SPOILER WARNING: The following article contains major spoilers for Doomsday Clock #3, by Geoff Johns, Gary Frank, Brad Anderson and Rob Leigh, on sale now.
Doomsday Clock #3 appears to finally be picking up a narrative thread teased all the way back in 2016 with DC Universe Rebirth #1. Namely, the status of original Justice Society member, Johnny Thunder, and by extension the entire Golden Age team.
Back during Rebirth #1, we were shown an aged, possibly seniel Thunder crying out the magic word (“Cei-u!”) to summon his Thunderbolt, a genie-like entity named Yz, to no avail. In a heart wrenching scene, Thunder mournfully declares that he “never meant” to throw his Thunderbolt away — but the circumstances as to how or why that happened have remained a mystery.
Later, during the Batman/Flash crossover event “The Button,” we saw Johnny again in much the same situation, frantically trying to summon a Thunderbolt that couldn’t (or wouldn’t) answer his call. To his dismay, the staff of the nursing home he’s housed in casually dismissed him as delusional and in need of more medication.
Since then, it’s been relatively quiet on the Thunder front — at least, until now.
First, a little background: there’s a good chance your awareness of Johnny is actually through his successor, Jakeem Thunder, who came to inherit the Thunderbolt in the ’90s and went on to become part of the modern incarnation of the Justice Society prior to the New 52. This is largely because whatever is going on with him now in Rebirth isn’t Johnny’s first time around on the cosmic continuity mishap wheel. Much like many other Golden Age DC heroes, Johnny’s status quo was radically altered during Crisis on Infinite Earths back in the ’80s, which left him missing in action at first, and then wholly reinvented (and later a victim of Alzheimer’s) just in time for Jakeem to step in and take over in the ’90s.
Before the New 52 arrived, Johnny was killed facing off against the Ultra-Humanite. The last time he was seen was during Blackest Night when his body was reanimated as a Black Lantern. This means that there is no shortage of work to be done now to fill in the gaps between now and then — and progress has been slow.
Doomsday Clock #3 returns to Johnny in his nursing home, but in a new twist, we see him calmly standing and waiting for his “granddaughter and her son” to come and take him to dinner, like they’re supposed to on the first Monday of the month. It seems unlikely that this is true, and is probably more evidence that Johnny is yet again suffering from Alzheimer’s — but it’s left unclear.
There are some pointed parallels to be drawn between Johnny and Doomsday Clock‘s very own Tales of the Black Freighter analogue, the film noir movies starring an actor named Carver Coleman as he plays a fictional P.I. (and vintage DC character) named Nathaniel Dusk. The on-page connection between Dusk and Thunder is made apparent through mirrored posing and dialogue overlaps. But while it’s obvious Thunder does indeed have some role in the events coming up, the issue is deliberately unclear exactly what that role will be.
Outside of the Dusk connection (which spills over to Rorschach as well), there is very little linking Thunder to the proceedings in Doomsday Clock as a whole. However, to say that the build up of the JSA’s return has been a long time coming would be an understatement — after two years of maintaining a holding pattern, it’s more than time.
The question is: how and where will Johnny Thunder’s story intersect with the ongoing Watchmen/DC Universe collision? And, if the Justice Society really does end up making their return, what hope does an old, enfeebled retiree like Johnny Thunder have of actually rejoining the team?
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