“Doomsday Clock” Theory: Will the JSA Return?

Before I get this post rolling, let me just preface it by saying that I really wish that I could take credit for this theory.  It is actually the brainchild of my boyfriend, who spends virtually all of his spare time thinking about DC continuity (not an exaggeration) and who posed this particular theory to me this past weekend.  What he suggested made a lot of sense, and I found myself considering it long after the conversation ended. His theory was this:

The Justice Society, who has been noticeably absent from continuity since the New 52 reboot, will make a triumphant return to help defeat Doctor Manhattan in the “Doomsday Clock” storyline set to begin later this year.

At first glance this might seem like a simple “wishful thinking” theory, but after pausing to consider, it actually makes a lot of sense.

Consider the Author

“Doomsday Clock” is the brainchild of Geoff Johns, comic-writing legend and current President and Chief Creative Officer of DC Comics.  For everyone who’s read basically any comic he’s ever written, you know that this man loves comics.  More than that, he loves comics continuity.  His comics often draw upon all of DC’s history, hearkening back to prior ages within comics lore and expanding on those stories. Johns is known for taking older characters and storylines and introducing them to a modern audience, often with spectacular results.  He expands on prior histories, but manages to make the characters richer and weighted with even more significance than they perhaps had previously.

He’s done this with a handful of titles now, most notably (at least for this theory) with JSA.  His lengthy writing for this title is some of my favorite work he’s done, and more significantly speaks volumes as to how Johns feels about continuity as a whole.  His stories for JSA are all steeped in DC continuity, with a particular emphasis on why the history is so important.  The original heroes are still around, serving as mentors to the next generation, placing a particular emphasis on legacy and its importance. It can be fairly meta at times, proving just how strongly Johns feels about continuity as a whole.

If “Doomsday Clock” was being spearheaded by another writer, this theory might not hold much water.  Johns’s proven track record of paying careful detail to characters of past ages though makes it seem entirely possible that the he could be saving the JSA for a big storyline. If so, why not “Doomsday Clock”?

 Setting the Scene

There’s been a lot of hype leading up to “Doomday Clock”. In some ways it’s been hyped since the start of Rebirth.  While we didn’t know what or when, we knew that something big was going to happen.  After the debacle that was New 52 (I still don’t forgive DC for that one), it seems the powers that be knew they needed to right this wrong and bring back the fuller, richer continuity.  The question of course is how?  The creative team is taking their time on this one, feeding us hints and clues slowly as the story continues to build to a crescendo.  With the announcement of “Doomsday Clock” there was something concrete to look forward to, something we can all agree is likely going to have a big impact on continuity. What all will it entail, though?

We know that Doctor Manhattan (of Watchmen fame) is responsible for Flashpoint, the event that sparked New 52 This in and of itself is a big deal. Prior to this, Watchmen was never officially part of DC’s main continuity. Given it’s impact on comics writing as a whole, it feels fitting that it would now be directly connected to the larger comics multiverse. The difficulty lies in reconciling this dark cornerstone of the comics world with the lighter, more optimistic stories of the past.  So far we know that Doctor Manhattan has removed years worth of time from everyone’s minds (including any memory of the Justice Society, those pillars of light and hope), and the story seems to be on the road to finding a way to restore everyone’s memories.

Time. Memory. History. These are all themes Geoff Johns is familiar with, and reflect those he first set forth in his JSA run.  It’s clear that these will be a unifying thread throughout this storyline. Why then, couldn’t Johns draw upon his JSA stories to help bridge this gap between old and new? It seems like a fairly clear-cut way to connect various points in history.

How Will it Play Out?

It’s much too early to guess the specifics of how the Justice Society will return. What we can infer is why the Society will reappear, and what Johns’s motives may be if he chooses to go this route.  Doctor Manhattan, and indeed all of Watchmen, marked an important shift in how comics were presented.  With this groundbreaking comic we found ourselves drifting away from the bright, colorful, often silly stories of old. Instead we were met with a much sharper, grittier reality, far more relatable to what we were seeing in the real world at the time.  Watchmen‘s release in the 80s ushered in a marked shift in how comics stories were told, a change whose affects we are still feeling to this day.  For many, this meant a conscious distancing from the more outlandish stories of the seventies and prior, as though those were less impactful or somehow less important than these modern, darker stories.

Of course, not everyone loves the idea of completely ignoring 50 years of continuity just because it’s a different tone.  Some of the greatest contemporary comics writers have taken ideas from Silver and Golden-Age stories and turned them on their heads, making them relevant again (Grant Morrison and Geoff Johns are the two who most clearly come to mind).  These writers acknowledge the comics that preceded their own stories and give added significance to them, all while progressing the modern narrative.  They unite all of continuity, rather than erase or rewrite whatever they don’t feel is pertinent to the story of the day.

New 52 erased much of continuity. With it, many characters were lost in limbo (would kill for a Grant Morrison story about THAT) with no reference being made to them for years.  Rebirth seems to be a way to fix that. Just as the characters in comics have forgotten, many readers have also “forgotten” the older heroes in favor of their darker, more intense contemporaries.  By introducing the Justice Society into “Doomsday Clock”, Johns could simultaneously reintroduce these characters to the story while also reminding readers of their importance, and eliciting a positive response so that hopefully they won’t be forgotten again.

We’ve already had a hinting at this with the storyline “The Button”.  There weren’t many concrete facts given, but there were plenty of appearances of seemingly forgotten characters, including one aging Johnny Thunder. Yep, Johnny Thunder of Justice Society fame. Now I’m not crazy, this could just be a random throwback to a former character, but I would be surprised if that was the case.  These comics are laying the groundwork for something big, and given how much time the creative teams seem to be taking in deciding how exactly it will all play out, I’m hard pressed to believe that any small references or inclusions are a coincidence.

Now sure, if we need a hero or group of heroes to defeat Doctor Manhattan, why not the Justice League? They’re current, they’re topical – especially with the Justice League movie slated to be released at roughly the same time as the start of “Doomsday Clock”.  What makes the Justice Society so special that they would be the ones to restore the status quo to the whole multiverse?

In a word, history.  The fact that they’ve been essentially forgotten since Flashpoint would make a return especially poignant, so what better way to bring them back than to defeat the being who erased them from everyone’s memories?  Furthermore, allowing the story to play out this way would give Johns the ability to provide a bit of meta commentary on the whole Flashpoint/New 52 storyline: with the return of the classic, though sometimes labeled “outdated” heroes, we would have proof that the newer, darker method of comics storytelling cannot erase the rich history created in past decades.  For all of us who were unhappy with how the New 52 erased so much of continuity, it would be a triumphant moment to see these characters return and defeat the entity who cast them off into comics obscurity.

Are We Lucky Enough to See the JSA’s Return?

There’s no way to know for sure what’s playing out in Geoff Johns’s mind right now, or how exactly the JSA will fit into his narrative, if at all.  Had any other writer been in charge of “Doomsday Clock” I might argue that the Justice Society’s return is a longshot. Johns’s history with the characters though, along with his obvious feelings towards continuity as a whole, make it seem an increasingly likely outcome, and one that is long past due.  Should this theory pan out, it would work as both a narrative and meta-level commentary, and would undoubtedly please a host of fans who felt alienated by the erasure of so much of DC’s history.  I’m crossing my fingers that the story plays out this way, not only because I’m dying to see the return of these beloved classic heroes, but because it would go a long way in helping repair the damage done when so many characters were unnecessarily removed from continuity.  They deserve better, and hopefully Johns comes through and gives us back the Golden Age heroes we so desperately need.

-Jess

PS: *High five to boyfriend for being brilliant*

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