Friday, 24 November 2017

Doomsday Clock #1 Review (Geoff Johns, Gary Frank)

8 years after Watchmen… 

Adrian Veidt/Ozymandias’ warped plan to stop the Cold War has been exposed making him the most wanted man in the world. His empire fallen, Veidt is now in hiding. Meanwhile Rorschach’s journals have been published – except he’s been spotted walking the streets dispensing his unique brand of brutal justice! But Rorschach’s dead – isn’t he? And as talks break down between the US and Russia, World War 3 seems imminent. The Doomsday Clock is ticking again. Where is Dr Manhattan? And what does Superman have to do with all of this?

In his first new comic since last year’s DC Universe Rebirth #1, Geoff Johns steps up to the intimidating task of writing a sequel to Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ Watchmen - a book considered by many to be the greatest graphic novel of all time - in Doomsday Clock. And is the first issue good? Eh… it’s ok.

I’ll just say it: I’m not a Watchmen fan. I think it’s absurdly overrated, slow, ponderous, self-important and not nearly as clever or interesting as it thinks it is. Unusually for me, I even read it twice thinking I’d read it “wrong” the first time but, no, I didn’t enjoy it either time. Still, I appreciate Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ celebrated comic for its thoughtful construction far more than its execution, as well as its impact and inspiration on numerous creators and the genre itself since.

So I don’t feel outraged about Papa Johns and Gary Frank revisiting that world. Alan Moore fans will obviously think otherwise! But here’s the thing about literary sequels: for prose books, like a sequel to Pride & Prejudice or The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – whatever it is, it tends to read like fanfic and sinks without a trace in no time. The original continues on untarnished until the next ill-conceived attempt.

Superhero comics are a different animal though. No-one thinks that Bill Finger and Jerry Robinson’s Batman comics from the late ‘30s are untouchable or flawless – they were the first Batman comics but they sucked! Thank god we’ve had hundreds of creators over the years – like Frank Miller, Alan Moore, Grant Morrison, Paul Dini, Scott Snyder and Tom King, all of whom are far better writers than Batman’s original team - come along and tell new stories about the character for succeeding generations of readers and their evolving tastes. It’s not so much fanfic as it is how superhero comics survive – regardless of its acclaim, Watchmen is no different.

That said, Johns basically adapts his normally bombastic writing style into a facsimile of Moore’s! “Rorschach” is back, once more mumbling emo-broken sentences against the backdrop of a world falling apart where rioters holding placards are attacking police left and right - the expected Watchmen setting. Rorschach’s breaking out of prison a couple of new characters, Mime and Marionette (whom I had initially mistaken for DC villains Punch and Jewelee but, in the Watchmen tradition, are intentionally derivative knockoffs), we catch up with Ozymandias, and the issue closes on a dull episode from Superman’s past. It’s not an especially inspired or imaginative beginning.

I’m still not taken with Rorschach’s stiff monologuing though he remains a visually striking character. A prison break sounds exciting except he has no trouble getting in or out of the prison so there’s no narrative tension there! The question of how he’s not dead was compelling though and gets answered here. And Mime opening up a seemingly empty locker to put on his “outfit” was amusing.

On the other hand, Gary Frank’s art is nothing like Dave Gibbons’ and looks suitably flashy for modern readers. There isn’t anything though in this first issue that’s anywhere near as eye-catchingly iconic as that panel in the original Watchmen’s first issue where The Comedian is thrown through plate glass or the zoom-in on the blood-spattered Smiley Face badge. For the most part though Frank is continuing Watchmen’s nine-panel grid layout and Brad Anderson’s colours are appropriately grim. And my copy had a cool lenticular cover where Rorschach’s face morphs into the symbols of the Trinity: Superman, Wonder Woman and Batman, while the Doomsday Clock in the corner ticks away the minutes to midnight with Superman’s logo hovering ominously above the centre.

The final page is a dedication to Len Wein, the original Watchmen editor, who died earlier this year – a very respectful touch.

I think I just wanted more. Like most first issues it’s unsurprisingly all about table-setting and as a result Doomsday Clock #1 is an underwhelming and lethargic first issue with not enough happening for my taste. It feels overindulgently long and tedious, like Johns doesn’t quite have enough material and is having to stretch it to make the 12-issue run (because the original Watchmen was 12 issues). I didn’t expect Johns to have anything meaningful to say (he doesn’t) but that’s fine as his mission here is to introduce the Watchmen into the DCU proper. He’s certainly capable of that and I expect he’ll pull it off competently – whether or not he does so entertainingly or not though is the question. And, while I wasn’t very engaged with this first issue, I remain intrigued to see how Johns will do it, which is why I picked this up in the first place, so that’s something I suppose – it hasn’t put me off.

I’d hoped Doomsday Clock would either be surprisingly good or apocalyptically bad but instead it falls anticlimactically into unimpressively middling and mundane territory. The times, they are a-snoozing…

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