One of the climactic scenes in this week's Doomsday Clock #5 featured the discovery of a lantern with a green glow inside.
At the end of the issue, the new Rorschach held up the lantern and asked, "Tell us. Explain. What is lantern?"
(Newsarama broke down that issue in full on Wednesday, which you can read here.)
And although that question was never answered in the issue, long-time DC fans know that lantern represents the highly anticipated return of the Justice Society of America.
The lantern's appearance centered around Johnny Thunder, a character from DC history who once controlled the all-powerful genie Yz (the "Thunderbolt").
He was part of the Justice Society of America, a Golden Age team that disappeared from DC continuity after the company's 2011 "New 52" reboot.
After Johnny and his team's long absence, Johnny showed up again in 2016 as part of DC's "Rebirth," a line-wide story that's backing away from some of the 2011 reboot changes.
Over the last two years, Johnny has shown up several times, his scenes always dropping hints about the return of the JSA. According to these hints, Johnny and the JSA are the victim of time manipulation by an unknown force — one that's believed to be Dr. Manhattan from Watchmen.
As Doomsday Clock centers on a search for Dr. Manhattan, the characters searching for him appear to also be interested in Johnny Thunder and the lantern he just found. In fact, Saturn Girl from the future and Rorschach from an alternate earth both sought out Johnny Thunder and the lantern.
Why's the Lantern Important?
The Lantern itself has a design that specifically traces back to Alan Scott, the first Green Lantern, introduced in 1940 during the Golden Age of comics.
In that first Green Lantern story, published in All-American Comics #16, a railroad engineer named Alan Scott became a caped hero and fought crime. He wore a ring that was fashioned from a lantern that was powered by a mystical green flame that fell to Earth in ancient China. The one weakness that the power had was wood.
Alan helped to form the first comic book super team, called the Justice Society of America.
Eventually, the superheroes of the Golden Age lost their popularity among readers. But later, during a comic revival known as the Silver Age, Hal Jordan was introduced as earth's Green Lantern. His origin was space-based instead of being mystical, and Hal Jordan became part of a whole Corps of aliens who were Green Lanterns and wore technology-based rings.
Because these Silver Age characters were the new "firsts" in DC's comic books, Alan Scott and other Golden Age heroes were described as heroes on an alternate universe called Earth Two. But eventually, Earth One and Earth Two were combined and Alan became the elder Green Lantern. He ended up leading a new version of the Justice Society, and he fathered two children, who grew up to be well-known superheroes themselves.
Although Alan Scott's origin was tweaked a bit over the years, including a concept known as the "Starheart" and another version of him on a rebooted Earth Two, he was most often portrayed as a central character in the Justice Society of America, a colleague of Johnny Thunder and other long-missing JSA characters.
The fact that Saturn Girl and Rorschach showed up in Pittsburgh at the factory where Johnny Thunder found the Lantern means this moment is important to their mission.
Although Rorschach's mission is about finding Dr. Manhattan, it's more likely that Saturn Girl, who's from the future, is more interested in setting things right in her past. And it's possible that she needs the Justice Society of America to do it.
We already know that the JSA still exists somewhere because one of its founding members, The Flash/Jay Garrick, showed up during last year's "The Button" event. And when "Rebirth" launched in 2016 with the return of Wally West, the character told Johnny Thunder that the JSA's "history may have been stolen, but your friends weren't completely lost."
Whether the JSA was trapped somewhere by Dr. Manhattan or because of some other event isn't clear yet. But previous "Rebirth" storylines have indicated that their return to this world depends on a "tether."
In his brief appearance last year, Jay Garrick was specifically searching for some type of tether so he could return to the DCU (much like Wally West used Barry as a tether to return in Rebirth #1). But Barry was apparently not Jay Garrick's tether, and the elder Flash disappeared.
Could Alan Scott's lantern be his tether? And could each member then serve as a tether to the rest of the team?
Or is the lantern instead attached to Johnny Thunder's genie, as Johnny seems to believe? After all, the genie might have been somehow involved in the team's disappearance and is certainly powerful enough to bring them back.
Whoever rescues the Justice Society, DC has made it clear that they're coming back as part of this "Rebirth" story. The back cover of a Previews catalog in 2016 that detailed "Rebirth" titles featured an image of the Justice Society of America, and Doomsday Clock writer (and DC's Chief Creative Officer/President) Geoff Johns already talked publicly about the team returning in "Rebirth."
Now that Alan Scott's lantern has shown up, and it's in the hands of heroes like Saturn Girl and Johnny Thunder, it's safe to assume that it's only a matter of time until the JSA shows up again to help.