Doomsday Clock No 2 by Geoff Johns and Gary Frank. DC Comics
♦ Tripwire’s Peter Mann continues his month-by-month examination of DC Comics “sequel” to Watchmen.
It’s hard to know what to say about Doomsday Clock. My feeling, since the Watchmen button turned up in the Batcave, has been that it was expedient high-quality trolling of the audience, complete with “leak” of the last page to ensure that Rebirth sold well. It probably sold beyond DC editorial’s wildest dreams. Unfortunately, like the “sort the plot out in retrospect after an astounding opening” pioneered by TV series such as Lost, this will inevitably lead to disappointment and bitter, bitter tears. And so it is with Doomsday Clock.
The first issue of Doomsday Clock featured one of the longest walks in comic book history. This issue hits the “tedious exposition” button hard. It starts off with nine – count them – nine pages of Johns and Frank explaining why Ozymandius believes that Doctor Manhattan will look more favourably on Marionette. It’s because he didn’t kill her during a robbery, as she was pregnant(!) Frank combines the dull present with the duller past, using the nine-panel grid that he found so difficult in the first issue. He fares no better here. For example the sequence above depicts the present in colour with the past using a faux-B&W surveillance monitor view of the misdeeds of Marionette and Mime. This helps us differentiate between present and past but quickly changes to a colour presentation of the past, muddying the differentiation. The segue into the past works well because Frank uses a repeated image to signal to us, its first iteration in black and white, its second in colour. When we return from the flashback, which is now in colour, there is no mirroring signal to tell that we’ve returned to the present – we’re just back in Night Owl’s garage.
Part of the confused storytelling involves the background. For *reasons* intimated to be connected with North Korea’s enhanced rocket capability New York is being evacuated. My problem is that the underlying political situation is explained as poorly as anything I’ve seen in comics. Having carefully read both issues, I am not certain who is nuking who, or why. It hardly matters though, as the whole thing is just an excuse to draw people exploding and enable a tense “will they make it?” moment. Of course, they will make it, otherwise, this would be the shortest 12 issue miniseries in history. Alan Moore could depend on Dave Gibbons to show us the story, Johns can’t depend on Frank in the same way. So he just ignores it So New York is nuked as Ozymandius flies the Owl Plane, or whatever the hell it’s called, to our reality. Oh, sorry, spoiler alert.
This entire scene – people dying in the first nuclear holocaust since World War II – which would have been handled with appropriate solemnity by the team of Moore and Gibbons is handled in a single panel, with no appropriate explanation. It is impossible from the storytelling to tell whether the Americans have nuked their own people, or whether North Korea or Russia are responsible.
Here’s your Doomsday Clock handy guide to what we know about the political background.
- The Vice President of the United States of America has shot the Attorney General. He’s keeping a load of people, including the Israeli prime minister hostage at the White House. For *reasons*.
- The President of the United States of America has had a good round of golf.
- The European Union has collapsed, and as a result, Russian troops are massing in Belarus poised to invade Poland. Again, for *reasons*.
- For some reason events in Poland are leading to the evacuation of cities in the USA (?) Where this evacuation is from, and indeed where it’s to, are not mentioned. This is probably because when considering the deportation of illegal immigrants from the real USA it was pretty clear that it was impossible – there was simply not enough space to put 11 million people prior to deporting them. The population of New York City is 8.5 million. So this really needs fleshing out a little, I’d say.
- North Korea can now manage a rocket strike as far inland as Texas. But they bomb New York anyway. I think.
- American citizens have breached the wall between the US and Mexico and are flooding into Mexico. Thousands of them. For *reasons*.
- The Russians claim that Veidt acted with the full knowledge of the American government. This may or may not connect up to events mentioned above.
- The USA is now under totalitarian rule. That’s the USA in Watchmen world, not the current USA.
- There is no free media. Again, that’s Watchmen world, not our current one.
- We also get a military countdown sequence, but who’s bombing who isn’t immediately clear, as Johns seems unaware of the fact that other countries have Presidents as well as his own. Countries like Russia, for example. But he’d have probably thrown in a “Nyet!” If that were the case. So, the Americans are bombing…?
- One of the rioters says “Look! Up in the sky!” Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it’s an easy to see rocket. Who is it from? No idea. Someone. For *reasons*.
- Th-th-th-th-th That’s All Folks!
Answers on a postcard, please. As pointed out already, none of this is helped by the confusing storytelling. Or indeed the emulation of the Watchmen text pages. In Watchmen those text pages were there to provide additional information – deeper background on the world of Watchmen if you like. In Doomsday Clock, they are there to explain plot elements that can’t be explained in the comic. Such as in the “Superman theory” used as a background to events in Doomsday Clock 2, but more probably in the line-wide crossover elements of Doomsday Clock. There may be other stuff hidden in there, and Easter eggs for the future, but as reading the basic comic robs me of the will to live, I haven’t really been looking. What is certain is the political background to what is happening in both worlds is sketchy. And in the DC universe itself, the “Superman theory” seems to have started yesterday, just in time for Ozymandius and friends to turn up.
Anyhoo, back to the plot. Bruce Wayne doing a psychological test, comments about the Superman theory, apparently LexCorp are bidding on Wayne Enterprises. Lucius Fox tells Bruce that Gotham “…doesn’t want Batman.” Owlship turns up, and crashes in what looks like a junkyard. Frank does one of his bizarre experiments in perceptual shift on page 17. Ozymandius approaches an unconscious Rorschach from behind, taps on the shoulder to see if he is okay, and Rorschach (despite starting from a lying down unconscious position) apparently manages to rotate through 180° and attack Ozymandius within one panel. Perhaps rotation is the new Rorschach’s power? The rest of the story is basically Ozymandius and Rorschach approaching Lex Luthor and Batman respectively (with some hijinks involved). Luthor gets snark in about Ozymandius’s plan to unite his planet – a little meta-criticism of Watchmen there. Frankly, this is disingenuous from someone who’s spent the last 60 odd years having his plans foiled by Superman. At least Ozymandius managed to execute his plan. Rorschach eats Batman’s breakfast. Witty. And finally, both Luthor and Ozymandius are taken by surprise in a classic “Not you! But you’re dead!” moment. Surprise! It’s The Comedian! Because of course, a blue, godlike being needs a freaking mercenary to ensure his plans don’t go awry. The Comedian shoots Luthor and misses Ozymandius. Luthor, by the way, in the real world would bleed out from the wound he has if he didn’t get medical attention fairly quickly – it would be nice if comic book artists had a basic understanding of human anatomy.
Be back in 30 days: Same Doomsday comic, same Doomsday publisher.
In conclusion, this comic managed to do something I didn’t think was possible, i.e., be slightly duller than the first issue. I don’t know what to say about this really, it’s so extraordinarily dull. I expected it to be poor, but I thought it would be poor in an amusing way. It’s not. I very much doubt Alan Moore has bothered to waste any of his time reading this, but his legacy certainly isn’t challenged in any way. I imagine Dave Gibbons, being more of an aficionado of funny books, will have read it. Whether he’ll be insulted or amused I don’t know. For his sanity, he should go with amused.