With the previous issue of Doomsday Clock, I posited that Doctor Manhattan– due to his emotional detachment– may not be considered a human any longer, and lamented that Superman has been largely absent in a story where he is supposedly the hero.
Issue ten is a direct response to those theses, and in most ways for the better.
That it takes awhile to get there, though, is a bit disappointing, if not unexpected. This book is a slow burn, usually for the better, and the way Johns’ script rolls out here can best be described as “deliberate.” Honestly, it took me a bit to get into what Johns was doing here, but man, when it gets going? It’s some of the most exciting and even joyous material we’ve seen in Doomsday Clock yet.
The “slow burn” begins in 1954, on the set of the Nathaniel Dusk picture The Adjournment. The film’s star Carver Colman seems distracted, needing more takes than expected to get the climactic scene filmed. This is all being observed by Doctor Manhattan, who is simultaneously one day in the future and two years in the past. He sees Colman at his highest, winning an Oscar in 1952, and at his literal lowest as he lies dying on the floor.
Why is Jon fixated on this man? The simplest answer, I suppose, is because he was the first person he met when Jon came to Colman’s Earth.
It’s here where Jon wound up after laving his Earth, and he notices that he’s as “blind” to time as he was when Veidt doused him with tachyons. So, out of curiosity more than anything, Jon chooses to focus on Colman. It’s difficult at first, but eventually he’s able to “see” things again, experiencing time like he’s used to.
It’s there, in the diner with Colman, that Jon realizes what makes the worlds of the Multiverse so special. There’s a certain presence that sets it apart from his own world, a common thread that unites each Earth: Superman.
And for Jon, Superman appears to be missing.
This sets off a sequence that is repetitive at face value, but full of the excitement and joy I mentioned earlier.
You see, in his search for Superman, Jon travels through the history of the DC Universe.
And as you can see, he runs into some long lost friends.
From a purely visual standpoint, this stretch of the issue is a comic fan’s dream. Gary Frank recreating the cover of Action Comics #1? Uniting the Justice Society of America on their inaugural meeting? Showing the awkward excitement of Superboy auditioning for the Legion of Super-Heroes? It’s all gorgeously illustrated, as you would expect, and a pure joy to see.
Johns and Frank even return to Secret Origin, with Doctor Manhattan playing silent spectator to one of the book’s most famous and emotional scenes.
Seeing Manhattan move about the timeline across different Earths is a blast, much more than I’d expected from this book. Doomsday Clock has been consistently entertaining, thanks to the cerebral narrative and dense storytelling, so it was nice seeing it just be, well, fun for a bit.
Johns’ approach is fairly clever, recognizing Superman’s importance and influence both in the story and on a metatextual level. No matter how you look at it, in one way or another, it all comes back to Superman. In the real world he was the first superhero, or at least the one who kicked off the superhero craze. In the comics, he is the one who inspires others, whether from the beginning or as a presence in the modern day. It’s interesting seeing Jon recognize this, slowly, to the point that his meddling may have changed things for the worse.
Jon sees baby Kal-El’s ship land on different Earths, with Superman making his first appearance in 1938.
And then 1956.
And then “five years ago.”
On one Earth, Clark’s parents die when he is a young man. On another, they live well into his adulthood. Still on “this” Earth, that of the current DC continuity, they died in a car crash the night before Clark’s prom.
“How can one man affect so much?” Jon wonders. As he wonders, he reshapes what he dubs the “Metaverse,” the core world around which other worlds in the Multiverse revolve. He moves Alan Scott’s Lantern, causing him to fall to his doom. Without Scott, there is no Justice Society. Without the influence of his parents, without a team like the JSA to serve as inspiration, Clark becomes distant and cold. It’s only when Hope is reintroduced that the Metaverse begins to correct itself, which Manhattan deems has turned against him.
It’s fascinating stuff, and enough to recommend the issue. There are a few things that definitely hold it back from greatness, though. A lot of time is spent with Colman, and while his story isn’t boring, it does wear thin after a while. He’s more interesting as Jon’s anchor point than as a character in his own regard, even with a trouble past and tragic end. So, he’s more plot device than actual character.
There are also a few confusing flubs with time that took me out of the story. Interesting as the Superman stuff is, Johns jumps around a lot and there are a few times where it’s difficult to get your bearings. It wouldn’t be too bad, though, if it weren’t for a pretty huge gaffe toward the beginning of the issue: Jon mentions that Colman arrived in L.A. on December 31, 1928, and in the next panel it says the date is January 19, 1929 and he has been delivering mail at Paramount for eight months. No doubt this is a typo, but it’s still a big enough goof that it took me a few minutes to move past it.
No matter, though. Seeds are planted for the end of the series, and this issue is largely a gorgeously illustrated celebration of legacy, hope, and Superman. Hopefully Johns can stick the landing, but I won’t deny that I’ve been enjoying the ride all the while.
Have you ever wanted to see what a script from an imaginary movie that was made up for a comic book looks like? Well, friend, this issue’s back matter is for you. There’s a (bloody) photo and letter, along with three pages of the script for The Adjournment. While it isn’t as illuminating and engrossing as, say, a rundown of international superhero teams, it’s material that fleshes out the fictional world and makes it feel like it has its own popular culture.
That doesn’t mean it isn’t somewhat illuminating, though. The photo is of a young Carver Colman and his mother, laid atop The Adjournment‘s script. Just below is a handwritten letter from Colman’s mother, where she… well, she lays out her blackmailing plan, more or less. It’s successful in fleshing out Colman’s character, seeing where he came from and why he would want to distance himself from his mother. And the script is just that: a script, consisting of the very first page and the two pages that comprise the scene being shot at the beginning of the issue. There’s not an awful lot to it from a visual standpoint, but it gets the job done just the same.
BONUS: Frank’s variant is simultaneously quaint and ominous.
- You love Superman.
- You haven’t been trade-waiting this book.
- You’ve wanted to see the Legion and the JSA pop up again.
Overall: A slow burn of a beginning turns into a rollicking celebration of Superman. Johns’ pacing in the first half of the issue is possibly the weakest it’s been this whole series, with a lot of attention paid to a person who works better as a plot device than as an actual character. Once things get going, though, it turns into a fascinating meditation on Superman’s influence in the real world and on the printed page. A few gaffes and the slow start keep this from outright greatness, but the focus on hope and the gorgeous art throughout make it all worth it.