Doomsday Clock Unlocks Justice Society Mystery

Doomsday Clock is finally revealing, piece by piece, why the Justice Society has been absent from the DC Universe.

This article contains Doomsday Clock spoilers.

A key mystery of the DC Universe since Rebirth breathed new life into the entire publishing line in 2016 has been the fate of the Justice Society. The world’s first superhero team (don’t come at me about the Shadow’s agents or Doc Savage’s team, I love them all, but they don’t count) were unceremoniously removed from DC continuity in the wake of the events of Flashpoint. JSA and most related characters, the Alan Scott Green Lantern, the Jay Garrick Flash, and others, were instead shunted off to a new, modern Earth-2 (and series), which was cool enough, but bore little resemblance to their 1940s mystery men roots.

The absence of the JSA in the New 52 timeline was never explained. Instead, it was generally accepted that the age of superheroes began about 5 years before the events of 2011’s Justice League #1. That compressed timeline caused all kinds of havoc for other legacy characters, from Wally West to Dick Grayson and beyond, and Rebirth was a corrective, explaining that a mysterious force used Flashpoint as an opportunity to tamper with reality at key points, thus explaining assorted inconsistencies in the timeline, absences of characters, and general continuity shenanigans.

Rebirth, of course, also revealed that the interfering entity was none other than Watchmen’s Doctor Manhattan. But it also was the first DC book in years to acknowledge the existence of the JSA in the timeline, with the return of an elderly Johnny Thunder, wondering why nobody remembers his friends. Other JSA teases have followed, notably the briefest of returns for Jay Garrick in the pages of The Flash during its Doomsday Clock prologue, The Button. More recently, Johnny Thunder has become a key player in Doomsday Clock.

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But Doomsday Clock #7 comes the closest to actually answering the question of what happened to the JSA. Its first three panels, in which Dr. Manhattan narrates what should be the Alan Scott Green Lantern origin story, and his role in preventing it from coming to pass, pack an astonishing amount of information and revelations into just a few dozen words. The rest of the page continues to play with elements from the earliest Green Lantern stories, made unsettling by Dr. Manhattan’s detached narration/confession and the continuity Butterfly Effect of his presence in the DC Universe.

The first issue of Doomsday Clock was one of the best single issues published by the big two in 2017, and was a virtually perfect continuation of the Watchmen tone. If there must be a Watchmen sequel, that Doomsday Clock chapter was the way to do it. But once Adrian Veidt and the new Rorschach arrived in the DC Universe, not to mention a thus far unsatisfying Comedian return, the story has wobbled a little, occasionally in danger of collapsing under the weight of its own ambition. The story has worked best when building out the Watchmen world, such as the introduction of new villains Marionette and Mime, but its DCU elements haven’t always held together.

But Doomsday Clock #7 changes all of that. It’s a genuine turning point not just in the story itself, but in the entire “Watchmen meets the DC Universe” concept that has been building since that first Rebirth special. Dr. Manhattan interfering with the formation of the Justice Society, who Watchmen’s Minutemen were clearly based on, has far reaching implications. Without Alan Scott as Green Lantern, the JSA never forms, delaying the age of superheroes, and with his death in 1940, he also never fathers the children who go on to become the heroes Jade and Obsidian, removing another key “legacy” aspect of the pre-52 DC Universe. The implication, of course, is that Dr. Manhattan made similar, seemingly small choices throughout the history of the DCU. We’ve known for years that he was responsible for changes to continuity, but it’s the seeming mundanity of his actions, rather than some broad use of reality-warping power, is what makes it so chilling.

And, of course, through it all we have Gary Frank’s art. Frank utilizes the famed Watchmen nine-panel grid more frequently in this issue than perhaps any of the previous ones, and when breaking from that, it’s always with maximum dramatic impact, such as the proper introduction of Dr. Manhattan to the story (who at one point appears to turn the page for the reader as he teleports). While Frank’s art is always gorgeous, and Doomsday Clock is always easy on the eyes, from a storytelling perspective, it feels like he has leveled up yet again.

Doomsday Clock was met with skepticism from all corners of fandom, and the story itself promises to get far darker and stranger before it concludes. But here, with a renewed grasp of everything that worked in the first issue and what seems to be the first clear acknowledgment that the Justice Society, and thus, another crucial piece of DC history will be restored to their rightful place before we reach the finish line, Saturn Girl’s optimism doesn’t feel so misplaced.

Doomsday Clock #7 is on sale now.

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Mike Cecchini is the Editor in Chief of Den of Geek. You can read more of his work here. Follow him on Twitter @wayoutstuff.