This is a NON-spoiler review of Doomsday Clock #1
Let’s get this out of the way, and then never talk about it again: No, there shouldn’t be a sequel to Watchmen. There especially shouldn’t be a sequel to Watchmen that incorporates the characters into the greater DC universe. I know that, you know that, Alan Moore knows that; we’re all on the same page here. But—thanks to writer Geoff Johns and artist Gary Frank—there is now a sequel to Watchmen, and it does incorporate the characters into the greater DC universe. Doomsday Clock has arrived (for me; for you it won’t arrive until Wednesday), and it’s not going to magically disappear, so there’s no point whining anymore about how it shouldn’t exist. The milk has been spilled, so there’s nothing to be gained from continuing to cry over it.
Now that it’s here, Johns and Frank’s work deserves to be given a fair shake, so from this point forward, I’m putting aside those complaints and judging Doomsday Clock on its merits. It’s literally the least we can do, and if you’re not willing to do even that much, you may as well check out now.
Unfortunately, based on Doomsday Clock #1 those merits aren’t much to write home about. If you were hoping that Johns would pull something out of his hat that would immediately wipe away all your skepticism over this entire endeavor, prepare to be disappointed. While the comic isn’t the unmitigated disaster many Moore devotees are trollishly hoping for, it doesn’t make a particularly compelling case for its existence, either.
To be fair, this is only the first of twelve issues, and like most first issues it’s a largely stage-setting affair. The issue takes place almost entirely in the world of Watchmen, not Earth-0, the primary DC world where Superman and his friends live and work and where Dr. Manhattan has been hanging around since Rebirth. Without getting into spoilery details, Doomsday Clock #1 spends the bulk of its time establishing what’s gone on in the Watchmen world in the time between when Moore’s book ends and this story begins, in the year 1992.
It’s not a spoiler to say that the utopia Ozymandias aimed to create with his actions in Watchmen did not come about; if it had, there wouldn’t be any conflict to generate the story. Instead, the world is at another potentially catastrophic nuclear crisis point, and governments aren’t equipped to stop it. Enter the masked heroes. The Watchmen characters have a plan to save their world, and it puts them on a collision course with the DC universe.
Doomsday Clock #1 reintroduces us to several—but not all—of the main characters from Watchmen, though not in the contexts you might be expecting. I can’t say more without spoiling details I’d rather you read for yourselves, but Johns is careful not to undo or undercut any of the choices Moore made in Watchmen. As much as we might not agree with the necessity of this book, it should be acknowledged that, at this stage in the game, Johns is approaching this story with careful respect for Moore’s work.
That’s really all I can say about the plot without spoilers, so let’s talk about the art. There’s a similar argument to be made here as there is about Johns and Moore. Dave Gibbons’ work on Watchmen is some of the greatest artwork in the history of the medium; it’s just as sacrilegious to imagine someone besides Gibbons drawing this world as it is to consider someone besides Moore writing it. But, like I said at the beginning, the milk’s been spilled, so instead of griping, let’s just consider how Gary Frank has done.
Frank is also very respectful of Watchmen, and his artwork is probably Doomsday Clock’s biggest selling point. His panels are rich with detail, just like Gibbons’ were. Characters are expressive and the action is clear-as-day to follow. Frank makes much greater use of shading to create depth than Gibbons did, but the spirit of Frank’s work is still very much in keeping with what came before.
Like Watchmen, Frank has laid Doomsday Clock out in nine panel grids, even when the action moves into the DC universe. I was curious to see if the grid would carry over into the Earth-0 side of things, or if Frank would use different styles of layouts as a visual cue to differentiate the two universes. Watchmen purists will undoubtedly be pleased that he didn’t; I have to admit that—surprisingly—I’m a little disappointed. Changing up the layouts for the DC portions of the story was the one way I could think of where a significant deviation from the form of Watchmen wouldn’t bother me. Instead, Frank appears to be playing it safe by sticking to the nine panel grid. That’s probably the safe choice; I imagine I’m in the minority of people who would’ve been okay if he strayed from it for any reason.
The biggest way the art deviates from Watchmen is the coloring. John Higgins’ coloring in Watchmen was very distinctive, with panels frequently washed in bright neons, giving the action a surrealist tinge. Brad Anderson’s coloring in Doomsday Clock is much more realistic, in keeping with Frank’s modern linework. What we’re seeing in the color, and in Frank’s pencils, is a product of the differences in how comics are done today compared to the eighties. Readers simply expect a different kind of image today, and Frank and Anderson have stayed true to that modern aesthetic, while still clearly referencing the work of their Watchmen predecessors.
Doomsday Clock #1 is such a foundation-laying issue that it’s impossible to tell where the story is going to go. As a result, the themes that Johns is playing with are also totally unclear. That’s probably the biggest problem this issue has. What Johns is trying to say with this comic is ultimately going to be what determines if this was a story worth telling, or if the world of Watchmen was better left untouched. At this stage in the game, we still don’t know what Johns wants to say, so the strongest emotion I can summon for this issue is a shrug. Doomsday Clock #1 wasn’t the outright disaster that it could’ve been, which I suppose is a positive, but Johns still has a lot of work to do to get me excited about what he’s doing.