Wednesday, November 18, 2020

Doomsday Clock (2017-2019)

Watchmen does to '60s Marvel Comics what Fritz the Cat did to funny animals twenty years earlier, but with pretentious transitions and leuprolide acetate. I'm morally opposed to a corporation exploiting works against the creator & owner's wishes because of an unprecedentedly aggressive anti-reversion strategy. But also, I'm specifically opposed to a bunch of pale grimdark Charlton Action Heroes analogs being integrated into the DC Universe. I think a bunch of self-conscious fanboys elevated Watchmen to "art" status back in the '80s to validate their fixations, but it's never been a favorite of mine, and arguably did more harm than good for the medium. Where were all the 'gaters when Rorschach was cramming his politics into childhood morality plays/power fantasies? Oh yeah, it was okay because their politics are Rorschach's. You know, the weird crazy stinky ugly homicidal son of a dirty whore who commits suicide by super-hero. Their guy.

So, I didn't read Doomsday Clock, but I have skimmed the heck out of it for a thought experiment. Most online resources are less than clearly written, and I think we can be a bit more concise than a three hour explainer video. Most of the early issues are very grounded in the Watchmen continuity, which is one of my problems with the book. I don't want to spend a third of a series on a Watchmen sequel that then transitions into a typical DC event series, and I doubt people in the market for a Watchmen continuation want to spend a third of the series on an Ostrander-period Firestorm: The Nuclear Man arc. I'm going to really speed through the early stuff.

So the grand scheme that ends Watchmen fails, and about half a decade later (1992), Adrian Veidt is ruined. He was exposed by the Walter Kovacs diary, with his businesses overrun by angry mobs. I'd argue that unsubstantiated ramblings from a criminal nutjob wouldn't have that level of impact, but then 2020 happened. A new incarnation of Rorschach breaks into a prison to release grim n' gritty analogues of the old Charlton villains Punch and Jewelee. Marionette & The Mime have enhanced killing-people abilities, and a young son that was taken from them after being born behind bars. Ozymandias is supposedly dying from a brain tumor, which he uses to convince Rorschach II to help him with a new global salvation plan involving Earth DC, and the quartet escape Earth-Sad-Bastard just before the nuclear war starts.

Speaking of their destination, the not-so-New 52 is living through its own retread of the immediate Post-Crisis deconstructionist "realism," especially John Ostrander-associated material like Legends. For the past six months, "The Supermen Theory" has plagued the popular consciousness, explaining the abundance of metahumans in the U.S.A. as the result of secret government experimentation inspired by the debut of Superman. It was first postulated by Dr. Helga Jace of the European nation Markovia from period The Outsiders comics. Metamorpho and Man-Bat were supposedly products of this Department of Metahuman Affairs project, which makes me groan because Rex Mason dates back to 1965, while the D.M.A. apparently was introduced 31 years later in a half-dozen The Power of Shazam! issues that barely anyone read. I realize we're nearly a quarter-century out from that, but the Department wasn't popularized until Allan Heinberg's brief Wonder Woman run in 2006, which to my old ass was five minutes ago. DC had given a big push to the D.E.O. back in the late '90s, and I vastly preferred them to the seemingly redundant D.M.A., if only for having better alphabet soup letters for my spoon. Anyway, who cares, Bendis probably bloweded them both up in his Leviathan story.

I think most people in the U.S. would be going "U!S!A!" over that, and the rest of the world would sigh and figure "that tracks," but instead its treated as a new "nuclear winter" type existential threat that casts a pall over all of increasingly panicky human life. Seeking metahuman research, LexCorp buys out Kord Industries (Blue Beetle,) Genetech (Mike Baron Flash comics) and the Sunderland Corporation (Swamp Thing,) while Wayne Enterprises muddles through ill-considered acquisitions of Dayton Labs (Mento) and Stagg Industries (Metamorpho.) Aside from filling out back matter to mirror that of Watchmen, these details don't amount to much. I guess it sets up that Lex Luthor has been tracking temporal anomalies for years, including a vast collection of duplicates of that picture of Jon Osterman and Janey Slater that Doctor Manhattan drops everywhere across space and time because he doesn't wear pants. He blue himself before becoming an always-nude.

Because layers, there's a side story where Johnny Thunder sneaks out of a retirement home, finds Alan Scott's original Green Lantern battery, and meets up with Rorschach and Saturn Girl. I'm going to assume at least a bachelors degree in DCology among my readership, because I'm not going to grind everything to a halt to explain what a Legionnaire is. They usually come in threes, though-- minimum. Dr. Manhattan brings The Comedian back from the dead for reasons, which include trying to kill anyone on DC Earth from Watchmen Earth that he can find. Batman and the Joker do stuff, while Lex Luthor stokes anti-metahuman fear, as he is wont to do. As part of a slavish devotion to the structure of Watchmen, the comic-within-a-comic Tales of the Black Freighter is now the mystery of the murder of golden age of Hollywood actor Carver Colman, who played Nathaniel Dusk. Spoiler, his success hinged on a friendship with Dr. Manhattan, and he was killed by his own estranged mother in the '50s after pushing back against her blackmail scheme regarding his sexual preferences. Which would be multiple-choice answer "D." No wonder he's so fond of Dr. Manhattan. His name starts with a capitol "D."

So the new Rorschach is the son of the chubby African-American psychiatrist that treated the original Rorschach in Watchmen. The kid either was manipulated into believing his dad and Rorschach were friends, and also he's a lifelong cray-cray who manages to develop the same vocal mannerisms as Walter Kovacs. With his parents dead, he's institutionalized, gets befriended inside by Mothman, and outside following Mothman's death by Ozymandias.

Issue #5 is where the DC stuff really starts to take over the narrative. Hawk & Dove get busted in Saint Petersburg after a hostage situation goes south. Russia closes its borders and forms a new version of the People's Heroes, led by their most powerful metahuman, Pozhar. The Russians also ally with Markovia. Firestorm denies rumors that he was created by the same secret program Lady Clayface and Killer Frost claim to be products of. King Kobra was making big moves in the Middle East. Black Adam pushes back against his terrorism, and declares Kahndaq a safe haven for all metahumans. The Creeper is an early recruit, maybe, since he's also a double agent created by the project. There's a multi-page mock Newsweek magazine article where the writer groups together various international teams from his own DK DC Comics Encyclopedia for his homebrew Mayfair RPG campaign or whatever. I resemble this remark. I have already pasted these pages into a single .jpg for ease of reference for my own fanboy crap.

There's a meeting of villainous entries from Who's Who in a Gotham City subway that serves as the backdrop for the Marionette & Mime origin story (don't care.) The Comedian shoots Typhoon in the face, and backmatter reveals that he and Moonbow were both undercover agents for the Department of Metahuman Affairs. You can really see the influence Steve Dillon had on Gary Frank's art here, both from the exploding face and that face's having resembled The Saint of Killers. Ozymandias cloned a new fantasy cat that was part Doctor Manhattan so that they could find Dr. Manhattan so that he could do a half-issue long exposition dump so that Geoff Johns could sub-divide the team and foreshadow a bleak conclusion. *Deep sucking recovery breath* Firestorm gets into a fight with the People's Heroes and supposedly accidentally turns a crowd of people into glass statues. Lois Lane gets a thumbnail drive featuring newsreel footage of the Justice Society of America, which you may have forgotten don't exist on Earth... 0? Prime? K.I.S.S., in the New 52/Rebirth continuity. In a secret location, with all his might, Firestorm manages to revert one boy to normal. Superman backs him up on a return to Russia to save the rest, but Vladimir Putin gets heavy-handed (redundant?) and the glass people all get shattered in the ensuing skirmish.

Martian Manhunter finally joins the narrative in issue #9, but there's time-jumping and tension-building that I'm just going to cut through. Plus, it's dumb, and we don't feed dumb. That's Facebook's job. Somehow, Ozymandias got his cloned Bubastis-Manhattan pet (lost me at "trained cat") to turn all those Russian people to glass and to blow them up and to leave an energy signature to implicate Dr. Manhattan (it's a double-frame-job with Firepatsy) . So all of the Silver Age DC heroes (Rebirth editions) take spaceships to Mars to confront Manhattan. 100% attendance. Even the Charlton Action Heroes, in pretty much their original costumes. Not contrived at all. At. All.

"Is there a plan, J'Onn?" "We make initial contact, Ralph. We see what he wants. Hello. My name is J'Onn J'Onzz. Who are you? Where do you come from? What are you doing on Mars?" Guy Gardner goes full Guy Gardner on the naked blue guy, aided by the Mature Readers advisory that allows him to use for-real foul language, and J'Onn also reverts to the JLI days by barking, "Guy, that's enough. From your mind, I can see that you're confused." Yeah, the cat-astrophe in Russia sent all these tachyons from Earth to Mars, screwing with weather patterns and Manhattan's Memento-vision and stuff. Then Johns folds Secret Wars II into a single issue with the heroes seemingly eradicating Manhattan but he brushes them off and does a Japanese freeze-time porno with them for reasons. Oh, and in the absence of Silk Spectre, rapes Ronnie Raymond's childhood by revealing Dr. Martin Stein had founded the Department of Metahuman Affairs and in the absence of his own metagene, intentionally triggered his surrogate son's in the nuclear incident that created Firestorm. Plus an off-screen but unmistakably petty President Trump throws Superman to the wolves/Russians/outraged public. That will age painfully.

The big reveal is that Doctor Manhattan stumbled upon the DC Universe, became intrigued by its intrinsic optimism, and recognized that the central figure in the entire continuum is Superman. Besides the DC Multiverse, there's also "The Metaverse," which is basically the core continuity of the comics line that influences all of the offshoots. When people like the Anti-Monitor and Extant/Parallax muck with the space-time continuum, it moves up Superman's debut from 1938 to 1950-something to 1986 and so on. Superman's perpetual displacement in time has a butterfly effect that ripples throughout the multiverse so that all realities reflect the changing circumstances of the Superman in the current continuity on the Earth. So Doctor Manhattan tests this cascade effect by screwing with the circumstances surrounding Superman in each era, for instance moving Alan Scott's power battery out of reach so that he dies in the train wreck that was his origin story (literally, not figuratively.) Dominoes fall and typically the universe gets darker, until Superman resurfaces and pushes things back to the good. Even as this story's Saturn Girl and Johnny Thunder dry up and blow away, representing the collapse of Superman's past and future, they shall return in new incarnations once Superman is restored later in the timeline.

Last two issues folks-- almost done. Because of the tachyon smog caused by the Russian explosion, Doctor Manhattan has a final lingering vision of meeting and getting punched out by Superman. This event supposedly either kills Manhattan or the universe itself. Ozymandias' master b-plan is that Superman won't kill Manhattan, but instead inspire him to also be a "Man of Action" who will go back and save the Watchmen-Earth instead of just letting his wiener float in the breeze of human nuclear extinction. Johns doesn't know what to do with Wonder Woman, so she's mostly M.I.A. before being kidnapped by Themyscira so that she doesn't get killed by Black Adam and the metahuman army of Kahndaq once they march against the U.N. Assembly and White House. Batman is running around trying to stop the DC U.S. from launching nukes. All of the other major DC heroes are still on Mars or wiped from continuity. Superman stands alone against the greater world's metahumans looking to arrest him for the Russia debacle. Manhattan shows up. Superman winds up the punch...

...and hits Pozhar, who was coming up from Manhattan's exposed rear. No single image better exemplifies the cognitive dissonance/wrongheadedness of this entire event than Superman brushing past Doctor Dingaling to pop a minor Cold War-era alternate Firestorm. Johns is so on-the-nose as to have a Black Rorschach in the midst of an existential crisis over the collapse of his paranoid far-right fantasies against the backdrop of riots threatening a new Civil War getting battered by a red-capped MAGA cracker. It's entirely possible that this was a one image refutation of everything Watchmen represented, or a summation of Johns' cluelessness that he built his entire DC career on the Alan Moore deconstructionist aesthetic. Choose Your Own Adventure.

The insufferably smug Ozymandias gets his wish, Doctor Manhattan declares his fandom, and restores the Pre-Flashpoint paradigm. The Post-Crisis Justice Society of America returns, while the rebooted Bendis/Sook Legion of Super-Heroes also show up, both backing Superman against... international heroes? Yay xenophobia? Also, the Multiverse realigns again to better match the Pre-Crisis conception, so I guess the Earth-One JSA is back to being the Earth-Two one, and the New 52 Earth-2 one never was? Gen-X gets an Earth-1985, and there's even an Earth-52, so the Earth-2 JSA and priest collar battlesuit Superman are saved! Johns does that thing where he turns the closing pages of a book into a teaser trailer for future storylines, except DC just had another major round of layoffs and 5G isn't happening and Johns & Frank have bolted for a creator-owned project at Image and there's a really good chance AT&T is planning to shutter the comics line entirely.

In the more gooder post-Rebirth revised continuity, Nathaniel Dusk actor Carver Colman was not murdered, and instead became a trailblazing "out" gay performer and LGBTQ+ activist. It's all very Ryan Murphy. Lex Luthor "kills" The Comedian by restoring him to the point in time he was snatched from-- mid-fall in Watchmen #1. I think Mime & Marionette stay on DC Earth to raise their newborn daughter. Doctor Manhattan "dies" to restore Watchmen-Earth, but he invests his remaining essence into Mime & Marionette's son and sets him up to be adopted by Night Owl and Silk Spectre. Both Ozymandias and Martin Stein go to prison on their respective Earths. A new Global Guardians line-up is teased.

I thought this would be shorter. You?

Friday, November 13, 2020

2019 A-Mortal convention jam sketch by Robert Henry

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I thought this A-Mortal piece would be a perfect Halloween post, but couldn't find a scan until after the holiday. Oh well. I guess Friday the 13th will do as a theme in a pinch. At least this one hasn't been sitting in a queue for half a decade-- just for long enough that I can't remember whether this was from Comicpalooza, North Texas Comic Book Show, or Other. I'm not familar with Robert Henry, but he was sitting next to Tim Vigil at a con while I was getting one of my personal character creations drawn. I liked Mr. Henry's book and offered him a selection of references to contribute to one of my unfinished jams. As such, his layout was dictated by available space, but I think he did a good job working within those restrictions. It's one of if not the first of the jams I started back in 2014, but I think I can maybe squeeze one more piece in before finally putting the whole thing up here. Won't happen this year, obviously...

Friday, November 6, 2020

2016 Tybalt Bak'sar Amazing Houston Comic Con Commission by Brad Garneau

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I've often mentioned my regrets over holding artists' work "hostage" to my severe downturn in blogging from daily to, in some cases, not even annually. I've stepped up a bit since this blog's thirteenth anniversary in September, though noticeably drifting from a weekdaily schedule that month to weekly-ish in October. This has been one of the longest weeks in the longest year in recorded human history, so I wanted to go out on a high note by releasing a piece I've saved far too long for a special occasion.

If I recall correctly, Brad Garneau started out in gaming before going into commissioned art with a specialty in painting. I really liked his work when I first saw it in 2015, but I'm not in a painting patron price bracket. Thankfully, he also does line art commissions, with a style recalling the likes of Angel Medina and Sam Kieth. He contributed The Vixen to a jam that was completed in 2017 (one of the few, in fact) that I'm only just now realizing as I type this that I've yet to publish. God, I suck.

Anyway, I don't get a lot of color pieces, and I wanted this one to get showcased at a time when it would get a lot of eyes... so instead I sit on it for four years after my traffic has dwindled to double digits from inactivity. Sigh. The toothpaste is out of the tube. Nothing to do now but brush. If you're interested in the subject, Tybalt Bak'sar, he has a profile page in the Vile Menagerie (now free of Photobucket branding), as well as a battle against The Cheetah...

Brad Garneau