There’s a song by Pulp called Bad Cover Version.
How it relates to Geoff Johns and Gary Franks’ Doomsday Clock #1 will become clear very, very soon but first a quick recap as to what Doomsday Clock is. It is the sequel to Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons Watchmen. It looks like Watchmen, it has characters from Watchmen in it, and it looks like it in design but every page reminds me of how good Watchmen was and how much of an unpleasant aftertaste Doomsday Clock leaves.
Johns starts this as the world of Watchmen faces imminent nuclear destruction and as he throws out Moore-esque prose but something isn’t quite right. Moore told the story of Watchmen using the world as it may have been in 1985 and restricting himself to a world where costumed heroes were real and one superhero was the most powerful thing in the universe. In Doomsday Clock, Johns throws in 2017 references such as Brexit or the American president playing golf during a crisis (imagine if Moore had chucked in mentions of Thatcher and Reagan to make it really obvious) to spell it out for the reader because Johns doesn’t seem to trust the reader.
Hence the large chunks of Claremont-esque exposition such as above which means the story doesn’t unfold as a mystery (which is one of the many ways one can read Watchmen) but as conventional superheroics influenced by the post-Watchmen/Dark Knight ‘dark’ comics that poured out like a pissy golden stream from 1986 onwards.
This is the odd thing here. Johns has publicly said the entire idea of DC’s Rebirth relaunch is to flush the ‘dark’ comics introduced by Moore and Gibbons away for something more cheery, yet the problem with ‘dark’ superhero comics wasn’t Watchmen, it was from people like Johns trying to be Alan Moore and failing. It was the reams of imitators who read Watchmen and only took the grim stuff and violence (and compared to a book like Punisher or Wolverine it isn’t as violent) out of it and thought that’s what made it so good. It isn’t easy to forget or disconnect from Moore’s vision when this happens.
Rorschach was the most popular character from Watchmen but he’s dead, however fanboys want to see him fight Batman, so he’s back! But not quite.
The obvious candidate is Rorschach’s psychiatrist from Watchmen #6, but he died in #12, unless of course Johns is going to make him not dead making his small human sacrifice in Watchmen pretty useless and Johns wouldn’t be that on the nose surely?
Anyhow, this Rorschach is springing a jailbreak in order to try to find Dr. Manhattan who we assume, will then save the world from the aforementioned nuclear destruction but not before we’ve been treated to a few pages of the sort of stuff Johns seems to think Watchmen was about.
This seems to me to be Johns having his cake and eating it. There’s no real intellectual weight here, and Johns seems to be just throwing in things that makes it all feel Watchmany, but like a saccharine kiss it doesn’t feel true.
By the time we get to Adrian Veidt (complete with cat) acting like Dr. Evil and a brief taster of Clark Kent and Lois Lane in the ‘proper’ DC Universe the idea of Watchmen as a complex, multi-layered book that can be read in many different ways is flushed away for the promise of Ozymandias and Rorschach fighting Batman, and Dr. Manhattan and Superman throwing planets at each other.
There’s a lot of good reviews of this quoting things like ‘it adds to the Watchmen universe‘ but that of course is shite. It didn’t need to have anything else said and if it did then why not try to do something original, new and different rather than be an imitation that’s got it all wrong? Sure Gary Franks does a good job and as a simple superhero story this isn’t better or worse than many out there however why can’t Johns do some self-reflection and create something that deals with why superhero comics became dark, miserable and the home of ”fin-headed rape” as Warren Ellis once put it? After all in the 21st century he’s played a major part in making superhero comics what he’s now trying to correct and I’d be genuinely interested in seeing Johns test himself as a writer.
Doomsday Clock is not a test. It’s a bad cover version and a last desperate roll of the dice from a company devoid of ideas hoping to cash in on the last big thing it could cash in on. Sure, it may be devoid of an artistic soul and be the equivalent of an own-brand box of cornflakes but it’ll give a core of fans what they’ve fantasised over in some cases for decades. There isn’t any reason for this comic to exist except to make money and give the impression that DC is still artistically challenging by wrapping itself up in the trappings of what Moore and Gibbons did but like any sad cover version it’ll let you down.