Writer: Geoff Johns
Artist: Gary Frank
For many comic book fans Watchmen should be an untouchable work of art that is not interfered with by anyone. So the simple concept of Doomsday Clock will be too much to get beyond. DC has already shown they do not share that same mantra as we have already gotten the much-maligned Before Watchmen series and ever since the DC Rebirth began hints were being made that the world of DC comics proper and Watchmen will be colliding. Now that collision has officially started with the release of Doomsday Clock #1.
Cynical reaction to this idea is understandable, however from the start it is clear writer Geoff Johns is looking to do more than seeing what would happen if Doctor Manhattan and Superman got into a fight. Watchmen forever changed the landscape of comics with ripple effects the size of tidal waves still being visible today. Audiences turned away from the innocence of comics asking for more realistic, gritty, and darker superheroes that made people question if there is still a place for a character like Superman.
Johns’s Rebirth one-shot and now Doomsday Clock act as reactionary observation to the state of comics and how we got where we find ourselves. As Moore deconstructed the genre with his work Johns is attempting to rebuild that construction but in a new form. By placing the idyllic Superman up against the contemptuous world of the Watchmen the foundations of both are majorly altered. On one side you have the ultimate beacon for hope and justice. An individual of unweaving moral character that has no obligation to do good yet chooses to do so due to a specific set of values instilled in him by the same humanity he swears to protect.
Compare that to the world of the Watchmen that is full of nihilistic heroes who were fully rejected by their world. A world that is vacant of hope and destined to lead to its very own demise due to fear and this never-ending search for power. Placing Superman in this world would be like taking Errol Flynn’s Robin Hood and dumping him in the world of Game of Thrones. Does a character of such unyielding optimism positively infect those around him for the good of all, or is the naivety of those ideals broken down even further by the dark cloud of reality. It seems Doomsday Clock is going to investigate that quandary.
For an opening issue in this twelve part series, this was in no hurry. Taking place years after the events of Watchmen the world is closing in on doomsday once again. Word to the wise if you are a person who has not actually read Watchmen you should do so before reading this issue. To fully grasp the understanding of what is occurring you will need to know how the world was left when that infamous series ended. Also important to note the day this series begins is also a landmark day for the history of comics. November 22nd, 1992 was the day that Superman died. In today’s world, the death of a comic character is barely a blip on the radar, but that day was one of the biggest in comics history. Again showing the subtext fueling this story is constantly there in big and small ways.
In the story, the world has discovered the truth behind Ozymandias’s action that stopped the bombs from dropping years earlier. Now the smartest man alive is a wanted man and his former teammates have no also disappeared along with Doctor Manhattan. To complicate matters further Rorschach or someone playing the part of Rorschach is breaking people out of prison that may hold the key to saving the world.
Story-wise most of the time is spent laying that foundation of the state of this world and the characters. There are some major revelations and introduction of new characters which is quite the bold move for this story. Especially considering making a badass evil mime a major point in this issue could go horrifically wrong, yet it works rather well here. The going back for his personal good sequence added a much-needed element of levity in an otherwise heavy toned story. Overall what we see are the ramifications that occur when the world realizes it has been fooled. To complicate an already volatile cocktail of issues the European Union has collapsed, Russian is invading Poland, and North Korea now has missiles that can reach as far as Texas. The American nightmare is now real and due to the aggression of Russian forces the bombs are coming in only a few hours.
Alan Moore created a book that was birthed out of the disillusion of its time as a reaction to Watergate, Vietnam, and the social and political climate of the seventies and eighties. Sadly many of those parallels ring true today—a unpopular war that lacks any endpoint, a vitriol population unable to find compromise, corrupt politicians taking advantage of the vary people who placed them in power, and a looming threat of nuclear war hanging in the background. Considering all factors the climate is perfect for a return of this universe.
Artist Gary Frank had perhaps an even tougher challenge than Johns bringing this book to life. Watchmen is a brilliantly crafted piece of art with some of the most inventive and constructed panels in comics history. There is no way for Frank to match that, but the choice to utilize the nine-panel grid is an obvious but correct one to make. Having nearly identical opening pages might be a step too far, but if anything Frank is announcing he is not forgetting the work that was done before. Brad Anderson puts together a fantastic color pallet that was key for this book to work. Watchmen has a very distinct pallet that is instantly recognizable. With a more modern art style, it would be impossible to continue that exact pattern. Elements are certainly still there with a slightly more muted execution.
Overall Doomsday Clock #1 works to legitimizes its existence as a necessary work to progress the medium of comics to its next chapter. This could work as a next step to the original Watchmen story without the additional element of the Superman mythos. What it lacks in major wow moments it makes up for in strong characterization, impressive art, and the construction of some intriguing questions and mysteries. Having eleven more issues it is far too early to know if these lofty goals are achievable. So far though there is plenty reason to have faith.