***WARNING: Full on spoilers lay ahead.***
By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder
Doomsday Clock #1 is a pretty good first chapter. Assuming you have an off switch for your conscience.
By now I really thought I’d be calloused to the idea of DC doing a sequel to Watchmen without the approval or involvement of author Alan Moore or artist Dave Gibbons. Not that they need it. They own the rights to the story and characters, and have been milking them ever since. Naturally, Moore has been sore about it for decades. Years ago the company even published several character-centric Before Watchmen prequel stories. So Doomsday Clock is hardly unprecedented. Throw in all the bits and pieces of Watchmen lore DC has sprinkled around since the Rebirth story began, and you’d think I’d be ready for this…
But Doomsday Clock #1 feels dirty just like Before Watchmen felt dirty. Realities of the publishing industry notwithstanding, this reeks of DC taking toys out of someone else’s sandbox. If you can ignore that side of things, I imagine Doomsday Clock simply becomes the latest Geoff Johns epic. But for many of us in the know, there’s a discomfort level to all this that isn’t going away.
Set several years after the events of Watchmen, we see that Adrian Veidt’s hoax to bring about world peace was only a short term success. Global tensions are at an all time high, as is the threat of nuclear war. Amidst all of this, Rorschach, or rather someone assuming the Rorschach identity, breaks two former supervillains out of prison to aid he and Veldt in setting the world right again. To do that, Doctor Manhattan must be found. But as we’ve seen, the former Jonathan Osterman has been busy making waves in the DC Universe. Worlds are about to collide.
When you come back somewhere after a long time away, you’re naturally curious to see what changed in your absence. Despite what you might call it’s lack of authenticity, parts of Doomsday Clock are intriguing from a world-building perspective. How exactly do things change after a giant alien squid is supposedly dropped on New York City? Not that much, apparently. The world we’re met with is very similar to the one we left. Distress over the airwaves, violence in the streets. The more things change, the more they stay the same. Even our narrator is the same, more or less…
Indeed, there’s a new Rorschach in town. We don’t know much about who he is, other than he works with Veldt, and has brown skin (shown above). I initially rolled my eyes at the idea of Rorschach being a “legacy character.” It’s a tried and true tool in the world of superhero comics. Have a dead hero? Just make a new one with the same M.O. But Rorschach had such a unique and distinct voice that it’s almost cringeworthy to use that trick with him.
But did they even have a choice? Rorschach is such a gigantic and integral part of Watchmen. We saw so much of that world through his eyes. You almost can’t revisit it without him. Plus, Watchmen had legacy characters. Like Doomsday Clock itself, I can see why you’d want to create another Rorschach, but something about it feels really wrong. And no, it’s got nothing to do with his race. Having him be black is fine. It doesn’t add or subtract anything, outside of making for a clever reveal.
Watchmen was never big on humor, per se. You can find things to chuckle about, but very little (if anything) is played for straight up laughs. That’s not the case with Doomsday Clock. There are a handful of funny lines and one full-on gag, most of which revolve around the ultra-serious Rorschach reacting to things. While the humor works, this isn’t a world we’re used to laughing at. Watchmen was big on darkness and despair. We see a rape, the murder of a pregnant woman, dogs being murdered with a meat cleaver, etc. So while it’s funny to see a character called the Mime pull imaginary weapons out of a prison locker (shown below), the tone shift takes some getting used to.
Technologically, the comic book industry has come a long way since Watchmen. The story had a pulpy aesthetic to it that was ultimately part of its charm. Doomsday Clock doesn’t try to replicate that. But I give artist Gary Frank and colorist Brad Anderson a lot of credit for making this look and feel like a story set in the same universe. The colors have a lot more depth and richness. But there’s nevertheless something familiar about those city streets we open up on, or the dark and dank feel of the prison. Letterer Rob Leigh even nailed Rorschach’s handwriting for the caption boxes. (Even though this isn’t the same Rorschach anymore. So does that even make sense?) Comparatively, Doomsday Clock is almost like switching your television from standard to high definition, with the one drawback being the loss of the pulp look.
Tacked on at the end of all this is none other than Superman. We flash back via dream sequence to Ma and Pa Kent driving a young Clark to senior prom. We’re reminded just how lonesome and isolated Clark’s secret can make him as he watches the other kids dance. We then see the tragic accident that killed his adoptive parents.
Oddly enough, this strikes me as a scene about Doctor Manhattan. Doomsday Clock is meant to be about a conflict between hope and cynicism. With the DC Universe representing hope, and Watchmen cynicism. Superman is, of course, an ever present symbol of hope and optimism. A man raised by loving parents who instilled him with a set of values and ideals. In contrast, Jonathan Osterman lost his mother at a young age, and was forced by his father to pursue a career in nuclear physics. Later, Doctor Manhattan’s powers left him increasingly isolated. He eventually regarded human life itself as insignificant. These are to men on polar opposite ends of a spectrum. Yet under different circumstances, Clark Kent could have become Doctor Manhattan. With a better upbringing, Jon Osterman could have been a symbol of hope…
With all this talk of hope and cynicism, Doomsday Clock has the potential to be very poignant, given the era we’re living in. But good or bad, it’s destined to have an asterisk next to it because of the circumstances with Watchmen and its creators. Much can be said about what rights creators should or shouldn’t have, as well as Moore’s less than sunny disposition. But what I keep coming back to is this: If I’d put my time, my energy, and my heart into making this world and these characters, and a big company was in a position to make a lot of money off them, I’d want to be listened to. I’d like to think certain things outweigh the importance of money. Like respect. Dignity. Integrity.
Perhaps that’s just blind hope.
Follow Primary Ignition on Twitter, or at Facebook.com/PrimaryIgnition.