Supposedly, it’s a struggle between the dark despairing Watchmen universe and the bright hope of the DC superhero universe. Of course, the old cynic in me is skeptical of the fervour in which issue 10 of Doomsday Clock has been greeted. Despite still feeling that trying to write a sequel to Watchmen was folly, there have been some engaging moments in the series so far and Gary Frank’s artwork has been faultlessly amazing. There are two more issues to go and the impression I have (which hasn’t been helped by the publication delays) has been that the narrative is a little fragmentary. I’m not sure that it’s deliberate. A great deal has been set up – not least that a dying Ozymandias is attempting to save the Watchmen universe – that has to be wrapped up in 60 or so pages. I’m not sure that a coherent, satisfying ending is possible. We’ll see.
The general interest in issue 10 has been in Dr Manhattan’s explanation that the main Earth in DC Comics is a “Metaverse” rather than simply one of many alternate worlds. In the preceding issue, there’s a scene where Manhattan shows his manipulation of the timeline to prevent Alan Scott from becoming the original Green Lantern, the Justice Society of America being formed and – consequently – the Legion of Superheroes being established in the future.
According to Manhattan, the Metaverse isn’t just a version of a timeline continuity. It’s an organism that responds to interference. It pushes back against Manhattan’s meddling and Wally West’s return is its most powerful sign of self-correction.
On arrival in the DC Universe, Manhattan observes Colman’s concern for the policeman who had beaten him and this sparks his interest. For Manhattan, the DCU is a “universe of hope” and he develops an obsession with Superman’s presence in the universe. Superman appears to be a point in the metaverse that simply has to come into existence despite attempts to prevent it from taking place. Manhattan theorises that Earth 0 is the centre of everything which Manhattan calls a “Metaverse” something incessantly altering but acting as a fixed point that “stands apart” from it and “reacts” to the multiverse.
What seems to have been revised in Manhattan’s (Geoff Johns’) conception is that the alternate Earths have not always existed. They arose out of some form of interference. For example, when Barry Allan met Jake Garrick in Flash of Two Worlds – when the Multiverse was first introduced, reconciling the Golden and Silver Ages – these two universes were subsequently promoted in DC continuity as always simultaneously existing.
Manhattan says that it is the metaversal Earth 0 that existed all along and that whenever it has been changed and updated it caused the other variations to take place. (Yes, I’m trying to get my head around this, too: Jay Garrick existed as Flash until there was an alteration in the timeline and Barry Allan is now the Flash and Jay’s history was revised. Is Johns’ suggesting that Manhattan is behind the changes in the DCU? I look forward to the forthcoming Dr Manhattan Tries to Fuck DC Continuity co-starring Ambush Bug as Manhattan’s sidekick).
Backmatter material, extra-narrative texts, intrudes into Doomsday Clock #10 through Manhattan’s interaction with the Hollywood actor, Carver Colman, who plays the role of detective Nathaniel Dusk, a 1980s DC comic book detective. This isn’t done in the manner of the parallel storytelling of the Tales of the Black Freighter from Watchmen. It’s less deftly executed and draws attention to itself to the detriment of the main narrative. (Interestingly, if we take Manhattan’s version of the Metaverse straight, then Nathaniel Dusk has been transformed from comic to movie character in a similar way that Jay Garrick featured in comics before the Flash of Two Worlds in 1961.) An attempt to replicate Alan Moore’s approach to Watchmen is pastiche.
What’s intrigued me most is the way in which DC fandom has responded to Geoff Johns’ conception of the Metaverse as something extraordinarily original. I wonder whether or not Johns has been reading Moore’s run on Supreme?
A violent Superman-analogue, Supreme was created by Rob Liefeld for Image Comics in the 1990s. Alan Moore signed on as writer for a turbulent couple of years – though the run is stunningly good. In the first few pages of #41 (August 1996), Moore establishes the metafictional nature of the superhero: Supreme encounters other versions of himself (including Squeak the Supermouse) who take him to a meta-hub of their existence called The Supremacy. This dimension is populated by every possible variation of Supreme who had appeared in the comic but had subsequently been updated.
Supreme learns that he is simply the latest version of an ongoing archetype. He meets Original Supreme, the first, and is told an origin story where Original recounts that – in 1941 – he found himself “written out” into a void where all subsequent revisions of Supreme are relocated and he constructed The Supremacy “for Supremes who’d been displaced in the unfathomable periodic changes in space-time we call revisions!” There’s a period called “The Flickering” that causes secondary variant Supremes (the minor character redesigns that seem to happen) before a new revision (“It’s as if the universe is desperately trying different variations to get things right, before it gives up and starts again!” we’re told). A egg-headed future version of Supreme – who seems to have the same demeanour as Dr Manhattan – explains that what happens to the universe is that there is a “rippling” of a constantly-revising reality and – this is where I’d argue Geoff Johns is drawing from – a self-modifying reality:
From Moore’s second issue (#42) there are flashbacks to Supreme’s origin (in this revision) told in a faux-retro style (with yellowed paper). These flashbacks are used as a descant on the main narrative in same manner that Johns uses Dr Manhattan’s encounters with Carver Colman. Where Watchmen takes a gritty, real-world approach to superheroes, Moore’s Supreme explores the disparity between current superhero comics and a nostalgic longing for a supposedly more innocent past. It’s delicately handled and wonderful to read (especially as a history of American comic books).
Where Johns uses Doomsday Clock to foreground the positive, hopeful nature of the DC superhero universe (which is, after-all what he tried to course-correct the New 52 reboot with Rebirth, where he first showed that Manhattan was interfering), Moore used Supreme to examine the meta-history of superhero comics in a joyful, often parodic fashion that was able to present how changing tastes and styled affect them. I’m not sure why comics fans haven’t drawn links between Supreme and Doomsday Clock. Maybe it’s not well-known any more beyond hardcore Alan Moore buffs who definitely aren’t reading Doomsday Clock.
So, maybe the real clash isn’t between the Watchmen universe and the DCU but between Johns’ Metaverse and Moore’s Supremacy.