23 Nov 2017

Cover To Cover: DOOMSDAY CLOCK #1

Writer: Geoff Johns
Art: Gary Frank & Brad Anderson
DC $4.99

Matt C: Watchmen holds such an exalted position in popular culture that any attempt to approach Alan Moore and Dave Gibbon's masterpiece with the intention of drawing further narratives from it is usually met with a variety of extreme reactions. The last time we were here was for Before Watchmen, a set of prequel miniseries that mostly fell far short of the mark, the obvious exception being Darwyn Cooke's excellent Minutemen and Silk Spectre books (especially the former). The issues of creator's rights have rumbled on for many years, and Moore in particular has been very vocal on the matter, but while his points have validity, essentially it boils down to who owns Watchmen, which is of course DC Comics. Like it or loathe it, DC and their parent company Time Warner are a businesses and from that perspective they would be foolish not to exploit such a successful property. With that in mind, perhaps we can be grateful they haven't flooded the market with inferior product, and now that they've finally decided it's time to unleash a sequel, they've placed the task in perhaps the best pair(s) of hands available. The question then is, can you blur the focus on all the arguments and instead concentrate your attention on the storytelling held within the first issue? Because even those most vehemently against the project may find it hard to dismiss the sheer quality on display here.

It begins in 1992, several years on from the events of Watchmen, and although there's a certain predictability in the way the history of this alt. universe has unfolded, writer Geoff Johns doesn't take the most obvious route to get us to that stage, nicely playing with expectations along the way.  He does seem to be riffing unnecessarily on Frank Miller rather than Moore during the early stages (talk of a president playing golf and a wall bordering Mexico) but generally he aims at finding an area that can sit comfortably between Watchmen and the DC Universe - a bridge, if you will - and more often than not he gets pretty close. Nothing's going to match Moore's incisive, deconstructionist take on a genre (or, a genre as it was three decades ago) but what Johns does is admirable and respectful while still forging forwards to discover new ground. The introduction of new characters is welcome and expands the mythos outwards, avoiding the trap of repetition, at one point resulting in what is surely a contender for the single best comic book page of the year.

The artwork on the whole is phenomenal. Gary Frank reasserts his position as one of the best artists in the business as he embraces the same grid structure utilized by Dave Gibbons in the original comic, filling each panel with detail, dynamism and emotion, the sophistication of has illustrations adding layers of depth to the script and the visible humanity (or lack thereof) of the characters. The colour scheme Brad Anderson employs only serves to reinforce the downbeat atmosphere of a world forced to the brink once more in a thoroughly absorbing fashion.

The End is Nigh. Again. In Doomsday Clock the suggestion seems to be that the apocalypse cannot be stopped, only ever delayed, with Adrian Veidt refusing to accept the inevitable, always seeking a way to cheat destiny. This opening issue is mostly about setting the scene and as such isn't in a position to really register as an unmitigated success, but it is definitely heading in the right direction by telling a story on its own terms without consciously attempting to appease those who may have problems with it via lazy fan service. If you can get right with the idea that a sequel to Watchmen was bound to appear sooner or later, it's hard to imagine any other creative team managing to put out something that not only doesn't get instantly swallowed up in the shadow of its predecessor but also holds  tantalising hints of greatness to come. 7/10

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