Watchmen is an unassailable classic, hailed for both its ability to deconstruct the entire superhero genre and for giving its characters such original traits and tics. And while it’s certainly not required knowledge in order to appreciate Watchmen in all its glory, it’s worth noting that all of the book’s key characters were adapted from relatively obscure heroes who, at the time, hadn’t been published in years. By 1983, DC Comics had acquired the defunct Charlton Comics library of characters, and Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ initial intention was to use these heroes to tell the story of Watchmen. Rorschach was Steve Ditko’s The Question, Nite Owl was Blue Beetle, Dr. Manhattan was Captain Atom, the Comedian was The Peacemaker, etc. In fact, the original pitch for Watchmen was called “Who Killed the Peacemaker?”
So with Doomsday Clock, the first sequel to Watchmen, the creative team of Geoff Johns and Gary Frank continued the tradition of mining the Charlton library to introduce new characters. “One thing that I thought Alan and Dave did so beautifully was they took these echoes of Charlton characters and one of the things that frees Gary and I up to do the story is to introduce new characters,” Geoff Johns told reporters at New York Comic Con.
Two of the new characters in question are a pair of escaped supervillains called the Mime and the Marionette. And just like all the other key players in the Watchmen universe, they come from the pages of old Charlton Comics.
“There are these old Charlton characters called Punch and Jewelee that kind of became the inspiration, just a touch of inspiration, just like Question was for Rorschach,” Johns said. “They only appeared in one comic, Captain Atom #85, which I have a copy of now. They’re very different characters but there’s an echo there and I thought it kept consistency with the rules they established. The rules they established, storytelling wise and just universe wise are something that we really are trying to maintain.”
These aren’t throwaway characters, though. “Some of my favorite characters, like Mime and Marionette, are a blast to write just because they’re so out of their minds,” Johns said. “But I think also you’ll learn why they’re there, what the story is with their son, who Marionette when they were arrested, she was pregnant and delivered their child in prison.”
Captain Atom #85 introduced Punch and Jewlee, two crooks who use high tech (possibly alien) devices to get their way. Like so many Charlton Comics of the era, “The Strings of Punch and Jewelee” has awesome Steve Ditko artwork. Punch has boots that allow him to walk on air and “sting strings” that are like electrified lassos, while Jewelee has a hypnotic gem that gives her mind control powers. These are certainly different from what the Mime and Marionette are capable of, but as Johns says, you can see the “echoes” of the original characters.
The actual Punch and Jewelee duo was also revived recently in the pages of Tom King and Mikel Janin’s Batman. During the “I am Suicide” arc, which saw Batman leading his very own Suicide Squad-style team to Santa Prisca to recover the Psycho-Pirate from Bane (it’s a long story), Punch and Jewelee were recruited by the Dark Knight for an infiltration mission deep into the supervillain’s base of operations. The mission is a resounding success, and the duo make it out alive. We’ve not seen them since that story, but perhaps their analogs in Doomsday Clock mean DC has bigger plans for the original duo of maniacs as well.
It’s not clear yet if there will be room for more Charlton homages with new characters in upcoming issues, but so far Doomsday Clock is off to the right start.