DOOMSDAY CLOCK #1
Writer: Geoff Johns
Artist: Gary Frank
Publisher: DC Comics
Reviewer: Humphrey Lee
I’ve said it several times over the years (I’m sure) while doing this content/rambling gig, I usually don’t expose myself to anything close to a review of comic book if I plan on covering it as well. What I do tend to do, though, is let myself kind of soak in some of the general attitude toward a project, especially a high profile book such as this comic, DOOMSDAY CLOCK, a WATCHMEN sequel of all things by one of the biggest creative tandems you can in comics, Geoff Johns with the words and Gary Frank with the pretty pictures. Those rumblings about this series from the Internet based hoi polloi has essentially been, from what I can gather, “Why the @#$% does this exist?” And the answer to that very blunt but fair question, from what I can discern after reading this opening issue, is “Because Comic Books.”
Here’s the thing, and I’m going into tangent mode here before I get to the actual “review” nonsense you all are actually here for (I assume, unless you somehow mistook this for a porn page, in which case I’m both confused and intrigued by what you were searching to get here). But here’s my viewpoint on the matter of “why does this exist?” and the answer is both “we’re living in a hellscape where everything is terrible and nothing is sacred” and “well, why wouldn’t it?” There is definitely the bit of me that loves to see the medium of comics books be as artistic as it cane be. I love my superheroes but I’m all for anything that pushes the boundaries of comic books, whether the capes and tights come along with it, and WATCHMEN very much brought that archetype of character to the forefront of the “comics as art conversation.” So why am I accepting that there’s a sequel of quintessential comic book/superhero masterpiece by a creative team that is not the original crew?
Because I’m not sure, that’s why.
Because comic books have a long history of taking their pieces of art that happen to be acclaimed hits and making more of them, for better or for worse. Because when a proven and top tier creative team takes on the baggage of doing a sequel story like this to something as acclaimed as the source material, I give them credit that they must really, REALLY have something they want to tell and will see if their talents get them there. I’m not saying the hit rate on these projects is particularly high – hell, it’s downright cringe worthy – but there are successes out there and pretty big ones. I don’t think anyone was clamoring for a “Blade Runner” sequel this year but right now it’s hands down the best movie I’ve seen in 2017. I’ve also got a stack of LUCIFER trades sitting on my shelf spinning out of Neil Gaiman’s SANDMAN run – a comic I regard as the best comic book series ever made – and LUCIFER actually gives it a run for the money as far as I’m concerned. I’ve also read all of the BEFORE WATCHMEN material and, yeah, half of that is not so good. But the other half is actually really good and spawned out of some of the best talents in comics at the time. Sometimes this shit just works, I dunno.
Does DOOMSDAY CLOCK work though? It did for me, and on quite a few levels even, not just “this wasn’t an entire embarrassment that negated all that ‘sometimes it works!’ drivel of mine you just had to read” way. I enjoyed it because it did what I think is essential in following up a seminal work such as WATCHMEN, and that is it stayed faithful to the source material but threw some unexpected turns and mysteries in there.
The groundwork of the book is pretty basic but effective because Johns and Frank nail the tone of WATCHMEN. We find ourselves on an Earth several years down road from the first book in a world that is back to the brink of extinction as was the backdrop of the original series. Adrian Veidt’s gambit to stall and possibly end the nuclear apocalypse worked, but thanks to the nihilistic ramblings of Rorschach’s Journal, everything is steamrolling to another international crisis as Veidt’s stopgap was discovered and aired out to the world. Therefore, DOOMSDAY CLOCK is an appropriately grim and cynical work, maybe not so much to the extent Alan Moore’s scripting was in the original and his very “flowery” verbiage, but it actually feels more pressing considering that with Veidt’s efforts in shambles and no actual Doctor Manhattan to at least lessen the extent of nuclear missiles flying, this version of Earth (like arguably our version of it) feels very much like it’s on it last legs with a lot of weight permeating the very familiar panel schemes.
As I said, though, this book did manage to surprise me, namely the return of Rorschach, who is definitely not Rorschach, because now there’s a black man underneath the shifting facemask. He’s every bit the terror as his predecessor and maybe even more so because he’s a) crazy (or possibly sane) enough to be working with an on the run Veidt and b) seems to command some fear from Veidt as we see in one of their panel-to-panel interactions. Who he is, what his background could possibly be and if it has any greater connection to the first work or – given the quest he and Veidt are going on – what his ties to the DC multiverse could be are intriguing. And then there’s the quest itself, which is, of course, trying to find the one being that could save them, the self-exiled Dr. Manhattan. And then, of course, there’s the Superman interlude at the end, which piques another type of interest of the idea of the eternal symbol of hope interacting with a version of Earth that has absolutely none of it left.
So an issue into this project that “shouldn’t exist” and am I glad it does? Sure. It’s a very well written, absolutely gorgeous book to go through. The only argument I personally have against this book right now is that, in an actual real world where the President of the fucking United States of America is Twitter trolling the megalomaniacal leader of a fresh nuclear power, maybe the tone and backdrop of this book hits a little too close to home, but from an execution standpoint this is a good read. It feels less derivative of its source material and more respectful and playing it safe by hitting home a lot of the narrative notes of that work, but I think it may take some chances and do some interesting thematic work. It could also go down some weird hole of multiverse fuckery and just become another eye roll inducing piece of DCU and, let’s be honest, Geoff Johns when he’s at his laziest “Crisis-like” shenanigans, but I think he and Gary Frank have earned enough credit over the years to think they would pull from such a renowned classic unless they really had a story to tell that can play to its strengths and the dichotomy of rubbing against a DCU Earth Prime that’s a bit more joyous. I can’t even begin to say where this story will go and if it’ll even come within a whisker of my winter stubble of reaching the storytelling heights of the original WATCHMEN, so no, I can’t justify this book’s existence as a follow up to one of the most influential comic books of all time. But I can say, that in of itself, in thirty some odd pages of execution, it’s an intriguing piece of work that wears well the deep talents of those who created it.
Okay, it’s also over-costed as fuck. Come on DC, you guys know you were going to sell the shit out of this damn thing; there’s no reason to go complete for the 90’s well and charge double retail for the gimmick cover (much as I appreciate a comic that lets me pretend I’m a DJ doing some scratching) and like 12 extra pages. Your price point on your books has been your biggest advantage for over a year and a half now, keep the beat going. Alright. That’s it. Book’s good. Buy it or don’t. Cheers…
Humphrey Lee has been an avid comic book reader going on fifteen years now and a contributor to AICN COMICS and now at MLMILLERWRITES.COM. In fact, reading comics is about all he does in his free time and where all the money from his day job wages goes to – funding his comic book habit so he can talk about them to you, our loyal readers (lucky you). He’s a bit of a social networking whore, so you can find him all over the Interwebs on sites like Twitter, Facebookand a blog where he also mostly talks about comics with his free time because he hasn’t the slightest semblance of a life. Sad but true, and he gladly encourages you to add, read, and comment as you will.