The year is 1992, and the United States of America – as with the rest of the world – is in turmoil.
Just seven years before, the world was on the verge of peace. The self-proclaimed “World’s smartest man” Adrian Veidt – formerly known as the costumed hero Ozymandias – had fooled the world and prevented World War III. However, his scheme fell apart when the truth came out. However, with the world once more on the brink of annihilation, there’s one last chance for salvation: The god-like being known as Doctor Manhattan.
The plan to locate the missing Doctor Manhattan rests on Rorschach, who has to rescue Marionette from jail. However, she refuses to do anything unless she’s joined by her husband, Mime. They have no idea of the roles they’re about to play… and nor does Clark Kent, experiencing a nightmare for the very first time…
Well, this is awkward.
I must have rewritten this review half-dozen times, because it’s practically impossible to discuss it without constantly comparing it to Watchmen. Because, let’s be honest, without Watchmen this wouldn’t exist. Watchmen is a legendary piece of work, so much so that anything less than brilliance here will basically look like DC is pissing on its legacy yet again. Talking about this issue objectively is difficult at best. Still, here goes…
Doomsday Clock #1 is okay. It isn’t really bad, but it isn’t really that good either, and it certainly didn’t grab my attention enough to make me want to read more. But really, it also could have been a whole lot worse so I’m thankful.
Firstly, let’s get the easy part out of the way: Gary Frank’s artwork. It’s really good, and I’d even go as far as to say that it’s some of his best ever. This issue needed a great artist, because… well, does anybody remember how bad The Kingdom looked in comparison to Kingdom Come? Exactly. Thankfully, Gary Frank is up for the task. His lines may not be as clean as those from Dave Gibbons, and there may not be as much detail, but the art is still more than good enough to do this issue justice.
Really what this boils down to though is the story overall, and more specifically the writing. Right from the cover, there are missteps all over the place. It’s clear that the intention here is to make this as much like Watchmen as possible in terms of panel layout, plot, tone and dialogue… but it isn’t, and it’s strikingly obvious. However, either by happy accident or intentional intelligence from Geoff Johns, there’s something else going on in Doomsday Clock #1 which makes all these problems work to some extent.
It’s something akin to what Johns seemed to do at times with Infinite Crisis, as if he’s coding this story with his own personal message of sympathy and understanding to the more hardcore long-time DC fans who have soured to DC’s editorial decisions over the past decade or two.
In Doomsday Clock #1, Rorschach doesn’t sound the same or act the same because it isn’t the same Rorschach fans know from Watchmen. His narrative is a pale imitation of the original’s, but then so is the character. He’s a knock-off and sounds like one. Ozymandias may actually be the same character, but he appears to be suffering from a brain tumour so he sounds different. The world of Watchmen may be recognizable, but time has moved on so it’s different. These may all be excuses for what seems like poor writing (or, more simply, poor writing itself). Or it may actually be Johns saying to readers that he knows that he – like this Rorschach – isn’t as good as the original, but it’s his job and he’s got a good idea so he’s trying his best and please be patient with him.
Or maybe it really is just a happy accident, and I’m reading too much into it. Which would be incredibly ironic, since the original Watchmen worked on plenty of different levels too and can be analyzed forever by readers (which is what makes it such a brilliant piece of work).
As for the kind of story Johns gives us in Doomsday Clock #1, I hate to say it but after such a long wait since Rebirth it’s pretty disappointing. Marionette and Mime (basically Punch and Jewelee) are fascinating and fun, although the grim comedy they offer feels a little out of place. This is more of a set-up issue, and while the pacing is fine it spends a bit too much time just trying to convince the reader that they’re witnessing something special, rather than actually being something special. There still seems to be no actual hook for the readers, because there’s no reason to care if this Watchmen world lives or dies.
However, this is the first issue so it’s hard to predict what the future holds for this series. For anybody calling this series a future classic, or for anybody writing it off completely as a pathetic quick cash-grab from DC, they’re all idiots. We’ll only know those things at the end of this. All anybody can say for now is what they thought of Doomsday Clock #1.
And what I’m saying, again, is that Doomsday Clock #1 is okay. Take from that what you will.