A funny thing happened early on in this issue of Doomsday Clock: I started buying into it. Now, this series has been pretty entertaining since day one, but I’ve still kept it at arms-length for a few reasons. Watchmen is great and, while I don’t hold it in quite as high a regard as most do, it’s an undeniable classic and a true work of literature. That, and a somewhat slow pace kept me from fully embracing what Geoff Johns is trying to do.
What’s worked to his benefit is that Johns isn’t simply trying to write a follow-up to one of the most celebrated comic series of all time; instead, he’s trying to take characters from a standalone work and incorporate them into the DC Universe to tell a fresh story that respects and benefits both worlds. He’s been largely successful, though I’ve felt his handling of the more familiar DC characters has been stronger than those from the more “grounded,” cynical Watchmen universe. No surprise, really, and the fact that he’s made the return of the likes of Dr. Manhattan and Ozymandias even somewhat palatable is a minor miracle.
Still, it’s not quite been a perfect match like, say, peanut butter and jelly. It’s been more along the lines of… chunky peanut butter and jelly: still good on their own and together, but there are a few bumps that make it a slightly curious experience. Enjoyable, yes, but I still think it could be improved.
About three pages into the third issue here allayed any apprehensions I had, though, and got me fully on board. No joke, this is an entertaining comic in its own regard and sure to be one of my favorite issues of the year.
The best thing Johns has done in writing a follow-up to Watchmen is not trying to write Watchmen 2. He takes a few cues from Moore but still has his own voice, which is a much better approach than trying to ape another writer’s style. That also makes the parallels in both story and structure work better, too, so that the writing feels intentional instead of derivative. Take the opening sequence, which explains the return of the Comedian. I won’t go into the specifics of how he’s still alive after the events of Watchmen (which, if you’ll recall, he was dead through the entirety of), but Johns and especially artist Gary Frank echo the structure of Moore and Gibbons’ storytelling to give their own work a fresh spin.
There’s a sequence that is practically lifted from Watchmen itself, detailing the murder of the Comedian at the hands of Ozymandias. You see Blake’s bloody, battered face, a fist grabbing his robe, and finally the face of Adrian Veidt, towering over the broken man and ready for the kill. Whereas in Watchmen these panels were intercut with other scenes to heighten tension before the ultimate reveal that one of the world’s greatest heroes is, in fact, the villain, Doomsday Clock shows them all in unbroken sequence. You can feel Blake’s pain as he struggles to fight off his assailant, only to be overcome and thrown out a window to his doom.
Johns also uses a form of media to add another level of depth and history to the universe. Like the Tales of the Black Freighter comic in Watchmen, Doomsday Clock features frequent references to Nathaniel Dusk movies from the Forties and Fifties. It’s still early in the run, so it’s hard to say at this point, but Black Freighter had more of a thematic connection to its material than the Dusk movies have with theirs. It’s easy to say that in hindsight, though, when one series is complete and the other isn’t. But where Black Freighter was a parable within the story, the Dusk series of films create a sense of history and culture in the DC Universe.
The Dusk films have been running as part of a marathon on television, and different characters will be watching them at different points in the story. Most notable is at a retirement facility where Johnny Thunder stands at a window, sullenly waiting for family that never appear.
The movie is playing on the television in the background, as two of the other residents fight over whether to watch it or the news. As a sense of pop culture in the DCU, I think it works rather well, especially with the back matter in this issue shedding light on the history of the franchise and its star. Film star Carver Colman is highlighted in the “Screenland” gossip rag, where we find out that he was tragically murdered in a manner that’s eerily similar to the death of Hollis Mason in Watchmen.
There are also references to John Law and Frank Farr, both imagined as Golden Age Hollywood figures. Law, of course, was the vigilante known as the tarantula who later became an author, and while Frank Farr isn’t familiar, he may very well be a relative of the Doom Patrol’s Rita Farr. As I said, it adds nice depth and history with familiar names and characters, and seeing Johns returning to the groundwork laid for the return of the JSA is exciting.
Let’s be real, though: we’re all here to see Batman.
The Dark Knight has a much bigger part in this story than I thought he would, especially given that this series was pitched as a Superman story. Curiously enough, Batman has had more screentime than Superman has, but I’m sure we’re all okay with more Batman.
After the new Rorschach stumbled upon his identity in the previous issue, Batman decides to at least reluctantly work with the masked stranger. Their scenes together are actually incredibly funny, with a dry wit that suits them both well.
Note too how great Frank’s expressions are. You can’t see Rorschach’s face at all, and Batman’s features only make subtle changes, yet you know exactly what each of them are thinking. The use of body language is masterful, though hardly surprising from the likes of Frank and Anderson.
Batman and Rorschach make a peculiarly effective team, and their interactions are a highlight in an issue that has plenty to enjoy already. We even learn a little more about this new Rorschach, particularly that he was an eyewitness to the New York City tragedy at the end of Watchmen. The pieces are slowly falling into place, and I’m a lot more curious and invested than I thought I would be. It helps that he’s not quite as gruff and terse as Kovacs was, though he certainly tries his hardest. Johns plays it for laughs, there’s no doubt about that, and by and large it’s genuinely funny. There are times that he lets his guard down a bit (dude loves pancakes) or has a look of anxiety that makes him relatable. We may not know his name yet, but even with so little information he’s still a compelling character.
And then there’s the Mime. Oh, how I love the Mime. New characters are a tricky gamble, especially when you have two high profile properties meeting. At worst, they’ll either come off as extraneous or even distracting, yet even if they’re well-received they don’t often make much of a mark.
Not the Mime, though. That dude rules.
It’s totally believable that he and Marionette could have come from the Watchmen universe, nestling in nicely alongside Ozymandias and Rorschach. Their journey through the DC Universe is a blast, too, in all its blood-soaked genius. They’re party to a ridiculously violent fight scene that is nonetheless exhilarating. I’m not a fan of violence for its own sake, but here it’s… well, ok, it isn’t tasteful either. What it is is well-crafted and executed, and we finally get to see if Mime actually has some sort of strange power or if he’s as insane as he looks, pointing invisible guns at people.
As with all series, Doomsday Clock likely needs to be read to completion to formulate an appropriate reaction. I’ve enjoyed the book so far without loving it, and in the end it could still prove to be unnecessary. As it stands right now, this is at the very least a well-crafted story that is respectful to the source material of Watchmen and the DC Universe proper. If nothing else I’m enjoying it, and after this issue I really think I’m starting to love it.
BONUS: A nifty variant cover, this one featuring Batman!
- Once again, you’re probably reading this.
- You want to know if Mime’s abilities are legitimate or a hoax.
- It’s a legitimately great comic, guys. I’m in.
Overall: Geoff Johns has overcome some very slight hiccups in the first two installments to deliver a gripping, highly entertaining read. With a compelling plot that has a surprising amount of humor and some outright gorgeous visuals, Doomsday Clock is beginning to make a case for itself. It may not be a completely necessary sequel to a seminal classic, but it is a great comic in its own right, and that’s what matters.