestorm. To eavesdrop on a phone call, by Stein, to an unknown authority. About how he’s selected Ronnie, determined he has the metagene, groomed him to be receptive, and plans to create the accident that will fuse the two together. So that ‘they’ can create a superhero – like they did with Jack (The Creeper) Ryder, Rex (Metamorpho) Mason and Kirk (Man-Bat) Langstrom – but with Stein on the inside, to spy on them…
And until now, Ronnie believed the Superman Theory was all a lie. Not that he believes the eevidence of his eyes and ears for a second. Well, you just don’t, do you? It’s always a ‘trick’, it ‘can’t be’.
Of course, we need a big ending to keep us going until another instalment of this crap arrives, which isn’t going to be any time soon since the date for issue 10 has not just been put back another week, again, but has been put back until no date whatsoever. Brilliant.
In case we’ve forgotten certain details since whenever it was the last issue came out, Johns starts by having Manhattan muse out loud whether Superman destroys him, or he destroys the Universe? Then he winds up Superheroes Assembled by showing them the last scene he sees, Superman, angry and bloody, charging at him.
Cue mass attack. Cue completely ineffectual attack. Cue dismissive wave of all massed superherodom. You know, this is not going to make the ending when Superman destroys Dr Manhattan, the one I predicted from issue 1, because Johns lacks the imagination, and certainly lacks the breadth, to give us anything but Superman killing Dr Manhattan, to secure a win over the Watchmen Universe the remotest bit more plausible.
I shall discurse further upon that topic when we are finally vouchsafed issue 12 which, if they can keep up this gruelling schedule, might even be this year, not that I would lay bets on anything but the contrary.