Doomsday Clock 12


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’d hate to have to do this again.

Doomsday Clock 11


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.

Film 2019: Superman


We begin Phase 2 of Film 2019 here: for the remainder of this series I’ll be watching and commenting on films I have in box sets of differing numbers. Some of these box sets are of films that tell a complete story between them, trilogies if you want to call them that without giving away the least clue, oh no, gollum. These will be watched over consecutive weekends. Others, like the film that starts this sequence, are part of compilations, and these I will dip into serendipitously, at random. Let us begin.

For me, Superman, the Mario Puzo scripted, Richard Donner diected, Alexander and Ilya Suskind produced, Christopher Reeve starring film, is a glory and a nostalgic dream. It’s not perfect, it’s not impervious to criticism, but it represents something that goes deep inside me and for that it will always soar above its flaws.

Superman was released forty years ago this year, on January 1, 1979. It had been promoted for months, and the tag-line was You will believe a man can fly. And we did. I saw it within a week of it arriving in Nottingham, on the ABC1 screen, a big, old-fashioned cinema that foresook the intimacy of today’s multiscreens for the gigantic spaces of old and was thus the best ever venue for a film like this. I took my best friend, the woman I was in love with and from whom I was concealing my feelings (I thought) because she was in love with someone else. We both loved it. And despite the occasional green screen mismatch, of colours, usually, we believed.

Superman was the big daddy of them all, the first big budget effort at putting a superhero on screen and taking him seriously. You look at it forty years on and see the roots of what is present in the Marvel Extended Cinema Universe films. You see the relatively primitive special effects, you see the naivete of many elements in the film, you see where the courage of convictions wears thin and the film just has to resort to silliness because, after all, we’re grown-ups, aren’t we? And you watch the film take a time over things that would have audiences poring over their smartphones long before the scene is over. And if you are me, you say a great big flaming So What?

Because this was the great big validation. This was all of us who loved comics and who kept that love, or even the very merest mention of interest, concealed from everyone we worked with. This was Superman, first of them all, and this was Superman being taken seriously, in a way that let us openly celebrate what we otherwise hid, without being exposed. Before I got to see the film, I was hearing Barristers in their Robing Room discussing the film delightedly.

Speaking of slowness: the film opts for a very long introduction/origin. We begin on Krypton (after that glorious John Williams theme has played out to its full) with Jor-El conducting the trial of General Zod and Co.  This is very much a teaser for Superman 2 which Donner, in the manner that he’d taken with The Three Musketeers/The Four Musketeers, was filming simultaneously. But it also establishes Krypton for us, or a film Krypton, of a massive and frozen aspect, an ice and snow planet with elegant crystal technology (a controversial departure from the comics Krypton, a planet of glorious, abounding life and wonders). And it establishes Jor-El for us, in Marlon Brando’s massively expensive, impassively composed performance, as the classic story plays out and baby Kal-El is placed in a star-shaped rocket to be sent to Earth where, as we are told twice round, his Kryptonian metabolism will make him super-powerful.

Then we cut to Smallville, Kansas, childless middle-aged couple Jonathan and Martha Kent, who adopt the baby that crashes in a falling satellite, raise him, teach him honesty, humility and a sense of purpose that will be built upon doing good. It’s old-fashioned, it’s hokey, but it’s unashamedly presented as natural, and it captures an essential part of the superhero DNA that’s so badly overlooked in these cynical times when everything is insistent on exploring the dark heart of the myth, that these brightly lit fantasies of superiority are about being good and doing good, because that’s what is important.

All of this is seen through the life of Clark Kent aged 18, and played so far by Jeff East (with dialogue redubbed by Christopher Reeve), and but for an unrealistic scene where the Special Effects aren’t up to convincingly showing you Clark running faster than a speeding locomotive (it had to be) it’s superb. The Kansas setting is evoked wonderfully in its sheer massiveness, a spaciousness that subconsciously echoes the grandeur of Clark’s powers.

Then, after Jonathan dies of a heart attack, Jeff East goes away for twelve years, to the Arctic, his Fortress of Solitude, and further holographic education from Jor-El, and, forty five minutes in, yes, a whole forty-five minutes, we get a brief glimpse of the Superman costume, and then it’s a cut to Metropolis, to the Daily Planet, and finally Christopher Reeve comes onscreen, not as the hero, but as Clark Kent, the mild-mannered reporter.

Christopher Reeve, poor damned Christopher Reeve. He is the movie. A more or less complete unknown, at first rejected for the part for being too young and too skinny, Reeve is Superman, and he is Clark Kent, and he is two completely different people and he brings total authority, complete conviction and massive authenticity to both. As Superman, you believe a man can fly not because the Special Effects show it but because Christopher Reeve shows it: he’s brilliantly adept at working with the machinery that supports him, and when we watch him in flight, we believe we are seeing this, because Reeve treats it as the most natural thing on Earth.

And as Clark, he is funny, clumsy, klutzy and sincerely outdated to the exact point before his performance could turn into parody. His posture changes, his apprehension of an unkind world increases, his voice is higher-pitched and light without sounding unnatural. To demonstrate my point, there is a scene in Lois Lane’s apartment that condenses Reeve’s performance into about sixty seconds: Reeve has just left Lois as Superman and returned as Clark Kent for their ‘date’. She is still in a haze of distraction. As Clark, he looks at the room into which she has just disappeared, to fix her hair. He takes off his glasses, straightens up, his voice drops in register. With no make-up or effects, he has turned from one man into the other. Then doubt affects him, he restores his glasses, shrinks and dissolves into Clark. All in one scene, no cuts.

Margot Kidder, poor damned Margot Kidder, plays Lois Lane. There’s an early and nasty attempt to undermine her by portraying her as obsessed with violence and sex and unable to spell properly, and she ends the film as the classic victim, dependent upon the hero to rescue (please bear in mind that this version of Superman is based on the pre-1986 John Byrne reboot), but she’s perfect in the role, mixing the character’s underlying independence and forthrightness with the effect of being thunderstruck in love (and lust). Kidder was a lovely woman then, with a wonderfully throaty way of speaking. Like Reeve, she was an unknown, but the pair have chemistry that leaps off the screen at you, and the film was so right to cast unknowns in these two vital roles, since that enables us to see them as Clark/Superman and Lois, instead of actors.

These two carry the film. There are, as I said, flaws. Gene Hackman plays an ebullient, imperious, self-congratulatory Lex Luthor (the original Luthor, the openly criminal scietist). He gets the two best lines in the film, one of them the justly celebrated “Everyone has their faults. Mine’s in California”.

The other’s a bit self-referential, “Why does the world’s greatest criminal surround himself with nincompoops?” which, having already seen Ned Beatty’s face-stuffing Otis, is surely being said before the audience can ask the same question. His other assistant is Valerie Perrine as Miss (Eva) Teschmacher, and we all know why Luthor keeps her around: Miss Teschmacher is a cartoon sexpot (if she were a real cartoon, she’d be a Hentai).

The ending to the film was also very controversial. Luthor’s nuclear missile hits the San Andreas Fault, causing massive earthquakes, collapses and a lot of work by Superman in saving people. So much so that by the time he realises Lois is in a car being swallowed up by the Earth, it’s too late, she has been crushed to death.

Comes the moment. Superman struggles with his loss, his grief. He looks into the sky, screams, “Noooooooooooooo!” and takes off faster than at any time in the film. He flies into space. He is challenged by the image of Joe-El, reminding him that it is forbidden to change the course of human history (isn’t he already doing that, the way all of us do, just by being here day after day?), he recalls the words of Jonathan Kent, that he is here for a purpose and that is to use his powers to help people. Two fathers, two philosophies, two cultures. Kal-El chooses Earth. He spins round the planet so fast and persistently that it begins to turn backwards. Footage rolls backwards. Cracks in the earth close up, dams heal themselves, boulders roll uphill. Superman lands by Lois’s car and she’s alive. They’re about to kiss when Jimmy Olsen turns up.

I don’t care. I loved it, then and now, the eucatastrophe. Of course it’s a cheat. It was called as such then, the action of a big baby, stamping his widdle foot and screaming, and I don’t care. Above all else, this is a peculiarly comic book film in a way none of  the modern breed are. It plays by comic book rules, not cinema rules. It has a sense of wonder unpunctured by too much realism. The DC Cinema Universe may one day run to 100 films, and I still won’t have watched Man of Steel, but this will still be greater than all of them, because we do believe a man can fly, and we can go fly with him and feel that first thrill over and over again. It can even tell us that Superman fights for Truth, Justice and the American Way and not have us laugh with embarrassment.

One final comment. My DVD has the amended credit sequence. When I saw this in Nottingham in January 1979, there was no line crediting Superman as the creation of Jerry Seigel and  Joe Schuster. Truth and Justice did, eventually, triumph over the American Way.

Doomsday Clock 9


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.

Heroes in Crisis 5


What else can I say? I find it difficult to believe this story is being written by the same Tom King who’s got me buying Batman comics for the first time since probably the landmark Steve Engelhart run pre-Crisis on Infinite Earths. The concept is fascinating, the execution abysmal, the pace non-existent and the psychological insight as deep as a street puddle.

There isn’t a plot to issue 5, which at least is the midpoint of the series. Essentially, Booster and Beetle waste time hanging out drinking Bud befor invading The Flash’s laboratory, because he’s a better detective than both of them puttogether, Batgirl and Harley Quinn team-up to torture the robot Skeets to get Booster’s whereabouts and Superman gives a Press Comnference at which he explains the purpose of Sanctuary and the downside of superheroing at a length that is simultaneously heartfelt and, after four issues of Show, completely redundant in Tell.

Add to this the usual four pages of Watchmen grid, showing various heroes explain what bugs them. Booster plays Out, Damned Spot with his perfectly clear visor, The Protector (is he seriously in DC continuity?) boasts about being pilled out of his bonce all through his Don’t Do It anti-drugs campaign, Commander Steel actually makes a real point about being brought back to life so many times that you can never believe be ing alive will stick, and Harley Quinn tells the same ‘Knock Knock’ joke my mate Ken told us all whilst out for dinner last night, before confessing that the Joker used to hit her.

One worthwhile page out of four, but all are totally static. Throw in a two-page spread (seriously) of Blue and Gold watching TV whilst having their beers on the couch and that’s nearly a third of the issue taken up with nothing whatsoever.

As I said, the concept of Sanctuary is fascinating but the execution is a bust. These confessional pages are detached from the ‘story’. They’re visually dull and deliberately so, the level of insight is minimal (or am I simply too old, too experienced in both life and comics to see these pages as merely sophomoric, whereas for contemporary audiences they are full of new ideas?), to the point where even a genuinely intriguing condition, like that of Commander Steel, fails to have the appropriate impact, because it is weighted down too heavily by the dross surrounding it?

This failure is made more obvious by the latest issue of The Terrifics, no 12, which I bought at the same time. Rex Mason is Rex again, not Metamorpho. He’s having difficulrty to adjusting, even though he’s got everything he ever wanted: he’s human again, he has his beloved Sapphire with him, free of Simon Stagg’s influence at last, and he can’t settle to it. Some is that he wants to work, not be kept, but he has no transferrable skills nor relevant qualifications after years of heroing, but the big problem is, as he admits to himself, that he can’t believe he’s truly escaped from being Metamorpho, and he cannot live his lifeas aanything but an interlude until it happens to him again.

It’s same same problem as Steel (can we drop this ‘Commander’ crap, please?), but this is led up to organically, its woven into the story, we see it for ourselves and Rex’s confession follows on our experience and leads into the great denouement where he betrayss Sapphire and himself and deliberatelly chooses to be Metamorpho again. All of which is a ton more effective, and affecting, that the antiseptic account by Steel that’s ninety percent an outline of his continuity.

Only one thing in issue 5 justifies its printing and that’s the one thing about the series that I could never get into. There’s been something unreal about the deaths we’ve seen of characters like Roy Harper, Poison Ivy and especially Wally West, and despite their unfunny footling about, Booster Gold and Blue Beetle discover something that has the potential to undermine that aspect: it appears that at his death, Wally West was five days older than he should be.

So, time travel, a wriggle out shows its head. Whether or not this sophisticated future people dater is taking into account the ten years Wally spent living in the Speed Force, and whether those years still exist, given what’s going on in the ever-increasingly-delayed Doomsday Clock, I would once have known, and once would have wanted to find out, but I couldn’t care. Once it’s done, Heroes in Crisis is going on eBay, and I will be dismissing it from continuity.

Heroes in Crisis 4


Still not convinced

Fourth issue. There’s a lot of typographical swearing in this one, including the title, the way you get it in mainstream comics. Can’t have everyone seeing the Black Canary saying ‘Fuck it,’ can we?

Once again, it’s too damned little and too damned slowly. Wonder Girl/Donna Troy/Troia/whoever the hell she is, hauls a pissed Tempest out of a bar, then has the first of three full pages of superheroine confessions. Donna muses about whether Paradise Island actually exists (just ask Diana, you clown). Batgirl says nothing, just pulls down her tights far enough to see the entry and exit wounds, sufficiently re-positioned from Killing Joke so that it didn’t actually sever her spine. Black Canary lastts three panels of a Watchmen nine-panel grid before saying whatever she says and walking, leaving six panels of an empty chair.

Batman and The Flash, the two best detectives, complete their investigation and proclaim the killer: Booster (Flash), Harley (Batman). The Flash swears (yes, even though he’s Barry Allen). Maybe he says ‘Shit.’

Lois Lanre slinks round the bedroom in Superman t-shirt, tiny red knickers and very bare and very long legs, giving at least one page a reason for existing, exchanging cryptic remarks about what she’s to do with these ‘Puddlers’ revelations.

Green Arrow threatens to pop an arrow into both heads and let the afterlife’s greatest detective work it out: a decent line, at last.

Batgirl catches up to Harley and has to prevent her now cowl-less head being smashed in until, one cat-fight later, she persuades Harley to jointly investigate the crime with her, to prove to Batman that they’re nt both broken, scared, scarred girls, leading to one very Poison Ivy-esque full body hug.

Booster reveals he’s passed the lasso of truh test, only that’s now no longer infallible, as apparently it can only tell that you think you’re telling the truth. He’s telling all this to Blue Beetle, the Ted Kord one (how long’s he been alive again? Do I care? You can answer that one yourself.)

And Superman pulls off a very blatant Ozymandias rip-off from Watchmen 11, letting Batman and Wonder Woman know about these videos Lois has been getting and that she’s going to print on them. Batty snarls, Wondy asks when, and Supes replies “35 seconds ago”.

This nonsense is now hard on Doomsday Clock‘s heels for most fucking awful piece of garbage going: I’d almost rather re-read ‘Gadgetman and Gimmick-Kid’. I’d better make a profit selling this on eBay when no 9 finally appears.

Doomsday Clock 8


Eating one’s words is never palatable, but I prefer being honest, so let me admit immediately that the eighth issue of Doomsday Crap was alright. It was even decent, and if the entire series had been pitched around the contents of this episode, I might even have been prepared to stretch to good. The reason for this is solely down to this being solely a matter of the DC Universe, with the Watchmen characters represented only by Ozymandias, watching what is going on on the first and last pages.

This goes to support what I’ve been saying all along, that Johns has fucked this series up right royally by all this shitting-on-Watchmen business.

The actual issue is more-or-less a three-hander, involving Superman, Firestorm and Batman, with a smaller role for Lois Lane, some Russian superheroes that we older fans will recognise, a couple of Daily Planet scenes and a substantial guest role for Vladimir Putin. We’re now dealing directly with the Superman Theory that’s been underlining things since the beginning, the fact that 97% of the planet’s metahumans are American and the allegation – which Putin is treating as truth – that they are part of a US Government programme aimed at world domination.

We start with Firestorm in Russia, panicking under attack from The People’s Heroes. Firestorm is back to being a teenage Ronnie Raymond and Professor Martin Stein, as in the beginning, except that the Professor is not contributing any advice. Indeed, he’s so silent, we’re being led to question whether he’s there at all, and Ronnie’s experiences of getting a response are delusions.

How long Firestorm’s been Ronnie Raymond again I don’t know, I haven’t been keeping up since he was killed in Identity Crisis, but here he is in Moscow, surrounded by crowds, panicking and, whammo! dozens if not hundreds of them turned into glass.

This is a serious matter, both in itself and because up to this point Firestorm’s powers don’t work on organic matter. Is this a substantial plot point or is Johns just making it up as he goes along, as he been doing with the Watchmen bunch?

Superman appoints himself as the investigator, as the only metahuman still trusted outside the United States. The big blue boy scout takes himself to the Kingdom of Kahndaq, which I am pleased to see is still being ruled by Black Adam, an which is still maintaining its strictly neutral status metahumanwise, established in 52. Superman and Adam treat each other with strict respect, and almost friendship. Firestorm’s not taken refuge in Kahndaq, but he’ll be sheltered if he does.

Lois intervenes with the fatal suggestion that Ronnie might be in the one place no-one would think of looking for him, that is, still in Russia. And Superman finds him there, near hysterical over what’s happened and Professor Stein’s silence. And, lumme, he manages to convert back to life a small glass boy he’s taken with him.

The situation is reversible. Superman tells Firestorm to hang fire whilst he zooms to Moscow to defuse the situation. Unfortunately, the trust in Superman doesn’t extend far enough for Putin, or anyone in the crowd with a glass relative, to believe him. This against a background of Batman flying the Batplane and warning him, incessantly, not to talk to the Russians, not to take sides.

Sadly, Batman is very wise. Events overtake the sometimes too trusting Superman. He’s being bombarded with catcalls and questions, the Russian Firestorm is trigger happy (as you would be if Putin’s threatening to bung you back in state prison). Putin’s denouncing Firestorm as an American soldier, ordered to commit mass murder, he has evidence of this. And matters only get worse when Firestorm turns up himself, intent on saving everyone.

All that does is start a fight. With metahumans attacking Superman and Firestorm, with troops attacking, with the crowd rioting. And with stray bullets and manouevring tanks smashing into glass figures, and putting them beyond any reach of Firestorm putting them back together the way they were.

And Superman tries to intervene with the outcome that, to the entire world, he looks as if he’s siding with Firestorm, against Russia. That’s before Firestorm explodes, causing him and Supes to utterly vanish. And the twist is, as Bats realises far too late for it to be any damned good, it’s not even Firestorm…

Now I think we can safely mke a guess that the fake Firestorm is really everypone’s favourite naked blue guy and the whole impersonation has actually been about getting close to Superman in a moment of maaximum vulnerability, but that begs the question of why Dr Manhattan has to go all round the houses to do that when his true power level would enable him to pick Superman off whenever he felt like it. Except that Johns won’t ever let Manhttan be used at his true power level for that very reason…

All of which a satisfied Adrian Veidt observes, his plan working perfectly, whatever it is. Whatever is the sneaky, manipulative, from a non-optimistic Universe bastard planning now?

The other story-advancing twist this bi-month, if we can call a series crawling slower than a funeral cortege being advanced, is Lois received a flash drive with newsreel footage from 1941, as the Justice society of America go to war: who the hell are the Justice Society of America? she demands.

If you need an answer to that question, may I refer you to large chunks of this blog over the last seven years, but in the short term, it’s a single panel of seven of the eight founding members, the only absentee being The (Al Pratt) Atom.

I’d like to say we’re getting there, but seriously, we’re not. At least by the time things resume in February, Johns will surely be back to trashing things he doesn’t understand, but I’ll accept this issue as an unexpected Christmas present from him, even if I didn’t wait until the 25th to unwrap it.