Reviews: tick-tock, tick-tock as the Doomsday Clock arrives
Doomsday Clock #1,
Geoff Johns, Gary Frank, Brad Anderson, Rob Leigh
I must confess to a lot of ambivalent feelings approaching the start of this much-heralded series. I avoided the Before Watchmen comics a few years ago; there were some really good creators involved, whose work I admire, and I know many enjoyed them, but I didn’t feel any urge to revisit those Watchmen characters in an earlier timeframe, especially when I knew the original writer was not only not involved, but would disap-prove of the venture. But recent events in the DC Universe have hinted at a linking between the current ver-sion of the DC universe and that of the Watchmen, leading to this more explicit melding of the two, making it hard to ignore. And so, despite some mixed feelings and my reticence over the previous Before Watch-men, I found myself compelled to pick up this first issue.
And actually I found that I was pretty intrigued by this first issue. I suppose that shouldn’t be a massive sur-prise, really, whatever one thinks of the Watchmen and DC universes being fused together this way, it’s in the hands of Geoff Johns (partnered with Gary Frank and Brad Anderson), and Johns is a serious DC veter-an and fan-favourite for a reason: he’s a good storyteller and he understands a lot of how DC’s characters and beats work. This isn’t just something cooked up quickly for an “event” pitch to make sales jump, clearly thought has gone into it, and I actually found myself enjoying it, sufficiently that I will be picking up the next issue (warning, from this point on there may be potential spoilers).
Much of this first issue is told in a familiar handwriting on yellow background, like paper scraps ripped from a cheap, yellow-paper notepad – notes from Rorschach. And the opening scenes with Rorschach’s monologue are designed to echo elements of the original Watchmen, of angry crowds and fighting in the streets (hints of the Comedian telling Nite Owl the American Dream came true, “you’re looking at it”), of a word teetering on the edge of social chaos at one level, and at the higher level, a world rushing towards that old nightmare ris-en from the Cold War era that gave birth to the Watchmen, Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD). As is a mission to enter a penitentiary to extricate an inmate for a special, desperate mission, although this time Ror-schach is the one carrying out the rescue.
Wait a moment, Rorschach, you said? Yes, I know, how when he was clearly obliterated at the end of the original Watchmen comics series? Prepare for that multiple realities headache – this is Rorschach, the real Rorschach. Except maybe not, maybe this is an alternative world version of Rorschach? It’s not totally ex-plicit yet, but it is hinted at heavily (he removes a glove at one point to show his skin is a different colour from the Rorschach we knew), and while parallel realities can be as confusing and migraine-inducing as time travel paradoxes, they are also often fascinating. And that was the case here, at least for me – if, and it is an if at this point, this Rorschach is indeed a different one from a different reality, does it make him any less the real Rorschach? After all from his perspective the original is the “other” from an alternative reality to his.
And naturally this hints at bigger questions which I think will echo through this twelve-issue series: if this is an alternative-world Rorschach who never died, then what does that imply for this world itself? Is this all an alternate parallel reality where Ozymandias’ desperate gambit with the fake alien invader destroying millions in New York failed to save the world as it did in the original Watchmen? And where Doc Manhattan therefore never had to kill Rorschach to conceal the truth, for the greater good? “No compromise, even in the face of Armageddon.” If it is an alternate reality, that’s quite possible, after all one of the tenets of alternative realities is that they are often similar to ours but where x happened here, y happened in the parallel world, one version of a person went left here, their counterpart went right.
In this reality, instead of Ozymandias secretly saving the world from nuclear annihilation (albeit at horrendous cost) his scheme was exposed, leaving not just the original threat (now looming larger) but contributing to the population’s growing distrust in authority figures and traditional government when conspiracy theories claim the White House was involved in his scheme, that some have taken this all as a cue not to think they should pull back and try to save the world, but instead make it more unstable, throwing every grievance like petrol onto a bonfire, escalating the hatred, the instability at home and globally (hinting at “fake news”, bare-faced lying politicians and a president who hasn’t given a media response yet because he is busy playing golf again, some nice touches). But there are also hints that perhaps it isn’t as simple as a parallel reality where events played out differently. Rorschach’s memory problems and confusion may hint at something more complex – could it be not a parallel reality but a new one fused out of a combination of other realities?
So yes, I was wary of this whole enterprise, and yet Johns and Frank reeled me in expertly, so much so that my geek brain is running around in little circles contemplating multiple-realities and how they might work, their implications for the people and events in them. It can be quite compelling. And the overlaps in both sto-ry beats and in Frank’s artwork that evoke scenes and feelings from the original Watchmen are actually well-handled – it would have been very, very easy for those to go wrong, but it felt well done here, and the touches hinting at the manifold troubles of our own world being mirrored in this fictional one add a sting to the proceedings. Even some of the page and panel layouts evoke/pay homage to Dave Gibbons’ remarkable original Watchmen pages, and there is even some dark humour here (a violent prisoner tries to grab keys from a prison warden, sees Rorschach enter, decided, prudently, he is happier being locked up inside). Yes, I will be reading more of this series, methinks, perhaps much to my own surprise, but there it is.
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