Her name is Erika.
She is the daughter of an immigrant.
Her father is a puppet-maker.
He is her whole world, and he is taken from her.
She knows pain.
She knows loss.
She is full of rage.
She is Marionette.
At the halfway point of the series, Doomsday Clock has delivered its most emotional and moving issue yet. It’s a narrative told in two parts, one of which works much better than the other, but when it’s good this issue is very good.
Like issue four, this is largely an origin story. It’s Marionette and, to a lesser extent, Mime who get the spotlight, and their story is incredibly engaging. It’s even moving, at times, with the elements of loss and tragedy that Johns weaves in.
Before she was Marionette, she was Erika, living with her father and hanging around his puppet shop all day. She was a fairly eccentric if otherwise normal little girl, headstrong yet loving toward her guardian. One day she sees a young boy in the new store across the street. He is mute. Something terrible has happened to his mother. Feeling a connection to the boy, Erika tries to strike up a friendship.
We could all go on and on about how great Gary Frank is. He’s one of the best living comic book artists, without question. This issue of Doomsday Clock in particular is a great showcase of his talent, and his mastery of facial expressions in particular. Take the sequence above: an entire story is told in the faces of two children and a wooden doll. Dialogue could have been used to convey, say, Erika’s disappointment that Marcos was no longer at the window, yet Frank says all that needs to be said with her crestfallen look.
It’s that way throughout the issue, too, and Frank uses the loose nine-panel feel to great effect. I particularly loved another scene that shows young Erika with an expression on her face, and present day Marionette with the same look. Her features may have matured over the years, but she’s still the same little girl who stared in wonder at her father’s wooden creations.
With Marionette and Mime, this is the most emotionally resonant issue of the story so far. There were points where we connected with Rorschach in his back story, but Johns takes it to another level here. Somewhat predictably, but no less tragically, Erika loses her father. He’s in deep with some crooked cops, a choice he made so he could give his daughter a better life but one he’s going to have to live with until his dying day. He faces abuse at the hands of the officers, and by extension, so does Erika. There’s some comfort for her in her friendship with Marcos, especially when young bullies verbally and physically abuse her on the street, but Erika is forced to mature far too quickly when she realizes the inevitable consequences of her father’s actions.
It’s genuinely moving through and through, from the time Erika and Marcos are forced to flee their circumstances to their eventual life on the streets. The duo stick together, growing into teenage runaways and eventually becoming parents. Their child, though, is taken away from them, the second great loss in Erika’s life. With Marcos the only tether she has to the world, Erika does anything and everything she can to keep from losing him. That they turn to a life of costumed crime may not be surprising, but the depth of their relationship adds layers upon layers to their characters that, up to this point, were interesting without being remarkably deep. Mime may still have one of the most ridiculously amusing gimmicks in comics, but he’s an even more fascinating character after this issue.
Back in the present, Marionette and Mime have been taken captive by the Joker and his goons. This portion of the issue doesn’t work quite as well, and it’s hard to pinpoint a specific reason. Joker takes them to an underground meeting with a bunch of other supervillains, and while the reason behind this gathering is understandable, it’s never fully realized.
We do get to see a lot of great villains in their classic costumes, though, so that’s pretty great.
The basic idea is pretty simple: in trying to save their own skins, the rogues have gathered to debate whether they should accept Black Adam’s offer of asylum and travel to Kahndaq. Visually, the scene is great, with a wide variety of baddies to look at, both big names and obscurities, and even the Court of Owls for good measure. There’s just… something missing, and I’m not sure what. It lacks a sense of immediacy and tension, at least at first. When we first see the big group of villains it looks really cool, but it takes a while to get anywhere. The debate never feels as urgent as it should, and it makes the issue drag for a bit.
It certainly looks great, though, with most of the villains in classic costumes. I was particularly impressed by Frank’s Riddler, who has a definite Frank Gorshin vibe.
While the initial debate never reaches any real level of urgency, the pace picks up quite a bit when the Comedian crashes the party.
And by “crashes the party” I mean, of course, starts murdering everybody.
Chaos ensues, leaving the Riddler crippled, several villains killed, and Marionette and Mime on the run again. Their present day plight is intercut with the previously described scenes of their lives on the streets and Marionette’s delivery of their child, giving it an emotional heft that was absent for much of the issue. This issue never gets bad by any means, it’s just that the gripping drama of the flashbacks and the latter third’s emotional climax makes the underwritten Joker scenes and subway meeting a little disappointing.
Speaking of disappointing, I’m sad to report that Batman fans are likely to be… quite unhappy with his portrayal here. The previous issue saw him being overwhelmed by a mob, leading to him being dumped at the feet of the Joker. Now held captive by the Clown Prince of Crime, Batman spends the entire issue here drugged and strapped to a wheelchair.
I’m not kidding.
Personally, I’m perfectly fine with a Batman who is fallible and even capable of being captured when the situation warrants it. It’s just almost comical that the Dark Knight is just strapped to this single chair the whole time.
While Batman may be an almost nonentity, I did like how Johns wrote the Joker himself. There are a few moments and lines that don’t quite ring true, almost like he’s trying too hard to nail the Joker’s voice, but– like the issue itself– when he’s good, he’s very good.
And really, that Gary Frank can draw, right?
This month’s back matter is fairly thin, but interesting nonetheless. Like the previous issue, there are profiles about different superhero teams around the world, contextualized within a Department of Metahuman Affairs file on Typhoon. There’s quite a bit of tragedy and unfortunate circumstance to his story, including a divorce and two children that he’s no longer allowed to see. The real kicker, though, is a report of death from Moonbow, his partner in the field: she requests that his true nature be declassified, so that his children can see the hero he truly was, and that he be allowed to have a proper burial.
Both requests are denied.
It’s a gut punch for sure, a final emotional sting among content that could have been nothing more than clinical case notes.
- You’ve been reading Doomsday Clock.
- You’re interested in Marionette and Mime.
- You want to see a bunch of villains made up in their classic digs again.
Overall: Far and away the most emotionally involving issue yet, this installment of Doomsday Clock is almost a great comic. The flashbacks to Marionette and Mime’s youths makes their characters much more sympathetic, and I was engrossed in pretty much every scene involving the two of them. The middle portions of the book don’t work as well as they could have, with a big meeting between a bunch of villains that looks better than it plays it. Bolstered by a final act turnaround that’s as exciting as it is involving, and with fantastic art as always from Gary Frank and Brad Anderson, Doomsday Clock #6 is a really good comic that falls just short of being great.