Right from the beginning, Doomsday Clock has been endlessly fascinating. Even if a particular issue is rather slow, there’s still so much going on that I’m constantly fascinated by this book. I’ve said it before, but I love reviewing Doomsday Clock because it’s about something. There are so many layers to the narrative that I find something new to appreciate in each issue. Take the cover to issue 11 here, for instance. As ashamed as I am to admit it, Gary Frank’s cover made me realize that he’s been using the same technique that Dave Gibbons did on Watchmen, where the image on the cover is directly related to the first panel of that issue.
While I’d never noticed that when reading Watchmen, I saw somebody point that out a while back and just kind of filed it away in the back of my mind. The first ten issues of Doomsday Clock didn’t trigger anything with me, but there was something about the sight of Batman holding someone’s wrist, trying to prevent them from launching a missile that piqued my curiosity. Sure enough, that’s the first image we see when we open the issue: Batman’s gauntleted hand preventing impending destruction by way of a simple turn of a key.
And then he proceeds to wreck some dudes. Because he’s Batman.
As far as the connection between the cover and the first panel, though, I went back and checked previous issues of the book. Sure enough, Frank has kept up this homage throughout the entire run so far: the series opens with a group of protesters, which matches that cover; the seemingly innocuous sights of a full plate of pancakes and the new Bubastis grace the covers and interiors of issues 4 and 8, respectively; and on issue 9, a Legion flight ring floats above Mars, surrounded by drops of blood, all as the upcoming confrontation with Doctor Manhattan is foreshadowed.
And just to sate my curiosity, I flipped back through my copy of Watchmen to confirm that, yes, Gibbons did indeed do the same. From bloodied smiley face button to even bloodier smiley face button, and everything in between, Watchmen‘s cover images matched their opening panels almost exactly.
It’s details like these that make me really appreciate this series as more than just a cynical attempt to give a beloved, standalone series an unnecessary sequel. Ignoring the fact that maybe I should have picked up on it before, the fact that we’ve been reading this book for going on two years now and still finding new things to talk about with each issue is pretty great.
That Johns has been able to skirt and sidestep pretty much any narrative pitfall that would make this series less than quality is pretty astounding. The series hasn’t been perfect by any means, and it will be interesting to see how well it reads all together once it’s complete. There’s never been a point where I wasn’t excited to read each individual issue, though, even with long waits between installments. Doomsday Clock has managed to pay tribute to Watchmen while still standing on its own terms as a strong piece of comics storytelling.
For that reason, I was very concerned through much of this issue, as it veered dangerously close to being derivative.
After thinking it over and reading through the issue again, I don’t think that it is. There are several points where scenes and ideas are practically lifted from Watchmen, though, and the story is one misstep away from being shameless fan service.
I mean, well-crafted and absolutely stunning shameless fan service, to be sure. Gary Frank is an absolute monster, and coupled with Brad Anderson and Rob Leigh he’s created one of the most visually arresting pieces of mainstream comics of the last several years. That familiar sight of Ozymandias sitting with his back to us, facing a wall of television screens, still tells us more about the character than any amount of monologuing or bloviating ever could. He’s cool and calculating, so sure of his plans that the possibility of failure never even crosses his mind. And yet he still respects those more powerful than him, he firmly places his finger on the projected shield of Superman.
Even still, the scene is just that: familiar. We saw it in Watchmen, and it’s not the first time Veidt returns to the well of his previous victory. Much of this issue is devoted to Ozymandias explaining his master plan to Saturn Girl, though they thankfully stop short of having him say he already did it over 30 minutes ago. Johns does enough to change the circumstances and context of Veidt’s speech that it’s never truly derivative. What helps is his audience, who is just as confident in Veidt’s failure as he is of his success.
There’s some nice back and forth between the two, and if nobody’s said it enough yet, it bears repeating that Frank is a master at facial expressions. Both Saturn Girl and Ozymandias are absolutely positive that their stance is correct. Saturn Girl adopts an expression of… let’s call it “hopeful condescension,” sure as she is of how the future plays out. Ozymandias, on the other hand, is positively menacing in his confidence, looking like a predator that is just toying with its prey.
Veidt gives a lot of exposition, including revealing just what happened with Dan and Laurie after the events of Watchmen. Their fate adds another layer to Mime and Marionette’s story, which ties directly into Doctor Manhattan’s descent away from humanity. It’s an interesting twist, as Jon did indeed spare the criminals’ lives, but not for the reason they (or we) expected.
There are various other threads that are touched upon that set up the finale without quite standing on their own merits. The most interesting bit is when Lex Luthor takes Lois to see an item that he has discovered many, many times over the years, which plays directly into the issue’s back matter. It has to do with the photo that Jon carried on his person throughout Watchmen, the one taken at the fair with Janey Slater. Luthor has found multiple copies of the photo in various locations around the world, with each one appearing on different dates over the past hundred years. In effect, they’re linked to each time Manhattan appeared in the DC Universe before resetting the timeline, and Luthor is collecting them to study and prove his Multiverse theory.
There’s also a brief aside where Alfred makes some pancakes (with the poured batter looking curiously like a child growing in the womb), which he then takes to Reggie. Alfred is rebuffed after he says that he and Batman believe him, but need his help as Rorschach. It’s less substantial than the Luthor and Lois scenes, and certainly less so than the focus on Ozymandias, though I’ve no doubt it will pay off in the finale. At this point I’m almost thinking that Reggie will have new life in the DCU proper, once all is said and done.
Like the previous issue posited, though, it’s all coming back to Superman. Ozymandias has set his sights on Clark, believing him to be the key to saving both worlds, that of the Watchmen characters and the main DC Earth. How he plans to do this, he doesn’t say, other than strongly hinting that Superman and Doctor Manhattan need to meet. If the way he explains his plan is so similar to the way he does the same in Watchmen, though, why don’t I think it’s derivative? Honestly, I can’t quite put my finger on it. It might be because I’ve enjoyed the book so far, and am willing to forgive Johns as I await the series’ conclusion. Really, though, I think it’s because Ozymandias has grown into a truly sinister, despicable character here. His final lines toward Saturn Girl and Johnny Thunder (who spends most of the issue cowering alone in a prison cell) are positively brutal, dripping with malice and contempt. He’s become the “comic book villain” that he insisted that he wasn’t, and I find his transformation utterly fascinating.
Given that I’m still finding new things to talk about with this series, I will gladly take “utterly fascinating,” as that’s what Doomsday Clock continues to be.
As far as back matter goes, the material contained here is rather dry, at least at first glance. It’s a catalog of every recorded appearance of Jon’s photograph that Luthor has been able to track down, with dates and details connected to the discoveries listed in chronological order. It’s fun playing connect the dots with the dates, pinpointing major events in the history of the DC Universe that they correspond to, but other than that there isn’t much to the first two pages.
Credit where it’s due: the back matter is always designed incredibly well from a visual standpoint, and this is no exception. The clean lettering of the tabulated list looks like an official record, and the repeated photographs are in all sorts of shape: some look relatively pristine, while others are yellowed and dirtied from exposure.
Then there’s a final photograph that depicts the event on the cover of The Flash #123. Believe me, you know this cover: Barry Allen and Jay Garrick on opposite sides of a wall, each running to save a man from a falling girder. “The Flash Of Two Worlds” is used as part of Luthor’s hypothesis about the Multiverse and a sort of “chronal bleed” that leaves behind traces of histories that no longer exist.
I think I can be forgiven for thinking that the closing image of each issue has been blood creeping ever closer to the titular clock, its crimson wave taking up more and more of the page. The sight of a blood-streaked button is synonymous with Watchmen, after all, so having a call back to that motif makes perfect sense.
Only it isn’t blood.
It’s a cape.
No joke, I let out a laugh when I saw this. It’s such a small detail that’s mostly for show, but I still find it representative of one of the major themes of this book: everything comes back to Superman. The Doomsday Clock may tick ever closer to Midnight, but the Man of Steel will be there to face any harbingers of destruction.
- You’ve held on this long.
- You’ve been wanting to know what happened with Dan and Laurie.
- Seriously, this is some gorgeous artwork, guys.
Overall: Doomsday Clock is consistently interesting, with new things to talk about and discover with each passing issue. Thankfully, this is a consistently good book as well. Johns veers a little close to derivation in the way he portrays Ozymandias, but the strength of his writing makes him side-step any sense of direct imitation. As always, the art is absolutely gorgeous, from Gary Frank’s incredible pencils to Brad Anderson’s stunning colors to Rob Leigh’s strong and creative lettering. Here’s hoping that, as we approach the end, this book manages to cement itself as a worthy follow-up to Watchmen and a bold new chapter in the DC Universe.