Doomsday Clock #1 spoiler-free review

It’s one of comics’ biggest mysteries, as well as one of the biggest “holy crap” moments to come along in years: the characters of Watchmen are coming to the DC Universe.

Once viewed as a standalone work, and rightly so (barring Before Watchmen, which I’ve heard isn’t as bad as you’d expect but on the whole unnecessary), Watchmen is certainly an example of true literature and what the comics medium is capable of.  In twelve issues, Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons were able to create a fully realized world full of paranoia and cynicism, not too far removed from our own.  A commentary on superheroes as much as it was a parable of the time, Watchmen perfected the idea of “deconstructing” cape-and-tights adventures as it practically invented the practice.  You’ve read it, I’m sure, so there’s no reason to recap the plot, just to say that everything that needed to be said with those characters was said in 400 pages across 12 issues.

That is, until there was a Rebirth.

Geoff Johns’ return to comics in the 2016 one-shot accomplished a lot of things: most notably, it brought back the familiar pre-Flashpoint Wally West, along with setting in motion a number of stories and developments that are still being explored over a year later.  Far and away the biggest revelation, however, came at the end, when it was revealed that Dr. Manhattan had somehow stolen time from the universe.  Due to his meddling, entire characters were lost in the time stream, and backstories and histories were rewritten to explain the lost time.  It was genuinely shocking, and by and large a well-received twist.  Watchmen itself stands on its own in its self-contained, and it doesn’t need to be a part of the great DC Comics canon beyond that.

Then again, Dr. Manhattan’s powers are seemingly limitless, and he did leave his own galaxy for one less complicated.  While that story may be over, nothing ever ends, after all.

So here we are, a year and a half after that shocking revelation.  After months and months of build up and the vaguest of hints dropped here and there, the all-star team of Geoff Johns, Gary Frank and Brad Anderson unite for Doomsday Clock, a 12-issue maxiseries that will see Superman himself go up against Dr. Manhattan.  The first issue will release this Wednesday, November 22, and Batman News was fortunate enough to read an advance copy.  We’ll keep it spoiler-free so you can experience everything yourself, but I can at least tell you a few things about the issue.

First off: it’s… pretty good.

Now, you’re going to read this comic, so nothing I say would likely deter anybody.  Truly, this is one of the most anticipated comics I’ve come across in some time, and the fact that even after months of hype it “settles” for “pretty good” is a good sign.  It’s not an immediate grand slam, but the pieces are there for this to be a monumental event comic.

For one, the entire issue looks phenomenal, which shouldn’t come as any sort of surprise.  Gary Frank is one of the best artists around, and Brad Anderson’s colors complement his pencils perfectly.  The duo create a visual continuity that doesn’t match Dave Gibbons’ work on Watchmen exactly, but fits in nicely with his style.  Working within but not entirely constrained to a nine-panel grid, Doomsday Clock uses a lot of the same visual cues as Watchmen to draw us back into that world.  Like Mitch Gerads in Mister Miracle, Frank uses the grid to both build tension and focus on details we might otherwise overlook.  There are a few “cheats” here and there where he doesn’t stick to the grid, but Gibbons didn’t always stick to it either so it isn’t egregious.  Really, working within such a static framework draws out a lot of creativity, and it’s used in an almost cinematic manner to move scenes along.  There’s one panel in particular that absolutely chilled me to the bone, with Frank telling you all you need to know about a brand new character with nothing more than a facial expression.  It’s stunning, disturbing stuff.

Johns’ work is admirable here, if for no other reason than the fact that he’s effectively writing a sequel to a book that didn’t need one.  There are a few times when he tries maybe a bit too hard to channel Moore and it comes across as clumsy, but by and large the book is well written.  It is rather slow, though, as it has quite a bit of ground to cover to draw us back into this world: things have progressed somewhat believably from the conclusion of Watchmen, though the narrative jumps back and forth between scenes a bit too much at the beginning.  It’s difficult to get a true feel for time and place until the issue is over, but it’s never so confusing as to be impenetrable.  I actually laughed out loud more than once, too, so while it certainly feels like the world of Watchmen it never feels oppressive.

This is a bold series, there’s no question about that, and I’m sure there are a number of readers who are going to pick it up out of sheer curiosity.  I can’t say that I blame them, though it’s much better than a mere curiosity; Doomsday Clock is a good comic in its own right.  It isn’t perfect, but given the pedigree of the talent involved, this series could easily become a classic.

SCORE: 7.5/10