So the Undistinguished Thing is now here in its entirety. The set is going on eBay at any moment, One-Day Auction, Buy and Pay Thursday, Guaranteed First Class Posting Friday morning, maximum chance of delivery for Xmas, £9.99 plus postage starting bid or Best Offer. Get bidding!
Why you should want to is entirely another matter. I have made my opinion of Doomsday Clock amply clear over this past more than two years and I recant nothing now I have read the final, extended size issue.
But, in the manner of Lucifer on an Australian beach reluctantly give God his due over the matter of sunsets, I have to give credit to Geoff Johns for some of the things in issue 12. Despite the many flaws that I’ve held up to ridicule and scorn, some of which carry over into this wrap-up, there are elements to the outcome that, if attached to a story with a less mean-minded purpose, could have completed an event worth reading and re-reading.
The first thing to recognise is that I was completely wrong in the assumption I made on reading issue 1 back in 2017 that the ending would be a big fight between Superman and Dr Manhattan, to be won by the former despite the overwhelming discrepancy in power levels. Johns even set that up at the end of issue 11, all those months ago, but he had something more subtle on his mind.
The big fight is between Superman and everybody else. The Russians, the Markovians, Black Adam’s Khandaq brigade, the Brits, the Aussies, the Israelis, in short every other country in the world that has a superhero team we never hear about because americans really can’t be arsed about anything that isn’t American, all piling in at once to take Superman down and in for his part in the Moscow massacre, whenever that was. Dr Manhattan looks on. After all, he sees everything simultaneously so he is the man on no action and no hope: it all goes black in eleven minutes and fifty seven seconds, after which, ho hum.
There’s something of the rat pack mentality about this atomic pile-on. i don’t know whether Johns intended this or not but there’s an element of mean-spiritedness, a seizing of the chance to get back at, and drag down the paragon, to adopt the current Crisis on Infinite Earths mini-series terminology. Superman’s been the perfect ideal for too long, now he can be clawed down, not so perfect anyomre. Tied in with the nationalistic implications of the battle being every other country versus the American boy, it leaves a sour taste on the mouth. But then, so much of what inspiresJohns to this work does exactly the same.
Dr Manhattan, like I said, looks on. He sees destruction in the forthcoming darkness: Superman destroys me or I destroy everything. But the DC Universe is one of hope and optimism, not like that nasty ol’ Watchmen Universe. Superman asks for a third choice.
And at exactly the same moment, Batman and the is-he-dead-or-is-he-not-dead Alfred catch up with Reggie, the New (I can’t write well enough to write Rorscharch so I’ll make up a second-rate version of him to speak what little superficially similar dialogue I can achieve) Rorscharch, who can lead them to where Ozymandias is, even though Veidt has moved elsewhere before since Reggie last saw him. They need Reggie to put on Rorscharch’s mask again (what the hell for? It hasn’t got a direction-finder or anything like that?). But Reggie won’t touch it, won’t even say the name. because everybody’s lied to him about Rorscharch and Reggie’s father and he hates the monster.
Until Batman tells him to change what people see when they see the mask so Reggie changes his mind. just like that. As you do when you’re in a superhero Universe that’s done the same thing for eighty years non-stop.
By now you must be wondering when we’ll come to something of which I approve but fear not. Just as Reggie undergoes a 180 degree change in character because Batman talks to him, so too does Dr Manhattan because Superman speaks. Everything goes black. Because Dr Manhattan makes it go black, for nearly three pages, until the Lux is Fiated once more, this time by the naked blue guy.
And also the shitty changes Dr Manhattan has made are unmade. Superman lifts a car over his head in 1938 again. The lantern is six inches nearer Alan Scott again. A girl a thousand years hence saves R.J. Brande’s life again. And a Superboy inspired by heroes of the past saves Jonathan and Martha Kent.
Suddenly, the sky is full of allies of Superman, aiding him against the treacherous, loathsome Old Worlders. Allies from the past, allies from the future. The Legion of superheroes to the doublespread panel left, the Justice Society of America with that old, calm authority to the right.
I’ve no idea whether this is yet another Universal reboot or just Rebirth Reborn, but either way it’s all turned round again. and this was apparently Ozymandias’s plan all along: he couldn’t persuade Jon to save the world again but Superman could so it was all about engineerng a confrontation.
Because not only is whatever Earth-1 equivalent we may be in at any given time, not only is the DC universe the Metaverse that steers the stars of every multiversal existence, but Superman is the fons et origo of everything. Every Universe our reading eye passes through is still there, growing the multiverse with it, and every future Crisis to come (Johns listing enough to get us to the Legion’s time though the ones for 2025 and 2030 are obviously the more immediate concerns, with the former’s 5G having already been hinted at) creating new versions.
So, Dr Manhattan regroups everyone from the Watchmen Universe so that they can go home (and write about what they did on their holidays?) Actually, the Mime and the Marionette will stay behind because despite being deeply evil, half mad and psychotic criminals, they do love each other and besides, they’ll be nice to their little daughter. The Comedian, whose resurrection from the dead to appear in this dog has always been completly pointless, shoots Ozy through the chest and this time he doesn’t catch the bullet, except in his chest, so he gets sent back to where he’s falling out of his penthouse, except that this one’s done by Lex Luthor cancelling out his altered vibrations, just like Barry Allen all those half-centuries ago. Veidt’s going to die a hero just as he wants to but Reggie stuffs the Rorscharch mask in to plug up the wound and, bare-faced, proclaims himself Rorscharch. Just as in the TV series, Veidt’s going back to be arrested. He is a mass-murderer, remember.
As just as in the TV seruies, Dr Manhattan dies. Everyone returns to Watchmen world in 1992, with no explanation of how the two Universes are running on such a time discrepancy, and Dr Manhattan invests his power in regrowing the world after its nuclear holocaust, only this is Watchmen rebirth: Janey Slater tells Jon Osterman her watch can wait: six months later, they marry and have three kids. The events of Watchmen the comic still happen even despite there being no Dr Manhattan (go on Johns, for your next trick tell us How?) because Laurie and Dan are still in hiding in their assumed identities with their daughter who’s really Mime and Marionette’s first child, and there are no nuclear weapons any more.
Oh, but there’s a visitor who comes to stay with Dan and Laurie. A little dark-haired boy. With a blue hydrogen atom symbol on his forehead. He says to call him Clark.
I’ve ended up being still as scathing about issue 12 as I’ve been about all the others, and not merely by force of habit. The ending is built on too rotten an edifice for anything more, and the edifice is still what I’ve called it all along: Geoff Johns’ inability to understand an approach to superheroics that didn’t exactly mirror everything it’s been since 1838, and his fear of that failure to understand. What might have been noble, entertaining and even worthy if it did not grow from that shit-heap of resentment falls apart upon analysis. As I’ve just said.
But the JSA are back, which we can all welcome. And so too are Jonathan and Martha who, though their death was for fifty years an integral element of Superman’s tale, come as most welcome. Though were we’re gpoing to go with Schroedinger’s Alfred I don’t know.
The one thing I can say about Johns’ Watchmen is that at least he put the toys back where they came from where, out of sight and out of mind, we can forget everything that happened before and after Watchmen the comic and pray that nobody ever fucks with them again.
I have no enthusiasm left for reading this series. Not the enthusiasm of finding out how the story ends, not the enthusiasm of seeing how many of my predictions are accurate, not even the enthusiasm for a good and savage kicking of the whole thing’s manifold failings. At the moment, my only motive for buying this and the final issue is to have a saleable item on eBay after the latter: I’m not going to get rid of a 10-issue incomplete package, am I?
We have gone through the whole of months June, July and August since the last issue finally appeared, and on the current schdule, which is the only foreseeable one, the hardback collection of the entire series will appear before Doomsday Clock 12 is published.
This is one of the biggest disasters of comic book publishing there has every been, and I do not need any hyperbolic similes to convey that.
Whilst I was waiting, a month ago, I thought I’d try re-reading what we had so far, just as a refresher. I ran into a problem. I couldn’t re-read it. It was nothing to do with the ripping on Watchmen. I have nothing further to say about that. It had everything to do with the story being incomprehensible shite. It’s an out-of-control mess that’s opted for throwing in all sorts of bits and pieces from all over the place to create an apparently multi-level story, the unravelling of which will clearly take far longer than the actual series itself, with no concern for the hah-hah, you should laugh, story .
I have a problem with Geoff Johns’ writing that goes back to his JSA series. As far as I’m concerned, he cannot write stories. He cannot write beginings, middles and ends, only ongoing middles that set-up the next story without actually resolving the one he is writing. Doomsday Clock is this stylistic tic writ awfully large. Johns has introduced stuff from everywhere that he has no intention of wrapping up. Not if they gave him another twelve issues could he draw together what he has thrown in, because he never intended to in the first place.
I found it physically impossible to complete re-reading as far as issue 10. And now I’m supposed to comment on how issue 11 ‘develops’ this shapeless mess to its ‘climax’. That’s next to impossible. There is very little one can say about this comic but I have to try.
To begin with, Johns strives very noticeably and very ineffectually to be apocalyptic. DCEarth is going downhill until it’s just like WatchmenEarth when we left that; Batman destroys the nuclear trigger but is dragged down by the US Army, Metropolis has turned into Gotham, Putin’s given America until midnight to hand over Superman or he’ll invade with his superheroes, people have gotten sceptical about superheroes all over, so you know it’s really going all Pete Tong.
And none of it arouses any response greater than indifference. It’s as cliched as it can be, but without the sense of involvement you can still get with cliches. It’s just unconvincing crap, and it’s honestly not even strong enough to be called uninteresting fucking crap.
There are essentially two expository scenes. Lex Luthor takes Lois Lane inside his deepest, darkest, most double-secret bunker to show her the most horrifying and invidious secret evidence he’s collected, which is that everywhere Jon (Doctor Manhattan) Osterman appears, he leaves behind him, oh my God, the horror! an exact duplicate of the tatty photo of him and Janey Slater from Watchmen 4. And, what’s even more terrifying is, he doesn’t seem to know he’s doing it. Are you rattled? Are you intrigued? Are you asking yourself, what the fuck? I waited over three months for this? If it’s the last one, you’re definitely me.
Oh, and before we get this game-changing revelation, Johns has Lex tell Lois about Ozymandias and his Big Lie plan in Watchmen, just so that he can shit on Watchmen again by having Lois call Ozy ‘more of a madman’ than Luthor (when your series is based in ripping off Watchmen down to the tiniest little detail, Johns, you might want to think twice about showing such fucking ingratitude).
The rest of the isue is mainly about Adrian Veidt explaining his masterplan to Saturn Girl, gloating over his own cleverness at how he manipulated everybody in so many psychologically deep ways. In contrast to Veidt’s plan in Watchmen, which had at it’s core a very simple idea, this is ridiculous. Johns has mistaken convolution for cleverness. He’s also converted Veidt from the manipulative yet earnest figure of Moore and Gibbons’ creation into a smug bastard, contemptuous of others because they’re not as smart as him, instead of because he sees their aims and intentions as harmful. In fact, in Johns’ hands, Ozymandias is every bit the Republic Serials Villain he wasn’t in Watchmen: I still remember the visceral shock of that simple line: “I did it thirty-five minutes ago”.
Which apart from anything else, was a damned sight better penultimate cliffhanger than Johns produces here, which is Superman and Dr Manhattan meeting each other, just before the big pointless punch-up.
Well, what do you know, seems like I could still whip up some decent sized anger of this rubbish, not even half-baked but practically raw ingredients.
It’s now 5 September 20189, which means there are 117 days left before Doomsday Clock extends into a fourth year. Get a bleeding move on with issue 12, will you, I want to get this turkey onto eBay before Xmas.
Eating one’s words is never palatable, but I prefer being honest, so let me admit immediately that the eighth issue of Doomsday Crap was alright. It was even decent, and if the entire series had been pitched around the contents of this episode, I might even have been prepared to stretch to good. The reason for this is solely down to this being solely a matter of the DC Universe, with the Watchmen characters represented only by Ozymandias, watching what is going on on the first and last pages.
This goes to support what I’ve been saying all along, that Johns has fucked this series up right royally by all this shitting-on-Watchmen business.
The actual issue is more-or-less a three-hander, involving Superman, Firestorm and Batman, with a smaller role for Lois Lane, some Russian superheroes that we older fans will recognise, a couple of Daily Planet scenes and a substantial guest role for Vladimir Putin. We’re now dealing directly with the Superman Theory that’s been underlining things since the beginning, the fact that 97% of the planet’s metahumans are American and the allegation – which Putin is treating as truth – that they are part of a US Government programme aimed at world domination.
We start with Firestorm in Russia, panicking under attack from The People’s Heroes. Firestorm is back to being a teenage Ronnie Raymond and Professor Martin Stein, as in the beginning, except that the Professor is not contributing any advice. Indeed, he’s so silent, we’re being led to question whether he’s there at all, and Ronnie’s experiences of getting a response are delusions.
How long Firestorm’s been Ronnie Raymond again I don’t know, I haven’t been keeping up since he was killed in Identity Crisis, but here he is in Moscow, surrounded by crowds, panicking and, whammo! dozens if not hundreds of them turned into glass.
This is a serious matter, both in itself and because up to this point Firestorm’s powers don’t work on organic matter. Is this a substantial plot point or is Johns just making it up as he goes along, as he been doing with the Watchmen bunch?
Superman appoints himself as the investigator, as the only metahuman still trusted outside the United States. The big blue boy scout takes himself to the Kingdom of Kahndaq, which I am pleased to see is still being ruled by Black Adam, an which is still maintaining its strictly neutral status metahumanwise, established in 52. Superman and Adam treat each other with strict respect, and almost friendship. Firestorm’s not taken refuge in Kahndaq, but he’ll be sheltered if he does.
Lois intervenes with the fatal suggestion that Ronnie might be in the one place no-one would think of looking for him, that is, still in Russia. And Superman finds him there, near hysterical over what’s happened and Professor Stein’s silence. And, lumme, he manages to convert back to life a small glass boy he’s taken with him.
The situation is reversible. Superman tells Firestorm to hang fire whilst he zooms to Moscow to defuse the situation. Unfortunately, the trust in Superman doesn’t extend far enough for Putin, or anyone in the crowd with a glass relative, to believe him. This against a background of Batman flying the Batplane and warning him, incessantly, not to talk to the Russians, not to take sides.
Sadly, Batman is very wise. Events overtake the sometimes too trusting Superman. He’s being bombarded with catcalls and questions, the Russian Firestorm is trigger happy (as you would be if Putin’s threatening to bung you back in state prison). Putin’s denouncing Firestorm as an American soldier, ordered to commit mass murder, he has evidence of this. And matters only get worse when Firestorm turns up himself, intent on saving everyone.
All that does is start a fight. With metahumans attacking Superman and Firestorm, with troops attacking, with the crowd rioting. And with stray bullets and manouevring tanks smashing into glass figures, and putting them beyond any reach of Firestorm putting them back together the way they were.
And Superman tries to intervene with the outcome that, to the entire world, he looks as if he’s siding with Firestorm, against Russia. That’s before Firestorm explodes, causing him and Supes to utterly vanish. And the twist is, as Bats realises far too late for it to be any damned good, it’s not even Firestorm…
Now I think we can safely mke a guess that the fake Firestorm is really everypone’s favourite naked blue guy and the whole impersonation has actually been about getting close to Superman in a moment of maaximum vulnerability, but that begs the question of why Dr Manhattan has to go all round the houses to do that when his true power level would enable him to pick Superman off whenever he felt like it. Except that Johns won’t ever let Manhttan be used at his true power level for that very reason…
All of which a satisfied Adrian Veidt observes, his plan working perfectly, whatever it is. Whatever is the sneaky, manipulative, from a non-optimistic Universe bastard planning now?
The other story-advancing twist this bi-month, if we can call a series crawling slower than a funeral cortege being advanced, is Lois received a flash drive with newsreel footage from 1941, as the Justice society of America go to war: who the hell are the Justice Society of America? she demands.
If you need an answer to that question, may I refer you to large chunks of this blog over the last seven years, but in the short term, it’s a single panel of seven of the eight founding members, the only absentee being The (Al Pratt) Atom.
I’d like to say we’re getting there, but seriously, we’re not. At least by the time things resume in February, Johns will surely be back to trashing things he doesn’t understand, but I’ll accept this issue as an unexpected Christmas present from him, even if I didn’t wait until the 25th to unwrap it.
So the hands of the Doomsday Clock have finally ground round to the publication of another issue and we get our first telegraphed sign that, as I gloomily predicted right from the start, last year, Superman will indeed defeat and even kill Dr Manhattan, it seems by knocking his block off.
Yes, the big blue guy with the non-existent costume finally comes out of hiding in issue 7, as Geoff Johns takes a handful of his cards and throws them into the air, creating a brand new pattern when they come down but, despite the pretence, not one that makes any better sense than they’ve done so far.
What the episode does is to bring together all the participating Watchmen characters, in which pool we have to reluctantly include the Mime and the Marionette, with a small role for each of The Joker and Batman, and stir them all about. In terms of presentation, Johns mixes between Manhattan’s perceptions, rooted in a conception of time as a whole, visible from every angle simultaneously (except for one month in the future when everything goes completely black just as Superman in flying at him with one fist raised…) and the rather more linear perceptions of everyone else.
Speaking of linear terms, the actual sequence of events is a mess. The Mime and Marionette start torturing the Comedian in the Joker’s lair, until they’re interrupted by NewRorscharch, Ozymandias and NewBubastis. This pair – we can’t really count NewBubastis, though she is important – have already dumped Johnny Thunder and Saturn Girl (a hero from the past and a hero from the future, each representing a team not currently existent in the DC Universe but who Johns will be bringing back), but Ozy has hung onto Alan Scott’s original green lantern (Dr Manhattan has already announced to us that Alan Scott did not become Green Lantern in this reality, the Doc having shifted him six inches over so that when the train crashed, he didn’t save himself by grabbing the lantern).
It appears that Ozy is using NewBubastis as a kind of highly-specialised gieger counter: she’s been synthesized from the fragments of DNA left remaining after the original had her intrinsic field removed in Watchmen 12, crossed with a fragment of Dr Manhattan’s DNA, making her a blind spot in his universe and drawing him to the spot.
Which works. Ozy pleads with Jon to come back to their own Universe and save everything but Jon refuses, saying he’s never going back, and leaves without Ozy being able to do anything to keep him here. But before departing, he drops a few plot-points into the mix.
Firstly, he did not spare Mime and Marionette from disintegration that time because of any sentimentality but because, from his non-linear perspective, he knew what their baby will do. No, not the one that was taken away from Marionette but the other one: the one she’s already pregnant with since arriving in the DC Universe.
The other one is that he dobs in Ozy over a slightly significant fib: Adrian Veidt’s not got brain cancer. Or any kind of cancer for that matter. Ozy has been pretending to manipulate Reggie into becoming NewRorscharch, when actually OldRorscharch was responsible for Reggie’s Dad’s complete and utter downfall.
Reggie, who has been amusing himself by punching the Joker in the mouth several times, whilst Marionette has been trying to saw Batman’s head off from the middle of his mouth upwards, takes against Ozymandias at this revelation, not to mention the whole NewRorscharch thing, ripping off his mask and doing a runner: so much for that. Mime and Marionette, happy as Larry at having another baby, take off with Not-Alan-Scott’s Lantern
Meanwhile, Ozy returns to the Owlship where Saturn Girl can suddenly read his thoughts, until he batters her and the 102 year old Mr Thunder into unconsciousness. He then flies off in the Owlship with a) NewBubastis and b) a new plan to save every world in creation. You shudder.
Cue one page of pregnant future shouts and Manhattan returning to Mars wondering whether the ultimate outcome is Superman destroying him or him destroying everything (hint: not option 2).
What we’re seeing here is Mr Oh-So-Original Johns handing us Ozymandias the would-be world saviour, only this time instead of a calm, ordered reflection, based on long-planned purpose, we have Ozy the madman, the megalomaniac. He may well have been that all along, if you judge by actions, but the overt maniacally smiling version is a cliche that we’re supposed to accept as superior to the Watchmen version. Nah, baby.
I shall repeat what I’ve already said, all along. Watchmen was based upon the wish to look at superheroes from a different perspective. Doomsday Clock is based upon the wish to look at them in exactly the same way they’ve always been looked at. Geoff Johns’ career profited from the existence of Watchmen even before he began this series.
So that’s going to be it for another two months. I know I’m biased (you hadn’t noticed?) but am I the only one to think that any momentum this turkey had has long since dried up and blown away? I bought Doomsday Clock 7 the same day I bought Heroes in Crisis 1. There’s five issues of one left to eight of the other: bet you I read the end of Heroes in Crisis first.
I am in something of a quandary here, given that the long overdue Doomsday Clock 5 has turned out to be an almost entirely passable comic, leaving me with little or no excuse for the expected ranting, raving and personal insults towards Geoff Johns. Instead, I am going to have to be a but analytical about why this is the case.
For a start, this is a wider issue than those preceding it. Johns has several irons in the fire, outside of his desire to rebut Watchmen‘s criticism of the DC Universe (hint: you berk, that wasn’t the point, and it’s only been one of the most successful and game-changing series of all time, but god forbid baby shouldn’t stamp his feet and say it was all wrong, thirty years after everything changed anyway) (knew I couldn’t entirely let him off, folks.) For a start, there’s this Supermen Theory, leading to a world-wide rejection of metahumans, a world-wide rejection of international co-operation, not to mention sanity, which Johns expands on this issue.
This is the at least temporary destination of the DC Universe, to be prefaced in all series, if Johns ever tells them what they’re supposed to build up to. All we know so far is that Lex Luthor isn’t behind it (if you believe him), and its getting ugly. As in rapidly approaching world-wide conflagration, a la Watchmen. Original, or what?
There are increasingly substantial references to the rebirth of the Legion of Superheroes and the Justice Society of America. NewRorscharch has escaped from Arkham and, offscreen, met up with Imra Ardeen, Saturn Girl that is, mind-reader and possessor of a ring with a very familiar L design. Somehow or other, explanation to be given later, we hope, they get to a more-or-less melted Pittsburgh steel factory in time to save 102 year old nursing home escapee Johnny Thunder from a gang of cheap street punks. Johnny’s in pursuit of a report of a green fire that, of course, turns out to be Alan Scott’s Green Lantern lantern, but why are NewRorscharch and Saturn Girl there? Buggered if I know.
And let’s go back to that scene with Lex Luthor and Lois Lane, in which Lex puts forward the belief that there is some master metahuman, creating metahumans, the seed for the Supermen Theory, except it’s not the US Government creating them. This metahuman was once a member of the Justice League…
But what makes this issue passable is the lengthy sequence with Adrian Veidt, in which his escapes from confinement in hospital, recovers NewBubastis and his costuume, retrieves the Owlship, where he discovers Batman in residence, flees from the Police and holds a debate with the Caped Crusader as to their respective purposes before dumping him at Gotham Police Station, where the Joker’s about to face up to the wholly unimportant Mime and Marionette.
Because Johns treats Veidt with respect, as a very effective and competent ‘hero’, on a level with the great Batman, and he gives him a fierce perspective that not only challenges but belittles Batman and, by extension, all the DC superheroes. Because Veidt my have failed in his Moore-conceived big plan, about which Batman is scornful, but he was trying to save everybody. He’d done so much for his world, to make it better, safer, cleaner, and what has Batman done? Played cops and robbers. Nothing else. This time it’s a Watchmen character who gets to be contemptuous of the great and glorious DC Universe’s way of doing things, and it throws a great heavy substantial weight down on that side of the balance.
But let us not forget Geoff Johns’ ultimate aim, which is to prove that his sandbox is much nicer that Alan Moore’s of thirty years ago, because Johns hasn’t forgotten it. The back-up material this time out is a paranoid report on the world-wide metahuman build-up, the armed response to the Supermen Theory. Everyone’s shoring themselves up for a defensive to an attack that isn’t coming (you bet?) and paranoia is building.
Then the last page is a sunny ad for Metropolis, safest place under the sun, because it’s got Superman to protect it. Superman will save us all, the godhead of the DC Universe will see off the menace. Nasty Dr Manhattan, your sneaky plans will fail.
I know it’s a bit out of place when dealing with a writer of superhero comics, but somebody does really need to grow up.
This is the longest film I’ll watch all year, especially as I have been watching the Ultimate Cut, for which I had to extend myself to a Region 1 DVD, as this version was never released in the UK. In addition to an extra 24 minutes of footage, this version branches in the 25 minute extra, the Tales of the Black Freighter animation, to produce a cut of about 3 hours and 45 minutes. Since the Lord of the Rings/Hobbit extended versions are part os boxsets, I have nothing that comes anywhere near this film.
A great many things have been said about Watchmen, most of which, whether positive or negative, are accurate. Whilst not being blind to its flaws, I still like the film and find it easy to become engrossed in, even for that length of time. Whilst agreeing that its near-obsessive attention to both detail and the duplication of the original comic books make it too closely suited to fanboys, I still recall going to see the theatrical version on release with my then-wife, who also enjoyed it. And all she knew, going in, was that I had been eagerly awaiting its release for ages, plus a fifteen second background summary from me, just before the lights went down!
What surprises me now is that, after being so heavily condemning about Director Zack Snyder’s dark, gloomy, obsessive approach to DC Comics films, I should find the unchanged style so effective in Watchmen. It makes for a heavily mannered film, intensely stylised, utilising sets that are meant to be real and yet which are plainly artificial. The style slows most of the movie down to a near-glacial pace, in which even the fast action fight scenes are frequently halted by super-slow-motion, focusing on individual and tiny elements in the scene, yet it doesn’t bore, or at least it doesn’t bore me.
It’s a different technique to the DC films, where the lavish use of CGI is intended to make the impossible convincing. Watchmen may feature a bunch of characters dressed up superhero fashion, be set in an alternate history in which Richard Nixon is on his fifth term as President, but there is only one actual superhuman, who’s blue, and whose powers are isolated and deliberately intended to be fantastic. Everybody else is human, well-trained human, but human, so that what they do is plausible, but the artificiality of it is underlined.
Given the dark story involved, Snyder’s technique is very appropriate to the material, in a way that it so determinedly is not for orthodox, mainstream superheroes.
For those unaware, essentially the story is that from the early Forties onwards, some people did put on colourful costumes to go out and fight crime with their bare hands. The early generation suffered losses – two deaths, one removal to an asylum – and the new generation included a genuine superhuman in Dr Manhattan, who upset the Cold War balance of power very much in favour of America. Eventually, they were shut down by emergency legislation on the back of a Police strike, leaving only those directly sanctioned by the Government, and one renegade, as much wanted by the Police as any crook.
The story starts with Eddie Blake, aka The Comedian, the last active veteran of the original generation, being attacked in his penthouse apartment, beaten and hurled to his death through the window. Rorschach, paranoid, psychopathic, insane, gets it into his head that someone is disposing of costumes. Dr Manhattan is framed as a cause of cancer in those connected to him, Ozymandias attacked by a would-be assassin, seeming to bear this out. Then Rorschach is framed for murder, trapped, arrested, his identity exposed.
Nite Owl and Silk Spectre come out of retirement to break him free, it is discovered that the plot has been devised by Ozymandias as part of a scheme to con the world into peace by feeding it Dr Manhattan as a public enemy, and the scheme’s success forces the few survivors to keep a very big secret – which the film’s last shot hints may be exposed anyway.
There is infinitely more detail than that, of course. Watchmen the comic was a hive of detail, with co-creators Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons cramming in an impossible amount, on all levels, background, foreground, in-your-face and behind-your-back-ground, sometimes to the extent that the series felt like a test in which you had to get at least 85% of the references to pass.
Snyder, a fan of the comic, set out to replicate it on screen as much as was physically possible, and does so perhaps that 85% of the time. Of course he can’t cram everything in, not without making a film at least half as long again, so a degree of simplification was appropriate, and most of his choices on what to eliminate are on the mark for the medium he is using. But within what he retains, and the small amount he invents, Snyder goes for everything he possibly can.
The result is a film more faithful to its source than practically everything before it, and a film that is deadened by its refusal to bring itself to life in the film medium. I’ve watched adaptations before, where I’ve known the story very well going in, and my engagement with the experience has been tempered by an intellectual appraisal of the mechanics of adaptation, but this was almost absurd. I knew virtually ever move before it happened, counted off where the original issues began and ended, was not and could not be surprised by anything, and that’s not good for a film.
Snyder’s insistence on step-by-step, blow-by-blow faithfulness leaves Watchmen with no room in which to breathe. It chains down every scene by using the comic is a domineering storyboard. The film can’t come to life because nowhere does it have room to breathe. The actors are strait-jacketed.
And yet I enjoy it so much that I have just sat down for the best part of four hours without even a toilet break. Some of it is marvelling that the comic I followed so avidly from 1985 to 1986 is there on the screen before me, that Dave Gibbons’ straightforward meat-and-potatoes action cartooning has developed three dimensions, that we can move inside the panels and stare around freely, some of it is thirty years of enthrallment with a story that changed comic books forever. Some of it is recognising all the obvious flaws, the things that made Alan Moore refuse to have his name on it or take any money from it, the things that made Terry Gilliam call the whole thing unfilmable, and nevertheless it’s here and it isn’t a witless and hollow travesty.
I have been reading things like this for so long now, that there will never become a time when I am too jaded not to revel that I can watch superheroes ‘for real’, in three dimensions. That the world agrees with what I’ve enjoyed in virtual secrecy for so many decades.
Despite his determined faithfulness, Snyder and scripters David Hayter and Alex Tse, do have to make changes. Whilst the costumes of the Forties Minutemen, even in cameo, are ultra-faithful, as are those of the Comedian, Rorscharch and, ahem, Dr Manhattan, Nite Owl, Ozymandias and Silk Spectre have been redrafted, hers to look more practical, Nite Owl’s more heroic and Ozymandias’s because, whilst there’s nothing actually wrong with it, you just couldn’t imagine Matthew Goode in the original.
Nor does good portray Adrian Veidt quite as he comes over in the comic. There, Veidt is superior but doesn’t parade it: the film’s Veidt, for whom Goode uses a slight German inflexion when he speaks in private, is noticably more contemptuous of those less clever than him, emphasising a little too much the underlying fascist aspects of his intended actions.
Malin Akerman looks the part of Laurie Jupiter (sadly, not Juspecyk, a minor detail foregone) to the life, thanks to a long, straight brunette wig. Patrick Wilson is a little too beefy and still in shape to quite fit Dan Dreiberg, whilst Billy Crudup, behind the blue CGI, makes for a very effective Dr Manhattan by simply speaking his lines very slowly, very drily and with almost no inflexion whatsoever.
Which leaves us Jackie Earle Haley as Rorschach/Walter Kovacs and Jeffrey Dean Morgan as the Comedian/Eddie Blake, and both are just absolutely brilliant. Each inhabits their larger-than-life parts to the full and beyond. Haley, whether under his full-face mask with its chasing superimposed blots, or dirty, unshaven, way beyond the edge without it, draws the eye at every moment. His hoarse, raspy voice, the perpetual anger, the overt craziness, you can practically smell the unwashedness. Haley, who was a fan of the comic, was dynamite, and its a credit to Morgan that his cynical bastard of a grinning Comedian is at no time swamped by the perfection of Rorschach. This pair are worth the film alone.
Of course, there’s one major change to the plot and that’s to the Big Lie. For all the determined faithfulness to Moorre’s original plot, his comic book cliche ending of an artificial ‘alien monster from another dimension’ breaking through to become a World Threat would never have worked on screen. It would have lost all but a tiny fraction of the audience instantly. Instead, perverting Dr Manhattan, America’s saviour, into a threat was the perfect alternative. It’s economical, saving masses of screentime in not having to establish the monster threat as plausible. And it’s far more plausible. A big score there.
So, overall, despite its failings, I still like Watchmen, the film, the Ultimate Cut, with as much stuffed into it as you can get. But it needs a vast amount of time and space in which to absorb it. Perfect for a lazy Sunday in the year of Film 2018.
Dear G*d, are there no depths to which Geoff Johns will not sink in his determination to shit all over Watchmen and Alan Moore?
To date, Doomsday Clock has had the minimal decency to confine its trespass into the Watchmen story to the marginally-acceptable aftermath of those long-established events. That is, at least, some form of fair game, leaving the original story intact and unchanged. But issue 3, continuing directly from the previous cliffhanger that has Eddie Blake, the Comedian, stepping out of the shadows, now jumps directly into torturing the Watchmen story into a different shape.
It now appears that Edward Blake didn’t actually die in Watchmen 1. No matter that that was the primary incident, the start of the story, a development fundamental to the entire series, Johns has waved it away. Never happened. Didn’t die. All of Watchmen is now, supposedly, based on a lie.
Johns’ construct is that everything from Veidt breaking into Blake’s apartment to Blake going out of the window and hurtling thirty floors head first did still happen, but that instead of crashing onto the city sidewalk, Blake found himself miraculously plunging into the bay, courtesy of Dr Manhattan.
Of course, this immediately brings up a few dozen questions. Like: where did the dead, head-smashed-in-from-falling-thirty-floors body come from, howcum they didn’t identify as being someone other than Eddie Blake, hang about they had a funeral for him, what was Eddie doing for the month of the story whilst the world was going to hell in a handbasket, why, and who the fuck Geoff Johns thinks he is?
I can’t say that I await the answers with any enthusiasm, but there had better be answers, though given that it’s now been announced that Doomsday Clock will skip two months after issue 4, and then go bi-monthly, p
Once this revelation is dropped on us, Blake and Veidt have a fight, Ozy throws himself out of the window and survives the fall, but only with injuries that put him in hospital, and the whole things takes eight bloody bloated pages to move us on about six inches, if that.
Elsewhere, Batman and the new, young, black Roscharch, aka Reggie (we still don’t know who he is but he was old enough to be driving a car the day Veidt’s ‘alien’ manifested so I’m assuming he will turn out to be the son on Malcolm, Rorscharch’s Prison Psychiatrist: how banal) have a weird conversation. Reggie gives Wayne Walter Kovacs’ journal to read (how did he get that back? It was last seen in the offices of The New Frontiersman). Wayne puts him up in the Manor overnight, Alfred makes him pancakes, then Batman pretends to be leading him to Dr Manhattan, but it’s only a trick to get him into a cell at Arkham. Whatever happened to knocking him out, or doping him in his sleep, if you want to imprison him? Why this ridiculous charade? Could it be to demonstrate how stupid and easily tricked the Watchmen characters are, how superior the DC ones are?
Equally elsewhere, our Punch and Jewellee-manque pair, Mime and Marionette, visit a bar to get a drink. It’s on Joker turf and the crew don’t take kindly to Joker-esque make-up. So our psychotic pair kill them all brutally (Mime’s weapons aren’t imaginary, they’re invisible), and decide to go after whoever this Joker is anyway. Uh-oh, I foresee trouble!
So far, this pair are as pointless as they see themselves being. They are also marginally acceptable, being a new creation that has no bearing whatsoever on the original story and thus to that extent inoffensive, but all they are so far is one more attempt to drag Watchmen down to the playground level of the DC Universe.
To re-state the point I made last issue, Watchmen was conceived as a hermetically-sealed, complete story, in which superheroics/costumed adventures were to be approached in a manner that was different to the orthodox/classical/traditional approach that held sway in all DC’s other titles. It was meant to be different. Johns is erasing that difference, making it just the same as all the rest.
This vividly reminds me of something. I was a much more avid reader of superhero comics back in the late Eighties/early Nineties, among them the George Perez-led revival of Wonder Woman and Gary Cohn and Dan Mishkin’s goofy, hyper-kinetic Blue Devil. These were two very different series who had in common that the central character was treated unconventionally. Wonder Woman was the outsider, a holy innocent, who existed only as Diana of Themyscira and Wonder Woman, the two being interchangeable. Dan Cassidy was a Hollywood stuntman/special FX guy who got fixed in his Blue Devil suit and would really rather get out.
And the letter columns of both titles featured a stream of letters from fans praising this individual approach, calling it refreshing and new, and eagerly suggesting that it would be even better if it were exactly like all the rest.
Whether he is consciously aware of it, Geoff Johns comes across as someone who desperately wants Watchmen to be exactly like all the rest, the things he knows and is comfortable with, and he will do anything he can to make them just as ordinary.
Outside of the firstly Watchmenworld stuff, there’s a bit of a teaser going on. Firstly, we’re continuing to get more of these supposed old film noir Nathaniel Dusk movies (with a belated nod to writer Don McGregor, but only in the pseudo-Watchmen stuff at the back). This may or may not be the present series’ nod to ‘Tales of the Black Freighter’, but it’s also used to introduce an elderly man in a nursing home, who may not be in possession of all his marbles. His name is Thunder. Johnny Thunder.
And there are references in the back material to John Law and Libby Lawrence in relation to the ‘Nathaniel Dusk’ movies. Are we going to see Doomsday Clock used as a springboard to finally reintroduce the real Justice Society of America into the DC Universe?!
Of course we fucking are, and it may be the only worthwhile thing about this benighted heap of shit but it’s a high price to pay, no matter how much my favourites they still are.
Lastly, I mentioned last time my ignorance about the ‘current continuity’ of protest on the DC Earth over the suggestion that all our favourite superhumans are actually an American military creation. Some further re-reading identifies that Doomsday Clock is supposed to have no crossovers because it’s happening in the DC Universe’s future: that the rest of the Universe will only catch up to this series at the same time it ends. So, there you go. We know what’s coming up then. If and when Doomsday Clock limps to its finishing line.
I don’t foresee any future left for me and them by then.
UPDATE: Doomsday Clock has already gone bi-monthly, with issue 4 not scheduled until the end of March. Given how long they had to prepare for this, it’s a bit bloody feeble, especially at Watchmen‘s only delay was an additional three weeks for issue 12.
Before we begin, I’d like to apologise in respect of one aspect of my review of DoomsdayClock 1. In it, I recorded my suspicions about two new characters introduced into the Watchmen universe, going under the names of the Mime and the Marionette. This pair meant nothing to me. However, I quickly learned that they were based on two other Charlton characters, creations of Steve Ditko with David Kaler, Punch and Jewelee.
In my defence, I have only read one story featuring this less-than-illustrious pair, but I still should have got the connection. I therefore apologise.
In every other aspect, I stand by what I said, and issue 2 only amplifies my concerns.
This issue is more plot-oriented, and the first half of the book weaves backwards and forwards between the Watchmen universe and the DC Universe. Over extensive scenes of Mime and Marionette getting into their respective costumes, coupled with an equally extensive flashback of their last, psychotic but still bumbling job before being captured by Dr Manhattan (cue a near direct tracing by Gary Franks of a classic Dave Gibbons panel, although please note that Dr Manhattan will NOT be seen full-frontal naked in this series), we get a plodding recap of the set-up.
Incidentally, for some reason explained at this stage only by the word “Babum” (a Google search turns up a Sumerian King and a warrior from World of Warcraft, though I think it’s got something to do with baby food), Manhattan decided not to disintegrate the pair into their component atoms.
Since the sight of Laurie Juspeczik with Dan Driberg will only upset the once and former Jon Osterman, Qzymandias wants the Marionette along to manipulate Dr Manhattan into coming back.
Unfortunately, since someone overlooked setting pseudo-Rorscarch’s watch, the gang only manage to get out of Watchmenland into DCville even as the bombs are disintegrating New York people.
Meanwhile, in the DC Universe, we are caught up with Batman, or rather Bruce Wayne, and not Clark ‘Superman’ Kent as last time. Wayne’s caught up in a war with Lex Luthor over the superhero metagene and the disturbing theories that superheroes are actually covert American weapons (if this is actual current DC continuity, forgive me, but I don’t read that kind of superhero comic any more so I don’t know). People are in the streets of Gotham, marching against the Batman and he’s ignoring it because the Batman has to punch out a couple of crooks.
Enter our intrepid quartet. Ozymandias and pseudo-Rorscarch (aka ‘Reggie’) split up, each to visit the two smartest men in the world, to try to track down Dr Manhattan’s whereabouts. Mime and Marionette are left behind, handcuffed to a metal post, though it’s so damned obvious that they’ll free themselves as soon as they’re left alone (which they do).
Ozy takes Lex Luthor, Rorschach takes Bruce Wayne. Ozy explains himself and his purpose to Luthor, who summarises the masterplan from Watchmen in pejorative terms, Rorscarch eats Wayne’s breakfast then discovers the Batcave.
We close on a triple cliffhanger: Mime and Marionette’s empty handcuffs, Rorscharch confronting Batman, and Veidt/Luthor facing off against an unexpected assailant who has already wounded both of them with one laser-pistol shot: the former Eddie Blake, aka The Comedian.
So much for the plot. In terms of story, there’s surprisingly little in there until the cliffhanger. The flashback/exposition scene at the beginning is stodgy and space-consuming, the idea that Marionette can be used to manipulate Manhattan into returning has very little to justify it yet, but I’ll give that one time and as for the ending: Ozy has gone on record in this issue as suggesting that once Osterman/Manhattan reached this world, with its multiplicity of super-powered beings, he may have adopted a new superhero identity, and merged into the crowd.
Frankly, I find that psychologically completely implausible when it comes to the Dr Manhattan of Watchmen, and it’s also utterly trite when you remember that one of Moore’s central ideas in that series was to explore and demonstrate a more ‘realistic’ approach to how and why people would dress up and play hero. It’s another example of Johns twisting the Watchmen story and its world to convert it into a normative superhero story, with motivations and actions out of the conventional playbook.
Then there’s that sneer at the big story of Watchmen. Luthor doesn’t even try to conceal his contempt for it – and Ozy – and whilst we know that Moore was no great shakes as a plotter, and that this is Lex Luthor speaking, the fact that it’s a sneer directed at the original material from a position of self-assumed superiority says to me that it’s very much coming from Johns as well.
I’ve said it last time, and I’ll repeat it: consciously or sub-consciously, Johns’ agenda is to tear down Watchmen and the edifice built around it, and determinedly put the bog-standard DC Universe comic above it.
Other commentators, who are more impressed with Doomsday Clock and Geoff Johns than I am, are falling upon this ‘Superman Theory’ (here taking up the entire copy-Watchmen-back-pages) about just how come 97% of all metahumans are American as leading to a retcon of the entire DC Universe (oh, FFS, again?), and are getting very excited. I am comfortably able to contain myself on this subject, as well as the one about exactly which metahuman Dr Manhattan has been pretending to be since 1986, but promise to keep an eye out for this in future instalments.
I suppose you’d have to say that in the Eighties, I was one of those for whom Alan Moore was God, at least when it came to writing comic books. I discovered him on, simultaneously, Marvelman and V for Vendetta, in Warrior no. 1, and gleefully followed him to DC Comics, where he rapidly became the first superhero writer. And why not? Even in an eight-page back-up, Moore had the priceless gift of being able to see angles upon stories, situations, sensations that no-one had previously thought to look for, let alone discovered, but once seen seemed entirely inevitable. Every Moore story seemed to unpick and re-make the Universe, a piece at a time. Dialogue, captions, notions: no doubt Marv Wolfman summed it up for a lot of people when he said, “if he could plot as well, we’d have to gang up and kill him.”
All this culminated in Watchmen. The official story was that, once DC acquired the rights to the Charlton heroes, Managing Editor Dick Giordano invited Moore to come up with a treatment for them. Giordano, who, as editor at Charlton in the Sixties, had shepherded most of these characters onto the page was looking for something to introduce this group en masse into the DC Universe. Moore, seeing that there was only one genuine superhero among the lot, saw something different.
Moore saw the opportunity for a deconstructivist superhero series. With the exception of Captain Atom, nobody really had any powers. They were human. Conceiving his idea as, initially, a murder mystery – who killed The Peacemaker? – Moore wanted to directly address the notion of ordinary humans who put on bright costumes and went out into the streets to fight crime, hand to hand. When it came down to it, why would someone do that? How would they do that?
It wasn’t until a couple of issues had been carefully devised that Moore, who by now had Dave Gibbons attached to draw, saw the even bigger, and more fundamental question: if people did things like that, what would it do to society? And if there really was a superhuman, in the middle of the Cold War, what would he do to the world?
Reportedly, Giordano blenched at what Moore had done to his babies. In practical terms, DC hadn’t paid out for all these rights just for one use, which was all they would be getting, so Moore was asked to go away and revise his story to utilise newly created characters. This was, on one level, a good thing: Moore and Gibbons could archetypalise their protagonists, emphasising this approach’s universality, whilst using the shadow of Blue Beetle, The Question et al. to equip the likes of Nite Owl, Rorschach etc. with shadow backgrounds.
Watchmen was a massive success. It was different in many respects, deliberately so, heavily, almost obsessively designed and hyper-detailed, and alongside Frank Miller’s contemporaneous The Dark Knight Returns, was massively and misguidedly influential, ushering in the grim’n’gritty era.
It was also be be collected as a Graphic Novel, to be published on book publishing terms: once it was out of print and not in publication for two years, the rights would revert to Moore and Gibbons.
No-one expected just how successful it would be, or that it would still be in print and still selling over thirty years later. That had never happened in comics before. The rights never reverted. Moore has always regarded this as a betrayal, and it was a part of the cocktail events that led to his refusal to work again for or with DC.
Legally, DC were within their rights: the book sold and sold, it made profits for them year or year, who was going to be stupid enough to withdraw it? But this was the letter of the agreement, not the spirit, an unforeseen outcome that worked to their advantage. It would have made more sense to have re-negotiated with Moore and Gibbons retrospectively, to revise the contract in a way that reflected what had actually happened. But DC Comics were, and are, a commercial company. Why should they give away any part of their goldmine when they didn’t have to? And this was the company that had already tried to rip-off Moore and Gibbons by classifying a successful set of spin-off badges as ‘Promotional Material’ instead of ‘Merchandising’ so they could deny the creators the royalties.
Moore withdrew from DC permanently. It’s cost him a lot of money, which has got up the noses of those people, many of whom being comic book fans, who, never being prepared to sacrifice anything to principle, have attacked Moore for determinedly living by his ethics, no matter the cost.
One thing that can be placed to DC’s credit, or rather that of President Paul Levitz, has been the refusal to countenance spin-offs. Levitz, who entered the industry as a writer, though he was always primarily a businessman, refused to allow any proposals to use the Watchmen characters that did not mean Moore and Gibbons. It was not so much a door held open as one perpetually resting against the jamb, but Levitz insisted upon it. Whilst he was in charge, the Watchmen characters would not be used by anybody else, even though at all times DC had the legal right to do so.
But Levitz would not last forever. DC’s management was restructured in the 2000s and he stepped down. The company fell under the creative control of Managing Editor Dan DiDio and Chief Creative Officer Geoff Johns. Johns certainly was one of DC’s most popular writers, though I have never rated him as highly as his general reputation would demand: DiDio I know more from the many decisions heavily criticised in the fan websites I follow in preference to actually following the DC Universe.
In 2010, DiDio, free of Levitz, decided he was not bound by any questions of morality or ethics, and initiated a series of spin-offs under the overall title of Before Watchmen. It was incredibly controversial. Debate raged between those who saw it as a breach of the sanctity, the book publishing sanctity that had always been afforded to Moore and Gibbons’ creation, and those who saw nothing wrong on any level with letting other writers and artists play with the characters. It’d be cool. We want more Rorschach, more Dr Manhattan, etc.
I sided with the former. The latter represents the age-old comicbook position that the character, not the creator, is what makes a comic good. It’s backwards-looking. To me, it’s no different than, say, Rob Wilkins deciding to write the 42nd Discworld novel. I know he wouldn’t but that, to me, is the level of sanctity demanded.
Although the creators included people whose work I would otherwise be eager to read, I was among those who boycotted Before Watchmen. I have not, nor will I ever read any part of it.
I’m laying this out because, tomorrow (as I write this section) I am going to breach that strict ethical stance, and I want the chance to consider my position before I do.
Five years ago, when DC rebooted their Universe for the fifth time, I wrote a lengthy piece about why I wasn’t going with them. The New 52 Universe was a radical departure that threw out all sense of history and legacy. It was controversial, a lot of it was crap, and last year, DC initiated a line-wide reboot-that-was-not-a-reboot in the form of DC Rebirth.
The underlying structure of Rebirth is the concept that someone, with the deliberate intent of weakening the DC Universe, stole ten years out of it. From the first, it was heavily implied that this had been done by Dr Manhattan. For a very long time, the mysterious and manipulative figure of Mr Oz in Supernan’s titles was expected to be revealed as Ozymandias, from Watchmen, though in the end it was another and even more major character return.
But a few months ago, DC announced a twelve-month limited series under the title of Doomsday Clock. It’s heavily implied that this series will lay out the complete background to Rebirth, although it’s also been stated that it will not have cross-overs into the DC Universe. Nearer the time, it was indeed confirmed that this was basically Superman vs Dr Manhattan.
We all know that, in terms of sheer power, and the ways in which it can be applied, Dr Manhattan can wipe the floor with Superman. We also know that Superman will win over him. DC would rock to its veriest foundations if Superman didn’t win.
Ethically, morally, the position is no different. This is a trespass on Moore and Gibbons’ creative rights in Watchmen, and I should boycott it as completely as I have and do Before Watchman. But tomorrow (as I write this section) I am going out to collect and pay for the copy of Doomsday Clock 1 that I reserved almost as soon as I heard of it.
The ethics are the same but the story isn’t. Doomsday Clock is going to be a major story (or that’s how it’s pitched), it’s going to bring the Watchman Universe and the DC Universe together, it’s going to spring surprises, make changes, be significant. It will change the (comics) world.
I’m not necessarily desperate to read that. I never read Flashpoint, which initiated the New 52. I read the original Rebirth issue, but I haven’t read anymore, and I made a profit, selling it on eBay. But despite the hypocrisy it entails, I do feel the need to read Doomsday Clock 1. And maybe the other eleven too. If it’s too crap, or inessential, or I just can’t stomach it, I shall drop the series and turn to eBay again. But I need to know what’s going on.
It came out on Wednesday. I’ve already spent half the week avoiding spoilers, not entirely successfully (I know Rorschach’s back). Usually, it’d be at least another fortnight before I visited Forbidden Planet again, but I can’t keep avoiding the spoilers that long. So, having addressed my hypocrisy and come to no better reason than necessity, the second section of this will be a review of Doomsday Clock 1.
I would seriously wish to loathe it and explain its multiple deficiencies and crassnesses.
Since first learning of Doomsday Clock, I have been deliberately starving my imagination of what it could possibly be. That it’s been a massive commercial success right off the bat went without saying. What it is is a comic that, so far, is so slavishly imitative of its original and yet without an ounce of its point as to question the entire point. But this is only issue 1, and it’s entirely set-up, and not much of that either.
First, however, let me record the ways this is an imitation of Watchmen. There is the nine-panel grid layout on all but one, significant yet confusing page. There is the odd title, ‘This Annihilated Place’, that epitomises the chapter and which comes from a larger, also apposite quote. And there’s the four post-story pages given over to newspaper cuttings filling in details of the intervening period. It’s a copycat, all right.
Until the end, the story takes place in the ‘Watchmen Universe’. Seven years have passed since the end of Watchmen. As hinted at at the end of the series, Robert Redford stood for President in 1988 and was elected. Rorschach’s Journal was indeed published in The New Frontiersman, but was completely ignored. Instead, trailing in the polls, President Redford drops the bombshell on the eve of the Election about Veidt’s trick.
Redford got re-elected and promptly headed straight back to the golf course: the world went to shit. Adrian Veidt, the most influential man on the planet for the last seven years, is now the most wanted man. The EU has collapsed, Russia has invaded Poland and the US has given them four hours to get out. Everything’s broken. Veidt can’t fix it a second time. The only man who can is Dr Manhattan, Jon Osterman. A small team, Ozymandias, Rorschach and The Marionette, plus her unrequested but still present husband, The Mime, has got about three and a half hours to find where Dr Manhattan went, and get him back, with enough breathing space to win.
Now that I put it that way, I can see what a stupid, comic book story it is, all fake, hyped-up apocalypse.
Now there’s a few things about the summary where we’re going to have to track back and fill in some details. Ozymandias is as expected but let’s add in the detail that he’s now got cancer, and the implication is that it’s both fatal and well-developed. Hopefully, this will be more than a plain steal from Moloch, first time round.
Rorschach? But he died, blown to smithereens by Dr Manhattan. This is not Walter Kovacs, however, but rather a new Rorschach, about whom all we know is that he’s black. He’s also a pale imitation, no pun intended. Though he’s clearly meant to be the same bull-goose looney as the original, he’s nothing like so absolute. Not only is he working with Veidt, perpetrator of the biggest crime in human history, but he’s breaking out of prison two criminals.
Actually, he’s only there for the Marionette, aka Erika Manson, but she insists she won’t go without her husband, Marco Maez, the Mime. I mean, first he has to effectively ‘bribe’ her to go by offering her the chance of being reunited with her lost baby son, but he gives in to her insistence on springing her husband. Compared to the real Rorschach, this one’s as flexible as Plastic Man.
Either Johns can’t or doesn’t feel comfortable with writing a character so absolute as the real Rorschach. The fake narrates the issue, except that instead of a Journal, this is in his head, and Johns can’t get anywhere near the genuinely disturbed mindset of Kovacs: he just cannot get the words right.
As for the two new characters, I am incredibly dubious. Apart from her being a vicious psycho, we know nothing about her nor what she does and especially not why Ozy needs her on the Get Dr Manhattan Project. Him, he’s mute, and acts like a mime. His special tools are invisible and intangible. Rorschach’s ‘joke’ about pointing an invisible gun not being funny is exactly that: not funny.
But I’ll wait for more. So far, he’s just a vicious psycho, but if either of them start manifesting superpowers of any kind…
Of course, Doomsday Clock isn’t simply a sequel to Watchmen. It’s supposed to be about some kind of merger, or at least planned relationship between it and the DC (Rebirth) Universe, so there’s a four page coda, introduced by Ozy’s tail-off line about “Wherever (Dr Manhattan)’s retreated to” which sees us transition to the bedroom of Mrs and Mrs Clark Kent.
Clark’s dreaming. It’s Prom Night, and Jonathan and Martha have made him put on a tux and go, even though Pete Ross has asked out Lana Lang. Significantly, this page abandons the nine panel grid for a twelve panel grid, three tiers of four. A shift that is immediately rendered meaningless when the next page – still the dream – reverts to nine panels. On which page a lorry shunts the Kent’s truck into a tree, killing both.
(This, I have had to look up, is current continuity, holding over from the New 52. I will make no comment about it).
Lois wakes because Clark’s screaming and hovering above the bed. She comments that she’s never seen him have a nightmare before. He comments that he never has had one before. The episode title is then revealed as coming from a poem called, appropriately, Ozymandias. Only it’s not the well-known one from Shelley but the contemporaneous effort by his mate Horace Smith (I am not making this up, nor is Johns, though I have learned about Horace and his deservedly lesser known Ozymandias only as a consequence of this quote, and since writing the preceding sentence: I presume there is a point to this wilful obscurity).
So, there we have it. In and off itself, Doomsday Clock serves to convince me that Geoff Johns hasn’t got an original idea in his fucking head. If any of his thousands od dedicated fans read this, they will no doubt seek to howl me down, most likely by accusing Alan Moore of only ever ripping off other people’s characters. This is a far from unfounded accusation, though I would draw a massive distinction between Moore’s genuine ability to bring original viewpoints to superhero comics and other genre, expanding the range of possibilities available to both story and concept, and John’s narrower field of vision which seems limited only to producing slicker, more efficient and violent superhero comics, by strip-searching other people’s creations for things he can then distort way beyond their initial ideas.
Frankly, that’s what Doomsday Clock is to me. Watchmen was created as an inherently unitary idea, with a beginning, middle and end. None of the hordes baying for Alan Moore’s head for the crime of wanting to deny them endless exploitation of the characters can deny that that was what was in the mind of both the creators and the company when the series was commissioned. What Geoff Johns is doing is pissing around in someone else’s flowergarden, and I don’t like that.
Having read issue 1 has freed me up to read those recent reviews etc. One indicates the notion that part of Johns’ purpose in this series is to comment metafictionally on the effect Watchmen had on comics. We’ve all been sadly aware that, down the years, it’s been more a case of writers and artists grabbing onto the ‘grim’n’gritty’ and amping up the blood, rapine and violence: Darkness Uber Alles, and I’ve read a lot of people suggesting that that’s a large part of Geoff Johns’ modus operandi, though I haven’t read enough of his work to comment, and far less a case of looking for the strange, the unusual, the innovative in this world of fictional characters we have available to us.
It’s a sour taste this leaves me with, but I’ll stomach it for now. Come back in about a months time and I’ll rip into issue 2. Or praise it, if praise is due. Don’t count the days, though.
Among the reviews I’ve read so far, which unlike my own have been universally impressed, I’ve read a couple of comments about the metafictional aspect of Doomsday Clock, as an intended commentary on the effect of Watchmen on comics in general.
It’s been suggested that part of Johns’ personal remit is to answer what Watchmen (and The Dark Knight Returns) did in creating the grim’n’gritty era. That he will be showing that the Universe of hope that is the DC universe in its present form is inherently superior to the Universe of cynicism that is the Watchmen Universe.
I hope not, I truly hope not. I’ve already said that I expect Superman to prevail because, as we all know, there’s no way DC are going to allow their most iconic character to come second best to anyone.
But to me, that metafictional intention, if it is correct, is nothing more than the intention to shit, comprehensively, upon Watchmen, long and hard, to diminish and destroy it by proving the orthodox DC Universe to be *better*, with bells, trumpets and whistles all over it.
Watchmen was the product of a particular time, and a particular set of circumstances. It was not meant to show up the DC Universe as inferior, but to offer a different perspective, completely separate and parallel. It wasn’t about anything so petty as who’s stronger, who’s better? Superman and Dr Manhattan didn’t co-exist, never would co-exist, meet or match up against each other, and Watchmen was the better for that.
It sounds to me as if that’s eaten at Geoff Johns, and maybe Dan DiDio until they can’t stand it. Watchmen has to be cut down to size, proved to be second class. Shat on, to put it bluntly. Then it can take its place as nothing more or less that just a facet of the DC Universe.
I’d like to be completely wrong about this, to be proven paranoid and raving. And if that is the case, I will admit it. But I’ll be there all the way, watching, hawk-like, for anything that indicates to me that this is the direction we’re going in. And I won’t mince my words about Johns if this is what is in his mind.