DOOMSDAY CLOCK #1 By Geoff Johns and Gary Frank
Art
Characterization
Plot
Summary
Geoff Johns launches us back into the world of WATCHMEN, delivering a mesmerizing premise that promises to break the boundaries of the DC Universe.
88 %
Apocalyptic Nightmare
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DOOMSDAY CLOCK #1 is about reverberations. One world falls apart, while the most powerful man in another world feels it happen. Apocalypses occur; in one case literal and, in another, personal. The seismic thread that connects these reverberations is unseen, at least through the turn of the last page. Yet writer Geoff Johns has strongly hinted at who’s connecting said thread. Dr. Manhattan has fled one world and gone to another, and the void he’s left behind has permanently affected the fabric of reality. While the world of the WATCHMEN burns, the personal world of Superman starts to come undone. This is the fascinating thread that ties DOOMSDAY CLOCK together. It’s immediately compelling, admittedly confusing, and (for now) lacks a clear trajectory. Yet the experience of reading it is as powerful as the tick of a clock hand towards midnight.

Doomsday Clock #1
DOOMSDAY CLOCK #1 page 2. Image courtesy of DC Entertainment.

DOOMSDAY CLOCK #1 opens on a world in chaos. Taking place in 1992, a mysterious narrator describes how the American people turned on each other. Riots in the streets have broken out across the country. The vice president has assassinated the attorney general, while President Robert Redford plays golf. America and Russia are once again ready to strike each other with nuclear weapons. A newspaper reveals a headline titled “The Great Lie.” The lie in question? That Ozymandias saved the world.

WATCHMEN ended with Rorschach’s journal being uncovered. Said journal recorded Ozymandias’ successful plot to destroy New York City in order to stop the world from falling to nuclear destruction. Now that the journal has been released, the world is thrown back into chaos. Ozymandias is missing, and apparently also dying from brain cancer. The Doomsday Clock reads three minutes to midnight, and the government is evacuating the populace out of the ‘red zones.’ The plot kicks into gear when we land in a federal prison, where readers are reintroduced to none other than Rorschach.

The masked conspiracy theorist needs to break out a super villain named the Marionette, who insists on bringing along her murderous husband, called the Mime. Rorschach needs the Marionette for a job, the nature of which he refuses to describe. Together they escape the prison and Rorschach brings them to Ozymandias, who once again has the answer for saving the world: find Dr. Manhattan and bring him back. The glowing blue god is a bit busy though, haunting the nightmares of a certain super powered boy scout from Kansas…

NYCC 2017 Panel Breakdown: DC’s DOOMSDAY CLOCK

The alternate future that Geoff Johns depicts in DOOMSDAY CLOCK #1 is fully realized. Johns essentially shows us what would’ve happened if the Cold War had ended differently, and fuses that era with modern day paranoia and politics. Robert Redford as the President is a clever angle, clearly capitalizing on the actual presidencies of Ronald Reagan and Donald Trump. Much like our current president, Redford is always playing golf. Johns also reflects on the Trump administration’s current attacks on the press. In DOOMSDAY CLOCK #1, the National News Network has systematically replaced all of the independent news outlets. While this development is daunting, it feels like Johns perhaps overstepped his mandate a bit too much in drawing comparisons between modern day America and alternate 1992 America.

In some ways, Johns has a tougher order than Alan Moore did in dealing with this setting. Alan Moore’s WATCHMEN simply reflected 1985, the then-current time period, and doused it with nihilistic superheroes. Johns, on the other hand, is forced to work with a period twenty years in the past, and twist it to reflect modern fears and paranoia. Some bits, like the National News Network concept, feel excessive. Others, like the President’s casual disregard of imminent nuclear war, feel warranted.

Doomsday Clock #1
DOOMSDAY CLOCK #1 page 3. Image courtesy of DC Entertainment.

The world of DOOMSDAY CLOCK #1 feels more developed than the plot itself, which has some growing pains to deal with. The majority deals with Rorschach in prison, who we quickly learn is a different character from the one we knew in WATCHMEN. This feels like the right move, as resurrecting the original Rorschach would’ve read as an insult to Moore’s ending for the character. Still, just as Rorschach loves to indulge in pancakes, it feels like Johns wanted to have his pancake and eat it too.

Rorschach dominates the pages of DOOMSDAY CLOCK #1, and he sounds exactly like the original one. Rorschach’s interactions with the Marionette and the Mime are engaging, but they drag on for too long. They spend so much time negotiating their escape from prison, one gets a distinct feeling that Johns was having a little too much fun. Time with Rorschach is all well and good, but half a comic with Rorschach and two random characters feels meandering.

Luckily, the scope of Johns’ storytelling exceeds the stumbles of the plot. Ozymandias’ reintroduction fuels the story once more, as we come to learn the scope of his failure to save the world and his regret over it. Ozymandias was never particularly regretful over anything in WATCHMEN, so this newly humble and reflective Ozy should be interesting to explore over the course of the series. Ozy also provides the first link to the larger DC Universe, as his quest to find Dr. Manhattan leads us to Metropolis.

DOOMSDAY CLOCK Video with DC Comics’ Geoff Johns

It’s only in these final moments that Johns’ larger designs for DOOMSDAY CLOCK begin to appear. Clark Kent is fast asleep and dreams about his high school senior prom. Jonathan and Martha Kent drop off Clark, assuring him he’ll have a good time. After Clark leaves, Jonathan assures Martha that Clark can’t be hurt. Simultaneously, we see Clark sitting all alone on the dance floor, very hurt indeed. As they talk about their regrets that they couldn’t give Clark a sibling, “God’s plan” kicks in. Another car smashes into theirs, killing both Jonathan and Martha. DOOMSDAY CLOCK #1 ends with Clark waking up, telling Lois that this is the first nightmare he’s ever had. Johns clearly implies that the nightmare is no accident, it’s by design. Not God’s design, but someone else’s.

Much like the ticking Doomsday Clock, the meaning becomes more powerful the closer we get to the end. Johns is implying, I believe, that Dr. Manhattan’s departure caused apocalyptic reverberations across the multiverse. Superman, who, as Jonathan put it, “can’t be hurt,” has become Dr. Manhattan’s target for exactly that reason. As readers of SUPERMAN and ACTION COMICS know, Dr. Manhattan has been busy tinkering with Superman’s history. I believe Martha and Jonathan’s car crash is the result of said tinkering. There must be a reason Superman wakes up to a nightmare for the first time. Martha and Jonathan’s death is a new aspect of Superman’s narrative, all part of Manhattan’s design to undo the Man of Steel.

Doomsday Clock #1
DOOMSDAY CLOCK #1 page 4. Image courtesy of DC Entertainment.

Taking this assumption further, every action Dr. Manhattan takes in the DC Universe may have an equal and opposite reaction in the WATCHMEN one. As Dr. Manhattan destroys parts of Superman’s past, he seemingly destroys parts of the reality he left behind. It’s all about reverberations. As Dr. Manhattan’s world comes closer to the brink of annihilation, Superman’s personal story is stretched further and further apart. Dr. Manhattan seems determined to stretch Superman until he breaks.

If that moment ever happens, it seems likely that Dr. Manhattan’s world will break too. This makes sense if we consider Superman himself to be the “God” of his own world. Superman and Dr. Manhattan are equal in everything except for outlook. Superman sees hope, while Dr. Manhattan only sees chaos. Dr. Manhattan’s reason for doing all of this is, for now, unclear. Figuring out why will prove to be a fascinating question of the whole DOOMSDAY CLOCK experiment.

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Gary Frank’s artwork magnificently emulates Dave Gibbons’ nine-panel layout style in WATCHMEN. Frank also emulates Dave Gibbons’ “camerawork,” using changes in perspective to increase the scope of certain backgrounds. The beginning and end of the comic utilize this effect, slowly revealing the full details of the apocalyptic setting that opens the comic and the intimate bedroom scene that closes it. Much like the story itself, the artwork reflects the opposing nature of these two worlds. Where the opening shows the wide-spread damage that’s been inflicted on the world, the closing simply shows how small Clark and Lois look compared to the scope of the nightmare they’re now trapped in.

Frank also plays with the prison interior scenes to create scenes of savage violence that remind me of Rorschach’s original prison tenure in WATCHMEN. This time though, the violence comes at the hands of the Mime, who turns deadly slaughter into performance art. The Mime doesn’t speak, but he says all he needs to through sudden and savage attacks on his fellow prisoners, who he murders with his bare hands. Frank impresses here, creating the character’s menace all by himself. Without Johns’ words, it’s up to Frank to convince us that the character is worthy of our attention.

Most interestingly, the Mime’s violence is sometimes an act. Rorschach escorts him to collect his weapons from a locker, but it turns out said weapons are imaginary. They don’t exist, the Mime just mimes taking them from the locker. The imaginary weapons only serve to make the Mime scarier, as we’ve already seen the lethal force he’s capable of inflicting. Frank accomplishes all of this through expressive and story-driven artwork.

Doomsday Clock #1
DOOMSDAY CLOCK #1 page 6. Image courtesy of DC Entertainment.

Final Thoughts on DOOMSDAY CLOCK #1

DOOMSDAY CLOCK #1 presents a grand and uncompromising vision from Geoff Johns and Gary Frank. It feels authentic to the world that Alan Moore created in 1985, but it remains to be seen whether it can truly be a worthy successor to WATCHMEN. This first issue holds plenty of promise, but it’s not as immediately gripping as its predecessor. Nevertheless, the real promise for DOOMSDAY CLOCK’s future comes from the crossover between the worlds of Watchmen and DC. Reading the end of the first issue, it’s clear why Johns chose to blend the two worlds together.

Taken alone, a straightforward sequel to WATCHMEN in Johns’ hands probably would have collapsed under its own weight. Yet taking the DC Universe, a world Johns knows like the back of his hand, and fusing it with WATCHMEN is a stroke of genius. Johns takes what he knows and blends it with something less familiar to create a narrative that’s utterly distinctive. As the separate worlds of Superman and Dr. Manhattan begin to speak to one another, Johns creates an entirely new conversation. The reverberations of that conversation will continue to magnify — at least until midnight.

4 Comments

  1. Kevin Spangler

    Kevin Spangler

    November 24, 2017 at 6:57 pm

    Nope

    Reply

  2. Nhat-Dzu Bui

    Nhat-Dzu Bui

    November 23, 2017 at 11:20 pm

    Graham E. Nelson kill me

    Reply

  3. Brian Huett

    Brian Huett

    November 23, 2017 at 7:26 pm

    Nicki Mitchell

    Reply

  4. Anthony Caruso

    Anthony Caruso

    November 23, 2017 at 8:59 am

    I saw promos at my comic book shop this week for this. I’ll admit I’m intrigued, but I don’t know about this. Tom Hanslowe

    Reply

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