REVIEW: “Doomsday Clock”

doomsday clockI really wish Doomsday Clock was better than it is. I love Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ Watchmen and I really enjoy the DC Universe; I even thought much of the lead up to this series was very good – or, at least, intriguing. But then the actual series came out and it was plagued by so many delays in its publication that it genuinely became difficult to follow the story as it went on. Unfortunately, rereading the whole series upon its completion didn’t really make it much easier to follow. But, I suppose, that’s in line with the original Watchmen graphic novel. (This review covers all twelve issues of Doomsday Clock and may contain mild spoilers.)

Doomsday Clock (written by Geoff Johns, illustrated by Gary Frank)
Seven years after the events of Watchmen, Adrian Veidt has been exposed as the murderer of millions. Now a fugitive, he has come up with a new plan to redeem himself in the eyes of the world. The first step? Finding Dr. Manhattan. Alongside a new Rorschach and the never-before-seen Mime and Marionette, he follows Manhattan’s trail to the DC Universe, which is on the brink of collapse as international tensions push the “doomsday clock” ever closer to midnight. Is this all Dr. Manhattan’s doing?

Spinning out of Watchmen, DC Universe: Rebirth,  and Batman/The Flash: The Button, Doomsday Clock rewrites the past, present, and future of the DC Universe.

Perhaps the biggest problem with Doomsday Clock, besides its inconsistent publication schedule, is its pacing. It’s just very uneven. It’s clearly trying to emulate Alan Moore’s style from the Watchmen graphic novel, but it doesn’t quite nail its homage. There are numerous moments that go by way too quickly that you wish would go by a bit slower so you could really dig into what’s being done (most notably the first couple of issues that actually sets everything up) and then there’s a lot of stuff that goes by so slowly in some of the later issues that you wish would be sped through a bit quicker so the comic could focus more on the more interesting elements of the plot and its themes. The plot of this comic, itself, is so muddled that large chunks of it go completely unexplained and the final issue almost collapses under its own pressure as so little of anything has actually been explained. But it sure tries to tell an interesting story, and when it does work, it’s often very good.

Picking up some seven(ish) years after the end of Watchmen, Doomsday Clock begins as Adrian Veidt’s plan to save humanity falls apart with everyone being aware that he was the force behind the squid-drop. But, of course, he has a plan! A plan that will require him to recruit a new Rorschach (this time the son of the psychiatrist who tried to treat Rorschach in prison) and two psychopathic villains (The Mime and the Marionette) and travel to the alternate universe in which Dr. Manhattan has sequestered himself. Unfortunately, that’s about the end of the Watchmen-universe related information as the rest of the story takes place almost entirely in the DC Universe and has only the barest of connections with Watchmen – those few characters make appearances (and have their histories expanded upon a bit) and Veidt wants to convince Manhattan to return to their universe and save it. How? Even the final issue of the comic doesn’t seem to entirely know.

To be completely honest, a lot of what I didn’t like about Doomsday Clock was the Watchmen stuff. Aside from Veidt and Manhattan, the other “Watchmen characters” didn’t really feel like they fit in with the story and far too much time was spent explaining who they were to us when that time could’ve been spent better developing what was actually going on. In the vast scheme of the things, the new Rorschach and Mime and Marionette just didn’t really matter to the story. Rorschach 2, as I’ll be calling him from hereon out, had a subplot where he gave Batman the original Rorschach’s journal and clued Batman into what was actually going on, but that plot thread really never went anywhere as the story shifted into its ultimate Superman vs Doctor Manhattan focus. The same was true with Mime and Marionette, who seemed utterly pointless until the very end – and even then, I’m still not quite sure what their purpose was in the story. They were just there and the combination of their storylines took up at least three entire issues of the series. And with them having so little bearing on the overall plot, I’m left wondering what the point was in spending so much time with them? In the original Watchmen, every diversion felt important as it furthered our understanding of characters who were either important to the storyline or events which would prove important by the ending. That’s not the case here as Rorschach 2, Mine, and Marionette essentially lose importance as the storyline goes on; they are presented as vital parts of Veidt’s plan at the beginning until it becomes clear they’re not. And Veidt, himself, is missing from nearly half of the comic and doesn’t actually do anything. So, what’s the point? It’s very clear that Johns didn’t really have anything new to say about Watchmen, and that’s okay, I suppose. His new additions didn’t really seem to fit with the original comic and then he never did anything with those creations anyway. It’d be more frustrating if the HBO Watchmen series didn’t exist and this comic was the only continuation of the story we ever got to see. But, luckily, we can just turn elsewhere for a Watchmen continuation that’s actually good.

So, with Doomsday Clock being a lackluster sequel to Watchmen, is it at least a good multi-universe crossover story? Yes and no. Much the way that the story’s Watchmen-universe setup is interesting, so too is its DC-Universe setup. Something has happened in the DC-Universe that has led to the massive revelation of the Meta Gene, and the various government-run experiments to create superpowered beings that could act as super soldiers to their respective countries. Naturally, people are very concerned about this and that’s where the bulk of the conflict in this story comes from. Tensions are rising and sides are taken and somehow Superman has ended up in the middle of all of this. Honestly, it’s a huge shame the Watchmen stuff had to be crammed into this story because all of this stuff about the Meta Gene was what was actually interesting about Doomsday Clock but too much of it goes unexplained (or poorly explained) because the Watchmen characters have to fit into this story somehow and only Dr. Manhattan actually has superpowers (although it certainly looks like the Mime and Marionette have some superpowers, though that’s never explained at all) and he can’t really come into the story completely until the final act. I really enjoyed the elements where the DC characters were trying to figure out what to do about the Meta Gene crisis but I also didn’t understand a lick of what was going on. Maybe this is a plotline that had been being explored in some other DC titles prior to Doomsday Clock’s launch? Either way, it might have been smart to actually spend some time really going into that and explaining it.

The biggest question, I suppose, was how the ultimate confrontation between the Watchmen characters and the DC-Universe characters turned out, and how/why did Dr. Manhattan cause the New 52 universe to exist. Luckily, Doomsday Clock does do a reasonably decent job of explaining this. Particularly, I appreciate just how in character Dr. Manhattan’s reasoning was for messing around with the DC Universe was. His and Superman’s ultimate showdown was a bit of an anticlimax, but it was very clearly being set up as such so that’s not as disappointing as you’d think. I mean, even with Superman being nearly god-like, Manhattan can disintegrate people in the blink of an eye; there was no way this was going to be a particularly impressive showdown. As for the rest of the characters? It’s very clear Doomsday Clock‘s main focus was on Superman and Dr. Manhattan as they get the bulk of the attention in the story. Which is fine. It’s just often difficult to understand how the Watchmen characters relate to the plotline of what’s actually going on in the DC Universe. And then the way everything gets wrapped up is really unsatisfying and rushed and 100% puts a damper on the whole thing. Perhaps the ending could’ve worked had the previous issues been paced better and actually built up to what happened. But, alas.

Perhaps I was never going to like Doomsday Clock. On the whole, I tend not to like these multi-verse stories in comic books as it never really feels like they actually know what they’re doing and, unless you’re extremely well-versed in the history of multiple universes, it’s extremely easy to get very lost very quickly. Which is honestly what happened to be with Doomsday Clock for large chunks of the story. As previously mentioned, the pacing is really uneven and places too much focus on elements of the story that don’t end up being important. The Watchmen universe and the DC-Universe never really seem to mesh particularly well together, aside from Manhattan and Superman, so I’m honestly not sure why everyone else was even there. Perhaps the kindest thing I can say about the comic is that Gary Frank’s artwork is genuinely impressive. At times, it evokes Dave Gibbons’ artwork beautifully and he has a great command over facial expressions and action scenes. This comic is certainly a nice one to look at even if it wasn’t the most impressively written. On the whole, I can’t say this was a comic worth waiting an entire two years to have in its entirety. It’s fine; way too ambitious for its own good and never focusing on the aspects of the story it should. I’m honestly not sure who this story is meant for – Watchmen fans will be annoyed at some of the liberties taken with those characters and DC fans will be annoyed at the lack of focus most of the DC heroes get. It’s just a really uneven book. But probably one worth a read for those who are curious.

3 out of 5 wands.