Doomsday Clock #1
“That Annihilated Place”
Writer: Geoff Johns
Artist: Gary Frank
Colors: Brad Anderson
Letters: Rob Leigh
Cover artists: Gary Frank (regular)/Gary Frank & Dave Gibbons (variants)
Editor: Brian Cunningham
Publisher: DC Comics
Price: $4.99 US/$5.99 US (lenticular)
World-building. That’s what shared super-hero continuities are about. The juxtaposition of diverse characters and the connections that link them have become a huge part of the genre’s appeal over the years, and more recently, TV and movie audiences have discovered that appeal. Watchmen featured a huge world with such connections among an unusual array of characters, but it was crafted as a limited story. A few years ago, DC tried building on that limited world with its Before Watchmen line of limited series. Doomsday Clock is different, as it aims not only to build on the world constructed by Alan Moore going forward rather than add to the backstory, but it also seeks to connect that world to DC’s other super-hero properties. It’s a controversial project, as many felt this world was complete as it was when Moore finished with it three decades ago. The controversy, I’m sure, won’t stop this book from performing well for DC (though I question the publisher’s decision to launch this event book when another, Metal, is still unfolding). It remains to be seen if Doomsday Clock will prove to be a successful creative enterprise; thus far, I have to admit I’m intrigued.
In November 1992, the world is falling apart. Adrian Veidt, the billionaire investor and industrialist also known as the former costumed hero Ozymandias, is on the run, as his plot to fool humanity with a phony alien invader has been exposed. His quest for peace is undone. People are rioting in the streets. Political leaders at each other’s throats. And the world is on the brink of nuclear war. A familiar face returns, stumbling through the fog of his own mind, trying to bring order to chaos. Rorschach is back, and he’s following a plan set out by one of his former partners in the Watchmen. The plan calls on him to recruit former enemies. Meanwhile, another universe away, a paragon of virtue and power rouses from his slumber, unsettled and sensing the world is not as it should be.
I’m struck by the fact that the president in the 1992 Watchmen world is named Redford. I think we’re clearly meant to think it’s Robert Redford. That another pop-culture personality would rise to that office is certainly plausible, but what I find interesting about it is the notion that Robert Redford – who portrayed Bob Woodward in All the President’s Men – has been chosen to replace Nixon as president in this reality. I can’t imagine the reference is unintentional. Nevertheless, it’s not as though “Redford” is meant to represent virtue or ethics, as he’s clearly a standin for Donald Trump here, given the golfing references. Perhaps Geoff Johns means to tell us that no matter who assumes the office, corruption and failings flow naturally from the role.
The Donald Trump presidency informs this story and looms large over it at every turn. The in-fighting in government is presented as actual violence between lawmakers, and Russia remains in the role of threat to American democracy and survival. The integration of the Watchmen universe into the DC Universe proper has been planned long before Trump was elected, so some sort of story involving this world was forthcoming. But it’s obvious from the writing here that the political divisions in the United States and the instability of international politics, from Russian manipulations to Brexit and more, have become foundational elements of the story Johns and Frank are offering up. The powerfully relevant aspects of the storytelling definitely strengthen it. The plot driving Watchmen was Ozymandias’s plan to eliminate political and social divisions with a manufactured threat to bring the global populace together in a shared purpose. The notion of such unity seems almost impossible today, given the socio-political developments and the rise of fringe elements that have upset the apple cart.
Despite his significantly different style from that of Watchmen artist Dave Gibbons, Gary Frank manages to convey the same atmosphere and feel throughout this sequel. Part of it stems from his adoption of the same panel grids and the circle motifs, and Frank’s detailed approach and penchant for intensity in his characters suited the material well. Some of the credit goes to Brad Anderson’s replication of the deeply dark, 1980s color palette as well. However, it shouldn’t be understated how much the paper quality used for this comic book added to the overall reading experience. It’s a much rougher grade of paper than we’re used to seeing on modern comics, and I absolutely loved the texture of it as I thumbed through the pages.
The letters by Rob Leigh obviously contributes a great deal to mirroring the look and feel of Watchmen in this followup story, but what struck me about it was how difficult it is to read Rorschach’s dialogue and narrative captions (from his journal). The letterforms are meant to be crude, I understand, but they’re not easy on the eye either. I was never confused about what was written, but it felt as though I was working harder to take those text elements in as compared to others.
I have no idea what Marionette’s gimmick is, but if it’s half as good as the Mime’s, I can’t wait to see it. The Mime struck me as one of the most insane yet simple bad-guy concepts I’ve seen in a while, and I desperately want him to survive the events of Doomsday Clock, if t see him relocate to Gotham. He’d fit in with the weird world of the Batman’s enemies perfectly. Johns doesn’t answer the question of whether his mimed, invisible weaponry is real; logically, it shouldn’t be. The only super-powered and completely impossible figure in the Watchmen’s world is Dr. Manhattan, so granting the Mime some kind of power or incredible invisible weapons would seem to break that “rule.” Regardless, the concept made me smile.
The Rorschach plotline, with his recruitment of criminals to aid his initially unseen ally with a larger mission, really kept my attention. I was interested in the mystery and delighted when small hints are provided to show that things are not as they seemed the first time around. However, when the story switches over to the DC Universe and a slumbering Superman, I didn’t feel the same thrill or interest. I was more confused and not yet invested in that more cosmic aspect of the book. I’m not put off yet and remain open to what lies in store, but I was honestly enjoying the effort to build on the world of the Watchmen far more than the effort to connect it to a multiversal continuity. 7/10