It can be tough to talk about “Doomsday Clock” because it is really three different books all in one: it is a sequel to “Watchmen,” it is a story about the shifting narrative nature of the DC Universe, and it is an attempt to restore some of the DC mojo that has been gone since “Flashpoint.” On the first note, it fails. On the second, it succeeds. On the third, it truly wins.
But was the finale, released 25 months after the first issue, a satisfying conclusion to the story? In many ways, yes. Be warned that spoilers follow.
Written by Geoff Johns
Illustrated by Gary Frank
Colored by Brad Anderson
Lettered by Rob Leigh
This is it! The final showdown between Dr. Manhattan and Superman shakes up the DC Universe to its very core! But can even the Man of Steel walk out from the shadow of Manhattan?
The first thing that has to be said about “Doomsday Clock” is that artist Gary Frank did some of the best work of his career, and on the largest possible palette. Frank has to draw nearly every major DC character, sometimes at different points in history, and there’s nary a stray line or character you can’t instantly place. Frank’s art has become ‘classic’ DC, with his versions of these characters representing a timeless era, free of fashionable (at the time) changes and locked into the most accessible looks.
And so, through his meticulous and steady hand, this book feels capital I important. Even when the script, early on, meandered and was confusing to read, Frank’s art was an anchor that kept the book steady. In this issue, Frank gets not only to continue in that tradition, but also dig into DC’s past, and his work somehow feels just as vibrant. This issue is truly a masterclass in ‘traditional’ superhero comics.
Because of Frank’s talent, but also because Geoff Johns is at his best when playing around the meta-narratives, the end of the book is the second that worked best. In this section, Dr. Manhattan both looks at the past of the DC Universe, and forecasts in the future. This is catnip for my fellow continuity hounds, and manages to predict things that we will never, ever see, but also tip DC’s hand for some future events. This part has almost nothing to do with the narrative of “Doomsday Clock,” aside from confirming the ‘metaverse’ concept introduced earlier in the series, but it slaps.
The intersection between the DC characters and the “Watchmen” characters has never really been a natural one, and this issue goes even further on that, trying to imbue the spirit of Clark Kent/Superman onto the “Watchmen” Earth. Johns doesn’t exactly ‘get’ the “Watchmen” characters the way he does the DC Universe ones, and while he doesn’t have them do anything ridiculous or unbelievable, they just don’t sing in the same way from his pen. And, this particular issue proves that there was really no reason for most of their inclusion. There is a narrative element of getting Veidt to save ‘their’ world by bringing back Dr. Manhattan, but that story is so minor in the book that it is almost hard to remember when reading this issue.
The book works best when it is playing in the DC waters, and especially when it is trying to right wrongs. Restoring Ma and Pa Kent to life is a good thing, if DC manages to actually find a way to do it, as is the restoration of both the Justice Society of America and the Legion of Super-Heroes. This issue, delayed for so long, missed the return of both in “Justice League” and “Superman,” respectively, but manages to make those appearances somewhat make sense. This issue, taken in the current moment, is the definition of a book out of time. If this book came out either six months ago, or six months from now, it would make a whole lot more sense. But taking it out of context, all of the returns and restorations feel good.
Even things like making Martin Stein, half of Firestorm, into a government stooge feels like an okay development for a character that has been rudderless for some time. There are still some weird things that don’t line up, but Dr. Manhattan ‘making right’ the past can probably wave away most of those concerns. But taking the time to attempt to retcon things with actual, in story actions, is appreciated, no matter how literal deus ex machina it all is.Continued below
The idea of the Earths of different eras still existing, in toto, after the metaverse moves on is a really fun concept and, hopefully, can open the door to new stories being set in those eras. This is the act of DC opening up the multiverse, beyond the orrery of worlds introduced by Grant Morrison, beyond the Dark Multiverse, but not quite to the ‘infinite’ Earths of the Bronze Age. Not yet at least.
All of that is truly good for DC going forward; the problem is that, with the rumors of Johns being somewhat on the outs at DC, is who knows what, if any of this, will actually take root.
But more than that, all of this is exciting going forward, but how did it work in the issue? On one hand, all the ‘mysteries’ of the series were solved, and everything feels, to quote Radiohead, in its right place. But, and I hate to keep saying it, this is far more about the future than the book itself.
Overall, “Doomsday Clock,” even when not compared to HBO’s magnificent Watchmen series, feels like a poor sequel to “Watchmen.” It also feels like a story designed, from a DCU perspective, just to get us to the ending, so most of the contents feel superfluous. While the book looks gorgeous, and sets into motion good things, it, by itself, feels slight and undercooked. I hope that the book’s impact is long, but that, too, might underwhelm in the coming months/years.
Overall, it seems like DC wanted to both fix its continuity and milk the “Watchmen” teet for one last glass (for now). I suppose, crassly, it succeeded on both counts in the short term. We’ll see how it all shakes out down the road.
Final Verdict: 6.3 – A fairly successful ending to a confounding event.