For this final installment of our Watchmen Watch specials, we are finally analyzing The Button and its implications, namely the upcoming Doomsday Clock. In true Dr. Manhattan style, we will be doing this in reverse chronology, starting with The Flash #22 and going back to Batman #21. Along the journey, we will go even further back in DC Comics history in order to better understand who are the players in Rebirth. Before we start our recap and analysis though let us understand exactly what is the Doomsday Clock.
Besides being the name of the event which will finally shine light onto Rebirth’s mysteries – and an acronym for DC -, the Doomsday Clock is a theoretical measurement of how close the world is to global catastrophe. In this metaphorical clock, midnight represents the destruction of our planet by humanity itself. From the official Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, the organization responsible for the clock, “The Doomsday Clock is an internationally recognized design that conveys how close we are to destroying our civilization with dangerous technologies of our own making.”
When Alan Moore wrote The Watchmen, the clock was marking two minutes to midnight. A countdown to midnight was featured at the end of every issue, going from 11 to 0 minutes to midnight, the end of the world. Now, for the last two years, the clock is once again at its latest time: two and a half minutes to midnight.
It is no coincidence that Geoff Johns chose this as the name for the title that will feature Dr. Manhattan facing Superman. Also, this is the year that the clock is set closer to midnight ever since the early 80’s, the time when The Watchmen was written. Writing in a moment of worldwide crisis and disbelief in the establishment, Johns is not hiding the political implications of his tale. In the interview he gave to Blastr he has declared that:
“Telling a story of two extremes, and exploring what our collective zeitgeist states through these characters is what we are doing. We think it’s important … The truth is, if the world and the country didn’t go a certain way, I don’t know that we would be telling this story. For us, the story would not exist if the last year didn’t unfold the way it did, and the rise of extremism wasn’t so palpable.”
For those who are not familiar with the concept of zeitgeist, it is a term from Hegelian philosophy meaning “the spirit of time”. It means that every society has a way of thinking and acting according to its time, and this will be reflected in the art produced by said society. Watchmen is a product of the Cold War, it reflects the tension lived by people at that moment, the eternal will-they-wont-they uncertainty of the 80’s. What Johns is aiming at is to produce a tale that will reflect the extremes that are inherent to our time, reflecting our own zeitgeist. For this, he will be using Superman and Dr. Manhattan to represent opposite world views.
Witty criticism of world politics and satire can be expected considering the quote chosen to end The Button.
This comes from Strindberg’s The Red Room. The novel tells the tale of Arvid Falk, a man who becomes a journalist and, faced with the hypocrisy of the world – especially politics – takes refuge in meetings with fellow bohemians in a dining room called The Red Room. I wouldn’t bet on it being coincidence that Arvid and Clark share a profession.
Another quote with political connotations in the narration of the scene where Dr. Manhattan reaches down and fetches the button from the ground. We should all have in mind his exile in Mars. A Red Room, a red planet. We have already analyzed the blue and red symbology currently being established in DC in our previous installment, A Study in Scarlet and Blue.
This is one of the most quoted excerpts from Watchmen and it reflects Dr. Manhattans pessimistic view of the world. Bear in mind that this was a man being used as both a weapon and propaganda by his government. He was fully aware of what was being made of him, and he decided to leave.
Before that, The Button gives us the striking image of Bruce Wayne considering his father’s advice not to continue being Batman. He stares at the signal in thought, remembering Thomas’ words that it was not worth it throwing his life away because of him and Martha. This is a rare occurrence in Batman comics, to have Bruce facing the fact that his grief is not enough reason for his vigilantism.
This is not to say that he would quit. Bruce has more reasons to be the Batman than just his guilt, and Tom King made sure the reader knew that before going into The Button. In the final issue of “I Am Bane”, Bruce has an imagined conversation with his mother, by the end of which he states that his life choices are not about war or victory, or his parents, but about helping others.
This is more important than what it seems at first considering what the DC Universe is headed towards. In a dual fight between a pessimism and optimism, Batman would be the wild card. He has never been and never will be on the bright and shiny side of the DC Universe. To establish in current continuity that the reason for Bruce to become Batman is altruism is to set foot on the optimistic side. Therefore, we should expect Batman to be on Superman’s side when the time some for him to face Dr. Manhattan in the Doomsday Clock.
Moving back, we have Jay Garrick’s first Rebirth appearance as he saves Barry and Bruce from being stuck in the speed force. He seems to also be trapped in it as he begs Barry to remember him. For those who are not familiar with him, Jay is the original Flash and a member of the Justice Society of America. The first time Jay and Barry met was back in 1961 in the one-shot “Flash of Two Worlds”. This was the storyline responsible for planting the seed of what later became DC’s multiverse, establishing Earth-Two as the universe where the Golden Age heroes lived in. It is from this point on that DC started creating multiple earths to put the alternate versions of characters in, and it is what ultimately led to Crisis on Infinite Earths, when DC’s multiverse got destroyed so that there would be once again only one earth.
Right before that, Eobard Thawne, the Reverse Flash, runs into his death. He passes through Barry and Bruce as they escape the crumbling Flashpoint reality, claiming to know who is behind the power of the Button.
The involvement of Eobard in The Button is a little bit of a telling since his story has always involved time – and clocks. He is a time-traveling hero from the 25th century, and his first appearance was in Flash #139. As the story went, a time capsule is sent from Barry Allen’s time to the 25th century, containing one of his costumes and an atomic clock among other objects. The atomic clock turned into an atomic bomb because of the strain caused by traveling through time, forcing Barry to follow it on his cosmic treadmill to stop it from exploding in the middle of the city.
An atomic clock, an atomic bomb. They couldn’t be more reminiscent of The Watchmen even if they tried.
Moving forward in DC’s history and a bit further backward in The Button, we reach the destruction of the Flashpoint reality.
Flashpoint is an alternate reality that came to existence when Barry Allen went back in time to stop Reverse Flash from killing his mother, causing a time paradox. By the end of the storyline, when Barry goes back into the speed force to try and reverse the butterfly effect caused by himself, he comes across three different, coexisting timelines: Wildstorm, Vertigo, and DC. Pandora, the cursed immortal who got killed in Rebirth, tells him that the three universes should be merged in order to face an impending threat.
Pandora is not an uncommon myth to be used both as fictional character and metaphor, and I’m not affirming that the Watchmen involvement has been planned ever since Flashpoint, but I’d like to once again mention the 2017 Doomsday Clock Statement by the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists.
It is said that Eugene Rabinowitch, the first editor of the Bulletin, “noted that one of the purposes of the Bulletin was to respond and offer solutions to the ‘Pandora’s box of modern science,’ recognizing the speed at which technological advancement was occurring, and the demanding questions it would present.”
But before Batman and Flash get to the Flashpoint reality they get glimpses of alternate timelines of their own earth while traveling through the time stream.
Those are scenes from two of DC’s crises. The first from Identity Crisis and the second from Crisis on Infinite Earths. Some things have to be clarified though, and we will start with Identity Crisis.
In Identity Crisis’ time, the League formation is not the same as the picture being shown on the panels. Barry Allen is dead following the events of Crisis on Infinite Earths, Hal Jordan is the Specter at the time, the Green Lantern being Kyle Rayner. The scene taking place is a flashback. This is Oliver (Green Arrow) telling Wally West (The Flash) what happened the night Leaguers decided to mindwipe Batman. It happened right after Zatanna wiped out the mind of Dr. Light following his attack on Sue Dibny. Batman returns to the Watchtower and catches them red-handed. There are seven members of the League involved in this: Hawkman, Black Canary, Green Arrow, Green Lantern (Hal Jordan), The Flash (Barry Allen), The Atom (Ray Palmer) and Zatanna herself. They vote and decide to erase those last minutes from Bruce’s mind.
For those following Detective Comics, this story might seem a bit familiar. Recently, Ra’s al Ghul has revealed that he has mindwiped Batman three times in the past, and by the end of the arc Bruce declares that he will need magic as a weapon. The magic will be coming in the shape of Zatanna, who will be appearing in the following story arc.
As for the Crisis on Infinite Earths sequence, we have a scene from the beginning of the story, showing a disintegrating Flash. To understand it, we have to first consider the ending of Crisis, when Barry sacrifices himself to save the world, running around the Anti Monitor’s cannon to destroy it. He runs so fast, though, that he disintegrates – or rather, gets pulled into the Speed Force.
This disintegrating Flash then appears to Bruce – back in the beginning of the storyline – to warn him about the death of the world, much similar to Wally West’s warning in DC Rebirth.
Back to The Button, Reverse Flash appears in the Batcave after the button reacts with Psycho-Pirate’s mask. Bruce has the mask because he has been using Psycho-Pirate’s abilities to treat Gotham Girl.
Back in the “I Am Suicide” arc, Batman recruits a bunch of criminals to help him kidnap Psycho-Pirate, who is hidden in Santa Prisca with Bane. If you remember the line-up of villains there was a little disconnected piece that escaped most people: Punch and Jewlee. A lot of people just assumed those two were crazy underground Batman foes, but they are not exactly part of his rogues gallery. Those two rogues actually belong in Nightshade and Captain Atom’s roster, both Charlton Comics characters. For more on the relation between those characters and Rebirth, check the second installment of The Watchmen Watch.
Psycho-Pirate is also not exactly in Batman’s rogues gallery. He was originally a villain in Doctor Fate and Hourman stories with empathic powers, that is, the power to control one’s emotions. Most important, though, is the fact that back in the aftermath of Crisis on Infinite Earths he was one of the very few characters to remember the original timeline. By the end of it, he is driven mad by his knowledge and is shown in a padded room, strapped in a straight jacket, much like what has been happening to Saturn Girl, as we are shown in The Button.
The similarities don’t end there. Imra Ardeen, Saturn Girl, is an alien telepath and founding member of the Legion of Superheroes. She got stranded in the past in catatonic state in post Zero Hour continuity. This lesser known event from 1994 was responsible for giving the Legion of Superheroes its first reboot ever since it had been conceived in 1950. Being from the 31st century, her being stranded in the past would mean she is stranded in our present. She is awoken by Dr. Psycho, another telepath.
Another character who has been having trouble with his memories is Johnny Thunder, a founding member of the Justice Society of America.
Johnny Thunder, or Johnny Thunderbolt, is a man who can call upon the genie Yz, the Thunderbolt, by saying the words CEI-U, pronounced say you. The Thunderbolt gives him extreme luck with anything he does.
The JSA originally operated out of Gotham City, its original members being the Flash (Jay Garrick), Green Lantern (Alan Scott), Hawkman, Sandman (Wesley Dodds), the Spectre (Jim Corrigan), Doctor Fate (Kent Nelson), Hourman, Atom (Al Pratt), Johnny Thunderbolt, Doctor Mid-Nite (Charles McNider), Starman (Ted Knight), Mister Terrific, Wildcat, Black Canary (Dinah Drake), and Wonder Woman (Earth 2). Later Robin (Dick Grayson of Earth 2), Red Tornado (John Smith), Star Spangled Kid, Power Girl (Kara Zor-El), and Huntress (Helena Wayne) would join the team.
This formation remained until Crisis on Infinite Earths, when the JSA was established as the predecessors of the JLA as they were now sharing the same universe. Some of the members, including Johnny Thunder, were relegated to a limbo dimension.
And with Johnny Thunder we finish this crazy run that was The Watchmen Watch. I hope this was enlightening, especially to those who only follow the Batman related titles. I can say that I have a million wild guesses from the research done for this series of editorials, but there are also some safe guesses to be made. Firstly, the Multiverse will surely be returning full force after some point in Rebirth, probably Doomsday Clock, and I would say the characters will be heavily influenced by their Golden and Silver Age iterations. Also, I can’t help but believe that the Charlton Comics characters will be playing a major role in the Doomsday Clock. Going into speculative waters, I would dare say that Mr. Oz is putting together a team that will be joining either the Legion or the JSA, but that is wild guessing.
To conclude, I would like to invite you to share your theories with us, be it on social media or the comments section. I guarantee that The Batman Universe team will be interested in hearing them.