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Fake news gave 'Doomsday Clock' its real-world resonance

Geoff Johns and Gary Frank unpack the philosophy behind Doomsday Clock's "Superman Theory."

A rumor has the capacity to change the world in an instant — whether it’s true or not.Doomsday Clock is no different, seizing on this phenomenon to move away from its source material and become a product of a new time. Inspired by the legacy of Watchmen, in the context of the DC Universe, the fifth issue of the series plays with a dangerous hypothesis: The Superman Theory, which claims costumed metahumans were created by the United States government as superhuman soldiers.

“I think the big cornerstone of misinformation, with a kernel of truth to support it and make it valid, is what the Superman Theory represents,” DC Entertainment's chief creative officer and Doomsday Clock writer Geoff Johns tells Newsweek. “We have a president who can tweet directly whatever he wants to the American people, to the world, with no filter, with no fact, he can say whatever he wants. And maybe he’s right, maybe he's not right, but the fact that he has the power to do that, and the way that it travels, and it’s interpreted however it wants to be interpreted. It’s very powerful.”

Doomsday Clock artist Gary Frank agrees. “Watchmen didn’t happen in the year of fake news. That was not a thing. Even a few years ago, the idea of and the level of misinformation and how easy it would be to sell misinformation, it would have been hard to believe, and yet here we are,” he told Newsweek. “Watchmen was a product of its time and I think Doomsday Clock needs to be that as well if it’s going to work.”

According to The Superman Theory, metahumans are assigned a supervillain or superhero narrative, allowing them to train in plain sight and prepare to be called to action at anytime. If true, this could explain why 97 percent of the world's metahumans identify as American. “Why is that?” Johns posed. “Is there an in-story reason for that? And that's how the conspiracy grew up.”

That’s only the basic premise of The Superman Theory. As the prospect of its truth or inaccuracy unfolds, each issue peels back another thoughtful layer. “People immediately thoughtWatchmen is the really screwed-up universe and DC universe is the good one. Ozymandias makes a real solid case for why the DC universe may have its own problems. And the Superman Theory becomes a personification of how those problems can go terribly wrong,” said Johns.

Everything in big-two comics hinges upon the narrative of the superhero versus supervillain and rarely anything else. Doomsday Clock wants to examine the fabric of that blueprint. “That's really what the Superman Theory has created, this ongoing, unending, superhero and supervillain narrative that has dominated the DC universe,” he said. “Suddenly there are moments and times where it just becomes about yet another confrontation between people in costumes, and to what end?”

“People are mad, that yeah, the Joker is out again,” Johns continued. “There is chaos in Arkham, like another Arkham breakout? It’s just this world that is overrun by people playing dress up. Has Gotham even gotten better since Batman has been around? Because in the comics I read it’s sure as hell not.”

The first four issues paint a picture of unrest in Gotham. Unable to discern false narrative from truth, and not in a position to affect change, the citizens are so angry for answers they call for Batman’s arrest. Issue #5 globalizes the turmoil and overall story, the back pages in particular. By the end of the issue, the United States calls thousands of soldiers home from overseas, Russia prepares a team of metahumans to challenge the United States, countries close their borders and, after breaking international law to save a journalist in Syria, Black Adam offers asylum in Khandaq to all wrongfully treated metahumans across the world.

“I wanted to create something that would have a similar ‘world tipping on the edge of survival’ feeling that the original Watchmen did, but in a DC universe way,” Johns said. “It was important to start to see the shape of the world change, and do something that was looking more inward in terms of the superhero narrative. There are so many stories about giant monsters and they go outward into big parallel universes and they get bigger and bigger and bigger. Gary and I talked a lot about going inward and looking at our own world and how it reacts to these metahumans.”

In the back pages, a map carves out territories and illustrates the daunting reality of the growing metahuman arms race. Russia, France, the U.K., Markovia, Israel, India and China all have superheroes and teams ready to intimidate and incite fear. “You have countries trying to make them. You have countries trying to search and find them. And then you have countries also being more nationalistic, going so far as to close their borders,” Johns explained. “In the next issue, we will hear more about that. Their borders are closed, and the only person that they allow to cross really is Superman.”

But none of this would have been possible without the sensationalism fueling the Superman Theory. Who better to guide us through the media’s role in all this than Lois and Clark? Daily Planet editor Perry White uses the word metahuman to describe Ozymandias in a headline, against Lois’ wishes and despite the fact there is no solid proof.

“Lois calling him out on it and then him saying, ‘Hey, I’m in charge. That's why people will read this.’ I think that's a real thing that happens in the media. It certainly happened here, and continued to spread misinformation, or it continues to get certain items up to the top, it continues to get the conversation going,” Johns said, “There are a lot of buzzwords that get people to stop and read, and clearly newspapers and websites and everything know why people stop and read and they are going to exploit that because, at times, that's the job.”

As the people across the world try to separate fact from fiction, as supervillains and superheroes play tag, Ozymandias points out real problems of the world go ignored. “If we know the truth, will that make everything better? Does the truth really always provide the best answer?” Johns asks. “With Lois and Clark digging into it, what will they decide?”

Doomsday Clock #5 is available to buy at your local comic book shop today. 

When the surgeon general reads a comic book you know it's good for you

Attendees, panelists and press alike shed tears of solidarity as they exited “The Aftermath: Battle and Trauma In Comics” panel at the DC In DC event that focused on Tom King and Mitch Gerads’s acclaimed DC Comics series, Mister Miracle. The emotional discussion dived deep into the ways comic books and entertainment raise awareness and shape perceptions of mental health. Mister Miracle follows Scott Free, who fights loneliness, isolation, depression and anxiety as he struggles to cope with post-traumatic stress disorder.

“Something we need to do as society is change how we think about emotions, and entertainment is a powerful road through which that culture shift can happen,” former U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy told Newsweek’s Player.One. “People these days aren’t getting all their information from one source, but they are spending a significant amount of time engaged in videos, movies, reading comics and that means those are all powerful vehicles that can help people understand the import dimensions of the human experience. Health is one of them.”

Then-President Barack Obama participates in a roundtable discussion with Dr. Vivek Murthy, the former U.S. surgeon general, on how climate change affects public health, at Howard University in Washington, D.C, on April 7, 2015. President Donald Trump on Friday requested Murthy’s resignation.GARY CAMERON/REUTERS

Then-President Barack Obama participates in a roundtable discussion with Dr. Vivek Murthy, the former U.S. surgeon general, on how climate change affects public health, at Howard University in Washington, D.C, on April 7, 2015. President Donald Trump on Friday requested Murthy’s resignation.GARY CAMERON/REUTERS

Murthy said he believes the first step we must take as a society is to redefine masculinity. He feels a cultural shift is needed to ensure the next generations understand vulnerability is not weakness.

“We put emotions in the corner and look at them as a sign of weakness and we don’t recognize them as a source of strength,” Murthy said. “That’s actually not what science tells us, it's not what elite athletes tell us and it’s not what the most successful people in the world tell us. Successful people know that strength comes not from ignoring your emotions, it comes from recognizing that your emotions have great power when channeled in the right way.”

As a father of two young children, Murthy said values and role models are a popular topic of conversation for him and his wife. He often thinks about this in relation to politics, and through this example, it became very clear that masculinity needs to be balanced.

“The fact that we have defined masculinity in very stark terms—which is about power and not feeling emotions and not experiencing fear—that has led to a lot of problems that have played out at the national stage for us,” Murthy explained. “When we elect politicians, for example, they feel they need to represent their candidacy in very masculine terms.”

Always having the right answers, or always exerting force whenever there is a problem as opposed to pausing and understanding are a few of the things Murthy thinks are so important for society to recognize and substantially change.

“Frankly, this is one of the reasons why I think it is so important for us as a society to have more women in leadership positions,” he said. “To challenge those old norms around masculinity and challenge the idea that power comes from how much we can force on others and how much we can exert our will as opposed to how much we can pause, understand and connect with other people.”

Mister Miracle was created by Jack Kirby in 1971.DC COMICS

Mister Miracle was created by Jack Kirby in 1971.DC COMICS

Comic book characters, such as Mister Miracle, can start the conversation. The more stories that illustrate the complexity of the human experience can help people recognize that all of us are in fact struggling with different emotions. Life isn’t about ignoring difficult situations or avoiding pain, it’s about managing them and finding reasons to move forward.

“If you look at Batman: There is a character who is really complex and looked at as powerful, but his power does not make him immune to isolation, loneliness and to depression. We can illustrate what people’s lives are really like, otherwise what we do is we create these models for how people should live their lives that are just out of reach for most people,” he said. “The models that tell them they shouldn’t show emotions, or experience that and this, or that fear is for the weak—whereas that's not really what life is about.”

A former CIA operations officer who served in Iraq, Tom King’s Mister Miracle run certainly illustrates emotional intelligence and vulnerability in a way we have never seen before, but King’s goal is to take it a step further with his mysterious new “Sanctuary” project for DC Comics.

“We have a bunch of superheroes. All they do is fight every day, all the time. That must have a psychological effect on them, right? You can’t live a life of violence and not feel the violence deep in your heart and your soul,” King told Newsweek’s Player.One. “Sanctuary is the most obvious idea I've ever had. I’m sure it’s what Geoff [Johns] felt like when he discovered the rings had different colors He was like, ‘Oh my god.’”

King explains “Sanctuary” will start with the trinity—Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman. As both a practical and compassionate matter, they set up a place where heroes can go and talk about trauma, admit it has an effect on them and talk about how being a superhero is seeing a life of violence. The sanctuary is modeled on veteran crisis centers.

“They care about these DC heroes for two reasons. Number one, they are good people and number two, if superheroes feel trauma and it drives them a little mad, that's a danger,” King said. “Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman can help you, and themselves, through Sanctuary. It’s just a f--king obvious idea. It’s a whole thing, and I’m not telling you nothing.”

Why an Oscar-winning writer will change DC Comics history

John Ridley is best known as the Academy Award-winning screenwriter of 12 Years A Slave, but before he found success with movies and TV shows such as American Crime, graphic novels were his passion. He vividly recalls the first time he picked up a comic book with a character who actually looked like him. It was Black Lightning, created by Tony Isabella with Trevor Von Eeden for DC Comics 1977. So it was no coincidence Ridley traveled to Washington, D.C. to watch the premiere of the first African-American superhero on network TV during Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday weekend.

“To live long enough to see this character achieve some mainstream popularity, it’s huge,” Ridley told Newsweek. “For a lot of people, you can’t imagine what it was like that first time pulling a comic book out of a paper bag and seeing someone who looks like you.”

The personal and professional impact of this early experience carries through to today, and his new project is rooted in his shared devotion with  DC Comics’ to achieve more inclusion in art and media. The Other History Of The DC Universe will examine watershed events throughout the history of DC Comics, tracking sociopolitical gains from the perspective of characters who come from oppressed groups. The stories aren’t about saving the world, rather “having the strength to simply be who you are.” Ridley said when he first put in the call to DC, each party assumed the other wouldn’t be interested.

“It was kind of like having a significant other that you never expressed how you feel. DC was so excited. They just assumed, ‘Why would you want to do graphic novels when you are doing film and television?’ This is why I do film and television, because of the storytelling,” Ridley said. “Their passion for at this point in their history, really shifting these lenses, has been absolutely amazing.”

The Other History Of The DC Universe will follow characters such as John Stewart, Extraño, Vixen, Supergirl, Katana and Rene Montoya, who Ridley asserts have earned their seat at the table. Within 24 hours of the announcement, fans made even more suggestions, making his job even harder.

“The exciting thing is the energy and enthusiasm for characters that are familiar, but that haven't been excavated. I think the challenge is that I can't tell every story,” Ridley said. “I've been thinking about it for a long time, but as it gets close to reality, there’s this sort of inverse relationship. The closer you get, it’s like trying to break the speed of light. The closer you get, the more weight, the more gravity you're carrying, and the harder it is go get past it.”

Ridley did not reveal the artist collaborators for The Other History Of The DC Universe, but he did specify the story (as of right now) will start in 1972 and run to the mid or late 90’s. That was the time he was reading comic books and when a lot of the characters he plans to make use of were introduced.

“I’d like to cut it off before the 2000s. At this point, Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman they kind of have to reinvent. They’ve been around for 80 years or so. So for these characters that I'm very familiar with, they really arrived at demarcations in my life and would be of a certain age at this point,” he said.

What excites Ridley most about exploring DC’s unwritten history is looking back to the characters’ mortality and defining what it was like for them to exist in that time period.

“What was really happening in the world and why did they not get involved in this? Politically, what did it mean for these things to not happen?” Ridley explained. “How they dealt with the AIDS crisis, those kind of things. I want it to exist in DC’s universe, but live in a real world.”

For more coverage of Warner Bros. “DC In DC” event over MLK weekend, head over to Player.One.

Meet The Comic Book Writer Behind #VisibleWomen

#VisibleWomen. You saw it all over Twitter yesterday, filling your feed with gorgeous art from women and non-binary creators in comics. But who is behind the hashtag? That would be Kelly Sue DeConnick, known for her work on Captain Marvel,  and much more. She has been running #VisibleWomen multiple times a year since March 2016. DeConnick started the hashtag as a way to connect artists to employers.

“The first time I did it, it was on a Sunday and it was a spur of the moment thing. I had been asked a few times by folks in the industry if I could recommend some women artists because they didn’t know very many or how to find them,” DeConnick told Player.One. “I both appreciated the asking and also was like, “You guys there are so many. Are you even looking at all?’ So I wanted to boost the visibility of women artists in our industry.”

The name of the hashtag is a play on Invisible Woman, the first Marvel superhero who was a woman. Sue Storm (previously known as Invisible Girl) first appeared in The Fantastic Four #1 in 1961.

“Her power was invisibility, which is kind of hysterical,”  DeConnick said, pointing out the irony. “The idea [for the hashtag] was like, ‘Oh this is Visible Women.’”

Though she conceived the name, DeConnick emphasized right off the bat #VisbileWomen is not a lone effort. She gives a special shoutout to her team, especially Turner Lobey, who compiled all the information from incoming tweets into a spreadsheet. She also stresses she’s not the first to do this and points to Mari Naomi, who has maintained two databases for queer cartoonists and cartoonists of color for quite some time.

“I’m not the first person who has tried to put together databases for marginalized creators or signal boost. Naomi has maintained those two lists for quite some time. In this moment of spotlight for #VisibleWomen, if we could share some of that, that would be cool,” she said.

This year got the biggest response because Twitter Moments helped boost the hashtag’s exposure. It was also the first time submissions were open to colorists, letterers, inkers and writers as well as artists. While the visibility is great, DeConnick is most pleased when her efforts result in women getting hired.

“It doesn’t really mean that much to me as an exercise, but if it leads to folks getting hired I think that's tremendous,” she said. “Women are discouraged from advocating for themselves, often don’t know how to do it, or are very uncomfortable doing it and are sometimes punished for doing it. A man puts himself forward for a job and that’s great and he’s ambitious. A woman does and she’s kind of uppity.”

After her team compiles the data into a spreadsheet, she offers the document to any hiring professional who wants it. Yesterday, there were more requests than ever before, eight (as of Monday at 8 p.m. EDT), which will be sent out on Wednesday.

“There aren’t that many publishers in comics,” said DeConnick, stressing eight is no small number. “That’s eight hiring professionals. We’ve hired from the list ourselves.”

DeConnick believes we are facing age old problems that aren’t unique to the comics industry. However, the quick turnaround of an issue out every 30 days is one factor that makes it even harder for women to break into the industry.

“There’s not a lot of time to take chances, so people hire the same people they've always hired. It’s difficult to develop new talent and when they are developing new talent, I think you’re hiring this white guy and he recommends this white guy he went to school with and the guy does great work. Great. Fantastic, and this guy vouches for him. It happens,” she said. “I mean there is certainly sexism and racism and all kinds of other ugly isms that are both overt and culturally ingrained that play into it, but I think there are very few really mustache twirling, ‘Let’s keep the girls out.’ I think it’s more just habit and who people know.”

She also believes there are also some ideas about what men think women’s art looks like, a stereotype that affects employment.

“Our art isn’t any more characterized by any one thing than anybody else's is and if you look at the breadths of styles in the Visible Women spreadsheet you will see women who do horror and women who do delightful, light romantic manga and everything in between,” she said. “Just like anything else, our culture has preconceived notions about what women can be and women can do and it’s  just very limiting.”

For more on the #VisibleWomen campaign, check out DeConnick’s website and follow her on Twitter. Also, be sure to support Cartoonists of Color and Queer Cartoonists run by Mari Naomi.