A thousand years in the future, Dr Manhattan is souvenir hunting.
In the present day, the heroes are leaving Earth and heading into the unknown.
In Washington DC, Superman lies near death.
In Gotham City, Batman is desperate to contact his friends.
And Ronnie Raymond is taken to the past for a revelation…
… now that’s a shocker. Professor Stein conspired to use the metagene-carrying Ronnie Raymond to become Firestorm, in order to spy on metahumans for the US government? As Everything You Thought You Knew Was Wrong retcons go, that’s Anatomy Lesson level.
I don’t want it to be true. I followed the original Firestorm from his first house ad to his debut issue through cancellation, his Flash back-up, the return to his own book, Fury of Firestorm, membership of the JLA, even the elemental nonsense. For the best part of that journey, in both senses, kindly Martin Stein was Ronnie’s valued friend and partner. For a long time, we saw Martin black out when Ronnie instigated the Firestorm transformation and Professor Stein’s thoughts indicated he had no idea that he was a part-time superhero. So unless the nuclear explosion that triggered the creation of the Nuclear Man also wiped his memory, and he left no notes, or failsafes, I’m not buying it. Happily, Ronnie is also reluctant to turn on his friend – I’m calling it a Dr Manhattan fakeout, he’s messing with the head of ‘one of the most powerful metahumans I have encountered on this Earth’.
The first page is fascinating, implying that in stopping Alan Scott from ever becoming the Golden Age Green Lantern he nipped in the bud a thousand-year heroic legacy… no GL means no Justice Society of America to inspire the Justice League of America and so on, right through to the 31st century, when the Legion of Super-Heroes never comes to be. It also seems that a lack of metahuman teams leads to the Earth ceasing to exist, which makes sense given that Alan Scott’s heroic heirs save reality every other month.
Dr Manhattan’s peculiar relationship with time, though. means he can still be confronted by pretty much every superhero on Earth in what passes for his present, from such big names as the Flash to little-known Dial H for Hero conjuration Human Starfish via a Blue She-Devil. The encounter goes as you might expect – some heroes trying reasoned conversation, others shooting first, and finally, a massive explosion as the most appropriate of Justice Leaguers faces Dr Manhattan.
The idea of a ‘tachyon fog’ preventing even Dr Manhattan from seeing the past and future will be familiar to Legion of Super-Heroes fans… Dr Manhattan is a ‘magic is simply science’ guy and this is likely his way of describing the Time Trapper’s Iron Curtain of Time. Yes, I know the book traces the source to the big fight in Moscow, but this is big-time Legion fan Geoff Johns writing! I don’t know whether this time the Time Trapper is Glorith, or Cosmic Boy, or Cheeks the Toy Wonder, but I strongly suspect an all-powerful being in a purple cloak is taking an interest in the shifting realities of the DC Universe.
Superman being taken off the board makes sense – Dr Manhattan has seen a moment in which the Man of Steel destroys him. I don’t, though, understand why Batman has been plot-shifted into staying on Earth; my best guess is that he’s going to link up with legacy Rorschach, who appears for just a couple of panels and in no fit state to help anyone out, again.
Lex Luthor shows up by Superman’s bedside and reveals that it was he who sent Lois Lane film of the never-existed Justice Society in wartime action… he’s smart enough to have some kind of multiversal viewer to capture time-lost moments. I’d be quite happy were Lex to work together with Superman to save the day, reviving a favourite Silver and Bronze Age trope.
Talking of the JSA never having existed, we still have legacy heroine Stargirl in here, engaging in silent, cross-reality headscratching with the hero she knew as Captain Marvel – and dated in his other ID when they were both in a modern version of the JSA.
While the move away from the Ozymandius plotline that’s dominated Doomsday Clock was a surprise, I was ready for a big wodge of action involving the heroes of the DC Universe, and having the characters originally published by Charlton, on whom the Watchmen were based, at the forefront makes fine poetic sense. Basically, Geoff Johns, despite the worst John Constantine dialogue ever, entertained me hugely with this time. I’m confident he has a Paul Levitz-style chart of where things are going and how everything ties together and that it will play out nicely over the concluding three issues. Where the DCU will wind up after that, I have no idea, but as it will certainly put the JSA and LSH back into play, I’ll be happy.
Gary Frank’s artwork, coloured by Brad Anderson, is a treat as ever, blending the feel of Dave Gibbons’ Watchmen with his own strong stylings in crisp, colourful panels that build on Johns’ words. Seeing him tackle characters he’s not drawn previously, such as Firehawk and the Doom Patrol, is an extra treat. The different interiors of the super groups’ spaceships are a hoot… of course the Doom Patrol would have walls of wood, it’s probably Danny the Street putting the ‘spa’ in ‘spaceship’. And that opening – lost Legionnaire Ferro Lad’s bloodstained flight ring recalling the Comedian’s smiley badge – is well-executed. Kudos, too, to Rob Leigh for his always excellent lettering, and Amie Brockway-Metcalf for a well-designed text page backing up the Firestorm origin retcon.
The alternate cover – like the main, by Frank and Anderson – is terrific.
Will next issue bring the cosmic scale conflict and the urban tale together? It has to happen soon, but this is a difficult series to anticipate in terms of story turns. Not even Dr Manhattan know what’s going to happen anymore.