We all have blind spots. Either willfully or inadvertently, there are things that we tend to turn away from, or things to which we don’t pay any mind.
The characters in Doomsday Clock are not immune to this, for they have blind spots too.
Rorschach was unaware that his parents didn’t die in each others’ arms, like he thought. Instead, they were separated, driven apart by his father’s obsession with Walter Kovacs. He was unaware of their troubles, and this ignorance led him to take up the name and mantle of a man that, by all accounts, he should despise.
Saturn Girl’s blind spot, ironically, is a future that she knows will come to be. She’s so sure that events play out “the way they should” that she almost naively brushes aside any trial or tribulation, for to her, this has already happened. It will all work out in the end.
For Doctor Manhattan, the future is nothingness, and it terrifies him.
Doomsday Clock has always been interesting; now, it’s exciting.
After almost a year of narrative, we finally get answers to some of the series’ big questions. Not every answer, mind you, but enough that the story has a genuine sense of mystery and drama. It all starts on the first page, with Doctor Manhattan narrating different events that he’s experiencing. He’s there as a strange green meteor falls to the Earth in the year 960, watching as a monk fashions it into a lamp. He sees as a patient in a mental health facility forges that same lamp into a lantern, its energies healing him of his affliction. Manhattan is there as that same lantern is the means by which Alan Scott is saved from a train wreck… and Manhattan is there to move it out of Scott’s reach so he falls to his doom.
Without Alan Scott, there is not Green Lantern. Without the Green Lantern, the Justice Society of America never forms. And without a Justice Society, Johnny Thunder never encounters his imp Yz, so “cei-u” is now just a nonsense phrase from an old man.
It’s a very dark turn, and it all happens on the very first page.
What’s so fascinating about this issue is how compact the storytelling is. Aside from some flashes forward and back, it’s fairly linear, and the action never deviates from the core players. Barely a word is mentioned about the Supermen Theory. This is all about what caused the world of Watchmen and the main DC Universe to collide, and what happens when these supposed gods are completely broken down.
It’s no secret that, after a series of brief glimpses and hints before, Doctor Manhattan finally appears in full. The issue opens with his narration, after all, and Ozymandias’ main goal is tracking Jon down. To do so, he needs a magnet, or perhaps a compass. Two items serve this purpose: Alan Scott’s lantern, and the cloned Bubastis. As both have had different exposure to Jon’s energy, they will both mask Veidt’s actions and draw Manhattan to him when he’s ready.
Veidt is successful.
Manhattan appears fairly early in the book, at about the halfway point. He had a large narrative presence before, and now he is there, in the flesh. Veidt, being the brilliant fool that he is, thinks he can convince Jon to come with him to save their world. Jon, viewing the plight of men to be beneath him and refusing to be anybody’s puppet, declines. And so we have a chess match where the most brilliant man in the world is constantly several moves behind, so he ultimately decides to flip the game board over and do things his own way.
This is an incredibly dense, dialogue-heavy issue. The first page takes a bit of time to get through, but once you get past it the rest flies by. Johns wisely brings the core characters together quickly, and there’s not a scene that feels extraneous. He keeps a steady, active pace by balancing the dialogue with some incredibly energetic action scenes. Mime and Marionette are uncomfortably sadistic toward the Comedian, for one, using some disgustingly brutal methods to draw out what he knows about Doctor Manhattan. He doesn’t know much, and you can tell they know this as well, but the opportunity to torture someone is too fun to pass up. It’s hard to read, but perfectly in line with their characters.
A fleeting glimpse of heroism arises when Batman, incapacitated for the past few issues, finally stirs and escapes the bondage of his chair. He fights Joker, Mime, and Marionette, in a sequence that is well staged and gorgeously illustrated. Frank’s use of the nine-panel grid makes it to where a few shots are a tad unclear, but by and large he uses the format well. The claustrophobic nature of the panels serves the fight in some ways, too, making hits feel like they land harder in the close quarters of the grid.
Believe it or not, though, Batman wrecking some dudes isn’t the most involving part of the issue. It’s not even the most satisfying thing that goes on here, either. It’s the long conversation between the strangers to the DC Universe that is the most rewarding, due in no small part to the fact that Doctor Manhattan is absolutely terrified.
In Watchmen, Jon Osterman had a cold detachment from humanity (exhibited by Gibbons’ lettering, which Rob Leigh masterfully emulates). He had an anchor, of sorts, in Sally Jupiter, but that relationship deteriorated quickly thanks to his emotional and corporeal distance. He was depicted as a creature that was more than human, with an awareness of time, space, and the universe so far beyond humanity’s capabilities that we were nothing more than trivial. After all, Jon could see down to the atoms that bind us together and out to the furthest reaches of the universe in equal measure. When compared to the breadth and scope of the universe, what did the events of a single, solitary world matter?
True, Manhattan came to a sense of acceptance, conceding that some aspects of human life are so mathematically and scientifically improbable that they are nothing short of miraculous. Still, with the power and knowledge he possesses, staying on Earth wasn’t in his best interest. Yet in leaving one Earth to explore the universe, Jon ended up meddling with another. There isn’t a direct correlation, at least not yet, but we can infer that the Flashpoint occurred because of the disruption of Alan Scott’s fate. While it’s not a complete answer, it still addresses a lingering question.
The most fascinating thing about Doomsday Clock #7 is how it shatters the perceptions of the Watchmen characters. Rorschach is an even more tragic figure now, for one, as he’s bearing the name and mask of a man that drove his parents apart. It’s Veidt and Manhattan who go through the most change, and amazingly enough, it works. For Veidt, you could make the case that he wasn’t a dyed in the wool supervillain in Watchmen. His actions were despicable, no question, but he wasn’t a “republic serial villain,” in his words. He thought he was doing what was right for the world as a whole, and he was willing to both take action and carry the burden of those actions. Now, in his desperation to save his world, he has gone full-on supervillain, and I… actually kind of like it. There are still shades of a perceived “righteous crusade,” but by and large Veidt has shoved aside any pretense of propriety. He’s no longer interested in playing fair or allowing others to interject. He has a goal, and he will accomplish it no matter the cost.
Jon, too, has had a shift in his character, equally as fascinating as Veidt’s. He is no longer the calm, placid, detached figure that he was before. There’s a sense of anger and disgust in the way he speaks to his contemporaries. When he left Veidt at the end of Watchmen, Jon’s words were “nothing ever ends.”
But Jon was wrong. He is now forced to admit that everything ends. He can no longer see into the future, and this terrifies him. Is his blind spot due to his impending doom, or because he destroys everything? The last image he is able to see is Superman, one month in the future, but does he save Jon or does he destroy him? If the most powerful creature in the universe– in multiple universes– is afraid, then what hope does anyone have?
Veidt’s borderline obsession with “resurrecting” Bubastis makes up the back matter material, all of which is brief and a quick read but nonetheless engrossing. There’s a letter to Kelley Popham, Vice President of PR for Veidt’s company (for those in the know, this is a pretty fun in-joke), with Veidt lamenting the loss of Bubastis while pledging to fund an initiative to save “all endangered species.” Naturally, this isn’t an entirely altruistic endeavor, given that Veidt uses it as a front to experiment on select species to further his cloning research.
Still, the fervor with which he pursues his goal is humanizing, which was difficult for even Watchmen to do. From the beginning, Veidt has been almost too perfect: he’s brilliant, rich, and in peak physical form. Even so, he never seems quite likable, even before you find out his plan. There’s something off-putting about his demeanor, a sense of false humility that the nevertheless comes across as condescending arrogance. True, Veidt is still as despicable and manipulative as ever in Doomsday Clock, but reading his notes adds a previously unseen layer to his character. The almost childlike excitement Veidt exhibits when a small, cat-like skeletal system starts appearing in random places is kind of charming. Bubastis’ “resurrection” is a bit derivative, given that it pretty closely mirrors Doctor Manhattan’s first appearance to the world, but it makes sense in context. Not the most revealing material when compared to the other back matter, but it’s interesting just the same, and welcome for the purposes of humanizing an unlikable character.
- You’ve been waiting for some answers from this series.
- You’re wanting to see some development from the Watchmen characters, and are willing to go along for the ride.
Overall: Far and away the best issue of Doomsday Clock yet, this is a taut, tense installment that moves the story forward in some terrifying ways. Gorgeously illustrated and masterfully lettered as always, the case for bringing the Watchmen to the DC Universe is finally being adequately presented. Johns builds off the arcs in Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ seminal work to take the characters in some interesting new directions, while seamlessly working in the new characters alongside them, and in doing so he manages to make them fit in with the rest of the DC Universe. If this series was a slow burn before, it’s finally caught fire and has become a full-fledged inferno.