And so here we are — the “big event” that all of DC Rebirth has been leading up to, Geoff Johns and Gary Frank’s eagerly anticipated/thoroughly dreaded (depending on your point of view) DCU/Watchmen mash-up, Doomsday Clock. The lines between the two formerly-separate fictitious universes were blurred, of course, in last year’s DC Universe Rebirth Special, and here they’re completely wiped out. We’ve known it was coming, now it’s arrived — and it wants five bucks a month from you for the next year as it plays out over the course of 12 issues. Should you do what it (and, specifically, DC) wants?
Lots of critics are answering that question with an emphatic “yes,” some no doubt charmed by the free pancake mix and maple syrup that preview copies of the book came packaged with (DC shrewdly, but wisely, calculating that many comics critics — like many comics creators — are fucking starving), while others seem to genuinely like the fruits of Johns’ and Frank’s “imaginations.” Allow me, then, to do what I’m best at and piss on everyone’s Corn Fla — err, pancake breakfast.
Granted, to say I wasn’t expecting much from Doomsday Clock would be putting things mildly, but I was genuinely taken aback by just how much I despised this thing. Frank’s art is certainly competent enough, I suppose, highly detailed but utterly devoid of personality, a triumph of style over substance, and Brad Anderson’s colors are a reasonable enough computerized approximation of original Watchmen colorist John Higgins’ singular palette, albeit with more gradations in regards to shade and hue, but hey, you know what they say about lipstick and pigs — and this story is one hell of an oinker.
Johns has clearly read Watchmen dozens, if not hundreds, of times over the years — but the entire point (hell, points) of Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ seminal, transformative classic was just as clearly lost on him. Every page — in fact very nearly every panel — of Watchmen was layered with thematic, conceptual, even allegorical meaning, but if you’re a facile, “surface-level” reader? Hey, it’s just a clever super-hero “whodunit” with a decidedly dark tone. Issue one of Doomsday Clock makes it abundantly clear what sort of reader Johns is.
It makes it abundantly clear what sort of writer he is, as well — one whose abilities are dramatically limited by his reading skills. Nobody apart from the most continuity-obsessed, intellectually adolescent fanboys have ever even wondered how you could cross over the DC and Watchmen “universes,” never mind what would happen once you did so, and for that reason I really can’t fathom how anyone apart from a continuity-obsessed, intellectually adolescent fanboy would find what’s going on in these pages remotely interesting: It’s 1992 (a 1992 where variations of the term “deplorables” are in common use, where a Brexit-type event has triggered to the collapse of the EU, and where there’s a wall along the US/Mexico border — even though President Goldenshower isn’t in office, Robert Redford is? Does anyone even edit Johns’ scripts for such basics as logical plausibility?) on “Earth-Watchmen,” and things are a mess with Adrian Veidt’s scheme exposed and the purported “world’s smartest man” the subject of a global manhunt. Rorschach is on the case, but they make it clear pretty quickly that this Rorschach isn’t that Rorschach (special points for tone-deafness on Johns’ part for putting a black guy in the costume made infamous by a racist, civil-rights-trampling, vigilante lunatic — again, where’s an editor when you need one?), and that his part in whatever the hell’s going on global meltdown-wise isn’t what it seems. In fact, he’s working for — fuck it, spoilers and all that — who’s very much alive but — fuck it, spoilers and all that again — and they’ve got a plan to — by this point you already know I’m not really going to give any “big” details away. Then we wrap up with a scene of Clark Kent on “Earth-0” (or whatever it’s called these days) having a dream about his parents’ death that doesn’t jibe with what we’ve known before.
Now, plot twists were a key component of Watchmen, of course, but they were the icing on a damn deep and rich cake. Here, though, those twists are all that Johns and Frank are serving up. This is a cheap, “flashy” story dependent on “wowing” you with one surprise after the next — but again, those surprises will only be effective if you give a shit about this cash-grab premise in the first place, and no reason for the skeptical, or even merely curious, to “buy in” is ever offered by these low-rent “creators.”
Hell, truth be told, they’re like Trump in that I don’t think they know how to reach beyond a hard-core base. Watchmen was the comic you could give to people who don’t read comics, but in order to begin to understand Doomsday Clock, you need to have been deeply invested in the intricate minutiae of DC product (let’s just call it what it is) for a couple of decades or more. If nine-panel grids and grumbled “hrrrmmm”s are enough to convince you that Johns and Frank are “honoring” the legacy of Moore and Gibbons, then I guess this’ll do in a pinch, but for anyone else? Say, somebody with a modestly-developed sense of discernment? This comic is as insulting to you as it is to Watchmen‘s creators, neither of whom were even given so much as a courtesy call to let them know this toxic sludge was about to slide down the pipeline.
Johns has made some public statements clearly designed to mollify concerned parties, saying that this series won’t be saddled with any “tie-ins” to other books because he doesn’t want to “dilute the Watchmen brand” (as if is very existence doesn’t do precisely that), and that he doesn’t intend to wrap things up with a Superman vs. Doctor Manhattan fight but, rather, a “conversation” between the two of them — but that presupposes that he has anything worth saying about either character. Based on the evidence offered by Doomsday Clock #1, I’d say it’s painfully obvious that he doesn’t. I won’t be sticking around to find out, of course — and neither should you. So enjoy those pancakes, everybody — they sure taste better than the shit sandwich came with them.