By Geoff Johns, Gary Frank & Brad Anderson
Arguably DC’s best title at the moment finally returns with its latest issue. The limited series is close to reaching its halfway point and with that looming on the horizon, the creative team further expands the scope of the narrative, while maintaining a strong through-line on certain plots. Adrian Veidt, surviving his fall (notice a motif?), continues on his mission of redemption and has a fateful meeting with a key DC universe (DCU) character that many fans will be excited to read. Actually, a few key meetings happen that will no doubt propel the story forward and leave readers desperate for more. Rorschach, having escaped Arkham Asylum with the help of Saturn Girl, from Legion of Superheroes fame, comes into contact the old man shown in moments since DC Universe Special #1, Johnny Thunder. This further sheds light on what his plot line is leading to, if you know who he is…
Needless to say, a lot happens in this book. Just as the previous four issues, this is a dense read. It requires the audience to be engaged with the material to fully appreciate it. Now, that’s not to say it can’t just be picked up and read casually because it functions on multiple levels. It never feels like a chore because the creative team was able to structure and present the comic in a very digestible fashion. Even in dialog heavy scenes, Geoff Johns skillfully keeps the content in the word balloons meaningful, yet succinct. There’s no unnecessary fluff. He’s been living with and writing so many of the characters in DC’s library for some time and it clearly shows not only in this issue, but the series as a whole. All the voices seem spot-on and natural. Perhaps, what is even more impressive is how well he slips into the voices of characters he’s never written before Doomsday Clock. Also, the ones he’s created for this story feel completely lived-in and fully-formed. Johns makes it almost seem too easy.
What’s fascinating to note is how this particular book really shows how Clock is coming into its own and not feeling derivative of Watchmen. Elements such as geopolitics and escalation were present and important in Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ work, but Geoff Johns and Gary Frank take those very elements and drive them in fresh, fascinating directions that expands and propels the narrative. Several new characters are introduced and “lesser-known” ones are brought to the forefront. This is something Johns has done time and again, almost becoming a motif of his work. The incorporated politics, which tie directly into the overarching theme of escalation, are a literal and figurative arms race. As these details become so intertwined with the overall plot, it almost feels like they have more relevance and agency than they did in Watchmen. Politics aside, it is great to finally see Clark Kent come into the story for the first time since the issue #1. With his return comes more mysteries. Geoff Johns knows exactly where and how to place little seeds or cliffhangers to keep readers engaged throughout an issue and this book is another prime example.
Gary Frank and Brad Anderson elevate the content to a whole other level. Frank’s use of perspective, time, sequential progression, and character expressions (physical body gestures/stances and facial expressions) within the nine-panel structure is almost too much to take in. With all these techniques at play throughout the issue, no one page feels like the other. It almost feels like an experimental work and perhaps that’s the point, but he is able to make each page feel innovative and worthwhile. Pace is something noteworthy in Gary Frank’s work on this particular book. He is able to take, for instance, a scene in a hospital room and slow it down visually by keeping the actions of the characters minimal, but never losing the detail nor the setting. Then, Frank jumps to a riot scene parallel cutting with a chase. It’s a rollercoaster – and it’s one hell of a ride!
Anderson continues to perfectly accentuate the pencils and inks. There is such a deft depth to his work that the theme of decay and escalations is clearly noticeable from a distance, but upon closer inspection, there’s a sheen and texture to every single panel. How he handles lighting in reference to character’s figure and position is a master class and is just one of the tools he uses to really heighten the emotions and tone of a sequence. The palette, while seemingly restrictive adds a vigor – an intensity – that serves to further that notion of escalation. Even in the quiet scenes, there’s a tension that can’t be shaken until a reader reaches the last panel of this comic.
There’s not much else that can be said to express how powerful and significant this series is becoming, including this issue. The creative team continues to exceed expectations each and every issue. It’s so rare these days to find a comic that dares to challenge the status quo, even to the point of literally commenting on the medium, rather than be a comfort food book, that it’s utterly refreshing. This is looking to be another post-modern masterpiece well worth everyone’s time. Is it accessible to people who aren’t familiar with Watchmen and/or DC? Yes, but those in the know will earn so much more. At least until the clock runs out…