This week sees the release of Doomsday Clock, Geoff Johns and Gary Frank’s highly-publicized maxi-series where the events of Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ seminal comic Watchmen collide with Superman and the wider DC universe. Deadshirt writers David Uzumeri, Robby Karol, Max Robinson, and Kayleigh Hearn read the first issue and give their verdicts: is Doomsday Clock totally Devo, or should you drop a giant squid on it?
David Uzumeri: Here’s the thing: there’s a solid argument to be made that Doomsday Clock #1 is the best Johns/Frank collaboration. Gary Frank and Brad Anderson are at the peak of their powers here; it’s a really beautiful comic, and Frank’s attention to detail and staging are really impressive. He’s always been a details guy, and nine-panel comics in the style of Watchmen are the perfect venue for showing that off. It’s packed with detail, and Anderson’s been Frank’s simpatico collaborator for north of a decade.
Artists quoted in Watchmen at the end of the chapters: Bob Dylan, Elvis Costello, the Book of Genesis, Albert Einstein, William Blake, Friedrich Nietzsche, the Book of Job, Eleanor Farjeon, Carl Jung, Percy Bysshe Shelley, John Cale. While they all reflect the chapters named after them, they’re always a level or two of metaphor away from the events of the text — with the exception of the Shelley quote that closes off chapter eleven.
Meanwhile, Doomsday Clock’s first issue wraps up with a quote from Horace Smith, whose poem “Ozymandias” was actually produced in a direct sonnet competition with Shelley, and which has had far less academic impact. It’s a lesser shadow of a greater work, utilized in exceedingly literal way, and it’s Geoff Johns committing the biggest self-own I’ve seen in comics writing.
Doomsday Clock is the ur-text of Johnsian literalism, as he attempts to marry his blunt-force metaphorical style with Moore’s formal brilliance and subtext. The result is almost churlishly predictable as the entire issue rotates around countdowns. It’s not enough that the world is counting down to self-destruction; Adrian Veidt needs to have a brain tumor to race against a doomsday clock within a doomsday clock. Watchmen is an intricately constructed lattice of themes that reflect the world in which it was made; Doomsday Clock is an intricately constructed lattice of the same theme over and over and over and over and over. It’s an attempt at a centrist political text, portraying both the oppressors and the oppressed as equally at fault for being too closed-minded to get along.
It’s the ultimate endpoint of Geoff Johns’s writing career, a precocious child dressed up in big-boy clothes masquerading as serious discourse. It’s Horace Smith’s “Ozymandias,” and it’s an astounding misapplication of talent.
Robby Karol: I thought this was going to be bad. I found DC Rebirth, Geoff Johns’ last major contribution to the DC multiverse, laughable at best. And DC’s continual efforts to destroy Watchmen’s power and Alan Moore’s contributions to the DC universe are disappointing. But I liked the preview pages and the hilarious over-reactions to the use of William F. Buckley as a proto-Sean Spicer that just started circulating on the right-wing blogosphere. So I read this and…oof.
The good first. Gary Frank is a good choice for this project. He has an ability to draw substantive, expressive figures that suggests Dave Gibbons without seeming like an imitation. I think I prefer his B&W pencils/inks over the colored version that appears in the finished comic, but it still works.
Now onto the rest of it. When DC indicated they were going to inject Watchmen into the DC universe, I had a visceral reaction. But it’s not like other people haven’t done their own riffs/reactions to the comic before and at least one of them, Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely’s “Pax Americana” story from Multiversity, is quite good. Unfortunately, Geoff Johns is not up to the task. The political references to current events are heavy-handed (there’s a “deplorables” mention). NuRorschach is a Rorschach imitation wrapped in an uninteresting enigma, and the new characters (Punch and Jewelee knock-offs called the Mime and the Marionette) are just two-dimensional psychos. And closing pages, where we encounter Superman and Lois, feels totally unrelated to what has come before. The “In Memoriam – Len Wein” dedication just feels like a bad joke.
Doomsday Clock #1 is the cheap cash-in I feared it would be. I had held a hope that Johns, a self-proclaimed fanboy who has been appointed the architect of the DCEU, would try harder. Don’t buy this. You’d be better served by reading “Pax Americana” again.
Max Robinson: I have a hard time being too scandalized by the existence of Doomsday Clock, mainly because the sheer weirdness of the concept outweighs any worry that an essentially unauthorized sequel will take something away from the original mini-series. Consider this Geoff Johns and Gary Frank’s COPRA-style published fan fiction where Rorschach is a legacy character and the Kents get obliterated after giving a heartfelt speech to a young Clark Kent. The biggest black mark on This Ain’t Watchmen 2 is that it’s sorta boring.
The best moments of Doomsday Clock are when Johns lets Frank and colorist Brad Anderson do crowd-heavy sequences. This first issue never gets beyond the sheer craziness of the opening pages (which DC wisely promoted the hell of earlier this year) but the cutaways between the post-Great Lie fallout on the streets and the TV talking heads really do feel like authentic answers to the rhetorical question left by Watchmen’s twelfth issue. The ruse falls apart like The Leader’s spaceship to Blisstonia when Johns has to do any kind of heavy lifting. A new Rorschach is an interesting enough concept but he speaks in a pretty broad impression of Moore’s patented faux-Travis Bickle schtick, which admittedly may be the point.
The really disappointing part of Doomsday Clock #1 is the lack of any kind of thematic or suspenseful transitions, something the original Watchmen had in spades. Ozymandias appears in Nite-Owl II’s derelict Owlcave with all the gravitas of an Injustice 2 cutscene and, maybe most jarringly, the comic’s end-of-the-issue visit to the DCU we all know and love feels almost stapled on without any kind of fanfare. Even the news clipping backmatter material in this feels like an afterthought rather than something that genuinely enriches the story being told here. There’s plenty of reasons not to spend a fiver on Doomsday Clock #1 but even as a bizarre mashup of intellectual property-cum-passion project, it’s surprisingly tame.
Kayleigh Hearn: I’m sitting here with my cup of coffee, deleting my original opening sentence of this review because Tears for Fears’ “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” just started playing in this café, and if that doesn’t set the mood, what does?
So, I love Watchmen. It’s one of my favorite books, and it’s a tremendous influence on how I think about comics and writing. Years ago, I met a friend through our mutual interest in the Watchmen movie, and this year I was the maid of honor at her wedding. So if I was going to give a decades-later sequel by a completely different creative team a good review, it would need to impress me. And that’s an even bigger “if” because Doomsday Clock is a comic that should not exist, and I don’t mean in that in a cool, “subtitle-to-a-Gerard-Way-book” way. To keep it short, Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons gave DC Comics one of the most critically-acclaimed, genre-shaping comics of all time, and DC’s been screwing them out of the rights ever since.
But if you’re waiting for my Doomsday Clock hate review, this isn’t it. There’s no white hot incandescent rage here, just a “So, was it worth it?” shrug. Doomsday Clock #1 is a comic that just exists. It mistakes references and name-drops for political commentary. It introduces Mime and Marionette, two new Charlton Comics analogues who are unremarkable and unlikeable. There’s a new Rorschach, who is a black man, and I wonder about Geoff Johns’s intentions here. If this book is meant to reflect 2017’s political climate, what is the purpose behind putting a man of color in the costume of a nationalistic, right-wing bigot? Perhaps this is a way of “reclaiming” Rorschach from the scummy comic fans who misinterpreted his role in Watchmen—and are probably the same people who froth about diverse new legacy heroes in what used to be an exclusively white and/or male domain—but we’ll see.
Oh, and Superman dreams about his high school prom.
Gary Frank is a respectable successor to Dave Gibbons, but it’s a shame that Johns’s script gives him so little to do. There’s nothing challenging or innovating here. It’s not even the best “nine-panel grid with a dramatic black boxed quote at the end” comic DC’s published in the last two years. Doomsday Clock doesn’t ruin my enjoyment of the original series—if the bloated monstrosity that was Before Watchmen couldn’t make a dent in its armor, nothing can—but anything that tries to pin a Clue-style “And here’s what happened next” intertital onto the ending of Watchmen feels like folly. Watchmen’s ambiguous ending is pregnant with possibilities, with mankind literally about to hold its fate in its own hands. What could follow that? Hopefully, something better than a 12-issue version of one of those “Rorschach vs. Batman: Who Would Win?” Wizard articles from the 90s. If you enjoyed Watchmen, think about what you felt when you read that final panel for the first time. Now, if you’ve read Doomsday Clock…did you feel anything at all?