Warning: this post contains spoilers for the first issue of Doomsday Clock.
There seems to be two kinds of comics — gritty, dark, and serious on the one hand, lighthearted and funny on the other. Somehow, the first installment of Doomsday Clock does the impossible: it manages to be both.
That’s appropriate, because this comic is attempting to do the impossible in another way, too. Writer Geoff Johns (who also happens to be the President and CCO of DC Entertainment) is trying to close the divide between the regular DC Universe of Superman, Batman et al, and the world of Alan Moore’s 1986 standalone classic Watchmen — in which Superman is named as a fictional character in a comic book.
So that’s not exactly simple.
Doomsday Clock has garnered wide interest and buzz, but has also dug itself into one hell of a hole out of which it needs to climb.
It needs to be so good that it justifies its existence to the world (we really didn’t need a sequel to Watchmen, which ends on a perfectly ambiguous note). It needs to prove it’s not just a gimmicky crossover. Ideally, it needs to not be seen as blasphemous to the millions of comic book fans who view Watchmen as a sacred text.
It also needs to fix the elements that make Watchmen so problematic — its treatment of women and scarcity of people of color, amongst other issues. To be embraced in this day and age, it has to make some changes.
DOOMSDAY CLOCK #1
A great first issue, with room for improvement
It’s a tall order for a 12-issue series to fill.
But the first installment offers some hope. When the first six pages were revealed at New York Comic Con, the crowd went crazy for them, especially when the final page revealed the return of Rorschach — a character who was utterly obliterated in Watchmen.
Is this a new Rorschach? Doomsday Clock #1 gives us the answer fairly quickly: Yes. This version of Rorschach proves that he’s a different man by removing his glove to show that he’s black. This is an interesting twist. It makes one wonder what the old Rorschach (who wasn’t the most liberal of characters) would think about a black man taking up his mantle.
Adrian Veidt, a.k.a. Ozymandias — the dude who killed half of New York City with a giant freaking alien — is also back, and working with the new Rorschach. The shock of that reveal is a highlight of the issue, not least because Veidt is holding a baby version of his genetically modified big cat Bubastis.
We’re also introduced to two new supervillains, the Marionette and the Mime, who help to add more sorely-needed diversity to the fold. They’re not exactly fully fleshed-out in these pages, but Johns has eleven more issues to fix that. They’re promising, however, if only as foils for Rorschach.
The book is set in a very dark time. It’s 1992 in the Watchmen universe, seven years after the disaster Ozymandias caused in order to bring about world peace — and his scheme has been found out. U.S.-Russia relations are teetering on the brink of nuclear war again. At home, political and social unrest are worse than ever.
Many things that happen in the first few pages feel like a parody of our current climate. The president is entirely focused on golf, even as the vice president shoots the attorney general. Suddenly, every broadcast news outlet shuts down to be replaced with a single, government-controlled program.
And yet, somehow, Johns has expertly infused brightness into this book. There is a joke on nearly every page, and the majority of them land even on a second reading. It’s more of a fun read than a depressing one.
And then we switch from 1992 to 2017, where Superman is having a nightmare about his parents dying. The book ends on a ominous, though contrived, statement by Superman — he’s never had a dream before. The context here is very confusing, but it still has quite an impact. If nothing else, it raises even more questions we’re dying to know the answers to.
Gary Frank’s art in this book is a delight. His pencils and inks call back to the style of Dave Gibbons’ original Watchmen art while also being wholly original. And Brad Anderson’s colors drive home the tone perfectly.
Overall, this is a strong first issue, even if the set-up doesn’t justify the series’ existence just yet. (Though to be fair, that isn’t the responsibility of the first issue, but of Doomsday Clock as a whole.)
If this is an indication of where the series is going, we have some really good comics to look forward to before the clock runs out.