Midnight approaches. The Doomsday Clock ticks on.
What fate and doom will befall our heroes when the clock strikes twelve? Can even a Superman prevail over the nigh-omnipotent power of a being like Doctor Manhattan?
That, I suppose, is the question Doomsday Clock is set to answer. Will the cynicism of a world like that found in Watchmen pervade the main DC Universe, or can hope and optimism prevail?
Like the ticking timepiece of its namesake, Doomsday Clock is the very definition of deliberate storytelling: with 12 issues to fill, Johns can take his time, and he most assuredly does. It’s tempting to write it off as slow, which it admittedly is. I’ve no doubt this was a conscious decision, though, both to catch us up with where the DCU is a year from now and to ease us back into Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ world.
Two issues in, even without much happening, I think that was the right decision. I do wish the pacing was a bit better, sure, particularly in the scenes between Ozymandias, Rorschach, and newbies Mime and Marionette. Still, given the admittedly controversial nature of writing a follow-up to a monumental work like Watchmen, I’d rather they take their time to ensure it’s done right rather than dive headlong into a story that didn’t need to be told.
In the first issue, I noted that Johns felt like he was trying to channel Moore without mimicking him outright. That holds true here as well, though more Johns pokes through than Moore. That’s perfectly fine, as the issue is injected with quite a bit of humor, which certainly helps set it apart from Watchmen. Granted, it’s not a laugh-a-minute chucklefest, but there are plenty of visual gags and bits of gallows humor to keep the story from drowning in the mire. With an impending apocalypse and Veidt slowly succumbing to a brain tumor, this is a pretty bleak story, so Johns and Frank make the right call with the levity.
One of the definite highlights of the series so far is the inclusion of the new characters Marionette and Mime. The latter in particular is positively delightful, a villain whose gimmick is so on the nose and silly yet played with the utmost conviction that it’s nothing short of terrifying. I mean, the dude robs a bank by holding an imaginary pistol to the teller’s head. That’s the goofiest thing, yet paired with the manic energy of Marionette he’s positively sinister.
Bruce Wayne gets a few good laughs as well, which is nice coming from Johns. While he’s not known for writing Batman that often, preferring characters like Hal Jordan and Barry Allen instead, I did enjoy the voice Johns gave Bruce here. His “billionaire playboy” persona is laid-back and flippant with just a hint of airheadedness (it’s a word; I checked), and he switches to his “true” personality with ease. He’s focused and serious without being dour and grim, which is nice to see in a story that could easily become either.
A year on, it seems that the public opinion toward superheroes has soured thanks to what is called “the Supermen Theory.” The theory, which is detailed in some “post script articles” similar to Watchmen‘s chapter-closing book and magazine excerpts, posits that most metahumans are actually agents of the U.S government. Since the vast majority of metas and costumed heroes are from the United States, it at least make some sort of sense to draw a connection. Thanks to some tenuous circumstantial evidence about Metamorpho and a questionable testimony from Kirk Langstrom, opponents of the metahuman/superhero population had all they needed to start up this new movement.
I won’t go so far as to say that the spirit of the Watchmen universe has “bled over” into the DCU, but it’s hard not to at least draw some parallels with this specific attitude toward superheroes. It’s even brought up how the costumed hero population in the DCU is exponentially larger than the community in the world of Watchmen, so whether intentional or not it’s interesting to speculate how Doctor Manhattan’s interference has influenced attitudes and worldviews beyond “simply” stealing time.
Those interesting ideas are slow to roll out, though, causing this issue to drag quite a bit at the beginning. It’s not necessarily a difficult read, it just takes a while to get anywhere. It doesn’t help matters that there are some muddy time jumps, with one scene taking place in flashback that didn’t register as such until afterward. Maybe I wasn’t paying close enough attention, but the opening bank robbery is framed to look like it’s happening after Marionette and Mime don their costumes in the present, only to find out it’s actually occurring in the past and likely what led to them being in prison to begin with. The scene itself is involving enough, especially Mime who is so great guys come on, and it even gives insight into why they’re even on Ozymandias’ mission to begin with. Still, it’s paced oddly and kept me from getting involved until after the fact.
Structure aside, this is still a pretty strong issue, if not quite a masterpiece. Johns’ pace is working for now, and he balances the two sides of the story well enough, even if he’s clearly more comfortable with the DC characters. And really, as much as I think of Watchmen as a perennial classic and a tent-pole piece of literature, I’m not nearly as invested in those characters as I am Batman, Superman, and even Lex Luthor (who is thankfully, finally back to his villainous ways). Part of that is the limited nature of the story, and the fact that Johns was able to make a continuation of it even somewhat compelling is a minor miracle. The deck is stacked against this series, and while it’s not a slam dunk (yet) it still justifies its own existence. I’m hoping for more in future installments, sure, but even two issues in this is working better than it should and about as well as it could.
And what about Gary Frank? That guy can draw, let me tell you. Even confined to the nine panel grid, his illustrations are engaging, detailed, and oftentimes beautiful, though he isn’t as creative with the layout’s limitations as Gibbons was. Even now in Mister Miracle, Mitch Gerads is almost redefining how a static grid can be used in sequential storytelling. Frank’s style is gorgeous enough on its own, though, that even if it doesn’t push any boundaries it’s easily forgivable.
Not to say his sequencing skills are lacking, mind you. Some of the biggest laughs in the issue come from silent scenes that rely on his illustrations and nothing more. Never in my life did I think I would crack up at the site of Rorschach eating pancakes, yet here we are.
Frank’s style, with Brad Anderson’s colors, is perfect. It doesn’t look like Gibbons, which is perfectly fine; it doesn’t need to. The visuals should be different, lest this be written off as an imitation or even a mockery. It’s close enough in spirit that it feels like Watchmen‘s successor, while being unique enough to stand on its own. Even the callbacks and parallels to the earlier work have their own merit, like the scene where Rorschach’s finds the Batcave. As he wanders through the subterranean lair, there are some shots reminiscent of Laurie Juspeczyk exploring Nite Owl’s bunker. It’s not shot for shot the same, but the spirit of exploration and even wonder is the same. The moment is small yet relatable, giving the reader a connection to the story that may otherwise not have been there.
There is one stylistic choice that is decidedly inspired by Watchmen, yet even it works as a tribute: the shapes of the word balloons. A strange detail to note, but the dialogue is often contained in balloons that are rough and jagged, with lettering that is much the same. It’s a subtle choice from letterer Rob Leigh, and I think it works well to go one more step toward blending these worlds.
This early in the story, it’s difficult to say how Doomsday Clock will proceed. Whether it needs a full twelve issues to tell it’s tale remains to be seen, and yet it ticks on toward Midnight.
There is one counter that can be reset, though: the days since a comic made a Nathaniel Dusk reference. If Doomsday Clock is slow to divulge its own secrets, at least it’s good for passing references to incredibly obscure DC characters. From the mind of Geoff Johns, I’d expect nothing less.
- You’re a big Nathaniel Dusk fan.
- You’ve read Watchmen.
- You’re… probably already reading this, so it doesn’t really need a recommendation.
Overall: This story is taking its time, putting pieces in play before diving headlong into the actual plot. While it can be a little slow, it’s still compelling enough to hold your attention before finally becoming engrossing. Doomsday Clock is an event in every sense of the word, and there are sky-high expectations that come with it. It has yet to reach those heights, but with confident writing, gorgeous art, and a surprising amount of humor it’s on the right track.