Wow. It’s been a banner year for Watchmen, the comic book series that began in 1986. Doctor Manhattan once said that nothing ever ends, even though Watchmen ended as a series in 1987. But he was right, of course, and, in this case, the damn thing just kept getting reprinted. In recent memory, we’ve now had a prequel series, a movie, a computer game, an inevitable line of toys and statues, yet another reprint (lenticular covers a go-go!), a TV show… and a sequel, Doomsday Clock.
Like the Watchmen TV show, Doomsday Clock seemed like a herculean undertaking at the beginning, because of the hallowed ground on which Watchmen exists; after all, Watchmen is THE comic book which changed the history of comic books. While there were already comics out there which were smart and not exactly “for kids”, Watchmen was the one which broke through – becoming the only comic amongst Time’s prestigious list of top 100 novels of all time. Not only was it brilliant, but it gained critical respect. It became revered, and transcended the medium itself. It changed the industry.
So, yeah, the thought of treating it like just any old comic and milking it like a cash cow was, of course, a risky prospect.
Ironically, Doomsday Clock was predicted to some extent back in 1986 by Watchmen artist Dave Gibbons. At the time, Gibbons described the possibility of having Rorschach crossing over with Batman as “horrendous” but, while DC could legally do it, he also had enough faith in them to not do anything awful like that. Because, after all, who would be foolish enough to treat Watchmen in such a way?
To the credit of writer Geoff Johns and, in particular, artist Gary Frank, Doomsday Clock deserves some serious praise. The writing is, for the most part, solid. At times, it’s truly exceptional. The plot itself, while obvious, is also fantastic concept that takes advantage of the groundwork laid both in Watchmen and the DCU in general and ties them together smartly. As for the art, it’s been stunning and an absolute delight to enjoy. The final issue is a triumphant ending, easily one of the best comic books in recent memory.
It’s just a shame that the series itself wasn’t particularly amazing, even if individual issues were. It may have utilised some of the Watchmen characters and scenarios in creative ways, added a little to it, and allowed for the DCU to have a desperately-needed reboot, but…
Well, as a sequel to Watchmen it simply wasn’t worthy.
While a huge amount of work went in to trying to replicate Alan Moore’s intricate writing and plotting early on, within just a few short issues that limited standard of imitation noticeably dropped further. Concepts which could have been executed on a far grander scale never came to pass. Some threads of potential storylines never played out, being left dangling (presumably laying the groundwork for a sequel to the sequel), while others were resolved with little impact and less development. The conclusion of the story was incredibly satisfactory to the DCU, but at the expense of Watchmen itself.
The publishing delays didn’t help either, lending Doomsday Clock the air of a troubled, possibly even doomed, project. With some of the delays came apologies and promises that this would all be sorted out, only for further delays to follow. It was laughable, except readers weren’t laughing at all. By the end, the publishing schedule looked like DC was just picking random dates out of a hat. In a time when society moves so fast that pop culture is disposable and attention spans are limited, following a comic with a scattershot release schedule – and remembering the finer story details of an issue published several months earlier – is a problem.
Now it’s done, all those issues will be collected and the trade paperback will start doing the rounds, allowing people to see it in a far better light; but for those who have followed it all along it’s been a frustrating journey. But the publishing had nothing to do with the bigger story problems, or the fact that Doomsday Clock even exists at all. Deep down, at the heart of the matter, it’s all about that.
For all the great work that went into Doomsday Clock, like the Watchmen TV show it simply wasn’t worthy. Nothing is… and that isn’t a slur on either project. Because Watchmen has already earned its status and reputation, nothing can live up to its legacy – whether that’s actually true, or is just in the minds of its fans (although it’s definitely more the former).
It’s perhaps rather telling the way these sequels have been described. Doomsday Clock has been repeatedly called an “unauthorised” sequel, while the TV show was described by creator Damon Lindelof as a “remix”. None of the creators involved in either have wanted to screw around with Watchmen or see any harm come to it. They’ve been allowed to play in that sacred Watchmen toybox, but they’ve been respectful enough to try and not break those toys. Even using the term “sequel” appears to be somewhat distasteful to them, for fear that they might negatively impact the original source material and cheapen it.
Unfortunately, that cheapening happened years ago anyway, and by forces far bigger than those creators. The sad fact is that Watchmen has become a cash cow at all, that its monumental achievement at the time of its release has been gradually eroded over time as it’s been repeatedly exploited for status and cash. These sequels, whether they be unauthorised or remixes, can only hope to do as little damage as possible to it, please new fans, and not annoy those fans of the original Watchmen comics.
Ironically, at the end of Doomsday Clock, Doctor Manhattan tells us that he was wrong, and that things do end. Except, presumably, for Watchmen. That’s just going to keep chugging on like the comic industry cash cow it was never intended to be. But things do end, according to him. It’s a clumsy, clunky parallel to Watchmen’s final moments, contradicting just about everything that’s been established and that readers know to be true. Chalk it up to another weak moment in Doomsday Clock’s uneven writing.
But… maybe he’s right. Maybe things do end. After all, Doomsday Clock did, even with all those publishing delays.
And sadly, maybe what made Watchmen so special all along has ended too. Although it would be a shame if it has.