Doomsday Clock #1 (of 12)
Writer: Geoff Johns; Artist: Gary Frank; Colorist: Brad Anderson; Letterer: Rob Leigh
Note: The following contains spoilers for DC’s “Doomsday Clock” #1.
Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ “Watchmen” was a dense tome that used the traditional superhero story as a base and from there mixed in prose, newspaper clippings, a serial comic strip, autobiography, a Tijuana bible and seemingly unrelated conversations between a newspaper vendor and one of his regulars.
Geoff Johns and Gary Frank’s “Doomsday Clock” #1 uses “Watchmen” as a base and from there mixes in newspaper clippings and a seemingly unrelated sequence in which Superman has a bad dream.
The reveal at the end of last year’s “DC Rebirth” special, that the world of “Watchmen” had somehow bled into the DC Universe and may have even played a role in the shaping of the so-called “New 52” timeline, was a shock. This year’s four-part “Button” crossover between “Batman” and “The Flash” and the Mr. Oz storyline in “Action Comics” put pieces into place on the DC side while leaving the mystery intact.
Now comes the hard work.
You can’t revisit “Watchmen” without inviting deep scrutiny. It helped invent the idea of comics as a topic of academic study. Sure, Batman’s invited his fair share of pedantry, but it took decades of cross-media saturation to get to that point. “Watchmen” did it as a standalone work.
So to say, “I’m going to tell a story set seven years after the events of ‘Watchmen,’ and I’m going to make world events even worse than they were in the original, and I’m bringing back Rorschach (kind of), and I’m going to tell a story about how Dr. Manhattan’s been playing around in the DC Universe AND I’m going to draw a panel in which a criminal mime grabs a pair of imaginary guns?”
Let’s just take a second to recognize the brass ones on Johns, that’s all I’m saying. But what else would you expect from a guy who’s been pulling strings on and off the page at DC for more than a decade?
At a glance, “Doomsday Clock” is “Watchmen” by numbers. Frank is doing his best Gibbons impression, working in the nine-panel grid (also currently on display in Tom King and Mitch Gerads’ “Mister Miracle”), emulating his predecessor’s line work, etc. Letterer Rob Leigh uses the same speech balloons and font patterns Gibbons used — Dr. Manhattan’s blue bubbles with white rims and shaky outlines, Rorschach’s jagged balloons and torn narration boxes, meant to reflect his unhinged mental state. Brad Anderson’s digital coloring is the biggest departure from the original, artwise, and does the most to make the world fall in line with current DC house style.
What’s missing, at least so far, are the extras that made “Watchmen” more than a comic. Sure, we get some news clippings at the end, which add to the wealth of infodump layered throughout the issue (Guys, Robert Redford is president!), but one wonders what elements are being sacrificed to wedge in Superman and any Superfriends who may later appear.
We’re also missing a number of key “Watchmen” characters, such as Nite Owl and both Silk Spectres, but they’ll no doubt appear with time. For now, what we have is a tale of Ozymandias, New Rorschach and two criminal friends on a mission to “find God” (Manhattan), who, when he told Ozymandias he was “leaving this galaxy for one less complicated” seven years ago, apparently meant the DC Universe.
(It should be noted here that while DC’s superheroes and villains may be less complicated in concept — man dresses like bat, punches criminals; woman comes from island of warrior women, punches criminals — its continuity is in fact a deeply tangled web, which is part of what makes the company’s concurrent “Metal” event so fun.)
I’ll be curious to learn whether the Superman scene at the end of the issue — in which Clark dreams about his parents dying and claims it may have been the first nightmare he’s ever had — took place in 1992 or the present, and whether “Doomsday Clock” will explore comics continuity as a sliding scale, a concept that feels more Grant Morrison than Johns. We can dream.
Alternate interior covers in the back show Batman, Lex Luthor and the Joker, none of whom appears in this issue. Are they shades of things to come? Are they standing in for any further “Tales of the Black Freighter?” We’ll find out in due time. For now, we’ll leave on a few minor points:
1. Baby Bubastis is Lying Cat levels of adorable.
2. That scene with the Mime grabbing imaginary guns almost ruined the book for me.
3. DC has done a very good job of memorializing Len Wein, who died earlier this year and edited the original “Watchmen.”