SPOILER WARNING: The following article contains spoilers for Doomsday Clock #1 by Geoff Johns and Gary Frank, on sale now.
Almost 30 years before its current Rebirth initiative, DC Comics was in the midst of another rebirth when Watchmen #1 was first published; a few months after Crisis on Infinite Earths realigned, and attempted to simplify, DC continuity. While showing itself to be a stellar representation of a new and improved DC Comics, Watchmen was a standalone superhero story taking place outside the DC Universe and had no connection to its mainstream superheroes — or so was the case at the time.
Last year’s DC Universe: Rebirth #1 blew readers’ socks off when it revealed otherwise, and the Batman/Flash crossover “The Button” strengthened that connection with the official reappearance of Watchmen‘s Doctor Manhattan. Geoff Johns and Gary Frank’s Doomsday Clock #1 takes the next step in the exploration of that connection, as the Watchmen sequel begins to reveal that Adrian Veidt’s — aka Ozymandias — plan for a world utopia has crumbled seven years after its catastrophic catalyst was triggered. This world’s exact ties to the DCU still largely remain a mystery, but the issue stands out based on its balance between paying tribute to the original series and furthering its story, as well as its pervasive countdown-to-doomsday atmosphere.
Thanks to Rorschach’s journal, Veidt’s manipulations have been exposed, leading the world’s smartest man to go on the lam, charged with the murder of the three million New Yorkers who were casualties of his deadly machinations in Watchmen. The idyllic world peace has been broken as the world and the nation accuses the U.S. government of collusion with Veidt, leading “President Redford” to shut down the independent media and invoke the nuclear option against the Russians, with only hours remaining until the first strike. The literal doomsday clock scenario evokes a continuous sense of palpable tension, one that Johns fully capitalizes on throughout, as Rorschach — yes, Rorschach, although not that Rorschach — desperately tries to find a way to save a world whose own doomsday clock is quickly counting down, just as his predecessor did.
Although the continuation of the Watchmen saga is against the stated wishes of co-creators Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons, Johns and Frank’s first order of business is to faithfully pay tribute to the original. Like Watchmen, the series opens with Rorschach’s conservative-leaning narration overlying the unrest and dissent that immediately convey the state of this troubled world. Also like the original series, there’s a prison break involving Rorschach, only this time he’s the one doing the springing. The reversal puts a fresh spin on an issue that’s potentially predisposed to derivation, and introduces two new intriguing new characters that stand to add a new dynamic to whichever original characters are slated to eventually appear.
Johns, Frank and colorist Brad Anderson ensure that the first issue evokes the flavor of the original series, but it’s seasoned differently by way of its troubling sociopolitical setting. Having been released in the waning years of the Cold War, Watchmen capitalized largely on the fears of yesterday, extrapolating a diminishing tension rather than an escalating one. Doomsday Clock #1, though, successfully seizes on the current fears held by many — worldwide distrust of the United States, worries over a U.S. President’s itchy trigger finger, and suppression of a free press. The tension felt throughout the issue is disquieting not only because of the rich atmosphere established by the creative team, but because it hits uncomfortably close to a feared real-world scenario.
Unlike the real-world United States, Doomsday Clock is set in a version of America that unarguably needs to be made great again, and Johns’ script makes no secret that it’s a thinly veiled — make that a barely veiled — and open criticism of the Trump Administration. On its own, the introductory issue works plenty well envisioned as a future sequel to the current state of American politics, as well as a direct sequel to the events of Watchmen. The search for Doctor Manhattan, who Rorschach regards as a god who can save his world and continuing the deification of the character, is a worthy plot device that advances the story.
The above elements more than sufficiently carry the issue, and are enough to make the lack of any mention of the DC Universe for the first 26 pages go unnoticed. The jump to Earth-0, and specifically Superman, for the issue’s final four pages therefore comes across as jarring, akin to Luke Skywalker being unexpectedly beamed aboard the Enterprise — kind of cool, perhaps, but more of a distraction than a story enhancement. Considering the believed intent of the series — to explain the connection between the two worlds — the moment stands to work better in the eventual collected edition.
Doomsday Clock #1 succeeds as a highly engaging experience, although likely for different reasons than many might have expected.