Saying that Doomsday Clock is a delicate, controversial series for comics fans would be putting it lightly. Since its announcement earlier this year, nearly everything about Geoff Johns and Gary Frank’s new collaboration has been divisive — from the legal and moral entanglements revolving around the original Watchmen property to the potential implications of just what the book might mean for Rebirth’s future since Johns’ last comics work was penning the original DC Universe Rebirth #1 issue in March of last year.
Add to that the fact that Johns has been admittedly reluctant to share too many details about the plot or its relationship to both Watchmen and Rebirth has been…well, a little concerning to say the last.
Thankfully, the anxiety of just not knowing what Doomsday Clock is and where it stands is finally coming to an end: issue #1 is hitting shelves this Wednesday. The slow and steady tick-tock-ticking of the countdown is just about up.
So it’s time to take a spoiler-free look at just how the first issue shakes out, and, most importantly, if it’s worth your time.
At New York Comic Con this year, Johns explained that he wanted Doomsday Clock to stand alone, stating that “the only thing you need to read beforehand is Watchmen.” That much is definitely true — the context of issue #1 is definitely reliant on some background understanding of the state of the world immediately following the finale of Watchmen, but that really is all you’re expected to know. The structure of the book out to be incredibly familiar to anyone who’s taken more than a passing glance at Watchmen, and it’s not just because of the repeated nine panel grids, but rather the feel of the art itself.
It’s obvious that neither Johns nor Frank are trying to imitate Moore or Gibbons wholesale, but they are certainly wearing their inspirations on their sleeves. The world of Doomsday Clock feels set apart from the rest of the DCU immediately — it’s claustrophobic, busy, and crumbling. Each panel is packed with detail and it’s immediately, exceedingly obvious that a ton of care has gone into the construction of this book. Brad Anderson’s colors elevate Frank’s art in such a way that, despite how busy the world is, it’s never quite distracting or intimidating to process.
Narratively, Doomsday Clock is likely to surprise both skeptics and fans — it’s probably not the book you think it is. Or, at least, it probably doesn’t sound the way you’re expecting it to sound. Johns’ narration keeps the familiar, terse cadence of Moore’s work, but it’s punched up with an unexpected amount of humor.
Doomsday Clock is definitely not a comedy, but it is funny in a way that’s totally self aware of it’s own cynical roots. It’s not making fun of itself in so many works, but it’s clear that Johns wants readers to know that he gets it, and that he gets the polarity of a story like Watchmen in the current hope-and-joy filled landscape of Rebirth. It’s witty, charming, and even a little goofy at times, all in the face of it’s all-but-post-apocalyptic world.
Now, whether or not that levity in the face of disaster is going to work for you is another question entirely. The liminal space between Watchmen and Rebirth isn’t going to be comfortable for everyone — at New York Comic Con, Johns described Watchmen as a critique on the DC Universe of the 80s, and went on to say that Doomsday Clock is the DC Universe’s chance to respond in kind, and that much is already readily apparent in the first issue. But, if you’re a Watchmen purist willing to approach the story with an open mind, you’ll absolutely find a worthy successor and an engaging mystery to top it off.
Whether by virtue of the titans they’re standing in the shadows of, or by the pressure of living up to the legacies they’re attempting to build from, both Johns and Frank are at the top of their game here. The book is beautiful and worth studying, both for the plot and for the technicality of the storytelling — the nine panel grid is having a really good year at DC, that much you can be sure of.
So, is Doomsday Clock what you expect? Probably not. Will that surprise be welcome? That depends on where you stand on your own Watchmen based puritanism. But is it a meticulously crafted, well constructed comic? Absolutely.
Doomsday Clock #1 hits shelves this Wednesday, November 22.