What comics should Doomsday Clock blame for making superhero comics‘dark or grim’

DC’s Doomsday Clock is pushing the idea that Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons Watchmen is the root of all evil by essentially turning superhero comics into dark, grim and gritty comics. In a sense Geoff Johns (the writer and architect of Doomsday Clock) is sort of right as without Watchmen there’d have been less ‘grim’ superhero comics but only because the superhero comics industry follows a trend.

But this version of history is ignoring the fact that ‘grim and gritty’ was by the time of Watchmen’s publication in 1986, very firmly established. Before I explain it’s best to explain what ‘grim and gritty’ actually is. TV Tropes establishes it as…

A Tone Shift that seeks to make a work of fiction more serious, cynical or gritty.

Superhero comics have always had those elements in them from the early days of Superman beating up slum landlords to the JSA hanging around with kids in the 40’s New York ghetto but for most of the time superhero comics were just escapism, especially in the 50s when after the introduction of the Comics Code anything ‘edgy’ in superhero comics were neutered for years. Yet tonal shifts started happening at DC in the 60’s when in response to Marvel’s more neurotic heroes some of their heroes became ‘darker’. Best known of all these is Batman who went from this…

To this..

In the course of the 1960’s.

The idea of making a character ‘darker’ was a simple, sometimes lazy, shorthand for making superheroes more ‘realistic’ and was such a trope in the world of superhero comics that Moore and Gibbons actually satirise it in Watchmen.There’s even a few lines of dialogue from the older characters in the book mentioning about how the younger heroes are more violent, darker, than they were. Problem is that if you only read Watchmen on a single level this will pass you, so if you read it purely as a simple superhero story you won’t notice the different levels. This appears to be the problem with Johns in that he’s not read it, or gets how superhero comics would get ‘gritty’ when they needed to.

The wave of grim and gritty Watchmen was really talking about was the post Frank Miller Daredevil phase.

The impact Frank Miller’s work on Daredevil is somewhat lost today but he took a character who’d artistically soared when the likes of Wally Wood or Gene Colan had drawn the book, but was at best a second rate character clinging onto his own book by their fingernails. Marvel’s then Editor-in-Chief Jim Shooter threw an incredibly young Frank Miller onto the title first as artist, then as writer/artist giving Marvel their first real auteur of the 1980’s.

The problem wasn’t Miller’s work which was superb, it was the stuff that tried to be Miller that was on the whole, poor and problematic, as was the work which initially followed Alan Moore’s early American work. Heroes start becoming ‘darker’ in stories where all the creators have taken from the work of Miller and Moore is the violence, and on the whole the work is awful. One exception is Steven Grant and Mike Zeck’s Punisher miniseries which at least tried to do more than just have senseless violence.

And here’s where we get to the point. Johns should be protesting and complaining about but that would mean dissecting his own work, which includes Blackest Night; a story featuring zombie heroes coming back from the dead to do what zombies do.

DC Comics should also turn in on themselves to study their part in creating their own problems with works such as Identity Crisis or the entire failed revamp which was The New 52.The issue with degrading art or going for the lowest possible option often doesn’t lie with the originators but with the copycats who aren’t talented enough or willing, to create something new from inspiring works. Instead they’ll mine certain elements and everyone digs violence and rape right?

DC dug themselves a hole. Doomsday Clock is an attempt to dig themselves out that hole while throwing shite at Moore and Gibbons for having the audacity to create something great that gave DC plaudits and cash, but because DC allowed creators lesser than Moore and Gibbons to turn out lesser material in an attempt to make people think they’re buying something like Watchmen because there’s a hero beating someone’s face off in graphic detail. So when you read Doomsday Clock realise that it’s the act of a company trying desperately to absolve itself of blame and making you excited about it.

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What I thought of Doomsday Clock #1

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?

Oh…

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.

DC’s Doomsday Clock shows how DC have ran out of ideas

DC Comics bring out a comic next month where Watchmen becomes part of the mainstream DC Universe. Written by Geoff Johns and drawn by Gary Frank, Doomsday Clock is a 12-issue series telling the story in all its gory detail.

1980’s nostalgia is all the rage, and seeing as DC have mined Frank Miller’s Dark Knight Returns to an inch of its life, the other other jewel it has left from that era it hasn’t mined is Watchmen. That for years was protected but after the disastrous Before Watchmen anything was on the table, or to be precise, dragging Moore and Gibbons creation kicking and screaming into the DC Universe was the last roll of the dice for DC. I say that because I imagine jobs are riding on this being a hit and having sat in marketing meetings I’m also aware of what it looks like when a company rolls that die for the last chance. Doomsday Clock is that last chance.

This weekend is New York Comic Con, and a preview of the first issue was released. I present it here as sort of evidence for the prosecution. First thing that strikes me is that Gary Frank really is a fine artist. Second thing is that Geoff Johns isn’t the writer he clearly thinks he is. Take this panel for example…

On the surface it seems fine. Except the book is set in the 1992 of Watchmen’s ‘universe’ so terms like ‘undeplorables’ and ‘echo chamber’ are a 21st century term, and one that came into common usage this century respectively. Basically from the off Johns makes the script too on the nose, too unsubtle about what he’s trying to do and we don’t get an idea of the moral and political grey porridge that was Watchmen, but we’re being informed to think in binary. I have no idea how we’re supposed to think about the return of one of the very dead characters from Watchmen.

Actually I do. Rorschach was the big fan-favourite so it makes sense for Johns to bring him back, because you just know he’s going to fight, then team up with Batman.He’s a character who Johns said is the most fun character he’s written. Moore makes it clear just what Rorschach is here…

Everything in these six pages points to a paucity of imagination, a lack of understanding of politics or ideologies beyond that of a typical American liberal, and the fact that as the last roll of the dice for DC, it has to bathe in the nostalgia of the 80’s in such a way it doesn’t give people another Watchmen, but what some people think Watchmen should be which is a superhero story.

Johns isn’t without talent. He can write but rather than forge his own original idea (And as a very, very senior figure in DC he can do whatever he likes) but instead we get this which looks to ignore the main thing that Watchmen was which was a satire/criticism on not just comics as a medium, but the industry. All the subtly dense discussion of humanity, morality and politics replaced by fan-fiction wankery and superheroes punching each other. DC are packaging nostalgia, but they’re not providing anything new, original or giving themselves new titles as good as Watchmen.

And who would create that for DC when they see what they’re doing to Watchmen anyhow?

RIP Len Wein

Writer, editor and comics creator Len Wein has passed away at the age of 69, which is far too soon. He leave behind a massive amount of not just important creations (Swamp Thing with Berni Wrightson and Wolverine with Herb Trimpe and John Romita Snr to name the two big ones) but some truly great comics work. For me, my first exposure to Wein was Justice League of America #100 and this great Nick Cardy cover.

Wein wrote the JLA from this issue to #114, and these remain some of my favourite superhero comics ever not just because they’re enormous fun, but for me, these were the first superhero comics I read that even had a hint of doing something more than just stringing together fight scenes. It remains a vastly underrated run.

His Marvel work in the 70’s helped entertain me massively, especially the joy filled fun that was Marvel Team-Up.

A nice fun run on Amazing Spider-Man,

And a long run on The Incredible Hulk which is where Wolverine first made his début.

It’s worth noting that if Wein hadn’t brought Wolverine into the new X-Men in Giant Size X-Men #1, the revamped X-Men might never have gotten off the ground and failed and Wolverine would be a minor character that once popped up in a few issues of the Hulk’s title.

Instead though, Wein made the masterstroke of sticking Wolverine into the X-Men and unleashed a massive fan-favourite for decades to come.

As an editor he’s responsible for helping Alan Moore and Gave Gibbons Watchmen into the world.

Overall Wein gave comics more than he’s probably appreciated for. Without him DC may never have hired Alan Moore in the first place and all that British talent DC mined from the 80’s to today. Wein changed the mainstream comics industry in the US and UK massively and his passing is a loss. Yes, we can dwell upon shite like Before Watchmen and later work, but let’s not dwell there and choose instead to remember his work for helping kids like me have some entertainment over the decades…

What I thought of The Flash #22

It all ends and begins here! The DC Rebirth/Watchmen clustefuck hits a new level as the four-part ”The Button” storyline comes to a close with a cover featuring Jay Garrick, the Golden Age Flash promising the return of everything the New 52 cleaned out, but before we get there there’s a bit of matey banter between The Flash and Reverse-Flash, not to mention some prime product placement.

During all this Barry Allen mentions Hypertime, the Grant Morrison/Mark Waid idea that DC dabbled with in the 90’s to try to explain all the inconsistencies of their superhero universe.

Eventually the Reverse-Flash encounters the mysterious figure behind all of this (It’s Dr. Manhattan from Watchmen which we know anyhow), gets horribly killed and the Flash and Batman end up adrift in time and space heading towards an unknown voice.

That’ll be the Golden Age Flash.

However Barry and Bruce have no idea who Jay is because of that evil Dr. Manhattan chap and his big blue willy.

After Jay vanishes back into the ether, Barry and Bruce wrap things up while leaving things dangling, and talking about dangling, here comes Dr. Manhattan.

Which leads to the issue plugging November’s Doomsday Clock in which Superman and Dr. Manhattan will punch each other and ensure, once and for all, that nobody working at DC from Dan Didio to Geoff Johns actually read and understood Watchmen. As a roll of the creative dice this is a massive blank, but in terms of sales (and I speak now as someone diving back into the world of comics retail) this will sell books. They won’t be very good books but such is the power of Watchmen that it’ll propel DC along for a few years and then the novelty will have worn off.

See, Watchmen will continue to sell. It’s a classic book. Every time I read it I find something new in it. You will never, ever say that with Doomsday Clock. But hey, it’ll sell and in 2020 when this has all died down DC will try to work out what to do next and realise they’ve nothing left in their tank and creatively, they’ve worn out the bottom of the barrel but certain people will have kept their jobs which ultimately is what all this has been about…

DC bring Watchmen into their universe so there can be big fights

DC Comics are releasing a mini-series where Superman (the first superhero as we know it) fights Dr. Manhattan from Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons Watchmen which is an adult orientated story that DC have been trying to exploit in this way for decades and now their dream is nearly complete as this series is being billed as the one that brings Watchmen fully into the DC Universe.

This is all part of the DC Rebirth event that started last year and now looks to close with a full-fledged fight between Superman, who looks like this currently…

And Dr. Manhattan who looks like this…

This is all being masterminded by Geoff Johns, a writer who is more popular, not to mention successful than his talent belies. Of course it’ll annoy people like myself who find the idea of integrating Watchmen into the DC Universe, but it shows the lack of creative thought at DC as make no mistake, this is a last throw of the dice for some people who want to retain their very well paid jobs.

As a piece of creative bankruptcy this is probably one which will pay off. Readers and speculators alike will be drawn to it in some cases in the same way one is drawn to a car crash on the motorway, but it’ll sell, it’ll save people’s jobs and it’ll sully the one piece of Alan Moore’s work for DC that DC’s not managed to shamelessly exploit. Question is though in a year or two when this is all settled what do DC do next if there’s nobody creating new works of the quality of Watchmen? Gimmicks are fine but they’re short term sales tricks and won’t help when people are bored of Superman punching Dr. Manhattan.

What I thought of Batman #22

The saga of DC incorporating Watchmen into the mainstream DC Universe continues with Batman #22 which follows the last issue of The Flash.

The Flash and Batman are stuck in the Flashpoint universe, which shouldn’t exist but it does mean Bruce Wayne can have a conversation with his father, Thomas Wayne who happens to be the Batman of the Flashpoint universe. Confused? Of course you are. I don’t even think DC know exactly what’s going on.

Essentially this issue is about Bruce and his father talking while all of Thomas’s enemies mass to end his life. Of course they have The Flash with them who could fight all of them at once but he’s busy rebuilding the Cosmic Treadmill.

As the army of Amazons descend upon the Batcave, there’s a fight (of course) and eventually The Flash repairs the Cosmic Treadmill but not before Thomas and Bruce share a tender moment.

However the Flashpoint universe is collapsing.

As Barry and Bruce enter into the timestream they end up entering it before the Reverse-Flash was killed so they meet him holding his Watchmen badge.

Thawne is running to his doom though he says he knows who is behind this all. As for the issue it’s a bit of a mess as regular writer Tom King has Joshua Williamson help with the plot, and with Williamson dealing with the script too the entire thing feels like an undercooked stew.

Still, next issue of The Flash sees this story come to a close as DC ramps up the integration of Watchmen so that Comedian versus Batman series some fans have been drooling about is nearly here..