In the last chapter of Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ seminal Watchmen, there is one final conversation between two of its main characters: Ozymandias, the world’s smartest man, and Doctor Manhattan, the world’s only true superhuman. Before the sequels, the prequels and the crossovers with the DC Universe, this was the last word on these two characters that existed. The exchange between the two has Ozymandias, the antagonist of the story, asking if his actions were right in the end. Doctor Manhattan responds succinctly, and hauntingly: “Nothing ever ends.”
Apparently, Geoff Johns took one look at that line, said “cool!”, and now we’re fucking here.
I’m going to level with you: much of this review will be talking about the ending of this book (spoilers ahead). That may initially seem unfair! A lot happens in this book, from the resolution of Thomas Wayne’s multi-year character arc to the truth behind Bruce Wayne’s elaborate time heist. Some of it is good, some of it is… fine… but so much of it is irrelevant in the face of the ending.
To discuss the good: Bruce’s subplot. The beginning of the issue turned me off, at first: I was seriously under the impression that Johns, Sheridan and Adams were attempting to redo the mistakes Barry made during Flashpoint, only with Bruce as the catalyst instead this time. The idea seemed irresponsible and horrifically callous – which is on track for Bruce, if it wouldn’t also be responsible for the deaths of billions.
However, the way it resolved felt satisfying enough. While Bruce and Thomas’ plotlines never intersect, there’s a level of thematic connectivity that makes up for it, and the three writers of this issue manage to balance Bruce’s arrogance with his humanity rather effectively. Janin’s art is at its best in this issue, too, with choreography interesting enough to go to par with Xermanico’s excellent standards in the rest of the issue. It doesn’t hurt that Janin gets to draw someone throwing a racoon.
To talk about the “meh”, the resolution of the A-Plot: not a good sign, seeing as it’s the thing that made this comic have some level of potential in the first place. What was initially a compelling mystery centred around Thomas Wayne in a collapsing universe felt damaged by the return of Martha Wayne’s Joker as the Clockwork Killer – and the altering of her character and intelligence in order to fit the plot. I don’t think the mystery is one you’d be able to solve normally, unless you by default assume that no one ever dies, and stories aren’t allowed to move past the main beats of their conception.
Thomas Wayne’s character finishes his arc in this issue, and it’s a good moment to be sure. I’d like it a little more if it weren’t somewhat overshadowed by everything else going on in the book, from the intersecting B-Plot to the resolution of Flashpoint’s Two-Face, Joker and Robin storylines. Typically, every plot coming together in an explosive finale is a good thing, and maybe it’s my exhaustion from the ending of the book that’s talking – but I don’t see most of these endings as very satisfying, save for maybe Robin’s. Two-Face felt sidelined the moment Joker came onto the scene, and Martha Wayne’s character turn did not feel earned after everything she did as a villain in the story.
Now we come to “the bad”, which is where I lambast myself for not sticking to my guns in my review of Issue #0 and writing this entire story off at first sight. One last spoiler warning before I discuss the final page of this book, which I’ll hide with a spoiler warning just in case:
Ugh. Okay, here we go.
Let’s get this out of the way: no, it’s not a bad thing to foreshadow other stories in their predecessor. No I don’t hate all of the threads set up in this issue: Bruce vs the Kanes seems like an interesting idea, and I quite like the attention given to the Time Masters, a group I haven’t spent much time with in general. But a follow-up to Doomsday Clock, a story that was already pushing the boundary between “cool crossover” and “creative bankruptcy”? I suppose I should have seen this coming the moment DC felt comfortable doing “Doctor Bathattan”, but still.
Nostalgia and The Watchman seem like two names so on-the-nose that I shouldn’t need to deconstruct their outrageousness, but since we’re here, let’s do it anyway. There’s an argument to be made that all supplemental Watchmen content is “blasphemous” to Alan Moore’s wishes, whether it be the controversial Before Watchmen to the critically acclaimed HBO series. It’s a fair point – but I’d posit there’s a very clear difference between a sequel with a clear and soulful message and a thinly veiled excuse to put your Watchmen OCs next to your Batman action figures.
What is there to be gained, creatively, from the addition of more Watchmen characters in the world of DC? What narrative purpose is there, aside from more synergy and brand recognition? Johns was out of the world of DC, and it felt like the writers were finally thinking about moving on to new horizons! In what world does this feel anything less than a step back in both creativity and editorial decisionmaking? This isn’t Rebirth. You can’t catch the same lightning in the same bottle, and pull the Watchmen card a second time like it’s going to work the way it did the first.
But hell, what does it matter? I’m just shouting into the void about it all. My words have no more authority than a stray Reddit comment in the eyes of DC, really. What sensible executive would read this review and think “Ah, of course! Nick’s soulful critique of Johns’ continued disrespect of the Watchmen property has made me see the light! Never again shall we dip our hands into the fabled wellspring of Moore Money!” It’d be silly. So, I suppose we’re going to live with “Nostalgia” and “The Watchman” for the forseeable future. The only hope I have is that I can at least persuade a few readers to make your displeasure known with the only thing executives do respect: your wallets.
- Your love for Thomas Wayne’s Batman overrides any degree of superhero and event fatigue.
- Event fatigue doesn’t affect you at all.
- You actually like having to constantly buy books that tell you to instead be excited for the next installment: a narrative green light at the end of the dock, a horizon the reader will never reach.
Back during my early reviewing days at Batman News, I reviewed the miniseries Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy – a generally middling comic with a few moments of potential that were never quite realized. My final review of this series was one of my greatest regrets as a critic: despite DC’s ridiculous degree of queerbait, I didn’t stick to my guns and gave the issue a far-too generous score. I won’t be making the same mistake here. Well-paced, well-illustrated and well-written, this issue regardless fails to secure a recommendation from me. “Nothing ever ends”, indeed – not unless we consumers let it.
Disclaimer: DC Comics provided Batman News with a copy of this comic for the purpose of this review.
Author’s Twitter: @ObnoxiousFinch