Book Reviewed: Doomsday Clock, parts 1 and 2. Written by Geoff Johns, illustrated by Gary Frank (based on, and continuing the story of Watchmen, by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons).
Genre: superhero comics (collected into a graphic novel)
Published By: DC, collected in two volumes in 2019 and 2020 ($24.99 for each hardcover volume; $39.99 for the combined paperback edition)
I realize that reviewing another comic immediately after reviewing one might seem like a weird theme given the goals of the Online Book Club. Readers of a certain type might feel put off by this coincidence; they may even complain that I’m snubbing more esteemed literature in favor of the kind of book that would appeal to the common masses. To them I can only say this: kindly take a look at those around you, and then catch up to where the real deal is happening. While I will always try and make a point to read all kinds of books—from nonfiction to sci-fi, from horror to classic literary novels, from comics to books breaking down old school cinema—I do tend to review the books I actually read, and the books I read tend to be the kinds of books I would actually like. I grew up reading comic books, and some of my favorite reads growing up have been comics or graphic novels. I think the comic is the one uniquely American art form, and in reading the comics I would like to think of myself as living out my civic duty.
Those who would have a problem with this…well, they will just have to live on as best they can.
With the formalities out of the way, allow me to bring to your attention a story I have just read, the 2-part graphic novel entitled Doomsday Clock. This was a strange one for me, for a couple of reasons. For one thing this was a sort-of straight sequel to the iconic story Watchmen—you know the one, the book whose author famously disavowed due to the decades-long feud with the publisher due to creator rights. I won’t be getting into that here; I’m not the one to be telling a tale that would be best served being told by the great Alan Moore himself (and he has told it, on more than one occasion). For another thing this book connects the Watchmen universe to that of the main universe that’s seen in the pages of the current DC issues—whatever universe that may be at this current time. Those of you who regularly read monthly superhero comics will understand what I mean; the big comic publishers have these convoluted continuities among their titles, ones that need extensive retconning and retooling just to maintain some kind of order. In recent years we’ve seen over at DC such gems as The New 52 and DC Rebirth; these were attempts at restructuring their stories so as to better capitalize on their narrative and financial opportunities. These very attempts are the kind that have caused me to move away from more traditional superhero comics, in favor of nonfiction graphic works (Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home; Harvey Pekar’s American Splendor) and crime dramas (Road to Perdition, A History of Violence). This might make me out to be a lesser-than in the eyes of my fellow comic nerds, but I like my graphic stories to be self-contained, and as straightforward as possible.
But while I am an admitted curmudgeon when it comes to superhero comics, I also admit to being intrigued by what this story was supposed to bring to the proverbial table. I am a big fan of Alan Moore’s writing, and Watchmen was one the first books of his that I read. Dave Gibbons’ art is itself a gem, and even though the book was written and set in the mid-80’s it’s just so remarkably brilliant and forward thinking that it could have been released as recently as last week. There have been prequel comics published, with the intended purpose of exploring the individual characters’ backgrounds. The quality of those individual books was a sort of hit-or-miss affair, so of course I came at reading this new comic with a hint of caution in my bones. The connection to the main DC universe also gave me pause; though I’ve enjoyed particular DC characters in my life, as well as specific stories written by some of my favorite writers (Batman: Knightfall as headed by Dennis O’Neil being a personal favorite), I still feel put off by the whole convoluted mess that is the DC Universe. At least the MCU films don’t take quite so much note-taking in order to enjoy them.
But I digress—the point of this review is to talk about Doomsday Clock, and whether or not I liked it. Honestly, that’s a bit hard for me to decide. The story takes place seven years after the events of Watchmen, and the man known as Ozymandias has been exposed as the orchestrator behind the New York City massacre. The threat of nuclear war comes back, only now it’s far worse on account of Dr. Manhattan being gone. With a new person taking up the mantle of Rorschach, and a sadistic man-and-woman duo of puppet and mime-themed criminals, a plan is put in place to bring Manhattan back from the DC Universe so that he can save the world. As you can imagine, trouble ensues; much of that trouble stemming from a recently leaked conspiracy involving DC’s metahuman’s and the United States government. Superman, Batman, Black Adam and several others are involved, and Manhattan himself is personally involved in this ever-growing catastrophe.
The more I read, the more I dug into all of this, one question continued to gnaw at me: what exactly was the point of this story? I couldn’t quite figure that one out, and it frustrated me to no end. As a sequel to Watchmen it left a lot to be desired; it didn’t do much more than to undo the whole message behind the original work. As an attempt to further rewrite and fix the DC Universe…well, as I’ve mentioned before I’m not entirely interested in what the DC Universe does. I will admit that the mainline DC elements might have made it so that I’m perhaps not the ideal demographic for this particular book, but the Watchmen fan in me feels like I have been cheated out of something. Maybe some of Alan Moore’s relative surliness concerning continuations and adaptations of his work has rubbed off on me. Whatever the problem here, I just can’t shake the minor disappointment in finishing this story, and if the problem does lie with me then I would like to know where to go in order to rectify the problem. Maybe there are other stories related to this one that could help to fill in some gaps; I’ve been gone from superhero comics for so long that I may need to reset the clock in my brain in order to enjoy them again.
Or, wait…maybe resetting the clock was the point of this story. Hmm, I’m going to have to sit around and think on that one.
Rorschach’s journal, final entry. Signing off.