Naturally, everyone is talking about Doomsday Clock #1, from DC Comics by Geoff Johns, Gary Frank, Brad Anderson and Rob Leigh. There's a whole heap of reasons for this comic to have so much discussion, from the fact that DC are placing such importance on it in a never-before-seen amount of PR support (seriously, not even Dark Nights: Metal got this much), to the fact it is new work by Johns and Frank, the follow up to DC Universe: Rebirth, and perhaps most importantly, the ethical implications of this book being done in the first place.
Obviously, the ethics of a sequel to the Watchmen being created, against the original creators wishes and the frankly unethical methods DC employed to keep their hands on the rights to those characters, have to be touched on. I do not mean to suggest DC is in any way evil for how they have done this to Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons, far from it; at the time of the original material, no one, DC included, could have known the popularity of the book and its legs, so the contract itself was perhaps not created with swindling the creators in mind….but it is ultimately how it was then used.
But while the ethics of how Doomsday Clock came to be and is published are important, this review is maybe not the time and the place for this lengthy discussion. It is important to keep in mind however.
With that out of the way, what of Doomsday Clock itself? Was there a necessity for a sequel to Watchmen?
If there is a story to be told, then perhaps. But it has to be a damn good story to be a suitable connection and follow-up to the original, which affected the course of comics for around three decades. From what Johns has described of his ideas behind doing Doomsday Clock, it seems like a suitable possibility – Watchmen affected how comics were written and characters were presented for decades, with darker, grittier and more down to earth elements being added to a number of heroes; perhaps it is time for those characters affected to answer back to the originals.
One could argue that maybe such a story didn't have to be done with the Watchmen cast exactly, but perhaps the versions created by Grant Morrison for Multiversity, who were more directly versions of the Charlton Comics, whom he used as a reference to the world of Watchmen. However, I don't think it would have the same effect – after all, that world isn't what had the effect.
So, Doomsday Clock #1 – does it set up that story, does it work? At this stage, it is hard to say. If the series goes as Johns has suggested, it is possible that this will be a worthy (if ethically questionable) sequel to the original. This issue is certainly a strong start. Johns' certainly has a good sense for the darker, pessimistic world of the Watchmen, and his Rorschach is as entertainingly morose as the original while also being understandably different (by now, I'm sure you know why). Franks and Anderson do a fantastic job with the issue too, with stunning artwork. This is not unexpected for the pair, their work is always beautiful. But it is also remarkably in fitting as a sequel to Watchmen as it feels like a natural progression from the original Watchmen artwork.
The new additions, Marionette and Mime, are also a lot of fun and feel in place with the Watchmen universe too. It doesn't sound like Moore, and that's a good thing: if Johns just aped Moore precisely it would have been a pointless exercise and even more of an offence. As it is, Johns tells his story in a manner that is in fitting, respectful (as much as can be, anyway) and just as detailed as the original, but it is still notably his story.
The one minor complaint I would have is that this issue is largely just set dressing. The vast majority of the action takes place in the Watchmen world, and introduces the players there and the situation on that world, so for how much Doomsday Clock has been set up as the story of the Watchmen meeting the DC Universe proper, it's a bit of a shame that so little of the DC Universe appears in it. Similarly, if part of the idea is to show the differences between the two worlds, our brief view of the DC Universe does little to show that. It would have been nice to highlight the juxtaposition more. If this is also the next major step in DC Rebirth, this issue is remarkably devoid of the hope Rebirth was meant to be returning.
Now, as I say, this is a minor gripe, as it's a first issue and it is spending a lot of time setting up just one side of the story so far. Hopefully, the second issue will play more with the other side.
I'd also have liked to make the commentary on the President more explicit, but I suppose it's understandable why they didn't too.
Ultimately, perhaps the only other major mar on the story is how the ethics of the books creation and the long-running situation between Moore, Gibbons and DC have caused a kind of dark mark on the series already. If you're aware of the situation, it makes reading the comic feel a little wrong and questionable. Even more so that it's a very good and enjoyable issue, and while these things obviously have no say in the quality of what is created…it still makes for an uneasy feeling surrounding the comic. It's unfortunate.
However, setting that aside for the purposes of this review: this issue is good. It's damn good, in fact. And while there's still plenty I would like to see and learn, this is still early days, and this issue provides and strong and intriguing start to a series that may yet prove to be a strong follow-up to the 1985 classic.