By Geoff Johns, Gary Frank & Brad Anderson
The minute hand finally moves closer to midnight or past it by this point. The much anticipated story seeded in Geoff Johns’ Justice League New 52 run and DC Universe Rebirth continues. Doomsday Clock also serves as a direct sequel to the perennial classic Watchmen, which, as one can imagine, has garnered quite a lot of controversy. In the pages of Rebirth, it was revealed that it was Jon Osterman, aka Doctor Manhattan, who was the architect behind the New 52; directly connecting the DC Universe proper and the Earth established in Watchmen.
Clock opens in this familiar, yet different Moore/Gibbons world, where disorder and unrest thrive due to the events of Watchmen coming to light, revealing a familiar face; perhaps mask is more appropriate to say. Rorschach has returned! Now some will wonder how he’s still alive because he was seemingly obliterated by Manhattan, but Geoff Johns will answer this and other questions with this issue and has said other concerns/questions will be answered as the maxiseries unfolds. The masked vigilante is out to recruit two key people for a mission. The two new characters are counterparts to Charlton Comics characters, very much in the same spirit as the original Watchmen are. This is just one example of how Johns and his collaborators, Gary Frank and Brad Anderson and have clearly studied Moore and Gibbons’ master work and try to incorporate the rules and elements they established in it. There are more key plot elements in this comic, but this review is meant to be as spoiler-free as possible because this book deserves to read with little expectation and knowledge of what’s within its pages, just as any comic does.
This issue is purely expositional and some may consider it a little slow, but it isn’t. There’s a lot at play narratively and visually. It re-establishes the status quo and allows readers to become acclimated to this world and story, while also allowing readers to experience how the creative team is going to be presenting/structuring this story. All this is framed within a prison breakout and a touch of the “getting the band/team together” story, this is all shrouded in air of honest mystery and unease, just as Watchmen did with its first installment. Geoff Johns keeps the narrative taught and to the point, for the most part, as he has done so well with past work, but has changed his storytelling style some to keep within guidelines the creative team has decided to implement. Due to this, the pacing is slightly slower for him, but it allows the tension and caution to set in appropriately; it allows readers to become drawn into what will clearly lead to something massive from small beginnings (well maybe big beginnings depending on how you look at it). It’s very entertaining to see him play within this new sandbox. New characters have clear, distinct voices and familiar ones feel on-point. Now, Rorschach’s journal narration may seem a bit off, but don’t worry all becomes clear with time.
It’s perhaps in the artwork that the similarities and differences to Watchmen are most apparent to readers. The panel layouts and depictions/time progression shown within the panels of this comic are directly influenced by Dave Gibbons’ work. It’s a delightful study, but, more importantly, it is executed well and doesn’t feel like a gimmick, because of how well the visuals progress the plot and that they aren’t just doing the nine panel structure every page. How characters are postured, the angles are shown and bold use of close-ups feed also support this. Gary Frank brings an exceptional amount of detail to each and every panel; it just shows how much care was taken with this project. His line work detailing depth, dimension and form is so distinct and pronounced that, whether it’s a larger, wide-angled panel or a close-up, nothing feels short-changed. His facial expressions are particularly worth mentioning; they are a unique to each character’s facial structure and feel like they’re being presented anatomically correct. No pun intended, but pay close attention to those close-ups; they are true works of art. His collaboration with colorist Brad Anderson furthers to differentiate the artwork from Gibbons and John Higgins. Where Higgins used a specific color pallette, Anderson is free to showcase his talents and support Gary Frank’s pencils and inks. None of the lines are lost in the colors; he makes sure that readers get the full picture. The moments that are meant to feel iconic or important are absolutely conveyed that way with contrasting, natural color work. Also, despite adding new color to a familiar world, it still feels accurate and comfortable. It all feels familiar, yet maintains its individuality at the same time. It’s a fine line that these artists are traversing very well and hopefully will be to maintain going forward.
It’s appreciated and great to see these talented comic pros deliver this fascinating comic and bring their interpretations to established sensibilities, but this isn’t really an innovative concept, it has been done before and was even seen fairly recently in “The Button” crossover event, where Tom King and Jason Fabok implemented the nine panel structure and a few other known Watchmen-esque elements. Now, the work on this is a more in-depth and nuanced, but my hope is that this comic doesn’t adhere so strictly to and revere the conventions and tools priorly established that they won’t allow their creative talents to really flourish. Some may argue that this is a great exercise and encourages the flexing of other storytelling muscles, but something that made Watchmen popular and fresh in the 1980’s and has allowed it to endure the test of time, is that it broke away from convention. It gave readers a complicated, intricate story with different artistic storytelling techniques. The creatives on Doomsday Clock have the abilities individually and collectively to capture that lightning in the bottle again and this premise feels like it deserves to be a seminal work. After reading this first issue, it’s clear that the potential is there and it’s still absolutely possible for this to come to fruition.
There really isn’t anything to be extremely critical about in this comic, so readers can exhale after having such high expectations. It’s not groundbreaking, but it’s very strong and has a lot of value and merit that deserves notice and appreciation. What’s also extremely encouraging is that this is a self-contained event, meaning that there are no pesky tie-in books, but it will affect DC Universe, so this doesn’t necessarily feel like a cheap cash grab or sales booster for the publisher. This is no doubt a daunting project, something the creative team is very aware of and have said as much in interviews, but they seemed to have handled it deftly. This is well worth a DC Comics fan’s time and an extremely welcome change of pace from some of the other event content being published concurrently.