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‘Doomsday Clock’ #1 (review – spoilers within)

Doomsday Clock #1
Written by Geoff Johns
Illustrated by Gary Frank
Published by DC Comics
In stores Nov 22, 2017 / $4.99

 

There are ways in which Doomsday Clock #1 demonstrates surprising timeliness for a DC Comics book. It’s hard not to wade through the book’s rich atmosphere of tension and dread without reading a take on our national mood into it.

Whether or not Geoff Johns meant to echo our nation’s current state in this tale, it’s there, pushing through from the margins, and elevating this story somewhat from the potboiler it feels like otherwise.

Ostensibly the culmination of the central mystery threaded through the DC Rebirth line, Doomsday Clock is also a long-dreaded sequel to Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ seminal series Watchmen.

Beginning six years after the original story ended, this first issue finds the Watchmen Earth teetering on the brink of disaster as the fragile world peace Adrian Veidt killed in order to engineer has been shattered by the truth of his actions. The seemingly dead Rorschach stalks the streets again, narrating the bulk of this tale in his stripped down first-person prose. His mission is simple–bust a pair of super-criminals, the Mime and the Marionette, out of prison.

The return of Rorschach caused a stir amongst comics fans when it was revealed in advance of this issue’s release, but another twist adds more questions. This isn’t the original Rorschach, and the small glimpse of dark skin he shows the Marionette gives us the only clue to his identity. (Could he be the newsstand kid from the original Watchmen, or related to Rorschach’s psychologist named Malcolm Long.?)

The bigger reveal is that his partner is Adrian Veidt, better known as Ozymandias, on the run and dying of cancer. With the Mime and the Marionette secured, he reveals their real task: find the one man who can reverse the tide of chaos, Dr. Manhattan.

The problem with all of this is that it automatically begs comparison to Watchmen, and as is painfully obvious, Geoff Johns is no Alan Moore.

That isn’t to say Johns isn’t a fine writer, but his style is more straightforward and pulpy compared to the measured, formalist work Moore wrote over thirty years ago. Additionally, some of his table-setting feels a little too protracted. (He also throws in some surprising, though unnecessary profanity.) Meanwhile, Gary Frank turns in typically excellent work, his pencils perfectly capturing the overheated milieu Johns sets up.

Doomsday Clock #1 is filled with twists on the original material, from the new Rorshach and his partnership with Ozymandias to the heightened terror past even that of “Watchmen,” to the nine-panel grid forming the basis of Frank’s pages. There are also some new wrinkles: the Mime and the Marionette seem to echo a couple of familiar DCU faces–especially once the Mime breaks out of his cell.

But the biggest surprise seems to arrive at the end, when Clark Kent has a nightmare of his parents’ death in a car accident–that turns out to be a flashback. Is this a new tweak on our Clark? Or is this a different Clark Kent? Can Superman actually exist in the Watchmen world? And why is Clark reading Walden Two?

Doomsday Clock #1 is an intriguing start to this 12-issue maxi-series, but it already finds itself treading dangerous ground, walking the very fine line between Watchmen homage and its own distinctive story. Johns and Frank can’t help but veer a bit too close to the former, but the book shines when it leans into its new mysteries.

 

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