The end is here, but the clock is just starting to tick for Geoff Johns and Gary Frank’s ambitious 12-issue miniseries that connects the DC Comics universe with one of the most important pieces of modern literature, and a comic book masterpiece, Watchmen.
[Spoilers ahead for Doomsday Clock #1]
Released at 11:57 p.m. Tueday night, Doomsday Clock #1 picks up the threads from last year’s DC Universe: Rebirth Special, and “The Button” storyline from Batman and Flash titles, and weaves a story where characters from Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ series return to “bring god back down,” aka “find Dr. Manhattan.” Of course, the godlike being from Watchmen has his counterpart in Superman in the DCU.
Based on the key art that places Supes’ logo in the 12-midnight slot of the eponymous clock, a collision between these worlds is sure to unfold in future issues. It is that combination, which moves Watchmen forward while crashing it into the DCU, that prevents it from being labeled as a strict sequel, but more of an incredibly bold experiment that may have a lasting impact on the fictional universe -- as well as the comics community. (So yeah, no pressure there, Geoff and Frank.)
Having interviewed Johns previously about Doomsday Clock, I cannot enter into review territory for the issue. However, I am unabashedly excited about Issue 1, and Johns, and artist Gary Frank, hooked me immediately.
What follows are my top five reasons Doomsday Clock clicks, and has me watching the clock for the next issue.
Watchmen in 2017
Doomsday Clock looks like a 2017 issue of Watchmen. The cover is the first panel of the story, there is the authority of the nine-panel grid, the issue concludes with supplemental material, and so on. But instead of simply mimicking the structure, Johns and Frank have evoked the tone of Watchmen.
Beginning Nov. 22, 1992 – the anniversary of JFK’s assassination, and nine years following the events of Watchmen -- this is a world at war. There is unrelenting violence, and unrest. As the title of the issue suggests, we are living in “That Annihilated Place,” and the delusion that a fictional invader would reset the clock has proven fruitless.
As Rorschach says, in a timely comment on our own real world:
“The undeplorables scream to hear themselves deafened in their echo chamber, blaming the other side for what they have instead, or who they are … while the totalitarians stand their ground, covering their eyes, preaching for a return to a rose-colored republic, unaware that for those not like them, the good old days weren’t so good.”
In other words, we blew it. All of us.
And while we may not be worth it, and maybe the world should burn this time, a new Rorschach, Ozymandias (with a brand-new Bubastis in tow), and some new “friends” set out to find Dr. Manhattan, because he’s the only one capable of saving it.
New Watchmen to watch
Ozymandias, after temporarily duping the world into uniting against an alien menace, realizes he botched the job, and is dying from cancer. He determines that the only way to save the world is by finding Jon Osterman, aka Dr. Manhattan – who left Earth following Watchmen for a “less complicated” galaxy.
This is the same Adrian Veidt, but is it a new Ozymandias, repentant and humbled? He still seems just as arrogant, and possibly insane from that brain tumor. Plus, there is a panel where Veidt’s pained face is accompanied by the quote by newscaster William F. Buckley Jr.: “Do not believe their lies.”
Ozymandias will manipulate an entire planet to achieve his goals, so I am not quite ready to buy into this chagrined Veidt who seeks a higher power in Dr. Manhattan.
But I am all in with this new Rorschach, the pancake-loving, forgetful man who assumes the mantle of Walter Kovacs. Other than the fact that he is a black man, there is not yet much information about the man behind the mask. And thus far, he hasn’t unleashed the violence Kovacs was known for. The new Rorschach, who Ozymandias views as less predictable, is intriguing indeed.
Much as Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons' original Watchmen characters were inspired by Charlton Comics characters, Johns and Frank use the new villains Marionette and Mime as analogs for DC Comics’ Punch and Jewelee.
Marionette has yet to show off her violent side, but considering the big, scary doors she’s locked up behind in High Security, you know she is no harmless doll to be played with. Meanwhile, Mime is a brilliantly maniac villain who seems to relish in his “performances” (seriously, check out that Joker-level, blood-soaked grin). I can’t wait to see this power couple unhinged and let loose on their quest to get their son back.
Superman’s complicated world
Superman has his first nightmare. In one sentence, Johns has rebutted writers who claim Superman is far too powerful a character to do anything interesting with. In the final pages, as Clark Kent relives moments where he felt powerless – as a wounded teenage boy at a dance, who is about to lose his parents – readers see the bleakness of the Watchmen world already infecting DC’s most hopeful character.
And he is literally caught sleeping when it begins.
Is Dr. Manhattan the invader in the far less complicated galaxy of the DCU? Or did Dr. Manhattan himself create the less complicated rebooted New 52 timeline, which Rebirth set to largely undo?
Of note is that Clark has behavioral psychologist B.F. Skinner’s Walden Two by his bed. This sci-fi novel is about a utopian community. Members of this culturally engineered community reject free will and essentially cede control to a ruling class of “Planners,” and they are unofficially led by the founder, a bright-eye despot. It is also worth noting that Skinner himself believed humanity should effectively be an anthill, with the population controlled by technocrats.
But hey, it’s funny, too
Though it is an odd transition following an entry about a utopian novel with applied behavioral analysis, Doomsday Clock has a lot of humor in its pages – most of it courtesy of Rorschach.
Immediately establishing himself as an unreliable narrator, this Rorschach can’t keep numbers or directions straight in his head, but he does find the humor in dropping villains down elevator shafts, and he likes his pancake syrup hot and abusive boyfriends broken. Plus, he’s great at the one-liners, such as when he tells Mime not to point imaginary guns at him, or when Marionette asks what’s wrong with Ozymandias, he replies: “He’s an asshole.”
Gary Frank’s art is a holiday dessert
Johns has said he wouldn’t do this book without Frank’s art, and it’s clear why; the illustrator delivers such a sumptuous feast of visuals that it’s been like a slice of Thanksgiving pumpkin pie to go with my turkey.
In particular, I love the character work Frank is doing with Mime and Marionette, and find myself getting lost in the expressions on both their faces. But the panel of Rorschach squatting on the ground, holding prison keys from the behind-the-bars POV of an inmate is my favorite of the issue.