OK, was there a more controversial comic put out in the last few years in the Gabbing Geek bullpen than Doomsday Clock? Ryan, while he was reading it as individual issues, spoke well of it. Watson, a Watchmen fan of the highest order, condemned it as schlock and unworthy without even reading it as near as I can make out. Me? I prefer to judge something only after I have read it.
Besides, HBO proved you can make a good story set in the Watchmen universe. Maybe DC can too.
Now, for what it is worth, I wasn’t necessarily pleased to see the characters from Watchmen interact with the regular DC Universe characters. They are very different types of characters in very different settings. I even noted writer Geoff Johns could have told the same story without using Dr. Manhattan and company because Grant Morrison went ahead and made some knock-off versions that were more or less the same people without using the Watchmen characters. Yes, there’s probably some copyright legal reasons to use the originals, but I still don’t see why Johns couldn’t use Morrison’s versions since they were created for the express purpose of letting future stories be told with them, and they were essentially a Watchman-style reshaping of the old Charlton heroes who were themselves the original versions of the Watchmen cast.
But, that’s neither here nor there. I like to judge a story on its own merit, and if nothing else, Gary Frank is a fantastic artist so at least the book will look good.
And it does indeed look good. The rest of it is…boring.
That’s it. It’s boring.
Johns, as writer, is really trying to copy Alan Moore’s style and story. Doomsday Clock uses, for the most part, the same nine panel grid style that Dave Gibbons used on the book, and most issues end with a text of some kind meant to enhance and expand the world of the story. True, one of the last ones there was done in a fine print with splats of blood drawn over it, making it impossible for me to read so I skipped them, but for the most part, that was Johns trying to be Moore and failing miserably. Instead, it came across as someone trying to be edgy by tossing some stronger profanity than he normally gets to use into a story and some philosophical musings on top on the nature of the DC Universe as seen through the prism of DC Comics. Why is Superman at the center of all things DC is what the series sets out to answer, and the answer it comes up with isn’t necessarily a bad one. I just wasn’t sure why Johns needed twelve issues to tell it aside from the fact the original Watchmen was 12 issues long.
Here’s the basic premise: in the Watchmen universe, Ozymandias’s trick to cause world peace didn’t last because Rorschach’s journal eventually got out. Nuclear war is imminent, and the only way for Ozymandias to save the world again is to find Doctor Manhattan to do…something about it. Anything really. Ozymandias has rigged Nite-Owl’s owl-ship to cross universes to follow Manhattan, and he takes with him a cloned kitten of his old pet Bubastis, a new Rorschach, and a pair of psychotic criminals named Mime and Marionette. It seems Manhattan went to the DC Universe to see how a more hopeful version of the world works, and to see what would happen if he made it less so. He also took along the Comedian, seconds before that jackass hit the pavement.
Manhattan’s efforts have done a few things. Both the Justice Society in the past and the Legion of Superheroes in the future never existed, and something called “the Superman theory” is going around to explain why so many metahumans are from the United States. There’s a superhero arms race, trust in heroes other than Superman is at an all time low, and the world is a powder keg that could go off at any second if any metahuman does something wrong.
Johns doesn’t exactly show the various Watchmen characters, even the ones he created, interacting that much with established DC characters. Most of the DC characters on display are limited to Superman and Batman, with smaller roles going to Lois Lane, Lex Luthor, the Joker, Black Adam (because Geoff Johns is in love with that character), and Firestorm while Ozymandias holds a time lost Saturn Girl and an elderly Johnny Thunder prisoner. The story gradually reveals where Dr. Manhattan has been and what he’s been up to, but really…this story doesn’t work.
Part of it is the way the characters don’t really fit together. The members of the Justice League and their allies refer to incidents involving a “villain” manipulating everything, and that term seems so wrong to describe Dr. Manhattan, and not just because he is ostensibly a superhero in his own world. It’s more because Watchmen didn’t deal in such black-and-white morality. And yet, Ozymandias comes across as little better than a typical bad guy who doesn’t realize what he’s doing makes him the bad guy. Dr. Manhattan also seems…off. The way the story concludes seems to suggest there’s a side to Manhattan that Moore’s original story would have suggested isn’t possible.
Essentially, I just don’t think Johns’s characterization of Moore’s characters comes across as anything more than at best half-decent fanfic. When a character says “shit” in the story, it feels like someone trying to be edgy and not getting it right. I’ve read a lot of Johns’s work. His work with the Green Lantern Corps and the emotional spectrum (once he stopped trying to pretend Hal Jordan was DC Jesus), his Justice Society work, his run on Wally West’s Flash series, even his streamlining of Hawkman’s complicated continuity all largely worked. But this stuff doesn’t. These are characters that don’t really fit together. Doomsday Clock just feels like a kid playing with his dad’s stuff and not really understanding what it all is.
Which is something of a shame. I still dig Gary Frank’s artwork, possibly the one thing that improves on Dave Gibbons’s old school style. There are also some interesting ideas at play here. The Superman Theory conspiracy could make for a good story. The concepts Johns invents here are interesting. It just feels like something someone threw together to be cool, and like I have said many times in this review, it doesn’t work. The whole thing just felt really “meh”. Not bad. Just “meh”.
Heck, Johns even tried to copy former President Trump’s speech pattern at one point. It felt just as off as his attempts to be more like Alan Moore.
Now, I normally won’t go lower than a 6 because, in my mind, that’s an F. But for this, I think I can say a perfectly “meh” thing needs a perfectly “meh” grade. So…
5 out of 10 DC heroes burned in effigy.