24th Oct2019

‘Doomsday Clock: Part 1’ Graphic Novel Review (DC Comics)

by Dean Fuller

Written by Geoff Johns | Art by Gary Frank | Published by DC Comics | Format: Hardback, 224pp


I bought and read the original Watchmen series when it came out in 1986, and it is hard to convey now just how groundbreaking that was. I bought the 12 individual issues as they were published, and those monthly gaps waiting for the next chapter were absolute torture. This is pre-internet, pre-social media remember, so apart from comic shop gossip, you just had to wait. The thing was with Watchmen, Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons packed so much into each issue you needed that time to fully digest, and understand everything that was going on, as multi-layered as it was. Stories within stories, heroes that seemed more like villains, a fully realised timeline and world. A rich tapestry was woven indeed, and when the story as envisaged by Alan Moore, 12 issues and out, was complete that was that. Well for many years it was. Then it wasn’t.

DC resisted playing with Alan’s toys for as long as they could. As they has fallen out with him over the rights to Watchmen (he had created all the characters to replace the Charlton characters he had originally written it for) they were content to keep raking in the huge residual royalties from sales every year. Once it became clear that Moore wouldn’t return to this playpen DC, in 2012, published the Before Watchmen series of books, prequels to the main Watchmen storyline, which had co-creator Dave Gibbons seal of approval and, overall, were pretty good with some great creative people involved. I guess once you’ve done a prequel all that is left is to do a sequel, right? Which brings us to Doomsday Clock.

Doomsday Clock is set seven years after the events of Watchmen. I’m assuming most comic book fans know the Watchmen story, but in a nutshell it is a murder mystery set in an alternate world where superheroes have been ‘real’ since the 1940’s. The Watchmen were this Earth’s premier team of superheroes, who had to eventually disband. By books end, we find out that Ozymandias, a member of the team, has been systematically killing and neutering his former teammates to remake the world in his image, wanting to eradicate hunger and poverty, and end the United States and Soviet Union Cold War. There’s way more to it, but that gives you a starting point. At Watchmen’s end, Ozymandias had seemingly got away with his master plan, but with the beginning of Doomsday Clock he has been exposed, and is a fugitive.

So what does the world’s smartest man do when he is in trouble? Looks for the world’s most powerful man of course. That would be Dr. Manhattan. Slight thing is, Manhattan has disappeared. If you’ve been following DC books like DC Universe: Rebirth and The Button, you know that Dr. Manhattan has been busy in the mainstream DC Universe, tinkering with the timeline and various other things. This was the bravest step Geoff Johns took, to try and actually integrate the previously self contained Watchmen Universe with the main DC one, something even I am not totally sure about. Is this a story that needed to be told? Should it have been?

This collection contains the first 6 issues, of the planned 12, and on a practical level is a gorgeously designed book, it’s design fitting perfectly the Watchmen house style of signature yellow and black. Lovely glossy pages also help Gary Frank’s art really stand out, aided by Brad Anderson’s colors. The style of the storytelling is also consciously copying the Moore/Gibbons style, with first person narration, similar lettering style, the near same conventional panel layout on every page, and clips of newspapers, information text, and book excerpts just as we saw then. As wonderful as this all is, it is striking that this no longer feels innovative or new, but more an affectionate homage to the past. Definitely not what I thought back in those heady days of the late 1980’s.

Having said that, Johns starts with the new. A brand new Rorschach, breaking two villains out of prison, The Mime and Marionette, two characters I’m guessing that were inspired by old Captain Atom villains Punch and Jewellee. Rorschach is working for Adrian Veidt (Ozymandias), though not voluntarily as it turns out, and Veidt needs to find Dr. Manhattan fast, as he is now terminally ill. This odd group manage to make it over to the mainstream DC Earth, and seek out Bruce Wayne and Lex Luthor to help them. Seeing this interaction is genuinely startling at first, Rorschach meeting Batman and Ozymandias meeting Lex. Crowd pleasing stuff, as is the apparent return of The Comedian, who gets a rather apt revenge on Veidt, before meeting his match with The Joker.

It is almost impossible to give this book a conventional review, as I wouldn’t even be able to scratch the surface in the time and space I have, but Geoff Johns has created a superb piece of work here. It is both reverential to its source material, in both its style and content, but also is conscious it is creating something new, it is driving forward a storyline that will impact the entire DC Universe. The stakes are far higher this time. The use of the DC heroes and villains is excellent, but I wasn’t completely won over by new boy and girl Mime and Marionette. Johns clearly wants us to really like them, and I never really did. They just felt like a distraction from the main course. A main course that was extremely satisfying, on all levels.

This volume, the first half of the story Johns and Frank are telling is for me a near masterpiece. It has to tread carefully around what has gone before, yet tell a new and compelling story to justify the re-use of these characters. It does this beautifully. Wonderful writing, beautiful art, and affectionate use of characters on all sides. Did this story HAVE to be told? No. Should it be told? YES. It’s a reminder that these are fantastic characters, ones that should be allowed to continue their stories. Will this satisfy everyone? Of course not. Some will think it sacrilege even touching these characters, others may find the story too much of a slow burn. Me, I enjoyed it from cover to cover. Every Easter egg, every little joke or sly nod to the past, every homage, all were welcome and added a deeper texture to the story itself.

It is indeed true what they say. Nothing ever really ends…

***** 5/5

Doomsday Clock: Part 1 is out now from DC Comics. Order your copy here.


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