Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Doomsday Clock #6

I sometimes come to the end of a comic book and say "This handles the first meeting of Winnie-the-Pooh and Paddington Bear in an obvious and predictable way; any fan could have written it themselves." The proper reaction to Doomsday Clock is more like: "This copies the superficial style of Watchmen in an obvious and predictable way; but it is written very much better than any fan would have done."

Which raises the question "Why is Geoff Johns, who can obviously write a bit, wasting his time on this thing?"


This issue establishes a back story for Marionette and Mime, the two Watchmen-universe super-villains introduced in issue #1. This is in itself an obvious and predictable copy of the superficial style of Watchmen; which dedicated several issues to establishing the backstories of individual characters. The flashback to Marionette's childhood copies the style of those flashback episodes in such an obvious and predictable way that it set my teeth on edge.

Doctor Manhattan's dad made watches; and that imagery feeds into the Doc building his weird artifice on Mars; his non-linear perception of time; Einstein's line about becoming a watchmaker; the title of the comic....and so on, to infinity and beyond. Marionette's father made -- I wonder if you can guess -- puppets. (An immigrant-run marionette shop opposite an immigrant-run cut-glass shop seems like something out of the 1930s rather than the 1970s, but possibly all superhero flashbacks take place in that period known as The Olden Days.) When Rorschach was a little boy a group of bigger boys called him whore-son and he stabbed one of them in the eye with a pencil. When Marionette was a little girl some bigger girls called her dad a creepy child molester and the boy from the glass shop over the road smashed one of their heads open with a bottle.

Marionette's father is forced to pass protection money, or possibly drug money, or possibly bribes between the mob and some bent coppers. He does this by, er, hiding wads of cash inside his puppets. He is so ashamed of this that he ends up taking his own life. Marionette finds him hanging in his shop as if he were a puppet himself. And we are all puppets, don't you know, only not all of us can see the strings. I wonder if some day that you'll say that you care?

But once we were told about the origins of Rorschach, Doctor Manhattan or Ozymandias we felt we understood those characters a little more; and the more we understood the characters the more sharply the Watchmen setting came into focus. We saw that Rorschach was not just a vigilante: he believes that good and evil are absolutes but that they were invented by humans and imposed on an amoral universe. This to some extent explains his actions: when he chooses to die rather than compromise his beliefs we understand why. I suppose that this story tells us that Marionette and Mime are very dedicated to each other because of a shared trauma in their childhood; and that they became criminals because Marionette's father was driven to suicide by corrupt cops. But really: we're back in that monochrome universe where "Because a baddy killed his daddy" is a good answer to the question "Why would a brilliant multi-zillionaire dress up as a bat every night?"

Yes, you can blackmail me into empathizing with two characters by telling me that they had horrid childhoods; but the question "Who are these people? Why should I care about them? And how do they fit into the story?" remains entirely unanswered. They are currently hanging out with the Joker's entourage, which merely underlines the fact that they are not very much more than Poundland Harley Quinn knockoffs.

Meanwhile, in the present day, all the villains in the DC Universe or possibly Gotham City are gathered together in a villainous convocation. They get one panel each. Here's the Penguin; here's the Scarecrow; here's one I don't remember.

There are off-hand references to the Green Lantern and all his enemies having left earth and Wonder Woman having been forcibly returned to Paradise Island, which is either a witty allusion to Dark Knight Returns or else isn't.

Then the Comedian turns up and everyone gets shot.

Andrew Rilstone is a writer and critic from Bristol, England. 

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Mike Taylor said...

Wait -- didn't the Comedian die on about page three of Watchmen?

Andrew Rilstone said...

oh yes

Andrew Rilstone said...

“Who killed the Comedian” was kind of the whole story.

Andrew Rilstone said...

But in this version, Doctor Manhattan caught him before he hit the ground and transferred him to DC earth,

Andrew Rilstone said...


Mike Taylor said...

Silly me.

Because that's exactly the kind of thing Dr. Manhattan would do.

JWH said...

Is the Marvel Universe the most complicated fictional invention ever (and if it isn't, what is)?

Andrew Rilstone said...

If, by complicated you mean "the most number of characters and settings developed over the largest amount of time, and with the most detailed 'theology' underlying it" then that would be the DC Multiverse. (Marvel has lots of characters and settings, but has on the whole avoided multi-dimensional Crisis). The Doctor Who Universe probably comes a close second, although I prefer Elisabeth Sandifer's concept of "sentient metafiction".

Andrew Rilstone said...

(If by "complicated" you mean "hard to understand" or inaccessible to the newcomer, then not so much. Very little of this stuff matters in the actual comics, at any rate not the good ones. e.g Ms Marvel works brilliantly as a story about teenagers in New Jersey one of whom has Amazing Powers. Any Marvel Universe Stuff you need to know gets explained as you go along.)

SK said...

The Doctor Who Universe probably comes a close second, although I prefer Elisabeth Sandifer's concept of "sentient metafiction"

Those are both wrong (although one's significantly more mad). Doctor Who is an anthology series with shared characters, that occasionally contains sequels to earlier stories; it isn't and was never intended to be one continuous fictional reality like, say, Middle-Earth. And even the sequels aren't supposed to really be in the same reality: The Dalek Invasion of Earth is 'another story with Daleks in it', it's not supposed to be in any way taking place in the same universe as The Dead Mutants. Terry Nation certainly never considered that it might be taking place in the same universe; his perfunctory addressing of the issue is almost deliberately nonsensical. He was just asked to write another story with Daleks in and, because they were paying him for it, he did.

There's no more a 'Doctor Who Universe' than there is a, I don't know, 'Robin Hood Universe' where somehow all the different stories ever told about Robin Hood are simultaneously true and all happened to the same fictional character.

[I dont know enough about comics to speculate on how this applies to them, but I know far more about Doctor Who than any adult reasonably should]

Andrew Rilstone said...

Agreed. Taron Egerton can no more say "I remember that time I was a fox" than Jodie Whitaker can say "I remember that time I was Matt Smith."

SK said...

Ah, that's a different thing. There's an implied continuity of the Doctor, but not the universe. Really the best way to think of it is that every time the Doctor steps out of the TARDIS it's into a totally different story, with its own universe (and, sometimes, its own story-physics — certainly usually its own time-travel-physics, as time-travel rarely works the same way in two different Doctor Who stories).

And when the Doctor steps back into the TARDIS, the story ends and the world just much as, say, Europe disappears at the end of Casablanca, unless it's needed for a sequel (and even then usually it makes more sense to assume the sequel takes place in a different universe, not a continuation of the same one: see all the Dalek and Cyberman stories, for example, which make no sense at all if you try to put them into a coherent continuity with each other, let alone try to put both sets together — as they were never intended to).

From your Spider-Man articles I gather that there was an intent to create the impression that there was a fictional universe in which Spider-Man might be walking down the street and bump into the Hulk. But the idea that the Ice Warriors might be wandering around in a starship and bump into the Wheel in Space was never intended and is frankly just nonsensical.

[Sorry, I have a bee in my bonnet about this ever since I was in the Canon Wars. I saw NAs on fire off the shoulder of Zagreus; I watched the Crystal Bucephalus glitter in the dark near Faction Paradox. And it was all for nothing, all for an illusion of a universe that never existed and was never intended to exist.]

Mike Taylor said...

"And when the Doctor steps back into the TARDIS, the story ends and the world just much as, say, Europe disappears at the end of Casablanca".

I think that's true of some seasons. It's certainly not true of Seasons 5 and 6 (the first two with Matt Smith), which each have their own continuity. But you can argue that season 6 happens in a different universe from season 5.

Andrew Rilstone said...

What about the idea that the Ice Warriors might be present at peace conference on Peladon?

What about the idea that there might be specimen Daleks in the space museum?

What about the idea that the Doctor might cite "Daleks, Cybermen, Ice Warriors" when arguing his case at a trial?

What about the idea that the Master can be engineering a war between the Humans and the Draconians and the Daleks can turn out to be behind it (kind of).

What about the idea that the Brigadier can refer to "that business with the Yeti" and "that business with the Cybermen" during a story about the Autons?

What about the idea that Captain Yates has to spend some time in a Buddhist Monastery to make up for trying to destroy human civilization with time traveling dinosaurs.

What about the Doctor bringing about a blue crystal from Metabelis III at the end of Season 9 and the giant spiders coming after it in Season 11.

What about every story with Davros in it.

What about Jo Grant being Jo Smith when she turns up in the Sarah Jane Adventures; or Cole Hill School having a governor called Chesterton...

Mike Taylor said...

Andrew, there is a difference between fan-service and universe-building.

Andrew Rilstone said...

Also: Big Finish, Virgin and the New Adventures are part of Doctor Who, and they certainly developed their own canon and their own continuity. You may say that they ought not to have done, but they certainly did.

It is, of course, trivially true that if you treat the bits of Doctor Who which were interested in universe building and continuity as "non canonical" than nothing in the Doctor Who canon is interested in universe building and continuity.

Andrew Rilstone said...

There is. But the sheer amount of internal referencing going on in old Who makes the claim "no-one thought that it was all going on in one setting" quite hard to sustain.

I think it is quite obvious that the writers of old Who did think that it was all taking place in one universe, but thought that the universe was so vast that they didn't go to any great trouble to keep it consistent.

I do of course agree that the aesthetic of pre-Nathan Turner Who is such that anyone who spends much time trying to understand the back story and the continuity has probably missed the point.

SK said...

But the sheer amount of internal referencing going on in old Who makes the claim "no-one thought that it was all going on in one setting" quite hard to sustain.

If there had been any attempt to keep that 'internal referencing' consistent, then I'd agree — but there wasn't. The Dalek turning up in the space museum, for example, is, as Mike Taylor says, simply service for the fans: it doesn't make sense on any logical 'consistent universe' level, and nor is it meant to. It's just set dressing for the audience.

Most of your examples are what I have called above 'sequels' (the UNIT stories are all kind of sequels to each other, and anyway that era is rather atypical for Doctor Who and most of it's crap so it's probably best to ignore it) and, as I wrote above, considering them as part of a continuous universe usually actually makes them make less sense (The Ice Warriors turning up on Peladon, for example, when in The Ice Warriors they had been extinct since before the last ice age — yes, you can make up some fanwanky guff about some leaving Mars before it died and colonies and yadda yadda but you know, and I know, that that wasn't the intent, any more than there was an intent to make The Dalek Invasion of Earth consistent with The Mutant Planet and you're just papering over the cracks).

SK said...

I think it is quite obvious that the writers of old Who did think that it was all taking place in one universe, but thought that the universe was so vast that they didn't go to any great trouble to keep it consistent.

How many different, and totally irreconcilable, versions of the twenty-first century are there in seasons four, five and six alone? At least three, I think?

Don't you remember how The Terrestrial Index had to have humans abandoning spaceflight, re-embracing it, then abandoning it again, then the Earth nearly being destroyed by Salamander, then finally deciding spaceflight was the way to go after all, all within the space of about thirty years, and it stilldidn't quite work with how long the rockets were supposed to have been in that museum? And that was all stories made by the same production team! They clearly didn't give a fig about the peculiar fan idea that if the Doctor landed in 2067, and then a couple of stories later landed in 2068, the two should look at all similar or that, say, the second one couldn't say that aliens had laid waste the planet five years previously.

Nick M said...

“the UNIT stories are all kind of sequels to each other, and anyway that era is rather atypical for Doctor Who and most of it's crap so it's probably best to ignore it)”

Sounds dangerously like ‘Let’s ignore everything I don’t think fits in with my idea’

But I don’t think there’s any contradiction between saying ‘Doctor Jody is exactly the same person as Doctors William through to Peter C and has had all those adventures’ and ‘but the writers haven’t been consistent as to the details of those adventures’

Andrew Rilstone said...

The ordinary viewer thinks, and is intended to think, that the Brigadier lives on a planet called Earth, which is one planet in a universe full of aliens and monsters; and that the Doctor has helped him at various times; and that the Doctor travels around that universe encountering monsters and aliens. The ordinary viewer isn't surprised that the Master can meet the Daleks (as they would be surprised if one of the medics from Casualty turned up in Eastenders). And he certainly doesn't perceive it as a weird narrative dissonance, as he would if, say, Inspector Morse had to investigate the murder of Ivor the Engine.

"There is no consistency between the depiction of 2068 and 2069, ergo every Doctor Who story is a part of a separate and unrelated story world" is itself a terribly fan-centric way of looking at things.

SK said...

The ordinary viewer isn't surprised that the Master can meet the Daleks (as they would be surprised if one of the medics from Casualty turned up in Eastenders).

Actually, I don't think one of the medics from Casualty turning up in Eastenders would confuse casual viewers at all: they'd see it as an Easter Egg, a crossover, two usually-separate stories crashing into each other for a bit of fun. Same as when, like, Fox Mulder turns up in TV series that aren't The X Files.

They wouldn't see it as a sign that all these TV series are supposedly taking place inthe same fictional universe (apparently, via crossovers, you can connect the Law and Order franchise with The X Files).

And, I suggest, the casual viewer of Doctor Who sees the Master teaming up with the Daleks the same way. It's two separate story elements that don't usually belong in the same world crashing into each other for a bit of fun, and when it ends it has no larger ramifications than that it was a bit of fun.

It no more means that the Master could accidentally off-screen land his TARDIS on Skaro than it does that when I watch the detectives from Law and Order: SVU try to work out who raped a poor girl, there is a vast conspiracy to breed aliens happening just out of sight.

Andrew Rilstone said...

When a character from one soap opera turns up in another soap opera, the audience is not confused, but mildly surprised. "That's cute. I didn't expect that." But there is no problem in accepting or accommodating it. Eastenders takes place in a real city called London, in a real country called England, which also contains another city called Bristol. No reason a Bristol medic might not happen to be in London on the day of the road accident. They instantly, and without thinking about it, modify their mental picture of the story world so that it contains both "The Queen Vic" and "Holby City Hospital". They absolutely do not do any of the fannish stuff about working about chronologies and time tables and family trees. (There is nothing wrong with that kind of fannish stuff: but it has to be acknowledged as a game.)

If one of the Tellytubbies turned up in Albert Square; or if Jessica Jones was called in to solve a crime in Westeros the audience would recognize that something weird was happening: two elements of two very different story worlds were being brought together. Some kind of explanation would be expected -- it's a dream, someone is taking drugs, it's actually the landlady in a Tinkywinky Costume. You couldn't accommodate Tellytubbyland and Albert Square into one universe.

That most of Doctor Who is more like the first case and less like the second case seems entirely self evident.

It is also quite true that Doctor Who never had a Roy Thomas or a Mark Grunewald writing short-back up strips or text pages to resolve contradictions and weave narratives together.

If we are going to repeat the argument about whether anything at all exists outside of the actual text we have in front of us then I will respectfully bow out.

SK said...

That most of Doctor Who is more like the first case and less like the second case seems entirely self evident

No, Doctor Who is much more like the second case than the first, because what you've noticed is that crossovers are more striking when they take place between different genres. A crossover between two soap operas is easily accomodated. A crossover between a soap opera and a medical show, or a cop show, is more jarring but still easily papered over.

A crossover between a soap opera and a sci-fi programme on the other hand is harder — but didn't the Red Dwarf crash into Coronation Street a fewyears ago? I didn't see it but I understand it happened.

Simlarly while it might be hard to imagine Jessica Jones crossing over with Throne Games, it's easy to imagine that character interacting with characters from some cop show set in New York, or vice versa. But if that happened, the audience would not then expect that if, next episode, aliens landed a big spaceship in the New York of Jessica Jones, that that would be reflected in the cop show. Though they may share characters, they do not exist in the same universe. Events in one story do not affect the other.

And this is indeed how Doctor Who works: when, in one story, the Daleks move the whole of Earth across the galaxy, or when the Master takes control of the planet and shoots the US President on live TV, or when alien gaolers take over every TV screen in the world, it is understood that those events, unless otherwise specified, occured only in that story and have no wider repercussions: the next time the Doctor lands on Earth, people will be just as surprised to find out that there are aliens, despite the fact that they all saw them last time, because -- just like we understand that even though Jessica Jones and Blue NYPD Cops of the City can cross over, they are still separate stories, we understand that each Doctor Who story is a separate story.

But that's a distraction from the main point, which is: we've established the issue is one of genre. And Doctor Who is a multi-genre anthology series. Its stories take place in different genres. It would be just as weird as Teletubbies turning up in Albert Square to have, for example, a Sensorite waddling into a fun comedy scene where Nero is trying to rape one of the Doctor's companions.

Therefore it is entirely self-evident that Doctor Who is actually much closer to your second case than your first.

Andrew Rilstone said...


SK said...

Plus UNIT dating.

Andrew Rilstone said...

UNIT dating is Godwin of Doctor Who discussions.

SK said...

So that means I lose?

Mike Taylor said...

Instead of having to say you lose, I think we can just agree that the discussion is over :-)

SK said...

It's my fault, it's what I get for knowingly overplaying a strong hand.