Review: Doomsday Clock #1
To put it bluntly, Doomsday Clock #1 is what many comic book fans (And Alan Moore wherever he is.) have feared: a direct sequel to Watchmen. The story is set in an alternate version of 1992 about five years after the events of the original series. An actor (Robert Redford) is president, the world is on the brink of nuclear war, Ozymandias is a fugitive and pariah, Dr. Manhattan is missing, Nite Owl and Silk Spectre are still happily retired and don’t appeared, and the book focuses on the new Rorschach in town. With the exception of the final scene, Doomsday Clock #1 isn’t so much a crossover, but Watchmen II. It takes its times and gives readers a flavor of Moore and Dave Gibbons’ even more dystopian universe and kicks the plot into gear in a way similar to the back half of the original series than the initial investigation into the Comedian’s death. (Edward Blake would probably appreciate the opening riot scene though.)
Writer Geoff Johns does a pretty fair impression of the smelly, ink blot mask wearing vigilante and adds a few wrinkles of his own like his willingness to compromise and throw his lot in with criminals “in the face of Armageddon”. Having a writer, who is mostly known for writing straightforward superheroes and space cops, go into a twisted not-so-Randian psyche, is a little awkward though, and seems like a kid in his father’s clothes than the ruthless prose of crime writer Brian Azzarello in Before Watchmen: Rorschach. This clumsiness fits into the story as Rorschach II has some of the same abilities as the original character like the ability to pull off a pretty decent prison escape, a prodigious stench, and paranoia (He’s one of the few characters in this universe who uses a “gas guzzling” car.), but he “breaks character” a lot and acts like an empathetic human being even to murderers. His secret identity is pretty obvious too thanks to a diversity deficiency in the original Watchmen…
Artist Gary Frank’s pencils are incredibly detailed, and he doesn’t use a nine panel grid every page although he sticks to the three row setup of panels with the exception of the title. However, he creates the occasional symphony of juxtaposition like when the US government finally goes nuclear, and Rorschach does his prison break thing. Frank’s work is strong and unwavering, like the original Rorschach’s conventions, and for the most part, colorist Brad Anderson stays out of his way and lets his pencils shine. Anderson does have a couple tricks up his sleeve like color coding some panels to different characters, such as brown for Rorschach, gold for Ozymandias, and alarm red any time there’s a nuclear threat.
Johns’ use of alternate history elements in Doomsday Clock #1 are fairly on-the-nose as he turns President Redford into President Trump of the early 90s with his incessant golfing, ties to Russia and North Korea, obsession with a single news network, and polarization of political discourse in the United States. His sheer ineptitude (and invisibility) turns Ozymandias into a sort of sympathetic character even though he was responsible for so many deaths in the original Watchmen. Ironically, Ozymandias has the same mission: saving the world.
Gary Frank’s super close-ups of frightened human faces in the opening montage of Doomsday Clock #1 do a much better job at showing world that was already hell plunging into a deeper, darker circle of that hell than any faux Rorschach voiceovers and tacked on worldbuilding from Geoff Johns. You can see the slobber in the mouth of a rioter as he goes at a police officer with a broken bottle and shatters the glass in one of Ozymandias’ old buildings. In a clever twist, the bank of TVs with endless channels in Ozymandias’ lair is turned to one showing that his actions didn’t lead to a utopia, but a dictatorship. Frank is one of the rare photorealistic artists that doesn’t have any stiffness to his work finding a sweet spot on Scott McCloud’s “picture plane” and bringing humanity to characters that would be action figures or distant gods in other artists’ hands. This skill comes in handy when a certain character appears in the last several pages. He’s also fantastic with gestures, and Johns realizes this by including a mime themed supervillain in the story that is fairly grounded and very violent in the Watchmen tradition.
Doomsday Clock #1 shows that for better or worse, Geoff Johns, Gary Frank, and Brad Anderson are taking their time with their DC Rebirth/Watchmen crossover and spend time reestablishing and tearing down the world of Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ comic before having Superman punch Dr. Manhattan or having Ozymandias and Lex Luthor swap plans for world domination over vodka sodas. Johns’ writing is awkward, but his plotting is focused and gets the proverbial clock ticking while Gibbons’ art is a real treat. Some parts of Doomsday Clock are pretty groanworthy, but others are pretty damn cool.
Story: Geoff Johns Art: Gary Frank Colors: Brad Anderson
Story: 7.0 Art: 9.0 Overall: 7.8 Recommendation: Read
DC Comics provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review