In which I ramble on about a series I’m enjoying sort of despite itself.

§ February 1st, 2018 § Filed under watchmen § 9 Comments

So I haven’t really said a whole lot about Doomsday Clock beyond my “wonder how it’s gonna sell” post back in September. Well, I can tell you now, after three issues of it have been unleashed upon an unsuspecting world, that it actually is selling very well, thank you, and even the second printing of the first issue is moving briskly.

That’s all just basic, non-opinionated stuff, I realize. I haven’t really come right out and said anything specifically about the content of the series, beyond some joking around, mostly because…well, I’m a retailer. I sell these things for a living. Not that this comics blogging doodad is an official part of my store or anything, but certainly a non-zero percentage of my customers are aware that I spend a small portion of my free time typin’ funny about funnybooks here. And I’ve seen enough examples of other retailers slagging off, say, Mutant Shenanigans: Alpha on their official store blogs/online newsletters/review columns etc., and then wondering a month later “huh, Mutant Shenanigans: Alpha isn’t selling at my store…wonder why?”

Not that I plan on really slagging it all that much, but the other day I did say this on the Twitters:

“Haven’t really said much about the actual DOOMSDAY CLOCK series itself, but it’s sort of a combination of ‘woefully misguided’ and ‘absolutely fascinating’ (in that I obsess a bit over out-of-context Watchmen usage).”

There’s…a lot of meaning that can be packed into my use of the phrase “woefully misguided.” That doesn’t necessarily mean it’s something that’s not entertaining in some fashion. Take, for example, Crisis on Infinite Earths, a series I like quite a lot. Sure, at the time we all probably thought it was a good idea, taking what was an overly complex/high entry cost shared universe and paring it down into something a bit more comprehensible. However, it could be argued that it turned out to be quite misguided, a stripping away and recataloging of crazy ideas and wild imagination that, in the decades since, DC Comics has been trying to undo, and in some way making it far more complex and difficult to enter than whatever problems Crisis was supposed to solve.

As such Crisis and its impact became problems mostly in hindsight, starting with small things (“whoops, we fucked up Hawkman, sorry everyone!”) and quickly ballooning into much larger issues (“oh, hey remember continuity? Here’s some more different continuity!”). Doomsday Clock‘s…quirks, shall we say, were anticipated well ahead of time. We were all watching that person in the scary movie, reaching a hand out to the door handle, while we shouted “NO, DON’T OPEN THAT DOOR!” Reasonably sure we all foresaw the inherent awkwardness of combining a singular, self-contained work by creators at the peak of their skills with a decades-old haphazardly-assembled, repeatedly rebooted, shared universe to the point of using the former as another tool to shore up the latter.

Now this is all sounding relentlessly negative, and I’m really not trying to be. As I said about the Crisis series I was using as an example, I enjoyed that comic. Outside of the nostalgic feelings I have for it, Crisis remains beautifully drawn, and a solid final “hurrah” for the DC Universe that was, before the DC Universe, of which there was no stopping them now, took over. Now, the Doomsday Clock itself I’m finding enjoyable in a weird way. As noted above, as a dealer, I’m happy with it sales and interest from my customers…I’m having people coming specifically to pick up this comic. As a responsible comics fan, I should probably be upset that the property being exploited without creator consent…yes, the work is technically DC’s but rights were dangled in front of Moore/Gibbons with no real intention of giving those rights to them so long as the comic sold.

As an irresponsible comics blogger and pop culture…observer, I guess, since “wallower” makes me sound bad…I am as I said in my tweet, “absolutely fascinat[ed]” by the Watchmen characters being exploited out of context (as in this Heroclix set, or this comic where DC-by-way-of-Charlton-Comics superhero the Question meets Rorschach). And this Doomsday Clock series, along with the two-year teasing/weaving of Watchmen material into the regular DC Universe, is sort of the ultimate “out of context” usage of the characters. Yes, it probably shouldn’t have been done. Yes, this isn’t really adding anything to the original work.

Nonetheless, seeing these characters and these situations and these attempts at aping the style and storytelling of the original remains oddly and strangely compelling, in a way that DC’s previous Watchmen event “Before Watchmen” was not. In “Before Watchmen,” the characters were working toward an endpoint, the events of Watchmen itself. The creators working on those comics couldn’t deviate too far from the paths already designed for these characters…not to say they didn’t take them in directions that could be deemed outside their original intentions, but at least they were mostly remaining within the constraints of an already-established fictional milieu.

Doomsday Clock escapes that by being “the sequel,” with all that open road ahead, and oh yeah we’re totally crossing over with Justice League characters so we’ve got, like, multiple universes to play with now. (Okay, I’m not unaware of the irony that this sounds like the opposite of my criticism of Crisis on Infinite Earths.) There’s no longer the worry about putting the pieces back in place…now they can scatter them about however they want. The fascination I mentioned before is in how this new creative team is playing with others’ toys, how they mimic what’s come before, how they change what’s been established, and so on. (You know, like superhero comics in general.) I genuinely am curious how this mixing of worlds will play out, not just plotwise but in just the simple mechanics of decisions made in putting together this event.

Even by duplicating the original’s format by including the text-heavy backmatter, you don’t get the same sense of that world-building the original worked so hard to establish. Much of what made Watchmen, aside from its deconstruction of the superhero genre, was its attention to detail, from the technological/political impact of Dr. Manhattan, to maintaining consistent physical settings (like just having the same street and building layouts from issue to issue), to little things like Dan wondering where the hell all his sugar cubes went (taken of course by Rorschach in a previous issue, and eaten by him throughout the rest of the series).

Doomsday Clock is a different animal with different purpose, and the depth of the original has been replaced mostly by trivia (“hey that guy’s daughter is Elasti-Girl from the Doom Patrol!” and other such nuggets that end up in clickbait listicles breathlessly detailing those Easter eggs “you may have missed!” somehow despite them basically being shoved in your face and captioned “THIS IS A REFERENCE TO SOMETHING”). The new series appears to be primarily about reclaiming superheroes from the legacy of Watchmen and similar descontructive attempts, in that the last two years of DC’s overarching storytelling has positioned the previous “New 52” continuity reboot as a literal attack on the DC Universe by Dr. Manhattan.

Not saying that isn’t a valid, and in its way, clever method of approaching real world publishing strategies within a fictional universe, though it strikes me as odd putting a decades-long best-selling property into an antagonistic position against their main line of books. Granted, we haven’t see the full story yet, so perhaps there’s a “redemptive” conclusion yet to come that corrects this negative portrayal. Especially if they plan on keeping any of the Watchmen characters around in the DC Universe after everything’s all said and done. (Hello, Rorschach Team-Up.)

Anyway, Doomsday Clock. Probably shouldn’t have happened, but here it is regardless. It’s a weird thing that will almost certainly end up only as a footnote in the original Watchmen‘s history. It remains, however, a crazy amalgam of a comic, not quite as Watchmen-esque as it wants to be, but tonally strange enough to not feel strictly like a DC superhero comic either. So long as it’s a one-shot thing à la that Simpsons/Family Guy crossover, which was another peculiar mixing of styles that kind of worked okay once, that’ll probably be fine. But, to repeat myself, “Hello, Rorschach Team-Up” is not a thing I said entirely facetiously.

Oh, and by the way, if Doomsday Clock takes place a year ahead in DC continuity (well, more like 18+ months ahead now that it’s gone to a bimonthly schedule), and Superman is getting his red trunks back in Action Comics #1000 (due out in just a few months), does that mean that cover to Doomsday Clock #1 pictured above is already out of date? Or, in a variation of what I suggested here, maybe instead of fighting over the trunks, Superman actually lends them to Dr. Manhattan. “Now, now, sir, you can’t go walking around Metropolis like that!”

9 Responses to “In which I ramble on about a series I’m enjoying sort of despite itself.”

  • As the writer of some of those clickbait Easter egg trivia articles, I personally try for a happy medium between “breathless” and “long-winded.” :-)

    Although there is a lot of trivia, I’ve been impressed by (for lack of a better term) the quality of the trivia. It does get you thinking about why the references are there. Also, Nathaniel Dusk is arguably a deeper cut than Silverblade, so that impressed me.

    Anyway, I too hope this is a one-off, and even a “let us not speak of it again” situation; but maybe it will be fun while it lasts.

  • Chris G says:

    IIRC, this whole thing is being presented as an explanation for “what went wrong” with DC, and when Rebirth began we had a ton of breathless interviews where Geoff Johns went on about restoring love and hope and optimism to DC’s universe. Which is a nice idea, but it’s impossible not to notice that the whole thing is being written by a writer with a weird dismemberment trope, whose best friend wrote the comic about Sue Dibny being raped, and who’s overseen one bloody DC event after another. Are we to believe it was Dr. Manhattan who announced at an editorial meeting that the event DC was planning needed a rape in it? That the Comedian was the one who punched off Pantha’s head and made a running joke of it on convention panels for years afterward? That Silk Specter was the one stabbing people through the chest from behind on the last pages of all those Johns comics? Perhaps a physician should heal himself but DC needs new blood at the top.

  • Nik says:

    It’s a weird series so far. I don’t hate it based on its very concept like many comics fans, but so far I’m finding it more of a curiosity than a truly gripping story, despite some very nice Gibbonsesque art by Frank, who I’ve always liked. Geoff Johns is trying too hard to sound like Alan Moore, and I don’t buy it. It just kind of feels like fan fiction more than a “real” story to me, maybe because I’ve lived with Moore’s characters for 30 years now but seeing Rorschach in the Batcave just seems silly rather than “cool” to me. I’m in for the duration as like I said, I’m curious, but I really doubt so far this is going to have anywhere near the reputation of Watchmen or be remembered in 10 years’ time, but instead be seen more like Dark Knight II, The Kingdom or Before Watchmen… a curio, but nothing lasting.

  • Thom H. says:

    @Chris G: I came here to write something very similar, but you summed up my feelings quite nicely.

    I’m just going to add: In addition to the “grim n’ gritty” atmosphere DC has cultivated for years now, they’ve also made the mistake of rebooting their universe multiple times.

    So now they’re bringing in characters they shouldn’t own to fix problems of tone *and* continuity.

    Couldn’t all of this have been avoided if they had just published fun, engaging comics without resorting to “edgy” writing and constant reboots?

  • Mike Loughlin says:

    Wait, Nathaniel Dusk is in this thing? I couldn’t care less about the DCU/ Watchmen crossover but I have a real soft spot for MacGregor’ & Colan’s noir comics.

    Also, Geoff Johns has written some good comics and some less good comics, but not very many subtle, intricate comics. I’m not reading the series (lack of interest combined with dislike for DC’s decision to use the Watchmen characters) but if DC *had* to publish it I would rather see a more original, experimental writer tackle the material (Tom King, maybe?) and try something wacky.

  • Ward Hill Terry says:

    All I know about contemporary comics is what Mike tells me here. Has there been any other comic book that was still being analyzed, exploited, referenced, and imitated as much as Watchmen? The big publishing event for DC Comics this year is to reach back thirty years? Can you imagine any other time this would have been done?
    I agree with Thom H. and Mike Loughlin above, as well.
    Thanks, Mike!

  • ScienceGiant says:

    What springs to mind is Marvel’s “The Infinity Gauntlet”, which Wiki Wiki tells me is an itch they started scratching in 1990.

    And as I read comments by Chris G. and Thom H. and Mike, I nod my head. I desperately want to share with the DC editors the Einstein quote “The world that we have made as a result of the level of thinking we have done thus far creates problems that we cannot solve at the same level as the level we created them at.”

  • Rob Staeger says:

    I, for one, am disgusted that they’re shoehorning Don McGregor characters into the existing DCU/Watchmen continuity just to sell books!

  • Hal Shipman says:

    I like a lot of Johns’ writing, but as Chris G. is pointing out, there’s a lot of gruesome violence in his work. Plus establishing the periodic wholesale slaughter of Green Lanterns. This last issue gets back to that with Mime & Marionette. Which reads very different to me than Moore & Gbbon’s work.

    That said, I kind of like Doomsday Clock, too.

    re: the red trunks – Are they really changing them?
    The one piece of art that anyone is referencing as proof of this change is Lee’s work for Action #1000. Of course there are going to be pin-ups of the old suit in there. Has anyone in editorial actually said this or is everyone taking that image and running with it?